Latest Issue: 28 November 2015
28 November 2015
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26 November 2015 by Scott H. Hendrix, reviewed by Peter Marshall

Martin Luther has a big birthday on the horizon. In 2017 it will be 500 years since the rebel Augustinian friar nailed his Ninety-Five Theses against indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, and thus inaugurated the Protestant Reformation.

26 November 2015 by Emmanuel Todd, trans. Andrew Brown, reviewed by Houman Barekat

Emmanuel Todd, a left-wing historian, sociologist and political scientist who works at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris, ruffled feathers in his native France when his Qui est Charlie? Sociologie d’une crise religieuse was published earlier this year.

26 November 2015 by Bronwen Riley, reviewed by Robert Carver

Britannia, that is England and Wales south of Hadrian’s Wall, was occupied by Rome for 450 years, the length of time that has elapsed since the reign of Elizabeth I to the present day. It encompassed the Roman Republic and Empire, the passage from paganism to Christianity and from tribal Celtic barbarism to a colonial, provincial version of Greco-Roman civilisation.

26 November 2015 by AndrewMichael Hurley, reviewed by Laura Keynes

A creepy old house on the remote Lancashire coastline gives in to erosion, and a baby’s body is found amongst the ruins. What happened there? Only a few people know and one of them, the narrator, Smith, is preparing a confession.

Previous issues

19 November 2015 by James A. Harris, reviewed by Anthony Kenny

Lytton Strachey wrote: “Had Hume died at the age of 26, his real work in the world would have been done.” When readers of James Harris’ biography reach the year 1737, Hume’s twenty seventh, they are still only at page 142 of some 600, and they have many chapters of informed and informative reading ahead of them.

19 November 2015 by Marco Politi, trans. William McCuaig, reviewed by Elena Curti

Imagine where the Church would be if Benedict XVI had not taken the momentous decision to retire on 28 February 2013. That’s a striking thought, given Marco Politi’s portrait of the Vatican inherited by Pope Francis and the stiff resistance he is ­meeting in his programme of reform.

19 November 2015 by John Banville, reviewed by James Moran

John Banville’s new novel revolves around a fictional painter called Oliver Orme, who was once well known but has suffered an artistic crisis and has now abandoned painting. He has, however, maintained his enthusiasm for his second career, as a thief.

19 November 2015 by Timothy Snyder, reviewed by Denis MacShane

Will the Holocaust ever be ­history? Unlikely. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has just written a book in which he doubts the Holocaust happened. “If there was such a thing,” he writes, “we don’t know why it happened and how.”

19 November 2015 by Gerard Kilroy, reviewed by

More warrants were issued for the torture of Edmund Campion than anyone in English history. I was not looking forward to reading about his racking, but Gerard Kilroy wisely refrains from description.

12 November 2015 by Karen Armstrong, reviewed by N.T.Wright

Karen Armstrong, perhaps the world’s best-known ex-nun, has ­written elegantly and sometimes ­passionately on many subjects. She is ­associated with a generally revisionist account of the Christian faith, a mixture of retrieval and reinterpretation.

12 November 2015 by Andy Beckett, reviewed by Clare Short

I found this a most peculiar book. Its thesis is that everything changed in the two-year period after the election of Margaret Thatcher. On the flyleaf it is described as “the extraordinary untold story of Britain’s revolution ...

12 November 2015 by Ian Hernon, reviewed by Paul Routledge

A few feet from the walls of Walton Jail, Liverpool, in a pauper’s grave, is the last resting place of Robert Noonan, better known as Robert Tressell, author of the socialist classic, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

12 November 2015 by F.H. Batacan, reviewed by Kirsty Jane McCluskey

In fiction as in life, the disappearance of a child is usually an emergency situation. A public, unmitigated, universally understood catastrophe. Everything is mobilised: police, press, community. Everybody knows. Everybody cares.

05 November 2015 by Charles Moore, reviewed by James Naughtie

Serving Margaret Thatcher at the zenith of her power was so demanding that Robin Butler, one of her closest civil servants, said that he felt at risk when he had to sit next to her. Even for the mandarin of mandarins, it was “like feeding a fierce animal”.

05 November 2015 by Andrew Lownie, reviewed by Sarah Bradford

Why did he do it? Why exchange the louche luxury of London and Washington for the drab, isolated world of Soviet Russia? Guy Burgess is the least-known, and the most fascinating, of the Cambridge Spy Ring. Andrew Lownie has taken immense trouble tracking the life of this contradictory figure, interviewing friends, enemies and acquaintances and researching hitherto unused archival material.

05 November 2015 by Elizabeth A. Johnson, reviewed by Ursula King

This brilliant book, now in paperback, is one long hymn of praise for the grandeur and beauty of nature, its extraordinary powers of creativity and destruction, the abiding dwelling place of the divine presence.

