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…


What drove Europe into two world wars?

Sir Ian Kershaw won his knight’s spurs as a historian with his much acclaimed two-volume biography of Hitler, Hubris and…

The shape-shifting Fens, thought to be the landscape of Beowulf and the haunt of Grendel

Spirit of place: the landscape of myth and magic

We live in disenchanted times. We barely do God, most of us don’t do magic and frenzied consumerism occupies our…


Life in Rio’s most infamous favela — where you have to pay the cops to arrest criminals

When Stefan Zweig first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1936, he was overwhelmed not only by the city’s magnificent…

Leaving Afghanistan — with a pack of potential troubles

The way we treat our heroes is a disgrace

Matthew Green, former Financial Times and Reuters correspondent, remains unimpressed by officialdom’s response to casualties who aren’t actually bleeding: Ever…


Matt Ridley manages to Pangloss over the nastier aspects of evolution

Before I read this book, I wasn’t aware that I was a creationist. But Matt Ridley tells me I am,…


The history of modern Germany — within four walls

This is a book about boundaries — and relationships. At its heart is the eponymous house by the lake, which…

Photograph by Charles Sturge
Hans Asperger at the Children’s Clinic of the University of Vienna Hospital c.1940

Did Hans Asperger save children from the Nazis — or sell them out?

Simon Baron-Cohen wonders whether the humane Hans Asperger may finally have betrayed the vulnerable children in his care in Nazi-occupied Vienna


The surreal beauty of Soviet bus stops

The Soviet Union was a nation of bus stops. Cars were hard to come by, so a vast public transport…

Out of focus lights

When flower power turned sour

Aldous Huxley reported his first psychedelic experience in The Doors of Perception (1954), a bewitching little volume that soon became…

Author Sebastian Faulks (Photo: Getty)

Sebastian Faulks returns to the psychiatrist’s chair in Where My Heart Used to Beat

There can hardly be two novelists less alike than Sebastian Faulks and Will Self, in style and in content. Faulks…

Author John Banville (Photo: Getty)

If there’d been a Gilbert and Sullivan opera about Roland Barthes, it might have sounded like John Banville’s The Blue Guitar

The Blue Guitar is John Banville’s 16th novel. Our narrator-protagonist is a painter called Oliver Orme. We are in Ireland,…

Back To The Dead

The Making of Zombie Wars is Aleksandar Hemon at his hilarious best

In the afterword to this sixth book, Aleksandar Hemon dedicates a word of thanks to his agent for keeping a…

Nero and Agrippina by Antonio Rizzi

Rid of their enemies, the Caesars set about murdering family and friends

According to Francis Bacon, the House of York was ‘a race often dipped in its own blood’. That being so,…

With rain threatening, Jane Bennet departs for Netherfield — with her mother’s approval. Illustration by Hugh Thomson for Pride and Prejudice (1894)

Rain, shine and the human imagination — from Adam and Eve to David Hockney

‘Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr Worthing,’ pleads Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest. ‘Whenever people…

Russian Ambassador to London, Ivan Maisky (Photo: Getty)

The second world war — according to Stalin’s ambassador to London

Ivan Maisky was the Russian ambassador in London from 1932 to 1943, and his knowledge of London, and affection for…

Illustration by Sean Murray from The Trollhunters

Where the wild things are: in the woods and (worse) in the plumbing, according to the latest best children’s books

In the Californian town of San Bernadino, children are going missing; smiling faces grace a gallery of milk cartons. One…