Members of the Maquis study the mechanism and maintenance of weapons dropped by parachute in the Haute-Loire

The facts behind France’s most potent modern myth

Patrick Marnham unravels some of the powerful, often conflicting myths surrounding the French Resistance

The devastation left behind after the Blitz (Photo: Getty)

Ghosts of the past haunt Pat Barker’s bomb-strewn London

If the early Martin Amis is instantly recognisable by way of its idiosyncratic slang (‘rug-rethink’, ‘going tonto’ etc) then the…

‘La Ghirlandata’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The dangerous red-headed league

‘Gentlemen prefer blondes,’ Anita Loos pronounced, ‘but gentlemen marry brunettes.’ Quite what they do with redheads she never revealed (and…

Author Jonathan Franzen (Photo: Getty)

Another ‘big book’ — with big problems — from Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, comes with great expectations. Its author’s awareness of this fact is signalled by a series…

For France, the murder of John the Fearless was ‘a tragedy on an epic scale’

The drama of St Crispian’s Day: Shakespeare got it right

Charles VI of France died on 21 October 1422. He had been intermittently mad for most of his long reign,…

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan  duet at the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island, 1963 (Photo: Getty)

The times really were a-changin’ — when Dylan electrified his fans

Five songs, only three of which were amplified. Thirty-five minutes, including interruptions. That’s how long Bob Dylan played for at…

Chapter One

Mario Reading reviews four first-rate first novels

It has become something of a truism among writers’ groups and in articles offering advice on how best to secure…

Jacob Zuma — a tribalist whose extended family and fellow Zulus have benefited hugely from his accession to power

R.W. Johnson: 40-odd years prophesying the end for South Africa

I think this should begin with a truth-in-journalism disclosure: I know R.W. Johnson well enough to call him Bill. Since…

William Mars-Jones (right) attends the second day of the Moor Murders, 1966 (Photo: AP)

The trials of living with a High Court judge

This intensely written memoir by Adam Mars-Jones about his Welsh father, Sir William, opens with the death of Sheila, Adam’s…


A Gothic horror story of quicksands, riptides and rituals

This is a muddle of novel (originally published last year by Tartarus Press in a limited edition), though there are…

The Ant Nebula, located a mere 3,000–6,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Norma

Physicists have stranger ideas than the most preposterous Old Testament preacher

The beliefs of physicists are infinitely kookier than anything in the Bible, says Alexander Masters

A paramilitary guard stands on Tiananmen Square before a portrait of chairman Mao Zedong (Photo: Getty)

Chairman Mao: monster of misrule

Mao Zedong, once the Helmsman, Great Teacher and Red Red Sun in Our Hearts, and still the Chairman, died in…

Mao Zedong's crystal sarcophagus (Photo: Getty)

Matilda Bathurst chooses the best recent short story collections

‘I just wanted the damn story to ask the right questions,’ sighs a disaffected journalist in Jack Livings’s debut collection…

Jazz soloist Charlie Parker with his saxophone c. 1946

From ragtime to the X Factor: the epic story of popular music

As pop music drifts away from many people’s lives, so its literature grows ever more serious and weighty, as though…

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…

Graffiti outside the American University of Cairo reads ‘Revolution’ (December 2011)

The revolution that went up in smoke

‘Every day’, writes the foreign correspondent Wendell Steavenson in this account of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, ‘see-sawed between joy and…

Vladimir Nabokov, Ithaca, New York, 1958 (Photo: Getty)

The road to Lolita: why Nabokov’s literary talent finally blossomed in America

Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov’s nostalgic memoir, reflects on his life from the age of three to 41, taking us from…

Eton, 1907 (Photo: Getty)

How to get a good education — from the former headmaster of Eton

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education is Tony Little’s valedictory meditation on his profession, published on his retirement as headmaster…

Portrait of Pepys, after John Hayls. The Diary for 17 March 1666 reads: ‘This day I begin to sit [for Hayls], and he will make me, I think, a very fine picture.... I sit to have it full of shadows, and do almost break my neck looking over my shoulder to make the posture for him to work by.’

The joy of an unexpurgated Pepys — without the bother of reading it oneself

We all know about Samuel Pepys witnessing the Great Fire in his Diaries, but how many have read the definitive…

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


A remote island community is disrupted by the arrival of a troubled teenager

Benjamin Wood’s first novel, The Bellwether Revivals, was published in 2012, picked up good reviews, was shortlisted for the Costa…

Author Jonathan Galassi (Photo: Elena Seibert)

Jonathan Galassi’s fictional poet made me doubt my knowledge of American literature

Jonathan Galassi is an American publisher, poet and translator. In his debut novel Muse, his passion for the ‘good old…


Rediscover the venerable father of English history

It might seem to some a bold move to base a book on any kind of journey at all when…

The great unknown: Machado de Assis, c. 1896

Machado de Assis wasn’t the Dickens of Brazil— but he is one of the greats

The surname is pronounced ‘M’shahdo j’Asseece’. There are also two Christian names — Joaquim Maria — which are usually dispensed…

John Freeman boards the plane to Washington to take up his post as Ambassador (Photo: Getty)

John Freeman: polymath or psychopath?

They don’t make Englishmen like the aptly named John Freeman any more. When he died last Christmas just shy of…