05 November 2015 by Piers Paul Read, reviewed by Sarah Hayes

Puccini derived the plot of his opera Tosca from a contemporary popular play. The opera describes Baron Scarpia, the villainous chief of police, as “a bigoted satyr who uses devoutness to hide his libertine lust and, to implement his lascivious talent, acts as both confessor and hangman”.

29 October 2015 by Jonathan Bate, reviewed by Martin Stannard

With this volume, we get three books for the price of one. There is the ghost of the biography Professor Bate originally set out to write, the heavily revised version actually printed, and the subtext of the latter, which is in a constant, unacknowledged dialogue with its subject’s executor.

29 October 2015 by Thomas Dixon, reviewed by Dan Hitchens

“My God, sir,” Lord Uxbridge is said to have observed to the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, “I’ve lost my leg.” To which the Duke, of course, replied: “My God, sir. So you have.” This exchange has been much delighted in as evidence of British unflappability. But as Thomas Dixon shows, it is a lot less than half the story.

29 October 2015

In 1936, when Thomas Merton was an undergraduate at Columbia College in New York City, he handed a story to Robert Giroux, a fellow classmate and an ­editor of a student review. Giroux, impressed, said he would take the piece if Merton chopped it by a third.

29 October 2015 by James Martin SJ, reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney

James Martin, the best-selling author of Jesus: a pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, is probably the most popular priest in the US. His debut novel might be compared to Paulo Coehlo’s popular fiction, perhaps even to the weightier Siddhartha from a few generations ago, except that it is definitively Christian and without any pretensions.

22 October 2015 by Niall Ferguson, reviewed by Simon Scott Plummer

In comparing his biography of Henry Kissinger with James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson shows no lack of ambition.

22 October 2015 by Stephen Bates, reviewed by Ian Bradley

Stephen Bates was the royalty and religion correspondent of The Guardian for 12 years. Neither subject figures highly in that paper’s priorities but their ­bracketing together might suggest an implicit recognition of the spiritual and mystical dimension of monarchy.

22 October 2015 by Lauren Groff, reviewed by Sarah Hayes

Marriage, like football, is a game of two halves. Fates – the first half of this novel - tells the story from birth to death of a devoted husband. Furies – the second half – tells the story from infancy to death of a vengeful wife.

22 October 2015 by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, reviewed by William Eichler

Reyaad Khan was, by all accounts, an intelligent and sensitive young man from Riverside, Cardiff. In a video acquired by The Guardian, he voices his concerns over “illegal wars” and warns that a lack of resources for deprived neighbourhoods such as his own may lead some down the “wrong path”.

22 October 2015 by edited by Roger White, Jugith Wolfe and Brendan N. Wolfe, reviewed by Raymond Edwards

Over the 34 years since it was founded by two Oxford students, an impressive range of eminent writers and theologians have spoken at the C. S. Lewis Society’s meetings. In a fragmentary talk by Elizabeth Anscombe, she reflects on her notorious demo­lition of Lewis’ argument in Miracles,

22 October 2015 by Arkady Ostrovsky

Truth – fearlessly told – might well have saved the state. This, in a nutshell, is Arkady Ostrovsky’s view in his new and compelling analysis of recent Russian history.

15 October 2015 by Jimmy Burns, reviewed by John Cavadini

In his lively, sometimes compelling biography, Jimmy Burns sets out to offer his reader “fresh insight into a key spiritual figure of our times”, cautioning the reader that, nevertheless, this is “not a hagiography”. It is not, he assures us, the story of a “picture-book saint”, but of a “complex man” with a “mixed record”.

15 October 2015 by Jonathan Sumption

Jonathan Sumption has now completed the fourth volume of his magisterial overview of the conflict which divided England and France at the end of the Middle Ages. One to go. During the period covered here (from the death of Richard II in 1399 to that of Henry V in 1422), both kingdoms suffered from serious internal divisions.

15 October 2015 by Larissa MacFarquhar, reviewed by Nick Spencer

Some years ago, a friend of mine went to work in Afghanistan as a midwife, taking her new husband and even newer baby with her. My admiration was matched only by my unease. Her moving and impressive dispatches failed to diminish my disquiet, which only grew as “security” forces hovered and neighbours were murdered.

15 October 2015 by Chigozie Obioma , reviewed by Suzi Feay

Life for the four young brothers at the heart of this story is lively, imagin­ative, boisterous but far from idyllic. They live in Akure, a small Nigerian town, and their father is a bank worker, lifting the family above the level of grinding poverty. But food is plain, amenities are few and political violence is a constant threat.

08 October 2015 by Christopher Tyerman, reviewed by William Purkis

General readers have in recent years been presented with a wide range of broad-brush histories of the Crusades. Many of these books, including Christopher Tyerman’s God’s War (2006), offer narrative accounts of the origins, development and diversification of the crusading movement, with differing emphases and chronologies...

08 October 2015 by Paul Willetts, reviewed by Thomas Tallon

We are informed, even warned, at the start that nothing has been made up and that everything in his story has a basis in Paul Willetts’ extensive interviews and archival research.

