Lead book review

The outcome of Diderot’s discussions with Catherine was that she largely ignored his advice. Engraving from François Guizot’s Histoire de la France

How Diderot’s pleas to end despotism fell on deaf ears in Russia

23 March 2019 9:00 am

When Diderot was invited to the Russian court he expected to discuss more than literature with Catherine the Great, says Ruth Scurr

The seducer and the spy: left, a reproduction of Anatoly Gorpenko’s portrait of the ‘master spy’;above, a Soviet commemorative stamp to mark Sorge’s ‘rehabilitation’ in 1961

Richard Sorge: the Soviet Union’s master spy

14 March 2019 9:00 am

Owen Matthews unveils the Soviet super spy who used ostentation as the ultimate camouflage. Nicholas Shakespeare takes a look

‘Mother and Child’, c.1901, Pablo Picasso

Two big books on motherhood and childlessness – Catherine Mayer gets emotional

9 March 2019 9:00 am

Two intellectually hefty books explore the complementary subjects of motherhood  and childlessness. Catherine Mayer gets emotional

A clear vision of Walter Gropius the man is hard to come by

2 March 2019 9:00 am

Walter Gropius was a great architect and a public figure of awe-inspiring efficiency. But what was he like in private, wonders Philip Hensher

Discover your inner wolf: love your family, value your home, respect your elders, be altruistic, and have fun, says Elli Radinger

Discover your inner wolf and lead a better life

23 February 2019 9:00 am

When it comes to showing emotion, are animals like humans or humans like animals? The difference is subtle but significant, says Kate Womersley

Portrait of Ruskin dated 1870

John Ruskin: the making of a modern prophet

16 February 2019 9:00 am

Will John Ruskin’s concerns about the environment and his belief in a holistic approach to living make him fashionable again, wonders Sam Leith

The catch from the Dogger Bank is landed on the beach at Schevingen from Dutch fishing vessels — or ‘doggers’

Fishing for meaning in vanished Doggerland

9 February 2019 9:00 am

Adam Nicolson is entranced by a meditation on vanished Doggerland ­– the area that once connected England to the Continent

Eric Hobsbawm, photographed in 1996. He admitted late in life that he had developed in youth ‘a facility for deleting unpleasant or unacceptable data’

How Eric Hobsbawm remained a lifelong communist — despite the ‘unpleasant data’

2 February 2019 9:00 am

Left orphaned and impoverished at 14, Eric Hobsbawm was ripe for conversion to communism, says Richard Davenport-Hines

Map of West Africa, c.1547, depicting the trading fortress of São Jorge da Mina on the African Gold Coast.

The scramble for Africa goes back many centuries

26 January 2019 9:00 am

Anthony Sattin is fascinated by the rich history of West Africa – the kind not taught in schools

Ernst Jünger in Paris in 1941

Ernst Jünger — reluctant captain of the Wehrmacht

19 January 2019 9:00 am

Ernst Jünger’s journals are full of insights into the the second world war, but reading this cool, calculating captain of the Wehrmacht can be dispiriting, according to Alex Colville

‘Arise Hungarians, your country calls you!’ The poet Sandor Petofi declaims the famous ‘Talpra Magyar’ on 15 March 1848. Lajos Kossuth stands to the right

Hungary is being led once again down a dangerous nationalistic path

12 January 2019 9:00 am

Hungary’s history is full of conflict and compromise. But even among its many minorities it was a country that inspired extraordinary loyalty, says Philip Mansel

‘The Break-up of the Ice’ by Claude Monet

How Calouste Gulbenkian became the richest man in the world

5 January 2019 9:00 am

Philip Hensher on the ruthless cynicism behind Calouste Gulbenkian’s colossal fortune

Theodore Roosevelt campaigning in the summer of 1912

Words to rally and inspire: stirring speeches from Elizabeth I to the present

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Great oratory is moving, persuasive and can even be funny. But, as William Hague discovers, some of the most remarkable speeches are those that were never delivered

‘There is so little heartless work around. So I feel I am filling a small but necessary gap.’ Edward Gorey photographed in 1977 on the set he designed for the Broadway production of Dracula

Edward Gorey: master of the macabre

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Edward Gorey delighted in the macabre and contradictory, feeling at home with things not making sense. He was, says Sam Leith, an exquisite but very minor talent

Michelle Obama listens to the National Anthem at the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner in Washington, May 2009

Michelle Obama: ‘I was happy that Barack’s career came first’

1 December 2018 9:00 am

Michelle Obama has always been more interested in people than votes. Her book is full of human kindness and gives politics a soul, says Hermione Eyre

Hermann Hesse in 1956 [Getty Images]

Hermann the Good German: the mystic life of Hermann Hesse

24 November 2018 9:00 am

Hermann Hesse lived through the worst of times in Germany, but remained oddly aloof. What should we make of this most unusual novelist, wonders Philip Hensher

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