Lead book review

Unearthly darkness

Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipsesby Norton, £20, pp. 336 On 28 May 1900 Mabel Loomis Todd, friend and editor of the poet Emily Dickinson, stood with her astronomer husband on the roof of a house in Tripoli to witness one of nature’s most spectacular events: a total eclipse

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Golden opportunities

Tudor merchants — shivering in furs in tiny creaking ships, sailing through the ice of unknown winter seas — knew something that today’s careworn EU and civil service officials might be irritated to hear: that despite all travails, trade deals can sometimes be sexy, thrilling and epic. In 16th-century London, plans to open up fresh

Anything for a good story

When I was at boarding school in the early 1970s, the Durrells, or at least Gerald, were immensely popular. My Family and Other Animals made us laugh out loud; we squealed as the scorpions skittered across the family’s dining table and groaned empathetically when Margo kissed the mummified feet of St Spiridion in an attempt

A choice of first novels | 20 April 2017

If you go down to the woods today… That is the starting point for Idaho by Emily Ruskovich, who grew up on Hoodoo mountain in the Idaho panhandle. A family — mother Jenny, father Wade, daughters May and June — leave their little house in the big woods and drive a pick-up truck to a

Shame and scandal in the American west

In the early 1920s, while the United States was entering its crazed phase of prohibition and prosperity, a group of Native Americans had also just struck it rich. The Osage were a tribe who had been driven west (like others), and had settled in a rocky region of northwest Oklahoma. Unlike other Indian nations, they

Bring up the bodies

I grew up with a skeleton in the attic. My mother’s clinical training bestowed on our family a short man’s dry remains, and his residency at home fed the nightmares of my siblings. When I started medical school, he came too, but now as an ally in passing the anatomy exam. On moving house, I

A passion for vinyl

Every year at this time, as trees come into bud and flowers bloom, middle-aged men (and a few women) sleep overnight on pavements to ensure they don’t miss the year’s crop of Record Store Day releases; April may indeed be the cruellest month if one fails to acquire that limited 12” picture disc of Toto’s

Truth is stranger than satire

I think we’re all agreed about Donald Trump — by which I mean all of us who read the literary novel, buy hardbacks and take pleasure in good writing. The novel as a form is interested in different points of view; is protean and humanly various; listens to different voices patiently; does not shout down.

A feast in every sense

After reading Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, you might, as I did, sit for a bit wondering what a chef is, exactly. We think of chefs as cooks, people in charge of a kitchen, ingredients, pan and heat, who hopefully produce great dishes of food. But this is apparently an outdated concept. For chefs