Books

1983: the year the world nearly ended

26 May 2018 9:00 am

In 1983, Soviet spies skulked in our midnight streets to check the lights were out. The Kremlin, convinced the West…

Hello darkness, my old friend: Paul Simon, determined to ensure that his true self remains in shadow

The sound of silence that echoes round Paul Simon

26 May 2018 9:00 am

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble choosing the jacket cover of Robert Hilburn’s authorised biography of Paul Simon…

Carbon – the stuff of life we’re shamefully ignorant about

26 May 2018 9:00 am

‘I didn’t realise we were carbon,’ said a friend to whom I mentioned this book. She was the first of…

Dorothy Parker: poet, short story writer, acidic reviewer and queen of the Algonquin Round Table

America’s wittiest women fight to be taken seriously

26 May 2018 9:00 am

From Aphra Behn to Virginia Woolf, women who make a living by their pens have frequently felt the need to…

Is it acceptable to spin an entertaining fantasy from real-life crime?

26 May 2018 9:00 am

How can you defend a man you hate? John Fairfax, in his Blind Defence (Little Brown, £16.99), explores this dilemma.…

William Trevor, photographed in 1993

The wilder shores of excess in William Trevor’s fiction

19 May 2018 9:00 am

Many of William Trevor’s best characters defy social conventions. Breaking the rules of behaviour is a recurring theme in his superbly crafted short stories, says Philip Hensher

‘The Poltergeist’ by Conroy Maddox (1941)

A violent ultimatum ended Giacometti’s brief flirtation with Marlene Dietrich

19 May 2018 9:00 am

Those with long enough memories may remember Desmond Morris as the presenter of the hit ITV children’s programme of Zoo…

What was Donald Trump’s father doing at a notorious KKK gathering in 1927?

19 May 2018 9:00 am

The figure of Donald Trump looms over Sarah Churchwell’s new history of American national identity, which highlights the ugliest features…

The Gordon Riots, illustrated in Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge

The stubborn old Hanoverians saw new Gunpowder Plots everywhere

19 May 2018 9:00 am

Once won, rights and freedoms are taken for granted. We all find it difficult to imagine life before the Married…

The Battle of Arnhem wasn’t doomed from the start. It might even have been a risk worth taking

19 May 2018 9:00 am

In the high summer of 1944 the Allies achieved their major victory in Normandy with the closing of the German…

The Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist was a book produced in 1968 by the Neo-American Church, explaining how to manufacture and cultivate marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, morning glory, LSD and STP ‘for religious purposes’. Taken from Altered States: The Library of Julio Santo Domingo by Peter Watts (Anthology Editions, available at www.anthology.net)

Might LSD be good for you?

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Many hallucinogenic drugs are non-addictive, carry little or no physiological risk and might even be good for you, says Sam Leith

The Siege of Acre, depicted in Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis (1487)

The Siege of Acre: a monstrous blot on the Third Crusade

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Lionheart! Saladin! Massacre! There is no shortage of larger-than-life characters and drama in the epic, two-year siege of Acre, the…

Tchaikovsky: an uneasy mix of desire for fame and a loathing for the familiarity of strangers

Love me or go to hell – Tchaikovsky’s message to his public

12 May 2018 9:00 am

This is a wonderful and moving book of correspondence and biographical documents promising one Tchaikovsky in its subtitle and introduction,…

Fried squid, stale sweat and sensuality in Ian Buruma’s Tokyo

12 May 2018 9:00 am

In 1975, the 24-year-old Ian Buruma (now an award-winning essayist and historian, and the editor of the New York Review…

The most shocking sight in ancient Greece: men in trousers

12 May 2018 9:00 am

In his robust new biography of Alcibiades, David Stuttard describes how the mercurial Greek general shocked his contemporaries by adopting…

Hernando Columbus deserves to be as famous as his father, Christopher

12 May 2018 9:00 am

On 9 May 1502, a young Spaniard joined the fleet setting sail for the newly discovered Americas. The boy, Hernando,…

All smiles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in early days

The Wallis Simpson I knew – by Nicky Haslam

12 May 2018 9:00 am

One would have thought this particular can of worms might, after nearly 80 years, be well past its sell-by date.…

An imaginative depiction of Archaeopteryx, in the transitional phase between non-avian feathered dinosaurs and modern birds

We still live in the age of dinosaurs

12 May 2018 9:00 am

The age of dinosaurs is a perennial favourite on any time traveller’s wishlist. Even though we’re technically still in it…

I want Lorrie Moore to be my BFF

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Is there anything more depressing than the prospect of reading a writer’s collected essays, journalism and occasional pieces? Most of…

Clean-up workers, known as ‘roof cats’, prepare to remove radioactive debris with shovels and handbarrows from the damaged reactor, October 1968

The Chernobyl catastrophe was a foregone conclusion

12 May 2018 9:00 am

In the early days of the atomic age, Soviet students debated whether it was nobler to become a physicist or…

Northern, posh and Brummie are the only accents we recognise

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Rab C. Nesbitt excepted, it has become quite difficult to infer much from people’s appearance. In these…

Fifty-one hours in Dr Johnson’s rumbustious company

12 May 2018 9:00 am

When a man is tired of Samuel Johnson, he’s tired of life. James Boswell intended his biography of Dr Johnson,…

Rao Pingru and his siblings make a lion lantern with their mother

Enduring life under Chairman Mao

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Hilary Spurling is enchanted by depictions of simple family pleasures throughout years of famine and persecution

Joan of Arc from ‘Vie des Femmes Celebres’, 1505

The songs my father’s mistress taught me ignited my love of France

5 May 2018 9:00 am

When John Julius Norwich was a boy, his father was British ambassador in Paris.School holidays were spent in the exceptionally…

The best single-volume history of the Great War yet written

5 May 2018 9:00 am

The historiography of the Great War is stupendous, the effects of the conflict being so far-reaching that even today historians…