Frederick strolls with Voltaire through the palace of Sans-Souci

Atheist and gay, Frederick the Great was more radical than most leaders today

Reacquaintance with Germany is long overdue for most English people. Before 1914 it was at least as familiar as France…


Superforecasting could spark a revolution in politics

Forecasts have been fundamental to mankind’s journey from a small tribe on the African savannah to a species that can…

Marcus Tullius Cicero: our guide to ‘the most tumultuous era in human history’

How the world's first great republic slipped into empire and one-man rule

Marcus Tullius Cicero was the ancient master of the ‘save’ key. He composed more letters, speeches and philosophy books than…

Author Patrick deWitt (Photo: Getty)

Patrick deWitt is a literary original but he needs to BE MORE FUNNY

Patrick deWitt is a Canadian writer whose second novel, a picaresque and darkly comic western called The Sisters Brothers, was…

Griffith in 1961, at the height of his powers

A portrait of a gay boxer

I don’t like boxing. If I ever get into a boxing ring, I’ll be in the corner with the governor…

Jeanette Winterson (Photo: Getty)

Why on earth did Jeanette Winterson agree to retell Shakespeare's Winter’s Tale?

It is fair to say that Jeanette Winterson is not Shakespeare, though I cannot imagine why any authors would accept…

(Photo: Getty)

A book that rattles like a pressure-cooker with anger, outrage, frustration and spleen

‘You understand, Lenú, what happens to people: we have too much stuff inside and it swells us, breaks us.’ The…

Hughes in 1986: Bate simply fails to make the case his book stands on – that the poet was a sadist

An unauthorised, and unconvincing, biography of Ted Hughes

Craig Raine says that Jonathan Bate’s unauthorised biography of Ted Hughes gets it wrong on every level

The city became cacophonous with bells: a detail of Claes Visscher’s famous early 17th-century panorama shows old London Bridge and some of the 114 church steeples that constantly tolled the death knells of plague victims

Shakespeare's London: where all the world really was a stage

Sam Leith on the year 1606, when plague and panic were rife — and all the world really was a stage

Alger Hiss attends his trial (Photo: Getty)

Alger Hiss: Tricky Dick’s scapegoat

In the more than 40 years since Richard Nixon resigned as president — disgraced as much by his inveterate lying…

‘Capel-y-ffin’, 1926–7 (watercolour and gouache)

David Jones: painter, poet and mystic

David Jones (1895–1974) was a remarkable figure: artist and poet, he was a great original in both disciplines. His was…

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan

Woody Allen: a life of jazz, laughter, depression —and a few misdemeanours

Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg), the prolific, Oscar-winning auteur, New Orleans-style jazz clarinettist, doyen of New York delicatessen society,…

Beatles mania! (Photo: Getty)

The best of British — from Agatha Christie to the YBAs

Is it true that, having lost an empire, we reinvented ourselves as an island of entertainers? Do we channel the…

Acer palmatum ‘Osakasuki’, the Japanese maple

There is good in every tree, says Thomas Pakenham — even the sycamore

I have never written much about the one-acre shaw of native trees I planted in 1994, even though it is…

Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (Photo: Getty)

In Crow’s dark shadow

A dead parent, the interrogation of a literary inheritance, and over everything, a bird: Max Porter is apparently unafraid to…

Author William Boyd (Photo: Getty)

For William Boyd's war-photographer heroine, life is a series of accidents

Amory Clay, photographer and photo-journalist, was born in 1908, only two years after Logan Mountstuart, writer, poseur and ‘scribivelard’. Amory…

A soldiers best friend (Photo: Getty)

The beloved, mistreated and traumatised dogs of war

If you love dogs and or live with one — I declare an interest on both counts — there is…


Tessa Hadley's masterful new novel of missed opportunities

In The Past (set chiefly in the present) four middle-aged siblings spend an eventful summer holiday in the Devon country…

The nave of St Mary’s, Stafford, restored by George Gilbert Scott

Mighty monuments — or neo-Gothic horrors?

Briefing his illustrator for the jacket of A Handful of Dust (1934), Evelyn Waugh asked for a country house in…

White glazed bowl, Shunzhi-Kangxi period, Qing dynasty, 1650–70

The perils of porcelain – and the pleasures of Edmund de Waal

A.S. Byatt on the dark, deadly secrets lurking beneath a calm, white surface

Nixon with Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld in 1969

Niall Ferguson's biography of Henry Kissinger is a masterpiece

I have met Dr Kissinger, properly, only three times. First, in Cairo, in 1980, when, as a junior diplomat escorting…

Herring girls had to wash their hair six times on a Saturday night to rinse out the smell

The current scarcity of herring may itself be a red herring

Fish stories come in two varieties: the micro-version of a hundred riverside bars, blokeish boastings of rod-and-line tussles with individual…


The perfect big bang that opens this book was too good to be true

Houses, as any plumber will testify, do sometimes blow up in gas explosions, destroying their contents and inhabitants, but would…

The dining car of the London to Liverpool express — back when croutons were still served with the soup

Sexual assault, chamber-pot etiquette, and other problems of early rail travel

Simon Bradley dates the demise of the on-board meal service to 1962, when Pullman services no longer offered croutons with…


A gleeful vision of the future from Margaret Atwood

What could happen in literature to a young couple — or a pair of young couples — who fall off…