Books

Ali Smith’s Winter is calm, cool and consoling

4 November 2017 9:00 am

In 1939, Barbara Hepworth gathered her children and her chisels and fled Hampstead for Cornwall. She expected war to challenge…

A book about sleep that will keep you up all night

4 November 2017 9:00 am

I’ve read several books​ ​about​ ​sleep recently,​ ​and​ ​their​ ​authors​ ​all​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​the same​ ​three​ ​things.​ ​The​ ​first​ ​is​…

From blissful dawn to bleak despair: the end of the revolutionary dream

4 November 2017 9:00 am

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey were undergraduates when they met in June 1794, Coleridge at Cambridge university and Southey…

George Eliot, photographed in 1858

Which writers really deserve to be called ‘outsiders’?

28 October 2017 9:00 am

The women writers Lyndall Gordon presents as brave ‘outsiders’ had easy lives compared with many other struggling authors one can name, says Philip Hensher

More secrets, symbols and awesome truths from Dan Brown

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Being reflexively snotty about Dan Brown’s writing is like slagging off Donald Trump’s spelling: it just entrenches everyone’s position. In…

Joan was ‘a lovely boy-girl... like a casual, loving, decadent Eton athlete’, according to Cyril Connolly

Joan Leigh Fermor: sensual, aloof and tantalisingly untameable

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Joan Leigh Fermor died in 2003, aged 91, after falling in her bathroom in the house on a rocky headland…

‘The Incredulity of Thomas’, by Caravaggio. (c.1603). It is only in St John’s Gospel that Thomas is portrayed as unbelieving

Wonder Beyond Belief: a book to challenge and change you

28 October 2017 9:00 am

I’m not a critic, I’m an enthusiast. And when you are an enthusiast you need to try your best to…

Growing up with the Little Nursing Sisters

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Suffering, wrote Auden, takes place ‘while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along’. His…

What could possibly go wrong in utopia for those with nothing to hide?

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Set partly in a future surveillance society, partly in ancient Carthage and 1970s Ethiopia, partly in contemporary Greece and London…

Crying wolf on the far right in Europe

28 October 2017 9:00 am

This book is an exercise in crying wolf that utterly fails to prove its main thesis: that Europe is abandoning…

‘Speak! Speak!’ by John Everett Millais (1895)

Where are the ghosts of yesterday?

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Children started knocking on my door last month wearing Donald Trump face masks and asking for money. Indeed, one enterprising…

‘The Kindly Robin’: a Victorian Christmas card portrays the robin as a ‘good’ bird, despite it being aggressive by nature, and quick to see off intruders

Dogs crave justice, while horses get embarrassed

28 October 2017 9:00 am

There was a time when biologists so scorned the attribution of human qualities to other animals that anthropomorphism was seen…

The secret to midlife: enjoy yourself without regrets

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Losing our way in life’s trackless forest, whither should we turn for solace and advice? Wisdom used to be the…

Is ‘jihadi culture’ a contradiction in terms?

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Jihadi Culture might sound like a joke title for a book, like ‘Great Belgians’ or ‘Canadian excitements’. But in this…

Even when Proust was sedated with heroin, there was no escaping the blaring of klaxons, the thud of demolition and the renovation of his neighbour’s toilet

Marcel Proust and his noisy neighbours

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Why would a writer like Marcel Proust, who quivered and wheezed at the slightest sensation, decide to live surrounded by…

Cross-dressing in the Met. Policemen don women’s clothes to catch the Whitechapel murderer. Charles West (far right) leads the search in Jack the Ripper, 1974

What do Robin Hood, Jack the Ripper and Winston Churchill have in common?

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Houdini, Antarctica, a maternity ward, the electric chair – they’re all subjects of failed musicals. But it’s impossible to predict what will work, says Roger Lewis

Dyers at work. There was a tradition that Jesus was apprenticed to a dyer when young

The everyday lives of Chaucer’s pilgrims

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Liza Picard, an chronicler of London society across the centuries, now weaves an infinity of small details into an arresting…

Adam Gopnik: 30 years of New Yorker life

21 October 2017 9:00 am

When Adam Gopnik arrived in Manhattan in late 1980 he was an art history postgrad so poor that he and…

From Cicero to Castro: history’s greatest orators

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Complaints about the decline and fall of political oratory are nothing new. Back in 1865 a British reporter branded the…

The Telemachuses: even quirkier than the Addams family

21 October 2017 9:00 am

This delightfully good-humoured novel is the sort of genre scramble that doesn’t often work: there’s a bit of 1990s family…

The one almighty problem with Philip Pullman’s storytelling

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Philip Pullman’s new k, the prequel to his Northern Lights series — the one north Oxford academics very much prefer…

Outcasts, émigrés and refugees crowd the latest debut novels

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Black Rock White City (Melville House, £16.99) is ostensibly about a spate of sinister graffiti in a Melbourne hospital. ‘The…

The bee orchid, by Franz Andreas Bauer. Its sex life is far beyond the dreams of most teenage boys

Will orchid mania be the next gap year phenomenon?

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Who would want to read a whole book about a teenage boy’s gap year? When most 18-year-olds take time off…

Narvik harbour, March 1940

The ruthless coup that put Churchill in power

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Lord Woolton put it best: ‘Few people have succeeded in obtaining such a public demand for their promotion as the…