Book review – social history

A woman churns butter while her customer and children wait. Below, her husband milks a cow with a calf tied to it

How scary is dairy?

25 August 2018 9:00 am

From earliest times, milk has sustained us and has inspired wondrous creation myths. Now it’s the most controversial foodstuff of all, says Joanna Blythman

Photograph of an almshouse waif by Lewis W. Hine, entitled ‘Little Orphan Annie in a Pittsburg Institution’ (1909) [Bridgeman Art Library]

‘I am not a number’: the callous treatment of orphans

4 August 2018 9:00 am

Victorian fiction abounds in pitiable orphans. But what did they suffer in reality, wonders Philip Hensher

View of a drawing room, c. 1780 by Philip Reinagle

The short step from good manners to lofty imperialism

23 June 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hensher describes how our notions of civility and consideration slipped almost imperceptibly into a sense of superiority and a mission to civilise the world

Did the Grenfell Tower fire put paid to the social housing ideal?

21 April 2018 9:00 am

As a schoolboy, I used to go round to my best mate Mike’s home. It was a good place: a…

Cockney comfort food: eel, pie and mash to the sound of Bow bells

31 March 2018 9:00 am

Cockney feet mark the beat of history, sang Noël Coward, as if he had ever been east of Holborn. Yet…

Timothy Leary — apostle of acid and, according to Richard Nixon, ‘the most dangerous man in America’

Whatever became of the summer of love?

22 July 2017 9:00 am

The original hippy message was innocent and pure – before the summer of love turned to the winter of exploitation, says Mick Brown

In chains of gold: Minnie Stevens, the daughter of a Massachussetts chambermaid, married Arthur Paget in 1878. Portrait by Fernand Paillet

Cash for coronets: the invasion of America’s social-climbing heiresses

10 June 2017 9:00 am

The undignified ‘cash for coronets’ deal between America’s heiresses and Europe’s nobility produced some marvellous stories, says Nicholas Shakespeare

Schoolgirl days that mark you for life

10 June 2017 9:00 am

It’s not often that books make me laugh aloud. Even books I’m officially finding funny often do no more than…

Surely empathy’s a good thing?

28 January 2017 9:00 am

Being against empathy sounds like being against flowers or sparrows. Surely empathy is a good thing? Isn’t one of the…

Milk delivery on skis in London during one of the bitterest winters on record, December 1962

Mourning the milkman’s daily round

12 November 2016 9:00 am

One of David Cameron’s choices on Desert Island Discs, this book reminds us, was ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the…

‘Too much caviar, Rita, too much caviar.’ The Aga Khan is seated beside his fourth wife and opposite Rita Hayworth at the reception following her wedding to his son Prince Aly Khan

The French Riviera — a sunny playground for nitwits

5 November 2016 9:00 am

‘Oh the Mediterranean addiction, how we fall for it!’ So sighed Sybille Bedford, who spent the 1920s and 1930s in…

Israelis compete in a giant Tetris tournament in Rabin Square,Tel Aviv, in August

Is Tetris the greatest video game of all time?

8 October 2016 9:00 am

Everyone has played it, or one of its manifold variations and rip-offs. Blocks of different shapes fall from the sky;…

Nancy Astor, photographed by Emil Otto Hoppé

How to suck up in society — with the Cunards, the Corrigans and the Colefaxes

10 September 2016 9:00 am

A more appropriate subtitle to this homage to the queen bees of the interwar years might have been ‘How to…

A role model for the modern woman: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a role model for the modern feminist

6 August 2016 9:00 am

Cards on the table. Before I’d published my first novel, or written for newspapers, or won awards for my writing,…

The gardens at Stowe House c. 1785

Aristocratic 18th-century England was one long picnic

6 August 2016 9:00 am

Oh, the longueurs of aristocratic Georgian leisure. What on earth did they do all day, with no domestic chores, no…

Prince George County, Maryland — among the meanest streets in America

30 July 2016 9:00 am

Quick tip, should you ever find yourself alone in the interview room at the police headquarters of Prince George’s County,…

Tony Blair is top rotter in James Bloodworth’s The Myth of Meritocracy

11 June 2016 9:00 am

‘Your old man’s barking!’ I remember hissing indignantly at my then best friend Toby Young way back in the 1980s…

The dying days of the English country house

28 May 2016 9:00 am

Contrary to popular myth, the exuberant flame of life in the English country house was not extinguished by tears at…

Life gets faster — as the Earth slows down

16 April 2016 9:00 am

Modern life is too fast. Everyone is always in a hurry; people skim-read and don’t take the time to eat…

The writer Natalie Barney and painter Romaine Brooks in Paris c. 1915

From Auden to Wilde: a roll call of gay talent

9 April 2016 9:00 am

The Comintern was the name given to the international communist network in the Soviet era, advancing the cause wherever it…

What makes the white working class angry? Twits like Hsiao-Hung Pai

19 March 2016 9:00 am

This is a quite remarkable book. Badly written, devoid of anything even vaguely approaching a methodology, patronising, hideously mistaken on…

Nessie’s enduring attraction

12 December 2015 9:00 am

It wasn’t until I drove past Loch Ness a couple of years ago that I realised just how enormous it…

American teenagers in the 1940s: part of the Silent Generation — so called for conforming to the norm and focusing on careers rather than activism

Older, more angsty...and maybe wiser: the new face of growing up

2 May 2015 9:00 am

We live in an age of generational turmoil. Baby-boom parents are accused of clinging on to jobs and houses which…

The Babies Castle, a branch of Dr Barnardo’s at Hawkhurst, Kent in 1934

Love child or bastard: the lottery of being born on the wrong side of the blanket

21 March 2015 9:00 am

My father was handed over a shop counter when he was a day old. His aunt had tried to pass…

Life in the LA ghetto was nasty, brutish and short — until one brave detective took on the gangs

21 March 2015 9:00 am

Los Angeles ghetto life — thrashed, twisted and black — is not a world that most Americans care to visit.…