Books

Doris Lessing in her mid sixties

Doris Lessing: from champion of free love to frump with a bun

10 March 2018 9:00 am

‘I am interested only in stretching myself, in living as fully as I can.’ Lara Feigel begins her thoughtful book…

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

The Austrian empress Elizabeth, known as Sisi, was stabbed with a needle file by an Italian anarchist as she prepared to board a boat on Lake Geneva in 1898. After the attack, she picked herself up and proceeded on her journey, with very little loss of blood, but died soon afterwards —technically, from shock. Her story is related by Arnold van de Laar

From Louis XIV to the Shah of Iran: celebrities under the surgeon’s knife

3 March 2018 9:00 am

Powerful memoirs by such eloquent doctors as Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, Henry Marsh, Gabriel Weston and Paul Kalanithi have whipped…

Be a spy like me, Charlotte Bingham’s father advises

3 March 2018 9:00 am

That there’s a direct correlation between sex and spying is probably Ian Fleming’s fault. Hard to think of Bond without…

The ruins of Dougga, Tunisia convinced Ibn Khaldun that North Africa had once been extremely prosperous and heavily populated

How a 14th-century Arab thinker influenced Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy

3 March 2018 9:00 am

  At a press conference in October 1981, Ronald Reagan quoted Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) in support of what is known…

The spring gentian’s ‘tongues of ocean blue’

Dying buddleias on railway lines are what excite the new nature writer

3 March 2018 9:00 am

A parliament of owls. A gaggle of geese. A convocation of eagles. But what is the generic term for the…

You deserve a prize if you manage to finish Jim Crace’s latest novel

3 March 2018 9:00 am

This remorselessly slow-moving, hazily allegorical drama about ageing and xenophobia is Jim Crace’s 12th book, and the first to appear…

Alastair Campbell’s mix of football and terrorism makes for an accomplished thriller

3 March 2018 9:00 am

Alastair Campbell is a man of many parts.   Journalist, spin doctor extraordinaire, diarist and now novelist. For this, his third…

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

Laura Freeman reads her way out of anorexia

24 February 2018 9:00 am

It is hard to be honest about anorexia. The illness breeds deceit and distortion: ‘It thrives on looking-glass logic. It…

A nightly occurrence in Tegucigalpa. Forensic officers inspect a crime scene involving the execution of six men in drug-related gang warfare

Is Tegucigalpa the crime capital of the world?

24 February 2018 9:00 am

The Spanish journalist Alberto Arce worked for Associated Press in Honduras in 2012 and 2013. After a year, he says:…

The Adulterants: a caustic take on London’s brutal property market

24 February 2018 9:00 am

Often a blurb exaggerates, but rarely does it fundamentally misrepresent (unless it contains the words ‘In the tradition of…’). The…

Portrait of Franco as Generalissimo

Spain has effectively obliterated Franco’s memory

24 February 2018 9:00 am

Spanish restaurants in Germany are relatively rare, but not nearly as rare as biographies of General Franco. So when the…

The body count piles up in Mick Herron’s London Rules

24 February 2018 9:00 am

The well-written spy novel is not a hotly contested field. Le Carré, Fleming, Deighton, a few Greenes, and that’s largely…

The Book of Joan: part apocalyptic tale, part erotic poem

24 February 2018 9:00 am

Does J.G. Ballard’s ‘disquieting equation’, ‘sex x technology = the future’, still hold? Not in Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel, which imagines…

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

The best way to escape my abusive family was to write novels

17 February 2018 9:00 am

Early on in Amy Tan’s 1989 bestseller, The Joy Luck Club, a Chinese concubine slices a chunk of flesh from…

César Aira returns to the evocative small-town landscape of his youth

17 February 2018 9:00 am

The publication of César Aira’s The Lime Tree in Chris Andrews’s assured translation is a reminder that much of the…

The Marquis de Lafayette was inspired to fight in the American Revolutionary War

Why do people risk their lives to fight for a foreign cause?

17 February 2018 9:00 am

What’s the point of a cover if not to judge a book by? One look at the image on the…

Women sort coffee beans at the Farmers’ Cooperative Union outside Bonga, in the heart of the Kafa region

Kafa, the birthplace of coffee, was a kingdom straight out of Rider Haggard

17 February 2018 9:00 am

For many of us, coffee is the lift that eases the load of our working day. Yet the sharpened mental…

It’s not a wave’s crest, but its translucent interior that surfers dream of

17 February 2018 9:00 am

Surfing has come of age. Like rock and roll, it was once strictly for young people, edgy and alternative and…

Lady Lucan, a week after the murder

How Lucky Lucan begged me for money shortly before mistakenly murdering the nanny

17 February 2018 9:00 am

A Moment in Time reminded me of the sort of British expatriate women I used to meet in the south…

A century of Ethiopia’s turbulent history, seen through the life of one woman

17 February 2018 9:00 am

Yetemegn was barely eight years old when her parents married her off to a man in his thirties. Before she…

Despite her inability to talk or swallow, Genevieve Fox brims with joie de vivre

17 February 2018 9:00 am

A good, solid life-threatening illness can be the making of a writer. This has certainly been the case for Genevieve…

Churchill was all in favour of a united Europe — as long as it didn’t include Britain

17 February 2018 9:00 am

Dr Felix Klos is an extremely personable, highly intelligent American-Dutch historian who has undertaken much archival research, worked extremely hard…