Joanna Kavenna

Author Jane Smiley Photo: Getty

A book about the ordinary nothings that, in the end, are everything

We live in a world in which nuance is trampled on and cannot survive. Is that true? I don’t know.…

Shackleton’s ship the Nimrod in the ice at McMurdo Sound

Flawed, unproductive and heroic: the real Ernest Shackleton

Polar explorers are often cast as mavericks, and this is hardly surprising. The profession requires a disdain for pseudo-orthodoxies and,…

Riding alone: 
Tim Cope at Khokh Nuur (Blue Lake) near the 3,000 metre-high pass between Kharkina and 
Turgen Uul, Mongolia

In the steppes of a warlord

Joanna Kavenna is impressed by one man’s 6,000-mile ride through some of the loneliest regions on earth

A German soldier sits among the ruins of the Reichstag 
after the Russian entry into Berlin in 1945

After the war — apocalypse

On 12 April 1945 the Berlin Philharmonic gave its last performance. The atmosphere in Germany was apocalyptic, the Allied invasion…


Niccolo Machiavelli, by Corrado Vivanti; The Garments of Court and Palace, by Philip Bobbitt

One more anniversary, one more cache of commemorative books. This time we are celebrating the half-millennium since Niccolò Machiavelli produced…

The Long Shadow, by Mark Mills - a review

Mark Mills is known for his historical and literary crime novels, including The Savage Garden, The Information Officer and House…

View of Salzburg, oil on canvas by Julius Schoppe, 1817

A Place in the Country, by W.G. Sebald - review

Within a few years, and in four books — The Emigrants (1996), The Rings of Saturn (1998), Vertigo (1999) and…


Everest, by Harriet Tuckey

This book, as the subtitle explains, makes a bold claim: Griffith Pugh was the ‘unsung hero’ of the 1953 ascent…


I am re-reading D.H. Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia. The opening line runs: ‘Comes over one an absolute necessity to move…’…

Homage to the Goddess Mother

Cometh the hour, cometh the many men (and women). The 2012 centenary of Captain Scott’s death inspired a series of…


Inflated dreams

When almost every tale about the Arctic has been told, when the major explorers have been assessed and re-assessed, when…

Heroes of the Ice Age

Four new books on the great era of polar exploration


The trail goes cold

For centuries, the history of the far North was a tapestry of controversies and mis- understandings, misspellings, dubious arrivals and equally dubious departures.


In deep trouble

Atlantic by Simon Winchester and The Wave by Susan Casey are, at first glance, very different works.


To strive, to seek, to find . . .

In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’ Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap.


The frost giant awakes

For thousands of years, no one knew what lay in the ice around the North Pole.

Origins of the human race

At first glance, a history of running seems a pretty doomed exercise, like writing a history of breathing, or sneezing.

Top of the world

Late Nights on Air, by Elizabeth Hay

Paddling through Canada

There are a lot of travel writers these days setting off ‘in the footsteps of’ someone else, gathering clues and…

The frozen, unruly north

John Gimlette is a writer of vivid comical prose, whose first travel book appeared under the title At the Tomb…