Lead book review

Conversations between truth and power

Denis Diderot (1713–84) is the least commemorated of the philosophes. Calls for his remains to be moved to the Panthéon on the tricentenary of his birth in 2013 were ignored. He has not taken his place alongside Rousseau and Voltaire in the Parisian vaults of fame, even though he was no less radical or progressive.

More from Books

Swarms of pestilence

Carried on monsoon winds across the Red Sea, vast swarms of desert locusts have posed a deadly threat to the people of the Horn of Africa for millennia. One swarm can number billions of insects, cover a 1,000-square-mile area and consume 30–40,000 tonnes of food per day — all of which makes the desert locust

Keep on rolling

Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken’s first novel in 18 years, is a great American candy-colour Buddenbrooks, a multi-generational epic spanning almost 100 years and presenting the lives of a whole panoply of people. Swap the family with their grain business in Thomas Mann’s novel for the Truitts and their bowling alley in Salford, north of Boston, and

If you are going to San Francisco…

In his adopted city of San Francisco, the poet, publisher and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti is venerated to levels nearing those of patron sainthood. In 1954, he co-founded the bookshop-cum-press City Lights on Columbus Avenue, which cleaves North Beach from Chinatown on the top right tip of the San Franciscan peninsula. Lauded by the Los Angeles

Funny peculiar

My ex-dentist resembled a potato wearing a Patek Phillipe. In those precious moments between the golf course and the cruise ship he would take the time to remind patients what good value our treatments were. Under the spotlights we could do little but stare, gurn and dribble, which he took, I presume, as a sign

One of mankind’s great mysteries

Later this month, a boat builder from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia will fly to the Russian city of Sochi to begin work on a 40-foot craft made from papyrus reeds. A German-led expedition hopes Fermín Limachi’s construction skills will see them safely across the Black Sea and eventually on to Athens. It is a mad

Loved and lost | 21 March 2019

On 19 June 1948, the modern LP was unveiled at a press conference by the Columbia Records president Ted Wallerstein, who, as Billboard magazine reported, ‘demonstrated listening qualities of both 10- and 12-inch vinyl microgroove platters’. The company issued Frank Sinatra’s long-player, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, a week later. The title of David Hepworth’s

Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, mother of the Plantagenet dynasty, is the earliest queen of England who never was; by rights she should have been England’s first ruling queen four centuries before Mary. But she never sat on the throne. In this authoritative but accessible biography, Catherine Hanley emphasises the fortitude and steel of a woman who,

The message in the blossom

Between 1639 and 1853, seeds and scions of flowering cherry trees travelled across Japan to Edo (present-day Tokyo). Each came from the most beautiful specimens of varieties of tree from the different principalities of Japan. From mountainous regions came the light pink yama-zakura; from the chilly climates of Hokkaido and northern Honshu came the crimson

Making Brexit thrilling

The long gestation period of Brexit has allowed authors to plan and write and publish novels in time for the big day. Alan Judd’s Accidental Agent (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is a spy thriller set during the EU negotiations. Charles Thoroughgood is the head of MI6. The secret service is forbidden from spying on the

The voices of the victims

Before she was the subject of true-crime mythologising, Catherine Eddowes made her living from it, selling ballads based on real-life murders to avid Victorian audiences. The historian Hallie Rubenhold suggests that Eddowes may have written them too; unusually for a working-class woman, she was literate. Still, the possible example of her work that Rubenhold reproduces

Mystery in the Mojave desert

Late one night, on a dimly lit stretch of highway in a small town in the Californian Mojave desert, an elderly Moroccan has just locked up his restaurant when he’s struck by a speeding car and left for dead. A hit and run. An accident? Or something more sinister? The only witness, a Mexican worker

Writing as exorcism

Why are people interested in their past? One possible reason is that you can interact with it, recruiting it as an agent of the present and the future. Siri Hustvedt’s novel, masked as a memoir, suggests you should rely not so much on your recollection of particular events as on your ability to interpret them,