Lead book review

Books of the year – part two

17 November 2018 9:00 am

Daniel Swift I feel as though I came late to the Sarah Moss party. Nobody told me she was this…

Books of the year – part one

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Our regular reviewers choose the books they have enjoyed reading most – and sometimes least – in 2018

Contradictions are the bedrock of who she is: Germaine Greer photographed in 1993

Germaine Greer continues to shock and awe

3 November 2018 9:00 am

Germaine Greer is no fan of biography – especially when she’s the subject. If you want to know about her, read her books, says Frances Wilson

Under a spell: Philip Larkin with Eva in 1965

A little of Philip Larkin’s letters goes a long way

27 October 2018 9:00 am

Philip Larkin wrote often and regularly to his mother throughout her long life. It was a ritual he both cherished and resented, says Andrew Motion

Whatever America is searching for, Trump isn’t providing it

20 October 2018 9:00 am

America is often seen to represent the search for something – which Trump’s populism is failing to provide. Tim Stanley tries to identify what that elusive thing might be

Pamela Hansford Johnson (right) and Elizabeth Taylor at a Book Society party in Knightsbridge in 1954

Lonely hearts and guilty minds: the world of Pamela Hansford Johnson

13 October 2018 9:00 am

Pamela Hansford Johnson, once a powerful figure in literary circles, is now largely forgotten. Are her novels worth returning to, wonders Philip Hensher

Giving the famous V-sign at the opening of RAAF headquarters, Croydon, 1948 [Getty]

Is this the best Churchill biography yet?

6 October 2018 9:00 am

Andrew Roberts finds that self-confidence was the key to Churchill’s success, says Philip Ziegler. His new biography is a generous portrait of this most written-about of statesmen

‘Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche’, Edvard Munch, c. 1906

Nietzsche’s intense friendship with Wagner forms the core of Sue Prideaux’s excellent new biography

29 September 2018 9:00 am

In 1945, with the second world war won bar the shouting, Bertrand Russell polished off his brief examination of Friedrich…

Mount Longdon, Falkland Islands, where members of the 3rd Parachute Regiment died in fighting on 11–12 June 1982

Helen Parr’s intimate portrait of the Parachute Regiment – Our Boys – captures the essence of modern Britain

22 September 2018 9:00 am

An intimate portrait of the Parachute Regiment manages to capture the history of modern Britain – Rachel Seiffert loved it

Handel is rowed in a gondola on the Thames, in an illustration for ‘The Water Music’

Handel’s greatest hits — the glorious London decades

15 September 2018 9:00 am

Paul Kildea describes the glorious decades when Handel bcharmed London society with one masterpiece after another

Engraving of John Law in 1720, at the height of his power: adviser to the king of France and controller-general of finance

John Law: the Scottish gambler who rescued France from bankruptcy

8 September 2018 9:00 am

The gambler who created the first stock market crash and became the richest citizen in Europe was no one’s hero, says Jesse Norman – until now

Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Tysoe Saul Hancock, his wife Philadelphia (née Austen) and daughter Eliza (rumoured to have been the child of Warren Hastings) with their Indian maid Clarinda, c. 1764–5. Eliza was Jane Austen’s cousin and later sister-in-law, and is said to have inspired several of Austen’s characters, including the playful Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park

The scourge of Christian missionaries in British-Indian history

1 September 2018 9:00 am

India’s wealth made it irresistible to the British. But over the centuries, plundering it also cost them dear, says Peter Parker

A woman churns butter while her customer and children wait. Below, her husband milks a cow with a calf tied to it

How scary is dairy?

25 August 2018 9:00 am

From earliest times, milk has sustained us and has inspired wondrous creation myths. Now it’s the most controversial foodstuff of all, says Joanna Blythman

When Graves was wounded at High Wood on the Somme he was listed as dead. The sense of being a revenant probably affected him for the rest of his life. [Mary Evans Picture Library}

Ménage à quatre with Robert Graves

18 August 2018 9:00 am

Robert Graves was full of ambivalence, says Andrew Motion – defiant and needy, shy and bombastic, unusually sensitive to suffering and capable of great courage

Portrait of Dante by Luca Signorelli

The perfect guide to a book everyone should read

11 August 2018 9:00 am

Frances Wilson finds the perfect guide to a book everyone should read

Photograph of an almshouse waif by Lewis W. Hine, entitled ‘Little Orphan Annie in a Pittsburg Institution’ (1909) [Bridgeman Art Library]

‘I am not a number’: the callous treatment of orphans

4 August 2018 9:00 am

Victorian fiction abounds in pitiable orphans. But what did they suffer in reality, wonders Philip Hensher

Theseus kills the Minotaur at the centre of the labyrinth. On the left, Ariadne gives him a ball of thread so that he can find his way out.

Amazing mazes: the pleasures of getting lost in the labyrinth

28 July 2018 9:00 am

Ian Sansom finds the latest books on labyrinths and mazes genuinely amazing

Adam Smith circa 1775; medallion by Tassie

Adam Smith analysed human behaviour, not economics, says Simon Heffer

21 July 2018 9:00 am

Jesse Norman unpicks the many myths of Adam Smith – a ‘behavioural scientist’ even more than an economist, says Simon Heffer

‘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