Book review – History

Portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach

Martin Luther: one man who changed the world

11 June 2016 9:00 am

After Luther, the Christian world would never be the same again. David Crane on the bruising, paradoxical, charismatic, appalling Augustinian monk from Mansfeld

My strategy for the first world war — by Allan Mallinson

11 June 2016 9:00 am

In this centenary year of the Somme, it is refreshing to read a book about the Great War that is…

A poster from the 1930s advertising Shanghai

'Wicked old Paris of the Orient': a portrait of 1930s Shanghai

4 June 2016 9:00 am

Here’s the Mandarin for ooh-la-la! As Taras Grescoe, a respected Canadian writer of nonfiction, shows in this marvellous, microscopically descriptive…

Breaking the commandments on Moses’s mountain

28 May 2016 9:00 am

A medieval party of 800 Armenians at the top of Mount Sinai suddenly found themselves surrounded by fire. Their pilgrim…

Equipped for life with a copy of Thucydides

28 May 2016 9:00 am

‘What distinguishes Cambridge from Oxford,’ wrote A.A. Milne in 1939, is that nobody who has been to Cambridge feels impelled…

How The Satanic Verses failed to burn

28 May 2016 9:00 am

This is a book which, as one eyes its lavish illustrations and dips into its elegant prose, looks as if…

Following a mistranslation of the Old Testament, Michelangelo depicted Moses with horns

‘Thou shalt commit adultery’

14 May 2016 9:00 am

Jesuits, the leading apologists for Rome and Catholic revival in Elizabethan England, cast a long shadow over the paranoid post-Armada…

HMS Agamemnon lays the first Atlantic telegraph cable between Trinity Bay and Valentia Island

The 1850s: a dizzying decade of boom and bust

26 March 2016 9:00 am

We can all identify decades in which the world moved forward. Wars are not entirely negative experiences: the social and…

Ford Madox Brown celebrates 17th-century advances in science in his painting ‘William Crabtree watches the Transit of Venus in 1639’

A.C. Grayling reduces history to a game of quidditch

12 March 2016 9:00 am

The 17th century scores highly  — especially England’s part in it — in A.C. Grayling’s ‘points system’ of history. If only the study of the past were that simple, says Ruth Scurr

The Green Man on a roof boss in Norwich cathedral

The Green Man's journey from Nazi to sweetcorn salesman

12 March 2016 9:00 am

The other day I visited a psychic medium in Croydon, south-east London. Mavis Grimstick (not quite her real name) boasted…

The British give the Chinese a taste of their own medicine in the First Opium War

Why has China taken so long to make its mark?

12 March 2016 9:00 am

‘China is a sleeping lion,’ Napoleon reportedly remarked. ‘When it wakes, the world will tremble.’ There is no need to…

A Russian barber cuts off the beard of an Old Believer. In 1705, as part of his ruthless campaign of modernisation, Peter the Great imposed a tax on beards of up to 100 roubles

Why do men grow beards?

27 February 2016 9:00 am

The ocean that Christopher Oldstone-Moore has set out to chart is as broad as it is shallow: what it has…

The death of General Gordon by George W. Joy

Why the British make a virtue of defeat

20 February 2016 9:00 am

When Henry Worsley died last month attempting the first solo, unaided expedition across the Antarctic, he was 30 miles short…

17th- and 18th-century buttons from John Taylor’s Birmingham workshop

In grandmother’s treasure-chest

13 February 2016 9:00 am

Juliet Nicolson examines women’s lives and changing fashions through a rich hoard of buttons for all occasions

A child freedom fighter in Budapest, 1956

1956: the year of living dangerously

13 February 2016 9:00 am

The book of the year has long been a favoured genre in popular history, and is a commonplace today. While…

Bad King John: more interested in hunting than good governance

The realm of England: from the Pennines to the Pyrenees

13 February 2016 9:00 am

Most people know more about the 12th century than they think they do. This is, as Richard Huscroft reminds us…

Humboldt talks to one of the indigenous people in Turbaco (today’s Columbia) en route to Bogotá.

Alexander Humboldt: a great explorer rediscovered

6 February 2016 9:00 am

The Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was once the most famous man in Europe bar Napoleon. And if you judge…

Science was invented in 1572

16 January 2016 9:00 am

There was no science before 1572, the year that Tycho Brahe saw a new star in the night sky above…

Scents and sensibility

12 December 2015 9:00 am

Choosing to smell of something other than ourselves, and then perhaps in time coming to view that fragrance as ‘our’…

The Silver Ghost, illustrated by Stefan Marjoram

Brian Sewell votes the Silver Ghost the best car in the world

12 December 2015 9:00 am

One of the great joys of the late Brian Sewell’s style of writing was his almost child-like bluntness. He had…

A portrait by Edward Savage of the Washingtons at home, with two of Martha’s grandchildren, adopted by her after the death of their parents

George and Martha Washington were an odd first First Couple

5 December 2015 9:00 am

Frances Wilson on America’s likeable, if unlikely, first First Couple

Portrait of Richard III by an unknown artist

Richard III: a bad man — and even worse king

5 December 2015 9:00 am

When archaeologists unearthed the battered mortal remains of King Richard III beneath a council car park in Leicester in 2012,…

Guy Burgess

James Klugmann and Guy Burgess: the wasted lives of spies

5 December 2015 9:00 am

Geoff Andrews’s ‘Shadow Man’, James Klugmann, was the talent-spotter, recruiter and mentor of the Cambridge spy ring. From 1962, aged…

Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham by Peter Paul Rubens

Was King James I murdered or merely poisoned in error?

5 December 2015 9:00 am

Beware hedonists bearing white powder. This, in part, was the message pressed in a short book about the excesses of…

Ivor Novello as a ‘sympathetic Ripper’ in Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

Jack the Ripper unmasked again

28 November 2015 9:00 am

The Whitechapel Fiend is a psychic conduit for the vilest aspects of Victorian sex and class, and a creature mainly…