Book review – History

Making do on frogs’ legs and 4,500 brace of grouse

27 June 2015 9:00 am

This big, bristling, deeply-furrowed book kicks off with a picture of the British countryside just before the second world war.…

The long shadow of genocide: Armenia’s vengeance years

27 June 2015 9:00 am

One morning in March 1921 a large man in an overcoat left his house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, to take a…

Flamboyant intellectuals: René Descartes (main picture) and Bernard-Henri Lévy (below), in 1978

Liberty, philosophy and 246 types of cheese

20 June 2015 9:00 am

The French have always favoured grand, elegant abstractions about the human condition, says Ruth Scurr. It’s part of their national identity

The new Imperial Royal Austrian Light Infantry c.1820

The honour of the Habsburgs was all that mattered to the imperial Austrian army

20 June 2015 9:00 am

John Keegan, perhaps the greatest British military historian of recent years, felt that the most important book (because of its…

Which comes first — the chicken or the pig?

13 June 2015 9:00 am

Here are two parallel books, both by Americans, both 260 pages (excluding indexes) long, both using ‘likely’ as an adverb.…

The forgotten army: abandoned by the British to the horrors of Partition

13 June 2015 9:00 am

It is often said that cricket was ‘a game invented by the English and played by Indians’, and every so…

The long shadow over China’s only children

13 June 2015 9:00 am

This book starts with a Chinese boy so privileged and pampered that, at 21, he can’t open his own suitcase,…

Tallulah Bankhead — at home in louche Maidenhead

Oscar Wilde, Christine Keeler, Ivor Novello and Isambard Kingdom Brunel make unexpected companions on the Great Western

6 June 2015 9:00 am

Readers who have put in some time on the railways may remember the neat, brush-painted graffiti that appeared in 1974…

San Domenico church, Palermo

Palermo: city of jasmine and dark secrets

6 June 2015 9:00 am

The Arabs invaded Sicily in the ninth century, leaving behind mosques and pink-domed cupolas. In the Sicilian capital of Palermo,…

Bond would be bored in today’s MI6, says Malcolm Rifkind

6 June 2015 9:00 am

Spying may be one of the two oldest professions, but unlike the other one it has changed quite a lot…

The battle of Lepanto, October 1571

From Barbary corsairs to people-traffickers: the violence of the Mediterranean

30 May 2015 9:00 am

The Mediterranean has always been central to European civilisation — and a source of drama and conflict, says Anthony Sattin

Colonel Blood: thief turned spy and Royal pensioner

23 May 2015 9:00 am

In the words of one of his contemporaries ‘a man of down look, lean-faced and full of pock holes’, the…

Out of the woods: American forces attack a German machine gun post, December 1944. The grim determination of the Allies, whose heroism kept the Germans at bay, helped pave the way for the final Russian advance on Berlin

Mud, blood and war crimes on both sides – the struggle for the Ardennes was one of the bitterest of the second world war

16 May 2015 9:00 am

Both German and Allied troops could be accused of war crimes in the struggle for the Ardennes. It’s a tragic and gruesome history, involving heavy casualties — but flashes of black humour make it bearable, says Clare Mulley

Carnage on the home front: revisiting a forgotten disaster of the first world war

9 May 2015 9:00 am

Philip Hensher on a little-known episode of first world war history when a munitions factory in Kent exploded in April 1916, claiming over 100 lives

The romance of cycling is suggested in this advertisement for Columbia Bicycles, with its quotation from ‘Lochinvar’

Bicycling: the Marmite means of transport

9 May 2015 9:00 am

Bicycles — in Britain, anyway — are the Marmite means of transport. I am among the bicycle-lovers, almost religious and…

British officers in a modern motor car drive against the current of horsemen of the Arab army entering Damascus on 1 October 1918. Anglo-Arab policies were equally at cross purposes following the fall of the city

The Ottoman empire: the last great casualty of the first world war

2 May 2015 9:00 am

In a possibly apocryphal story, Henry Kissinger, while visiting Beijing in 1972 as Nixon’s national security adviser, asked Zhou Enlai,…

John Knox (Photo: Getty)

John Knox: like the blast of 500 trumpets

2 May 2015 9:00 am

John Knox, Cranmer complained, was ‘one of those unquiet spirits, which can like nothing but that is after their own…

Fatal attraction: a four-year-old picks her favourite handgun at the NRA’s annual meeting in Milwaukee, 2006

Americans and their gun culture: attached at the hip

25 April 2015 9:00 am

Like the documentary journalist Iain Overton, author of this book, I was taught to shoot and maintain a gun as…

An Armenian orphan in 1915. Hundreds of thousands of Christian women and children who survived the genocide suffered forced conversion to Islam

At last: a calm, definitive account of the Armenian genocide

18 April 2015 9:00 am

The atrocities suffered by an estimated one million Armenians in 1915 have been largely ignored by historians and officially denied by the Turks. It’s a centenary we can’t afford to neglect, says Justin Marozzi

The influence of money: a donor who helped build the fifth-century Basilica of Aquileia is commemorated in a mosaic portrait

Paying and praying: economics determined theology in the early Christian church

11 April 2015 9:00 am

Peter Brown’s explorations of the mindsets of late antiquity have been educating us for nearly half a century, ever since…

As deadly as the male: female Russian pilots of the second world war were femmes fatales in every sense

11 April 2015 9:00 am

The name Lyuba Vinogradova may not ring any bells, but her ferrety eye for spotting a telling detail may already…

From Tom Brown’s School Days, illustrated by Thomas Hughes

A rebellion among Rugby schoolboys proved perfect training for its ringleader in putting down a Jamaican slave-rising in later life

28 March 2015 9:00 am

The public schools ought to have gone out of business long ago. The Education Act of 1944, which promised ‘state-aided…

The knives come out of the cabinet in Churchill’s wartime government

28 March 2015 9:00 am

Coalitions, as David Cameron has discovered, are tricky things to manage. How much more difficult, then, was it for Winston…

Baiting the trap with CHEESE: how we fooled the Germans in the second world war

28 March 2015 9:00 am

Second world war deception operations are now widely known, particularly those which misled the Germans into thinking that the D-Day…

William Hogarth’s ‘Night’, in his series ‘Four Times of the Day’ (1736), provides a glimpse of the anarchy and squalor of London’s nocturnal streets

Dickens’s dark side: walking at night helped ease his conscience at killing off characters

21 March 2015 9:00 am

James McConnachie discovers that some of the greatest English writers — Chaucer, Blake, Dickens, Wordsworth, Dr Johnson — drew inspiration and even comfort from walking around London late at night