Lead book review

An old Encyclopaedia Britannica is a work to cherish

Two thousand years ago, a young Cilician named Oppian, wanting to rehabilitate his disgraced father, decided to write Halieutica, an account of the world of fishes, as a gift for Marcus Aurelius. It was a mixture of possible fact and definite fiction – if only there were octopuses that climb trees and fishes that fancy

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Scotland’s deer are proving deeply divisive

On the face of it, a book about a woman stalking one red deer might not sound that exciting. Just one? It’s estimated that there are nearly a million in the Scottish hills and around 60,000 are culled every year. So why write about a single kill? But in Hindsight Jenna Watt goes far deeper

How Putin manipulated history to help Russians feel good again

Every country has an origin story but none has ‘changed it so often’ as Russia, according to Orlando Figes. The subject is inseparable from myth. In this impressive and deeply immersive book, the author sets out to reveal Russia’s history, its people’s perception of their past and the manifold ways in which those in power

Pre-Mussolini, most Italians couldn’t understand each other

Towards the end of Dandelions, Thea Lenarduzzi’s imaginative and deeply affecting memoir, the author quotes her grandmother’s remark that there are tante Italie – many Italys. ‘Mine is different to hers, which is different to my mother’s, which is different to my father’s, and so on down the queue,’ she writes. These Italys – of

The real Dick Whittington and the folklore legend

In that dark world the air pulsed with the melancholy clangour of bells. If, as legend has it, the chimes of St Mary-le-Bow told Dick Whittington to turn again, then what were they saying to all the other medieval Londoners, dwelling in houses so crowded on fouled streets that the sun could not break through?

Women artists have been ignored for far too long

At first glance, Clara Peeters’s ‘Still Life with a Vase of Flowers, Goblets and Shells’ (1612) appears to be just that. Carefully arranged on a wooden tabletop, the collected objects are in conversation, the nubby curves of the shells echoing the ribbed neck of the stone vase, their dusky and rosy hues matching the open

Bittersweet memories: Ti Amo, by Hanne Ørstavik, reviewed

This is a deceptively slim novel. Its 96 pages contain multitudes: two lives, past and present, seamlessly interwoven. The narrator, a Norwegian novelist, and her Italian husband live in Milan. ‘Ti amo,’ they frequently tell each other. Easier to say ‘I love you’, than for him to say he’s dying, and her to say she