08 October 2015 by Jonathan Franzen, reviewed by Patrick West

Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel concerns itself with secrets, lies and information – both in a conventional, personal sense, and in the context of today’s digital age, with its constant conflict between those who seek to hide knowledge and those who seek to disclose it.

08 October 2015 by Dominic Sandbrook, reviewed by A.N. Wilson

When the BBC conducted a poll to find the nation’s favourite lyric in 1999, the clear winner was John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Dominic Sandbrook can’t quote any of this 18-line celebration of the joys of dispossession because he can’t afford the copyright fees, and “anyway, the prospect of paying for another fur coat for Yoko Ono leaves me less than enthusiastic”.

01 October 2015 by James Shapiro, reviewed by Clare Asquith

In 2005 James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare broke fresh ground in Shakespeare studies: a major feat, given the huge annual volume of new publications on Shakespeare. Shapiro’s new angle is to devote an entire book not just to the works of a single year in Shakespeare’s life,

01 October 2015 by John Marenbon, reviewed by John Cottingham

In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s “master and guide” on his poetic journey through Hell is the Roman poet Virgil, whose creativity and eloquence he reveres, and whose wisdom and virtue he plainly admires. Yet for all his virtue, Virgil is barred from accompanying the poet to Paradise: he has “lost the chance of Heaven for no other fault than not having faith”.

01 October 2015 by Michael Bloch, reviewed by Terry Philpot

When in the the summer the Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced he would marry his male partner of 29 years, there was passing media coverage but not even the twitch of an eyebrow. Times have changed for gay MPs; how much so is illustrated by Michael Bloch’s absorbing, gossipy if highly debatable account.

01 October 2015 by William Brodrick, reviewed by Kirsty Jane McCluskey

At first sight, the horror seems instantly familiar. A mute, troubled boy, betrayed in some way – unspoken, unspeakable – by his priest-confidant. Confronted by the police, the priest vanishes. We draw the obvious conclusion—obvious, because painful experience has made it so.

24 September 2015 by Michael Walsh

Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes, the story of a collection of netsuke owned by his relatives, was a surprise best-seller. As many more of us have eaten off porcelain plates than have collected these Japanese trinkets, this account of china clay should claim an even greater readership. It deserves to.

24 September 2015 by Sue Gaisford

Dr Johnson is one of Clive James’ favourites. Revisiting Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, he is amused to read about a chap called Edmund Smith, who had “all the talents”, said Johnson, “but achieved nothing with them”.

24 September 2015 by Houman Barekat

For the record, Anthony Burgess got there first. His rollickingly irreverent Orwellian rejoinder 1985 (1978) raised the spectre of a Muslim takeover of Britain funded by oil-rich Arabs. Back then it was little more than mordant farce.

24 September 2015 by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

This fifth and final edited volume of the correspondence of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin marks the conclusion of one of the most important projects ever undertaken in both architectural and British Catholic scholarship.

24 September 2015 by Julian Margaret Gibbs

A recording of the debut novel by the writer of TV’s Peep Show and The Thick of It, this made me laugh out loud.

17 September 2015 by James Pallister

People tend to think that the era of great religious building is past. The buildings that evoked our awe and wonder might once have been churches and cathedrals, but the creativity and inventiveness of architects is now expressed in airports, art galleries and sports stadiums.

17 September 2015 by Hugh Purcell, reviewed by David Goodall

John Freeman, who died in December 2014, just before his hundredth birthday, is remembered today chiefly for his interviews with the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Tony Hancock in the TV series Face to Face.

17 September 2015 by John Cooper, reviewed by Emma Klein

Nathaniel Rothschild, usually known as “Natty”, was the progeny of a family of Jewish gentleman bankers, the occupation initiated by his grandfather, Nathan Mayer, who was born in Frankfurt and later set up the N M Rothschild bank in the City of London.

17 September 2015 by Kamel Daoud, trans. John Cullen, reviewed by Patrick West

L’Etranger by Albert Camus is one of the defining novels of the twentieth century. It opens with the now legendary words, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know”, uttered by its nihilistic and taciturn protagonist, Meursault. The aimless French-Algerian youth later finds himself on a beach, armed with a pistol.

10 September 2015 by Jonathan Wright

The first nine volumes get the Penguin Monarchs series off to an impressive start. It appears that the authors (an eminent bunch) are at liberty to choose specific narrative strategies: some opt for a conventional route march through their subject’s reign while others take a more thematic or impressionistic approach.

10 September 2015 by Clarissa Burden

When the Bolsheviks under Lenin first took power in Russia in 1917, many thought that the good times had come. The British Government was unsure how long the regime would last and sent agents into the country.

10 September 2015 by Emma Hughes

Imagine you’re having dinner somewhere seriously ritzy. The lighting is dimmed, the napkins are pressed and there’s a really wonderful pianist. But the food, when it arrives, is … Fine. Not terrible, by any means. The chips are quite good. But you were expecting so much more.

