Books

Alexander Chee. Credit Bloomsbury Publishing

Does an autobiographical novel really count as fiction?

17 November 2018 9:00 am

Orhan Pamuk, writing about Vladimir Nabokov’s masterful memoir Speak, Memory, noted that there was a particular ‘thrill’ for the writer…

‘Attack on the Sealkote mutineers by General Nicholson’s Irregular Cavalry, 1857.’ Illustration by Charles Ball

The Lion of the Punjab: the short, brutish career of John Nicholson

17 November 2018 9:00 am

‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’, said Winston Churchill as prime minister in 1942,…

A river of green topiary cascades down the terrace steps at West Dean. Cotoneaster horizontalis covers the wall on the right

Top topiary: the year’s best gardening books

17 November 2018 9:00 am

There are probably no more gifted professional gardeners in England than Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, husband and wife and…

Kurt Eisner and friends plan a brave new world. Credit. Getty Images

Dreams of utopia before the Nazi nightmare

17 November 2018 9:00 am

Today Munich is a prosperous and peaceful place — Germany’s most affluent, attractive city. Wandering its leafy avenues, lined with…

David Garrick in Shakespeare’s Richard III, painted by Francis Hayman

What was the celebrated Garrick really like as an actor?

17 November 2018 9:00 am

The age of Garrick, Norman Poser, a law professor, insists, gave us much of what we take for granted today…

Japanese puzzle: how can an advanced, dynamic country function with such an ancient population?

17 November 2018 9:00 am

When Japan hosts the Rugby Union World Cup next year, and still more so the summer Olympics in 2020, all…

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

Members of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) celebrate Armistice Day, 1918 in London

Celebrating the 1918 Armistice resulted in thousands more deaths

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Reflecting on the scenes of celebration, the ‘overpowering entrancements’, that he had witnessed in November 1918 on the first Armistice…

Levison Wood. Credit Simon Buxton

Boys’ Own adventures in the war-torn Middle East

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Ask most people whether they fancy a four-month, 5,000-mile trek across the Middle East and they might conclude you need…

Jean-François Raffaelli’s view of one of Haussmann’s boulevards in 1900. Credit Getty Images

Baron Haussmann: the man who set Paris straight

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Rupert Christiansen’s City of Light opens on the evening of 5 January 1875, with the inauguration of Paris’s new opera…

Alesso Baldovinetti’s ‘Madonna and Child’ (c. 1464) is rich in symbolism. The infant Christ holds his swaddling band up to the Virgin’s womb, as if it were a token of the umbilical cord that united them. The winding shape of the bandage is echoed in the distant meandering river. The Madonna’s gossamer veil falls over her head as a pyx-cloth might cover a sacramental vessel.The child touches another translucent veil, draped over the cushion beside him. Towering above him, his Mother joins her hands in devotion, as if to acknowledge her Son’s meaningful gestures

Unfolding mysteries: the drama of drapery in Italian art

10 November 2018 9:00 am

The striking yet subtle jacket image from Donatello’s ‘Madonna of the Clouds’ announces this book’s quality from the outset. Its…

Famous cricketers of the 1880s include James Lilywhite (far left) and W.G. Grace (centre). Credit: Getty Images

Farewell to cricket as the archetypal English game

10 November 2018 9:00 am

At the beginning of August this year, the England test team played what is supposed to have been the 1,000th…

The Statue of Liberty, photographed during a partial solar eclipse. ‘Far from being a cheerful present from one nation to another, Liberty is a subversive and occult statement’

The Statue of Liberty is a deeply sinister icon

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Immigrants to the United States in the late 19th century discovered in Upper New York Bay, after a long, uncomfortable…

The discovery of the murder of Lord William Russell. Credit: Bridgeman Images

The Victorian melodrama that led to murder and mayhem

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Early on the morning of 6 May 1840, a young housemaid in a respectable Mayfair street discovered that her master,…

‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904). The statue of Galatea poses issues about dolls sold for sex, according to Adrienne Mayor

The ancient Greeks would have loved Alexa

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Among the myths of Ancient Greece the Cyclops has become forever famous, the Talos not so much. While both were…

Credit Getty Images

A darkly comic road trip: The Remainder, by Alia Trabucco Zerán, reviewed

10 November 2018 9:00 am

You could call The Remainder a literary kaleidoscope: look at it one way and you see how the past lays…

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

Face of young woman partially destroyed, dating from the 1st century BC, found at Tivoli, Italy. Credit Getty Images

Must Ovid be hijacked by the alt-right?

3 November 2018 9:00 am

Who could possibly take exception to the Stoics? One of the more passive arms of Hellenistic philosophy, Stoicism required its…

St Francis receiving the stigmata. Credit Getty Images

Francis of Assisi’s life in poetry will stay in the mind forever

3 November 2018 9:00 am

This passionate series of engagements with the life of St Francis will stay in my mind for a very long…

Marat was assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday in 1793. Credit Getty Images

Horrors of the house of wax: Little, by Edward Carey, reviewed

3 November 2018 9:00 am

The reader of Edward Carey’s Little must have a tender heart and a strong stomach. You will weep, you will…

Jonathan Coe. Credit: Getty Images

A novel view of Brexit: Middle England, by Jonathan Coe, reviewed

3 November 2018 9:00 am

Jonathan Coe writes compelling, humane and funny novels, but you sometimes suspect he wants to write more audacious ones. He…

Georges Barbier’s imaginative illustration of an opium den c. 1921

In the garden of good and evil: the power of the poppy

3 November 2018 9:00 am

America has for years been struggling with a shortage of the drugs it uses to execute people, yet it was…

It’s thought that counts when it comes to good prose

3 November 2018 9:00 am

This is a sentence. As is this — not an exceptionally beautiful one, but a sentence all the same, just…

Getty Images

Insomnia is key to my creativity

3 November 2018 9:00 am

A genre of memoir currently in vogue involves entwining the author’s personal story with the cultural history of a given…

The Finnish-American actress Maila Nurmi, who created the 1950s character Vampira.

The vampire’s role in Marxist philosophy

3 November 2018 9:00 am

‘What!’, railed Voltaire in his Dictionnaire Philosophique of 1764. ‘Is it in our 18th century that vampires still exist?’ Hadn’t…