Books

Ma Jian

Biting political satire: China Dream, by Ma Jian, reviewed

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Ma Jian’s novels have been banned in his native China for 30 years and he has been hailed as ‘China’s…

Vivien Leigh in a publicity still for Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Vivien Leigh: the brilliant star that fast burned out

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Dark Star’ is a suitable enough title in itself, but the definition makes it a brilliant one: ‘A Dark Star’,…

Adam Mickiewicz, the author of Pan Tadeusz.

A Lithuanian Romeo and Juliet: Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz, reviewed

15 December 2018 9:00 am

It’s hard, in Britain, to imagine a popular museum devoted to a single poem. The Polish city of Wrocław hosts…

Relish — and cultivate — your grievances

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Grudges make the world go around, according to Sophie Hannah. They are ‘an important and fascinating part of human experience’,…

Henri-Charles-Ferdinand of Artois, Duke of Bordeaux and his sister Louise-Marie-Therèse of Artois at the Tuileries, by Louis Hersent (1777–1860)

How any mother — or baby — survived childbirth before the 20th century is astonishing

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Between 1300 and 1900 few things were more dangerous than giving birth. For poor and rich, the mortality rate was…

How apartheid poisoned the world

How apartheid poisoned the world

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Around 1970 I was labelled ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ by white South Africa’s newspapers for leading militant anti-apartheid protests which…

Kenneth Rose

High society and low gossip: the journals of Kenneth Rose

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Kenneth Rose was gossip columnist by appointment to the aristocracy and gentry. He was, of course, a snob — nobody…

Stuck for something to read? Pick up a Penguin Classic

15 December 2018 9:00 am

In 1956, after Penguin Classics had published 60 titles, the editor-in-chief of Penguin Books, William Emrys Williams, wondered: ‘How many…

Spot the Shakespearean character

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Shackleton’s ship The Nimrod trapped in McMurdo Sound.

Bitten by the cold: the strange attraction of polar exploration

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of…

‘Decorating for Christmas’ by Alfred W. Cooper (1854)

The pagan feast of Christmas

15 December 2018 9:00 am

This book, an excellent history of Christmas, made me think of a Christmas cartoon strip I once saw in Viz…

King’s College, Cambridge choir rehearse A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Divulging the secret of the famous ‘King’s sound’?

15 December 2018 9:00 am

Earlier this year The Spectator published an article in celebration of Evensong — the nightly sung service of the Anglican…

‘He had a rather melancholy face, and the air of a transplanted hidalgo’, said H.H. Asquith of John Meade Falkner.

In praise of John Meade Falkner: poet, arms-dealer and unforgettable novelist

15 December 2018 9:00 am

A.N. Wilson on the mysterious life of John Meade Falkner

Answers to Spot the Shakespearean Character quiz

13 December 2018 4:00 am

1. Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) 2. Hamlet (Hamlet) 3. Cordelia (King Lear) 4. Dogberry (Much Ado About Nothing) 5.…

‘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

The Queen on a Royal Tour of Pakistan in 1961.

Elizabeth II: Queen of tact and diplomacy

8 December 2018 9:00 am

In her 66 years on the throne the Queen has represented Britain on official visits to at least 126 countries…

Shades of Lord Lucan: A Double Life, by Flynn Berry, reviewed

8 December 2018 9:00 am

A young girl finds the body of her nanny, brutally murdered, and the barely moving form of her mother, a…

LEFT: Shirley Hughes is incapable of drawing a child who isn’t lovable. From Snow in the Garden: A First Book of Christmas. RIGHT: Edmund Dulac’s illustrations are as exquisite as a Persian miniature.From The Arabian Nights, translated by Laurence Housman

Family favourites: children’s books for Christmas reviewed

8 December 2018 9:00 am

There’s no shortage of magical rings in the children’s canon, the sort of things that usefully make you invisible or…

: In 2007, thousands of India’s poorest marched on Delhi to petition for land rights.

The scandalous swamp of Indian politics

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Picture India in 1991. You need to make several trips to Delhi and wait three years to import a computer.…

Andrei Navrozov.

The gambler and the hooker: Awful Beauty, by Andrei Navrozov, reviewed

8 December 2018 9:00 am

This book — the title is from Pasternak —is billed as ‘literary fiction’. The narrator, a Russian gambler and drinker…

The Sultan crosses the Golden Horn.

Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants, by Mathias Enard, reviewed

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Michelangelo seems never to have travelled to Turkey to advise the Sultan on a bridge to span the Golden Horn,…

Henri Landru.

A real-life Bluebeard: on the track of France’s most notorious serial killer

8 December 2018 9:00 am

From Colette to Rudyard Kipling, celebrities flocked for front-row seats at the 1921 trial of Henri Landru, the notorious ‘lonely…

From Martin Rowson’s ferocious retelling of The Communist Manifesto.

What links fairy tales, Karl Marx, Anne Frank and St Augustine?

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Its Booker-longlist nomination meant that Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (Granta, £16.99) was the comic that everyone has heard of this year,…

Is Lionel Messi the greatest footballer of all time?

8 December 2018 9:00 am

If you don’t know who Lionel Messi is you won’t enjoy this book much. If you do, you probably will.…

Chains and planes: Turbulence, by David Szalay, reviewed

8 December 2018 9:00 am

In the opening pages of Turbulence, a woman in her seventies, who is visiting her sick son in Notting Hill,…