03 September 2015 by Sarah Hayes

Community is something that modern life keeps at arm’s length. Even in overcrowded cities, we live in small, separate units and we relish our privacy. In simpler times, when community life and sharing accommodation was an economic necessity, people were considered odd if they left their towns or villages, or even if they lived alone.

03 September 2015 by ED. Richard Lansdown, reviewed by Robert Carver

Lord Byron is best-known as a Romantic poet, but throughout his short life he was also a prolific letter writer and occasional keeper of a journal. He wrote his memoirs, too, which were widely circulated in manuscript, but, alas for posterity, were destroyed a month after his death by his friend John Cam Hobhouse and his publisher John Murray, who feared their publication would damage the poet’s reputation.

03 September 2015 by Christian Joppke, reviewed by John Loughlin

Raymond Plant, the political theorist, once remarked that the liberal secular state will be willing to include religious groups – but only if they adopt the basic values of a liberal society, including “tolerance” and “equality”.

03 September 2015 by Jane Urquhar

A vast, Modernist mural looming over the departure lounge at Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport, “Flight and Its Allegories”, painted in 1958 by Canadian artist Kenneth Lochhead, is the organising motif of Jane Urquhart’s striking and intelligent new novel.

27 August 2015 by John Pollard

In seeking to expose the relationship between the Vatican’s finances and its exercise of power, Gerald Posner sets himself an ambitious task. While he tells a gripping and at times disturbing story, God’s Bankers is stronger on narrative than analysis.

27 August 2015 by Mona Eltahawy, reviewed by Jane O’Grady

Feminists should wake up and recognise the cruel, systematic violence that millions of women still face throughout the world

27 August 2015 by Daniel Boyarin

What makes a “world religion”? In the case of Judaism, the development of modes of prayer and study enabled it to make the transition to a “portable” religion after its two Temples were destroyed in BCE?586 and 70 CE. One can be an observant Jew anywhere (although a certain minimum level of communal infrastructure makes things easier).

27 August 2015 by Katherine Howe

This page-turner for young adults is set in an American high school with a difference. St Joan’s Academy is a Catholic, private, single-sex, academically selective institution which just happens to be in the town that was once Salem village.

20 August 2015 by Sudhir Hazareesingh, reviewed by Patrick McGuinness

Why does “How the French think” seem a writeable, marketable and realistic title when a book called, say, “How the Spanish think”, or even “How the British think” would sound reductive, partial and hubristic?

20 August 2015

Although these books were written before the general election in May, both feel like they belong to the post-­electoral landscape. The depth and abruptness of the Labour defeat left many people scratching their head and asking whether there was now any serious opposition to democracy neo-liberal style. Both books believe there is.

20 August 2015 by Francis O’Gorman, reviewed by James Williams

As subjects go, there are reasons to worry about “worry”. It hasn’t the exist­ential gravitas of “angst”, the Latinate respectability of “anxiety”, the quasi-scientific cachet of “neurosis”.

20 August 2015 by Paul McVeigh, reviewed by Clarissa Burden

Mickey Donnelly is growing up painfully in the Catholic Ardoyne area of Belfast. The Protestant Shankhill, just at the end of his road, is barricaded off to prevent the inhabitants of each side killing each other.

13 August 2015 by Peter Longerich, reviewed by Simon Scott Plummer

To what circle of Dante’s Inferno should the quadrumvirate of most notori­ous Nazis be consigned? Or do their crimes so far exceed the poet’s imagination that an altogether deeper level of damnation needs to be created?

13 August 2015 by Xinran, reviewed by Jerusha McCormack

If you have never been to China – or know little about it – this book by Xinran might seem like a series of bizarre anecdotes. The student who can’t open his suitcase, never mind unpack or hang up his clothes. The young woman kept as a “pet”, not allowed to play or go outside during her school years, who brutally discards her parents as soon as she lands in Britain.

13 August 2015 by PAUL SILAS PETERSON, reviewed by Fergus Kerr

This intriguing book focuses on what Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was publishing in the 1930s and early 1940s, relating his ideas to the various cultural contexts which he was both drawing upon and responding to, essentially of course the rise of Naziism.

13 August 2015 by Vicky Cosstick reviewed by Tony Craig

In the twenty years since peace began to dawn again in Northern Ireland, much of Belfast has been transformed by investment and economic growth – the so-called “peace dividend”.

13 August 2015 by Jim Shepard, reveiwed by Emily Holman

The innocence of how the very young see the world – and how it comes to be lost – is at the heart of Jim Shepard’s seventh novel. “What makes old people like that?” a child wonders. “I told her I didn’t know.”

06 August 2015 by Jonathan Sacks, reviewed by Noel Malcolm

“Fundamentalism reads texts as if God were as simple as we are. That is unlikely to be true.” So writes, in a typically thoughtful and arresting remark, the former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. At the heart of his new book is a series of readings of texts, teasing out the hidden moral and theological meanings of several episodes in the Book of Genesis.

