Book review

Strenght in numbers

How many positions are there in the Kamasutra?

Numbers, as every mathematician knows, do odd things. But they’re never odder than in the human context. Ever since we…

(Photo: Hal Jeayes)

Through It All I’ve Always Laughed, by Count Arthur Strong - review

Fans of Count Arthur Strong (and yes I know he’s so Marmite you could spread him on a cheese sandwich)…


Blonde, beautiful — and desperate to survive in Nazi France

Around 200 Englishwomen lived through the German Occupation of Paris. Nicholas Shakespeare’s aunt Priscilla was one. Men in the street…

David Bowie with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in 1973 (Photo: Keystone/Getty)

One Leg Too Few may be one biography too many

It’s no joke, writing about comedians. Their work is funny, their lives are not. Rightly honouring the former while accurately…

Two girls

Why do the British love cryptic crosswords?

Everyone loves an anniversary and the crossword world — if there is such a thing — has been waiting a…

The Milad Tower in Tehran

A place of paranoia, secrecy, corruption, hypocrisy and guilt

‘Is he a good writer? Is he pro-regime?’ an Iranian journalist in London once asked me of Hooman Majd. Majd…

The cover of a popular late-19th-century edition of Mary Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein confronts the monster he has created

How the Romantics ruined lives

It is perhaps the most celebrated house-party in the history of literary tittle-tattle: a two-house-party to be precise. Byron and…

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

W H Auden (Photo: H V Drees/Getty Images)

What would Auden have deemed evil in our time? European jingoism

‘Goodbye to the Mezzogiorno’ was the first Auden poem that Alexander McCall Smith read in his youth. He discovered it…

Ovid Banished from Rome, J.M.W. Turner, 1838 (Photo: The Athenaeum)

Roman baths didn't make you clean — and other gems from Peter Jones's Veni, Vedi, Vici

Spectator readers need no introduction to Peter Jones. His Ancient and Modern column has instructed and delighted us for many…

E.E. Cummings, ‘looking like a plainsman fresh out of the barbers after delivering 300 head of Texas longhorns’

How much can you tell about E.E. Cummings from this photo?

Do you think you can tell things about writers from the way they look in a painting or photograph? A…


Mary Killen: Sandi Toksvig is wrong about the placement of the pudding fork

Sandi Toksvig, as this book’s cover declares, ‘makes Stephen Fry look like a layabout’. The broadcaster, author, comedian, actress and…

A fearless horsewoman: Christabel Russell and her son Geoffrey  with the West Kent hounds at Otford 
for the Christmas meet, 1928

Can virgins have babies?

Mrs Christabel Russell, the heroine of Bevis Hillier’s sparkling book, was a very modern young woman. She had short blonde…

‘Swing’, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2003

The abstract art full of 'breasts and bottoms'

Is there any such thing as abstract art? Narratives and coherent harmonies seem to me always to emerge from the…


The man who shared a bed with D.H. Lawrence and Dylan Thomas (though not together)

Rhys Davies was a Welsh writer in English who lived most of his life in London, that Tir na nÓg…

One of the two pavilions at Stoke Park, designed by Inigo Jones

Is Northamptonshire not scenic enough to visit?

I don’t know whether Bruce Bailey, a proud Northamptonshire man, agrees with the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner that no one…

(Photo: The Art Archive/Anthony Stewart / NGS)

The thrill of the (postmodern neo-Victorian) chase

Charles Palliser’s debut novel The Quincunx appeared as far back as 1989. Lavish and labyrinthine, this shifted nigh on a…

Joanne Spencer, who sold salad and rabbits from a basket in Portobello, c. 1904

Portobello's market mustn't be allowed to close

After reading Portobello Voices, I feel more strongly than ever that the unique Portobello market mustn’t be allowed to close.…

Greta Garbo (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bill Bryson's 'long extraordinary' summer is too long

Hands up Spectator readers who can remember the American celebrities Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Zane Grey,…

The Duke of Wellington 
at the Battle of Salamanca, 
22 July 1812

How we beat Napoleon

We are accustomed to the thrill and glamour of the grands tableaux, but a nuts-and-bolts study of Napoleonic warfare makes for equally gripping reading, says David Crane

Black Sheep 2

Village life can be gripping

Black Sheep opens biblically, with a mining village named Mount of Zeal, which is ‘built in a bowl like an…

Communal, comforting and calming: tobacco in a war zone has always been important, says Kate Adie

Why Jeremy Paxman's Great War deserves a place on your bookshelf

The Great War involved the civilian population like no previous conflict. ‘Men, women and children, factory, workshop and army —…

Underneath the arches: Cruikshank’s illustration of ‘one of those afflicting occurences in the life of London: 
TOM, JERRY and LOGIC are arrested in their progress home by the melancholy discovery of Corinthian KATE 
in the last stage of a Consumption, disease & inebriety’

Hogarth and the harlots of Covent Garden were many things, but they weren't 'bohemians'

It was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that his pictures ‘breathe a certain close, greasy, tavern air’, and the same…


The imitable Jeeves

For as long as I can remember — I take neither pleasure nor pride in the admission — I have…


Carlos Acosta, the great dancer, should be a full-time novelist

Carlos Acosta, the greatest dancer of his generation, grew up in Havana as the youngest of 11 black children. Money…