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…

Author, critic and TV presenter Clive James (Photo: Getty)

‘Doorways to the unknown’: Clive James’s Latest Readings

In the preface to his great collection of essays The Dyer’s Hand, W.H. Auden claimed: ‘I prefer a critic’s notebooks…

RAMC stretcher-bearers from the South Eastern Mounted Brigade enter the Field Ambulance dressing station at Y Ravine. Picture courtesy of Stephen Chambers

The other trenches: the Dardanelles, 100 years on

Peter Parker discerns classical allusion amid the horror in two books commemorating the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign

Some legends flourish …

Confronted by the dead Athenian heroes of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles gave voice in his funeral oration to an idea…


Not quite cricket

To the French, Albion’s expertise in perfidy will come as no surprise. But centuries of warfare have given them time…

Pawns in the game

The authors of this book have attempted a difficult thing: to ‘write about something that could never be known’. Here…

Ways of making men talk

Eric Rosenbach is a former academic who is now deputy assistant secretary of defence in Washington. Aki Peritz used to…

The view from the top

Halfway through this book, the veil lifted, and I thought: ‘I see! I see what he’s trying to do!’ Pickering…

Triumph of the redcoats

Given the choice between philosophising in the company of Socrates or fighting in the army of the soldier-monarch Charles XII…


Stronger than fiction

I think it was a Frenchman — it usually is — who observed that the English love their animals more…

Ugly old Europe

There are moments and places in history that one would have paid good money to avoid, and wartime Lisbon was…


On His Majesty’s Silent Service

Of all the Allied fighting service branches in which you wouldn’t have wanted to spend the second world war, probably the grimmest was submarines.

All in a night’s work

This inter-war story of an Anglo-Irish family in crisis opens with a bang. Caroline Adair, recovering from measles at Butler’s Hill, her aunt and uncle’s lovely house in the South-west, wakes in the night to find  Sinn Feiners surrounding the place.


What was it like at the time?

At midday on Thursday, 8 June 1933 — Erik Larson is very keen on his times — the newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a call put through to the history department at the University of Chicago.

Casualties on the home front

War correspondents aren’t like the rest of us: they can’t be.


Ghosts of the Teutonic Knights

Do the trees of East Prussia still whisper in German when the wind blows in from the Baltic and across the featureless plain? The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky thought so when he visited in the 1960s.

Coolness under fire

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control.

Patience v. panache

The square jaw and steely gaze are deceptive.

Those who die like cattle

An ex-farmer whose brother has died fighting in Iraq is the man at the centre of Graham Swift’s new book, a state-of-the-nation novel on a small canvas.

Clashing by night

Cables from Kabul is Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles’s valedictory account of his years as ambassador to Kabul (2007-9) and as this country’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009-10).

The price of victory

In the patriotic mythology of British arms 1759 may be the one true annus mirabilis, the ‘year of victories’, the year of Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay, but has there ever been a year comparable to 1918? In that year 20,000 British soldiers surrendered on a single day, 31 March, and yet within six months Britain and her allies had recaptured all the territory lost since 1914, destroyed Austrian and Bulgarian resistance in Italy and Macedonia, encircled a Turkish army in Palestine, mastered the submarine menace at sea, and fought the German army to the brink of disintegration and the German empire to the point of revolt.


Hall of mirrors

After the Nazi occupation of Paris was over, Sartre famously said — somewhat hypocritically, given his own slippery behaviour — that the only possibilities had been collaboration or resistance.


What did you do in the war, Mummy?

By tradition, ‘What did you do in the war?’ is a question children address to Daddy, not to Mummy.


Goodbye to Berlin

Peter Parker is beguiled by a novel approach to the lives of Europe’s intellectual elite in flight from Nazi Germany

A conflict of loyalty

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief bear witness.