06 August 2015 by Julian Barnes, reviewed by Marina Vaizey

Julian Barnes is a long-time star of the London literati: a Francophile, and a slightly austere, wry and elegant Booker Prize-winning novelist. He has also written extensively on the visual arts, almost exclusively on French nineteenth-century painting, with a few addenda on particularly strong, highly emotional

06 August 2015 by Ghada Karmi, reviewed by Shelby tucker

David Lloyd George’S War Cabinet in 1917 declared its intention to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine – the notorious Balfour Declaration. At the time, “Jewish people” comprised less than 8 per cent of Palestine’s population.

06 August 2015 by Helen Vendler, reviewed by Hilary Davies

At an early point in this collection, Helen Vendler tells us that her own attempts at writing poetry fell away while she was at graduate school. She felt guilty about this until she attended a literary party where an eminent American poet (she is coy about whom) asked if she wrote poetry; when she replied, no, but she felt bad about it, ...

06 August 2015 by Gavin Corbett, reviewed by Raymond Edwards

Rickard Velily is an Irishman in New York, on the cusp of middle age and in flight from lost love and ageing parents. By way of a shabby-grand club for such struggling diasporic exiles as he soon finds himself to be, he meets two older, even more washed-up characters, ...

30 July 2015 by Peter Marshall (Editor)

With this prosaic title, you might be forgiven for expecting a predictable narrative accompanied by pictures of dour, bearded reformers being executed in various unpleasant ways. In fact it contains seven essays by leading Reformation historians, with an array of fascinating pictures that are not just illustrations but integral parts of the argument.

30 July 2015 by Michael McCarthy, reviewed by Jonatthan Tulloch

Can you remember the moth snowstorms, those evening drives when the car’s full beam would be so thick with moths and other insects that you seemed to be ploughing through a snowstorm? Do you recall your first encounter with a buddleia bush blooming with butterflies?

30 July 2015 by Lerone A. Martin, reviewed by Brian Morton

Everyone knows how much of black popular music comes out of the church, but fewer will be aware that the black churches once exploited the record industry to counter the astonishing advance of profane culture.

30 July 2015 by Paul Murray, reviewed by James Moran

We all hate bankers, right? They pile up lucre for themselves, while letting the rest of us go to hell in a handcart. As one character in Paul Murray’s wonderfully inventive novel puts it, they are “a bunch of people with one character attribute between them: Mr Greedy, Mr Greedy, Mr Greedy and Mr Greedy”.

23 July 2015 by Christopher Allmand

On 24 April 1915, the very day before the allied landings at Gallipoli, some 250 Armenians were arrested in Constantinople. Before long many of them were dead, early victims of a massacre carried out by agents of the failing Ottoman Empire over the coming years, which was to become known as the Armenian genocide.

23 July 2015 by Anthony Kenny, reviewed by Christopher Howse

A few weeks ago, in the memoirs of Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, we left Anthony Kenny and the author in a lightning storm on a mountainside, with a terrified guide begging them to throw away their ice axes lest they all be fatally struck. Providence, or nature, spared them to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and Master of Balliol, respectively.

23 July 2015 by Clay Risen

Ahead of the historic march on Washington of August 1963, as a far-reaching civil-rights bill was working its way through the capital’s legislative machinery, right-wing conservatives stoked up fears of civil disorder and central government overreach.

23 July 2015 by Rachel Billington, reviewed by Clarissa Burden

Rachel Billington’s latest novel appears 100 years after the disastrous eight-month Gallipoli campaign against the Turks was launched. The huge loss of life included Billington’s own grandfather, and the campaign ended in withdrawal with very little achieved except for the individual bravery and glory of some.

16 July 2015 by Suzy Feay

The role of the editor in crafting literary fiction is as fascinating as it is secretive. Some interventions we know about; Charles Monteith of Faber and Faber, for example, took on a debut novel his reader dismissed as an‘‘absurd and uninteresting fantasy… Rubbish and dull. Pointless” and helped transform it into Lord of the Flies.

09 July 2015 by A.N. Wilson, reviewed by Teresa Morgan

In this beguiling, challenging, often ­moving, occasionally frustrating book, ­A. N. Wilson laments that so few people now read the Bible or get to know it by other means. Many of those who do read it, moreover, read it wrongly, to the great impoverishment of modern society.

09 July 2015 by Abdel Bari Atwan, reviewed by Hugh Prysor-Jones

Horror films, as Hollywood knows, have a grisly fascination and when the horror is real, the fascination is all the greater. With its graphic atrocities, its slave markets, its professionally-made films of gruesome beheadings and mass public executions, the jihadists who now call themselves Islamic State know just how to push our buttons.

09 July 2015 by T.C. Boyle, reviewed by Markie Robson-Scott

Adam’s father, Sten, a Vietnam vet and retired school principal, is trying to understand what’s driven his psychotic 25-year-old son to murder and cause mayhem in the woods of Mendocino county. Violence is also part of Sten’s DNA, but it finds more acceptable outlets.

