Reviews

Soon after arriving behind enemy lines, in France in 1943, special agent Harry Ree heard the engines of 165 RAF Halifax bombers overhead. Their target was the local Peugeot factory, requisitioned by the Nazis to produce tank and aircraft parts....

The novelist Fanny Burney was one of the first writers to use the word ‘shopping’ in print. ‘We have been a shopping’, announces the eponymous heroine of her 1778 novel Evelina, ‘to buy silks, caps, gauzes, and so forth’. Burney’s book...

The 19th is the most Janus-faced of centuries. The 100 years that separated the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars from the industrialised killing of the First World War can appear as a halcyon period of linear progress that brought extraordinary...

Lyndal Roper’s superb new biography of Martin Luther sums her subject up beautifully: Luther is, she notes, a ‘difficult hero’. The German monk who rebelled against both pope and Holy Roman emperor; the theologian who brought the message of...

Genius generally manifests without ancestral antecedents, as with Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Occasionally, though, it arises from a talented family, such as the Bach, Darwin, Tagore and Tolstoy families. A less familiar...

Benjamin Disraeli has always attracted more interest on account of who he was than for what he did. Although he secured the passage of the Second Reform Act in 1867 and other significant achievements, he is best remembered as the most unlikely...

Crossrail is a high-tech tunnel drilled straight through the heart of London. Gillian Tindall uses it to weave a circuitous path through time and space, inspired by the places through which it passes and the histories its excavations have...

The feeling of awe and excitement, akin to meeting one’s idol, will be familiar to anyone lucky enough to make medieval manuscripts their life’s work. It is Christopher de Hamel’s goal with this book to share that feeling: to take manuscripts and...

Upon the death in 1865 of Dr James Barry, the irascible Inspector General of Hospitals, army surgeon and medical reformer, an old friend opened his battered travelling trunk to discover a collage of ‘fashion plates clipped from ladies’ magazines...

Seeing the Virgin Mary is the dream of dreams for many Catholics. Although generally ambivalent about such visions, the Vatican has investigated and pronounced some of them as true apparitions of the Virgin. At other times the papal authorities...

Clement Attlee, the postwar Labour prime minister who often tops the lists of best British prime ministers of the 20th century, is attracting increasing attention at a time when the Labour Party continues its internal battles over its quality and...

Adrien Lejeune, grocer and apothecary, was born in 1847 in Bagnolet, then just beyond the walls of Paris; he died in 1942 in Novosibirsk, Siberia, but is now buried at the Mur des Fédérés in the Père Lachaise cemetery, which marks the...

In January 1898, Winston Churchill returned to Bangalore to troubling news. His mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, had to restructure her finances owing to major debts and needed to take out a £17,000 loan (about £1,700,000 in today’s money). This...

Jan Plamper opens The History of Emotions with a visit to an anatomy room. His research on the history of fear among soldiers had led him to examine the human amygdala, the almond-shaped mass of nerve cells beneath the cerebral cortex,...

Richard W. Bulliet brings a fresh view to a story that interests many: the invention of the wheel, providing new and interesting details about when and why the wheel was first adopted. Unlike existing accounts, Bulliet makes strong and refreshing...

Aleppo, Syria’s second city after Damascus, is one of the oldest settlements on earth, where Abraham is supposed to have milked his flocks in the fortified citadel. Today much of the city is in ruins, fought over by Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Kurd and...