Lead book review

‘Departure from Lisbon for Brazil, the East Indies and America’, by Theodore de Bry, 16th century

Portugal’s entrancing capital has always looked to the sea

14 July 2018 9:00 am

Lisbon has always ventured out to sea, bringing new worlds back to ours, and therein lies its charm, says Nicholas Shakespeare

Sunset on the Clyde, 1984. The massive cranes used to build the Lusitania, HMS Hood, the Queen Mary and the QE2 are relics of the once great maritime industry of Port Glasgow

Historian David Edgerton says the ‘British nation’ lasted from 1945 to 1979, the miners’ strike its death knell

7 July 2018 9:00 am

David Crane follows the deterioration of postwar Britain in the face of fast-growing foreign competition

Now you see him, now you don’t: Nikolai Yezhov, nicknamed ‘the poison dwarf’, who as head of the NKVD presided over mass arrests and executions at the height of the Great Purge, was airbrushed from Soviet history after his own execution in 1940

The spying game: when has espionage changed the course of history?

30 June 2018 9:00 am

That’s the object of espionage, says Rodric Braithwaite. But amassing facts is not enough. You must understand his fears, ambitions and intentions

View of a drawing room, c. 1780 by Philip Reinagle

The short step from good manners to lofty imperialism

23 June 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hensher describes how our notions of civility and consideration slipped almost imperceptibly into a sense of superiority and a mission to civilise the world

Greatness thrust upon him: General de Gaulle in 1940

It took a long time for de Gaulle to become ‘de Gaulle’

16 June 2018 9:00 am

Charles de Gaulle salvaged France’s pride and created a nationalist myth. But he didn’t single-handedly ‘save the honour of France’, says Robert Tombs

A 19th-century engraving by Alfred Edmund Brehm of Indian snake-charmers

Was the Indian Rope Trick a myth?

9 June 2018 9:00 am

Sam Leith savours an entertaining salmagundi of marvels, myths and outrageous cons from the Indian subcontinent

Bactrian camels in the Khongoryn Els sand dunes of the Gobi Desert

The Empty Quarter is a great refuge for lonely hearts

2 June 2018 9:00 am

When William Atkins and his girlfriend parted, he set off to explore eight of the world’s fieriest deserts, from Oman to the Taklamakan

Detail of a fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii

The sacred chickens that ruled the roost in ancient Rome

26 May 2018 9:00 am

The art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome is rich in birds. Mark Cocker explores the myths and folklore surrounding them

William Trevor, photographed in 1993

The wilder shores of excess in William Trevor’s fiction

19 May 2018 9:00 am

Many of William Trevor’s best characters defy social conventions. Breaking the rules of behaviour is a recurring theme in his superbly crafted short stories, says Philip Hensher

The Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist was a book produced in 1968 by the Neo-American Church, explaining how to manufacture and cultivate marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, morning glory, LSD and STP ‘for religious purposes’. Taken from Altered States: The Library of Julio Santo Domingo by Peter Watts (Anthology Editions, available at www.anthology.net)

Might LSD be good for you?

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Many hallucinogenic drugs are non-addictive, carry little or no physiological risk and might even be good for you, says Sam Leith

Rao Pingru and his siblings make a lion lantern with their mother

Enduring life under Chairman Mao

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Hilary Spurling is enchanted by depictions of simple family pleasures throughout years of famine and persecution

Above: The Spangled Cotinga of the Amazon Rainforest is one of the seven species known to fly-tiers as the Blue Chatterer. Left: The Resplendent Quetzal, found from Chipias, Mexico to Western Panama

The most bizarre museum heist ever

28 April 2018 9:00 am

Maggie Fergusson discovers a strange fraternity for whom exotic plumage is a criminal passion

Texas: the myriad contradictions of the Lone Star state

21 April 2018 9:00 am

Texas is beautiful, barren, corrupt, honourable, a red state with a blue majority. Michael Moorcock enjoys the startling contradictions

With Leonardo, improbable speculations are never-ending, The Da Vinci Code enthusiasts see the figure of St John (on the right in this detail of ‘The Last Supper’) as Mary Magdalene, hiding in plain sight

The codes and codswallop surrounding Leonardo da Vinci

14 April 2018 9:00 am

Leonardo da Vinci has suffered more than most artists from fake history and misinterpretation. But it doesn’t make him any less fascinating, says Martin Gayford

A barricade of paving stones in the Latin Quarter of Paris, May 1968

How radical was 1968's summer of discontent?

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hensher examines the many disparate protest movements in the West sparked by the événements in Paris in 1968

Detail from the Ghent altarpiece by Hubert Eyck, 1423

How Christianity saw off its rivals and became the universal church

31 March 2018 8:00 am

It wasn’t crusading zeal that made Christianity a universal religion but its appeal to the poor and vulnerable, argues Tom Holland

Ragged spectres, half sunk in mud, half lost in shadow: Joseph Gray’s unnerving ‘A Ration Party’

The disappearing acts of Joseph Gray, master of military camouflage

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Frances Wilson goes in search of Joseph Gray, whose experiments in camouflage changed the landscape of the second world war

The Bob Baker trails the Thunder through six-metre swells

Today’s pirate gold is the Patagonian toothfish

17 March 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hoare describes a thrilling game of cat and mouse through the storms and drift ice of the high seas off Antarctica

Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard

Napoleon’s dazzling victories invited a devastating backlash

10 March 2018 9:00 am

For five years after Austerlitz, Napoleon seemed invincible. But his relentless victories risked an inevitable backlash, says David Crane

Saul Bellow (centre): ‘He said he felt like Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert through the sewers of Paris,’ says James Atlas. Above and left: Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were both better biographers than biographees

Biography is a thoroughly reprehensible genre

3 March 2018 9:00 am

Why do biographers insist on making neat patterns of their subjects’ lives? Roger Lewis finds it rigid, invasive and wrong

Debussy appears to have had no real sympathy for, or interest in, other people

Debussy: the musical genius who erupted out of nowhere

24 February 2018 9:00 am

That was Debussy’s guiding principle – and his music has been a lifelong pleasure for Philip Hensher, too

The Nazis had a genius for staging, inventing the procession of the Olympic torch from Athens to the host city

Hitler’s charm offensive at the Berlin Olympics was a sinister cover for his main offensive

17 February 2018 9:00 am

At the Berlin Olympics, Hitler set out to seduce the world. But his main purpose was to buy time for war preparations, says Simon Kuper

Emmeline Pankhurst is carried bodily from a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace in 1914

When persuasion failed, force seemed the only option for women to get the vote

10 February 2018 9:00 am

Jane Ridley describes how campaigners for female suffrage in Britain tried every tactic in vain. It took a world war to secure even a limited number of women the vote

Aerial view of the ‘Salt Pit’, the CIA’s clandestine detention centre north of Kabul, which opened in September 2002. Detainees were kept chained in total darkness, with loud music playing constantly

Do the Americans know who they’re fighting in Afghanistan — or why?

3 February 2018 9:00 am

For the past 16 years, America’s war in Afghanistan has been a dismal tale of ignorance, atrocity and error, says Jason Burke

The neglected house on Downshire Hill had been Allan Chappelow’s home from childhood

The murder of a harmless Hampstead eccentric remains shrouded in mystery

27 January 2018 9:00 am

For weeks the battered body of an elderly eccentric lay undiscovered in the heart of Hampstead. Philip Hensher believes the wrong man was charged with murder