09 July 2015 by Simon Armitage, reviered by Geoffrey Heptonstall

In 2010 Simon Armitage walked the Pennine Way in the “wrong” direction, ending up at his home village in Yorkshire. He earned his passage by giving readings in pubs and clubs at the end of each day, and passing a sock round afterwards for donations.

02 July 2015 by Lauren Faulkner Rossi, reviewed by Hilmar M. Pabel

In 1998, the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, published, under the name of its president, Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, We Remember: A reflection on the Shoah. Lauren Faulkner Rossi incorrectly describes the document as Pope John Paul II’s formal apology “for the Church’s failure to challenge the Nazi regime openly during the Holocaust”.

02 July 2015 by Christine Toomey, reviewed by Amanda Hopkinson

There are fashions in worship as in all else. As the world grows smaller and more crowded, so we have fewer Christian anchorites and hermits (or other saintly sorts living down caves or up desert pillars) and fewer monastic vocations. This year, however, there have been reports of a sharp increase in the number of women choosing to become nuns in Britain.

02 July 2015 by Vesna Goldsworthy, reviewed by Kathy Watson

A long time ago, when I was just starting out in journalism, an older, experienced editor gave me the following piece of advice: “A good story is about sex, power or money. A great story is about all three.” By that yardstick, Gorsky is a great story.

02 July 2015 by Joseph Luzzi, reviewed by Ian Thomson

As every Italian schoolchild knows, Dante Alighieri’s allegorical journey from Hell to Heaven by way of Purgatory, The Divine Comedy, opens on Good Friday in a supernatural forest at nightfall. Dante, a figure in his own epic work, has lost his way in ­middle age and is alone and terrified in the “dark wood”. The classical poet Virgil, sent by Dante’s muse Beatrice, is about to show him Hell.

25 June 2015 by Oscar Romero, reviewed by Mark Dowd

A self-effacing, slightly built man who feels ill at ease in the limelight with a predilection for hour-long ­sermons. Hardly the stuff, you’d think, of a five-star preacher – but then Oscar Arnulfo Romero has always defied neat and easy ­categorisation, as the hundreds of thousands who will gather this weekend in San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital, for his long-awaited beatification, will testify.

25 June 2015 by David Greene, reviewed by André Van Loon

In Britain, we are generally used to fast train rides. Even London to Inverness can be done in fewer than 12 hours. A day’s journey in Russia, by contrast, can move you a mere blip on the map, though many sprawling cities, villages and vast lakes may have been passed.

25 June 2015 by Anne Enright, reviewed by Suzi Feay

This novel centres on a classic fictional set piece: a warring family at Christmas. It’s 2005, and the Madigan siblings, Hanna, Constance, Emmet and Dan, have travelled far from the County Clare of their childhood, but are still in thrall to their impossible, widowed mother, Rosaleen.

25 June 2015 by John Man, reviewed by Sue Gaisford

On Boxing Day, 1170, Henry II was in Bayeux, worrying about his trouble­some Archbishop and famously appealing for someone to rid him of “this turbulent priest”. Four knights galloped to the coast, found a boat to take them over the wintry Channel, then thundered on to Canterbury.

25 June 2015 by Muriel Spark, reviewed by Julian Margaret Gibbs

This novel, written in the 1980, is a wonderful evocation of boarding house life in mid-50’s London.

18 June 2015 by Noel Malcolm, reviewed by Andrew Breeze

In this dazzling work, Noel Malcolm presents Venice, Dalmatia, Malta, Madrid, papal Rome and Istanbul in their hour of glory.

18 June 2015 by Gary Wills, reviewed by Christiana Z. Peppard

One might see the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Garry Wills as a series of salvos against blithe assumptions that theo­logians are inclined to make about the unchanging continuity of Catholic teaching and tradition.

18 June 2015 by Carlo Gebler, reviewed by Peter Stanford

In the crowded field of memoir-­writing, the novelist, dramatist, film-maker and all-round man of letters Carlo Gébler holds a particular place of honour.

18 June 2015 by David Shafer, reviewed by Patrick West

This novel addresses two common, often overlapping and sometimes contradictory concerns among today’s millennial generation.

11 June 2015 by David Starkey, reviewed by Nicholas Vincent

Ever since its issue, in June 1215, Magna Carta has been the object of exaggeration and make-believe. Those who were present at Runnymede began the mythologising by carrying away from the scene of negotiations not just the great charter but a series of written memoranda, drafts and other scraps of parchment.

11 June 2015 by John A. Weafer, reviewed by Kirsty Jane McCluskey

A priest is a contradictory thing. Set apart but radically available, the servant of his parishioners and the subordinate of his bishop, he upholds the teachings of the Church while caring for ­people whose lives are often at variance with the proclaimed ideal.

11 June 2015 by Caryl Phillips

How much of life is spent wishing we had spoken more truthfully of our feelings? To call this dark and difficult emotion regret is too easy; it is rather the sadness of waste: of a failure to communicate with those who mean most to us while we live.

