Philip Hensher

Christian Thielemann

The old-fashioned greatness of Christian Thielemann

Philip Hensher admires an old-fashioned conductor who unashamedly favours the great German composers — and Wagner in particular

Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) with his children Scout and Jem in the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman should never have been hyped as a ‘landmark new novel’, says Philip Hensher

Philip Hensher on the tangled history of To Kill a Mockingbird’s much-anticipated ‘sequel’

Victoria as a child, by Richard Westall

Queen Victoria was born to be a novelist — this book proves it

A wonderfully vivid school story has surfaced written by Queen Victoria as a child. The monarch was clearly a sensational novelist manqué, says Philip Hensher


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

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

Philip Glass's seminal 1976 opera 'Einstein on the Beach' in its most recent outing

Plumber, taxi driver, mystic, musician — the many facets of Philip Glass

Philip Hensher infinitely prefers the words to the music of the maverick ‘minimalist’ composer

‘Orange, Red, Yellow’, 1956, by Mark Rothko

A strain of mysticism is discernible in the floating colour fields of Mark Rothko’s glowing canvases

Philip Hensher on the perverse, tormented Mark Rothko, whose anger and depression — often painfully apparent in his art — only increased with his success

John Galliano at Paris Fashion Week 2010

Drink, drugs and dressing-up: behind the scenes of the fashion industry

Philip Hensher explores a dangerously intoxicating world, and discovers just how quickly famous designers can become an irrelevance

Edith Pearlman in 2012

The short story in Britain today: enough to make Conan Doyle weep

Philip Hensher bewails the current neglect of the short story, especially in the British literary press

Un ballo in maschera

Royal Opera's Un ballo in maschera: limp, careless and scrappy

Whether by chance or bold design, the Royal Opera’s two Christmas shows were written at precisely the same moment, between…

‘Exquisitely dressed and groomed, Stefan Zweig looks simply terrified’

Stefan Zweig: the tragedy of a great bad writer

Stefan Zweig wasn’t, to be honest, a very good writer. This delicious fact was hugged to themselves by most of…

Outside Downing Street in June 1943. Ten years earlier, no one would have thought it remotely likely that Winston Churchill would be regarded as his country’s saviour

Does Boris Johnson really expect us to think he's Churchill?

An eccentric, thoroughgoing genius, surfing every wave with a death-defying self-belief — Philip Hensher wonders who Boris Johnson can be thinking of

Vladimir and Véra: in love for life

Nabokov’s love letters are some of the most rapturous ever written

Vladimir Nabokov was happily married for over 50 years and rarely apart from his wife. More’s the pity, discovers Philip Hensher

A romanticised portrait of Goethe by J.H.W. Tischbein

Germans see the best of their soul in Weimar. Everyone else, on the other hand..

For centuries hailed as the home of poetry, music and liberalism, Weimar was ruthlessly exploited by the Nazis and later served as a showcase for communism, says Philip Hensher

Who’s in, who’s out: George Bernard O’Neill’s ‘Public Opinion’ depicts a private view of the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy

The age of the starving artist

Philip Hensher on the precarious fortunes of even the most gifted 19th-century artists

Portrait of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, with his pet monkey, attributed to Jacob Huysmans

Thug, rapist, poetic visionary: the contradictory Earl of Rochester

Philip Hensher on the scandalous 17th-century courtier whose hellfire reputation has overshadowed his fine satirical poetry

Constant Lambert at the piano

The wit, wisdom and womanising of Constant Lambert

Philip Hensher on the tragically short life of the ebullient and multi-talented musician, Constant Lambert

No worries: John Updike in his late fifties, on the beach at Swampscott, Mass

Up close and personal

In recycling his most intimate encounters as fiction – including amazing feats of promiscuity in small-town New England – John Updike drew unashamedly on his own experiences for inspiration, says Philip Hensher

Kim Philby at the press conference he called in 1955 to deny being the ‘Third Man’

Kim Philby got away with it because he was posh

Kim Philby’s treachery escaped detection for so long through the stupidity and snobbery of the old-boy network surrounding him, says Philip Hensher

A WWI memorial in New York (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty)

When intellectuals are clueless about the first world war

No one alive now has any adult experience of the first world war, but still it shows no sign of…


If only Craig Raine subjected his own work to the same critical scrutiny he applies to others' 

Debunking reputations is now out of fashion, says Philip Hensher, and Craig Raine should give it up — especially as he always misses the point

Portrait of Modest Musorgsky by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Why do we pounce on Wagner's anti-Semitism, and ignore that of the Russian composers?

Philip Hensher on how an impassioned, chaotic group of amateur 19th-century composers created the first distinctively Russian music

‘The Goldfinch’ by Carl Fabritius, the theft of which is central to Donna Tartt’s new novel

Donna Tartt can do the thrills but not the trauma

Donna Tartt is an expert practitioner of what David Hare has called ‘the higher hokum’. She publishes a long novel…

J.D. Salinger in 1952, reading from The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, by David Shields - review

This biography has somewhat more news value than most literary biographies. Its subject worked hard to ensure that. After 1965,…

Philip Hensher reviews the Man Booker prize longlist

The Man Booker prize has strong years and weak years. There have been ones when the judges have succeeded in…

‘Imperial Federation showing the map of the world, British Empire’, by Captain J.C. Colombo, c.1886 (Royal Geographical Society, London)

Churchill and Empire, by Lawrence James - a review

Philip Hensher says that Churchill’s engagement with the empire does not reveal him at his finest hour