Lead book review

Books of the year II – chosen by our regular reviewers

Andrew Lycett Describing how individuals get drawn, often haphazardly, into a bloody conflict such as the English Civil War is not an easy task. But Jessie Childs manages it superbly in The Siege of Loyalty House (Bodley Head, £25), which tingles with a discerning historical imagination. Lily Dunn’s memoir Sins of My Father (Weidenfeld &

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The history of the world in bloodshed and megalomania

It is hard to imagine why anyone should want to write one, but if there has to be a history of the whole world then Simon Sebag-Montefiore must be as good a candidate to write it as anyone. He would seem to have read pretty well everything that has ever been written, visited everywhere of

The frustrated life of John Singer Sargent

At Tate Britain this year, for the first time since 1926, nine of John Singer Sargent’s brilliantly painted and affectionately characterful portraits of the Wertheimer family have been displayed together in their own room. This was what the wealthy London art dealer Asher Wertheimer had always intended when he bequeathed these paintings to the nation.

Imprisoned on the whim of Enver Hoxha

Nowhere in this extraordinary prison memoir do we find out why Fatos Lubonja was sentenced to imprisonment in Spaç, the Albanian jail where some inmates worked the copper mines. He’s written about it elsewhere. His first seven years there were for ‘agitation and propaganda’, after police found his diaries, with criticisms of the Albanian tyrant

In defence of John James Audubon 

The text of this well illustrated book is mostly John James Audubon’s, from journals unpublished in his lifetime. Part I describes his 1826 voyage from America to England to set in motion the great task – which would take 11 years – of fundraising for the printing of his mighty double elephant folio book in

A choice of gardening books for Christmas

Do you ever think about the ground beneath your feet? I do. Having read a number of popular science books on this most precious of natural resources, I am now obsessed. So much has recently been discovered about the invaluable symbiotic relationships that form between microbes, fungi and plant roots in the soil that it

Why are heritage enthusiasts so stubbornly hidebound?

Even if notions of beauty are treacherously fugitive, and even if interpretations of history are nowadays subject to revision by class, gender and race, there can be no civilised argument against the preservation and enjoyment of great architecture and art from the past. But ‘heritage’ is not quite that simple. There’s something else going on.