11 June 2015 by Cormac Ó Gráda, reviewed by Pól Ó Muirí

Mention the word “famine” and for many the Band Aid single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” comes to mind. It is now over 30 years since the release of that record, and while many of the artists who featured on it have faded from memory, the threat of famine still pulses in people’s minds.

04 June 2015 by Maurice Walsh, reviewed by Alvin Jackson

The great strength of this compelling book is that it manages to make large and abstract arguments while conveying a sense of the lived experience of the Irish revo­lution. With one hand, Maurice Walsh widens his lens, while simultaneously he applies a magnifying glass with the other.

04 June 2015 by Edited by David Whyte, reviewed by Paul Donovan

Corruption? Isn’t that something that happens in poor countries, or in a fabulously wealthy international football association based in Zurich? Not according to this engrossing book, which argues that the answer to the question posed in the title is that Britain is very corrupt, bordering, in fact, on the status of bandit country.

04 June 2015 by Gillian O’Brien

Chicago’s gilded Age had its blemishes, as this story of the murder of Dr Patrick Cronin in 1889 gruesomely illustrates. Cronin was caught up in a struggle for control of the secretive and powerful Clan na Gael, an organisation which sought home rule for Ireland by force.

04 June 2015 by Sunny Singh, reiviewed by Sue Gaisford

These days, even the smartest hotels do away with bedroom minibars. Luckily, at Hotel Arcadia they still exist, and one of them proves to be a godsend.

28 May 2015 by Susan Doran, reviewed by Peter Marshall

Politics has always been about personalities. Historians tried to persuade us that the key development of the sixteenth century was the triumph of institutions, and a move away from “medieval” informality. Geoffrey Elton detected a “Tudor revolution in government”; others charted the “rise of Parliament”.

28 May 2015 by Edited and annotated by Robert Cumming, reviewed by Robert Carver

Picasso was not being entirely ironical when he claimed that the most important quality of a great painting was that it should be very expensive. Art dealers, gallery owners, auctioneers – not to mention many painters – would all concur.

28 May 2015 by Edited by David Brown, reviewed by Jonathan Wright

There are good times and bad times to visit Durham Cathedral. Sunny afternoons in August are best avoided: the place is likely to be packed and you’d find more serenity in a shopping mall. Chilly mornings in January are a safer bet. It is then that, with a little luck, you can experience the cathedral’s greatest gift: the opportunity to step back in time.

28 May 2015 by Hannah Rothschild, reviewed by Lynn Roberts

You can’t fault the cover, which is really delightful: a red damask wall, hung with works by Watteau which the paper jacket reveals in enticing details through pierced and framed oblongs, beneath endorsements by Barbara Trapido and Elizabeth Gilbert.

21 May 2015 by David Brooks, reviewed by Ian Brunskill

David Brooks’ last book, The Social Animal, was subtitled “A Story of How Success Happens”. Its message was essentially that we, as individuals and as a society, spend too much time pursuing the wrong kind of success.

21 May 2015 by Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, reviewed by David Goodall

CARDINAL ARCHBISHOPS, who tend to die while still in office, rarely have time, even if they have the inclination, to write an autobiography (Cardinal Heenan, who wrote two volumes before his death in 1975, was an exception).

21 May 2015 by RichardBeard, reviewed by Susan Dowell

Authors of the best-known fictional reworkings of the Jesus story – most recently, by Philip Pullman, Naomi Alderman and Colm Tóibín – have all put their own individual spin on it. Richard Beard, in contrast, firmly roots his novels in the gospel texts. Yet this has imposed no limits to his inventive powers, as was demonstrated by his Lazarus is Dead, which was stunningly original, yet firmly based on John’s account.

14 May 2015 by John L. Allen, Jr, reviewed by Siobhán Garrigan

The jury is still out on whether the “Francis effect” arises from style or substance. John Allen, the Boston Globe’s seasoned Vatican-watcher, does not offer a verdict himself, but presents a wealth of evidence from the Pope’s first 600 days in this bouncily readable, even-handed, well-researched book.

14 May 2015 by Oliver Kamm, reviewed by Melanie McDonagh

On the cover, the word “Shall” in the title has been crossed out and replaced with “Will”. That little device usefully gets the casual reader hot and ­bothered at the outset: when should you use “shall” and when “will”?

14 May 2015 by Elena Poniatowska, translated by Amanda Hopkinson, reviewed by Saray Hayes

Fictionalised biographies can be an uncomfortable hybrid, neither fish nor fowl. In the case of the artist Leonora Carrington, you get fish, fowl and good red meat served up all at once. However, the facts of Leonora’s life are so much stranger than fiction that more or less whatever is done with them is bound to be entertaining.

14 May 2015 by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, reviewed by Alexander Lucie-Smith

The story of the composition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is well known. A youngish Oxford don took Alice Liddell and her sisters up the river “one golden afternoon”, and told them a story on the river-bank which was later written down. And what a story!

