Book review – History

Inventing the Chinese typewriter sounds as punishing as cracking Enigma

7 October 2017 9:00 am

The history of industry is the story of the reduction of complexity to easily manageable, replicable components or actions. But…

The cornucopia of food advertised by the Empire Marketing Board, 1927‑1933

The glories of empire — and Britain’s taste for the exotic

2 September 2017 9:00 am

Katrina Gulliver salutes the traders and innovators of the British empire who first gave us our taste for the exotic

A woman on a ducking-stool, accused of witchcraft. Drowning would have proved her innocence

Magic mushrooms and the roots of witchcraft

19 August 2017 9:00 am

Until the mid-1960s many historians believed witchcraft was a pre-Christian pagan fertility ritual, witches worshipping the Horned God, whose consort…

What does it really mean to be British today?

22 July 2017 9:00 am

After years of estrangement in a foreign land, what can immigrants expect to find on their return home? The remembered…

William Joyce — better known as Lord Haw-Haw: an ideological enthusiast for fascism

Four enemies within: Britain’s fascist traitors

22 July 2017 9:00 am

Most books about British traitors feature those who spied for Russia before and during the Cold War, making it easy…

Study of horses by Théodore Géricault

Man and horse - the end of a special relationship?

17 June 2017 9:00 am

Sam Leith canters through a fascinating, if eccentric, history of man’s long  partnership with the horse

Tom Brown’s School Days, illustrated by Solomon van Abbe

The brutish education system that’s quintessentially British

17 June 2017 9:00 am

I used to worry that I would never be a good writer because my childhood wasn’t interesting enough. I now…

The 80-year-old queen is caricatured in the French satirical magazine Le Rire, greeting her nephew the Kaiser (December 1899)

Queen Victoria — burdened by grief and six-course dinners

27 May 2017 9:00 am

In 2015 a pair of linen drawers belonging to Queen Victoria sold at auction for over £12,000. In old age…

An early modern battle scene depicted in a Mughal miniature looks like a graceful pageant compared to today’s nuclear and cyber warfare

Racing to Armageddon

6 May 2017 9:00 am

An enduring solution to war becomes ever more pressing. But will it always be wishful thinking, as Milos Stankovic suspects?

Saint Helena and the Emperor Heraclius restore the Holy Cross to Jerusalem after its recapture from the Persians. Altarpiece by Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat, c.1485

From Tree of Death to Tree of Life: the history of the cross

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Among Christians, the cross is seen as an instrument of execution and an emblem of victory. Christopher Howse explores the paradox

Liberal lefties should relish hating the Daily Mail while they can

15 April 2017 9:00 am

According to Private Eye, executives at the Daily Mail were alarmed by the impending publication of Adrian Addison’s new history…

Making amends to Native Americans may be endangering their history

15 April 2017 9:00 am

A few years ago, a group of Native American leaders drove 12 hours from Oklahoma to Denver Museum of Nature…

As early as 1895, Octave Uzanne foresaw ‘the end of books’ with the invention of the portable audiobook. Illustration from ‘Contes pour les bibliophiles’

Why The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie could not be read aloud

8 April 2017 9:00 am

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Portrait of Talleyrand by Ary Scheffer

What Theresa May could learn from Talleyrand

25 March 2017 9:00 am

Talleyrand was 76 when he took up the post of French ambassador in London in 1830. Linda Kelly deals only…

Paris-born Pearl Witherington led a force of over 1,500 maquisards in the summer of 1944

Six of the best female spies in Nazi-occupied France

11 March 2017 9:00 am

‘Women,’ Captain Selwyn Jepson, SOE’s senior recruiting officer, once wrote, ‘have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage…

Portrait of Persia’s Prince Abbas Mirza, c.1820. From his bailiwick near the Russian border he dispatched educational missions to Europe, sponsored translations of key European works and imported metal casting techniques and the printing press. (Getty images)

When Islam was synonymous with knowledge and erudition

11 March 2017 9:00 am

Christopher de Bellaigue, a journalist who has spent much of his working life in the Middle East, has grown tired…

Pomak Muslims still live in Greek and Bulgarian villages. Left: a bride embarks on her two-day winter wedding in Ribnovo, 210 km from Sofia

The long tragedy of Europe's borderland

25 February 2017 9:00 am

The border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey has long been a flashpoint. Now, more than ever, says Simon Kuper, it’s a hazardous transit realm for the homeless

Paul Durand-Ruel, who created the market for impressionism, commissioned Renoir’s ‘Dance in the Country’, painted in 1883

Connoisseurs and con artists

25 February 2017 9:00 am

Rogues’ Gallery describes itself as a history of art and its dealers, and Philip Hook, who has worked at the…

Portrait of Persia’s Prince Abbas Mirza c. 1820. From his bailiwick near the Russian border he dispatched educational missions to Europe, sponsored translations of key European works and imported metal casting techniques and the printing press

When Islam was a byword for benign Enlightenment

25 February 2017 9:00 am

Christopher de Bellaigue, a journalist who has spent much of his working life in the Middle East, has grown tired…

Magic lantern slides from the mid-19th century

The importance of being frivolous

18 February 2017 9:00 am

Sam Leith is delighted by the idea that having fun is the key to human progress

The game butcher, with dead rabbits and live, caged ones beneath. (Scene from the 1840s)

How many slaves existed in George V’s Britain?

18 February 2017 9:00 am

Oddly enough, one of the most historically influential pieces of British writing has turned out to be an essay that…

Cosette, by Emile-Antoine Bayard. Illustration for Les Misérables

Victor Hugo speaks volumes for the outcast and the destitute

18 February 2017 9:00 am

Somewhere between his first and second drafts, Victor Hugo decided to change the title of his great novel from Les…

Rod Taylor works his invention in a film version of HG. Wells’s The Time Machine

Cheating death by time travel

11 February 2017 9:00 am

The concept of time travel is surprisingly recent, says Jenny Colgan. Before H.G. Wells, it barely existed

The interior of Hagia Sophia by Gaspare Fossati, 1852

There is no one Istanbul, but a series of competing, clashing, coexisting cities

11 February 2017 9:00 am

I was a young, aspiring writer when I decided to leave everything behind and move to Istanbul more than two…

Why is the world crumbling in anger and terror?

21 January 2017 9:00 am

America’s global hegemony from 1944 onwards has led to a world now riven by hatred and terror, says Jonathan Steinberg