07 May 2015 by Joseph S. Nye, JR, reviewed by Simon Scott

The prospect of continued American global dominance has been the subject of lively debate since the British histor­ian Paul Kennedy warned of the danger of “imperial overstretch” in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers in 1987. That was published after defeat in Vietnam and the Islamic revolution in Iran.

07 May 2015 by MINAE MIZUMURA, translated by Mari Yoshiara and Juliet Winters Carpenter, reviewed by Pól Ó Muirí

Let us begin at the end. Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura concludes her study of the impact of the global dominance of the English language with the observation, “If more English native speakers walked through the doors of other languages, they would discover undreamed-of landscapes.

07 May 2015 by Molly McGrann, reviewed by Andy Bull

Sitting in her bank manager’s office, a middle-aged spinster gets the shock of her life. Marie, a linen-shop assistant who lives simply with her widowed mother in a little house in Kettering, had only popped in to see if she had enough for a holiday in Italy. “You can have any kind of holiday you want,” says the young clerk.

07 May 2015 by Jeffrey A. Lieberman with Ogi Ogas, reviewed by Theo Hobson

Psychiatry works: that is the Good News that this book proclaims. “For the first time in its long and notorious history, psychiatry can offer scientific, humane and effective treatments to those suffering from mental illness.”

30 April 2015 by Maeve Brigid Callan, reviewed by Brendan Smith

Western europe in the fourteenth century was a particularly turbulent place. Natural disasters in the form of famine and plague drastically reduced population levels and accelerated fundamental changes in economic and social relations.

30 April 2015 by Randy Boyagoda, reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney

The Novelist’s craft is evident in the pacing and tone of this biography of the hugely influential Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, the conservative Catholic monthly which boasts of being “America’s most influential journal of religion”.

30 April 2015 by Johnny Rogan, reviewed by David Platzer

In 1964 there was a moment when the Kinks came close to beating the Rolling Stones into second place as Britain’s most successful group, behind the Beatles. Though that laurel was to be denied, they well deserve their spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame largely due to its songwriter Ray Davies’ standards such as “Sunny Afternoon”

30 April 2015 by Mikhail Elizarov

“They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good … They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other.”

23 April 2015 by Mary Frances Coady, reviewed by Martin Stannard

In AUGUST 1948, a 33-year-old Cistercian monk in Kentucky was bemused and delighted to receive a letter from Evelyn Waugh. “Dear Brother Louis”, it began, “My criticisms were really personal … I didn’t like your criticisms of the Franciscans.

23 April 2015 by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, reviewed by Ian Thomson

Back in the 1970s, I went to the same school in south London as a stockbroker’s son called Nigel Farage. He was not much liked by the Dulwich College staff, who found him cocky and opinionated.

23 April 2015

Monica Baldwin, in 1914, entered a contemplative religious order. She was 21. She lived in strict enclosure until 1942, when she was dispensed from her vows. Having missed the First World War, she was now plunged into the middle of the second.

23 April 2015 by Patricia Duncer, reviewed by Kathy Watson

Patricia Duncker’s new novel arrived on my desk at the best possible time because I was halfway through re-reading Daniel Deronda and Sophie and the Sibyl is about its author, George Eliot.

16 April 2015 by Peter Ackroyd, reviewed by Robert Bathurst

Searching through the bookshop at an arts cinema can be lowering; film buffery can suck the life out of any movie. When Alfred Hitchcock was interviewed by François Truffaut and asked about the deeper meaning of his films, Hitchcock deflected his questions. His only aim, he said, was “to make the spectator suffer”.

16 April 2015 by Panos Karnezis

Ambushed by guerrillas, a man is killed. His companion, a soldier, is injured. Nearby, a jaguar watches, then retreats into surrounding rainforest. A Jesuit priest saves the unnamed survivor and brings him to an Indian village.

16 April 2015 by Eliza Filby, reviewed by Catherine Pepinster

Headlines that greeted the Church of England’s pre-election message – “Bishops’ political plea irks Tories”; “Tory fury over Church of England letter” – were a reminder of how tense relations can be between clerics and government. Similar stories were written last year after Archbishop Vincent Nichols,

16 April 2015 by John Gray, reviewed by Nicholas Sagoasky

John gray blames Christianity for peddling fantasies of freedom which mislead humans into multiple forms of intolerance. “All modern philosophies in which history is seen as a process of human emancipation”, he writes, “are garbled versions of [the] Christian narrative, itself a garbled version of the original message of Jesus.”

09 April 2015 by Peter Brown, reviewed by Teresa Morgan

In this visionary short study, Peter Brown links two themes which are rarely brought together: Christian views of the afterlife between the second and seventh centuries, and the ways in which relations between God and the faithful, living and dead, were mediated by wealth.

09 April 2015 by Brendan Simms, reviewed by Melanie McDonagh

The author of this little book about a decisive episode in the Battle of Waterloo told me that it was a kind of European version of Zulu – the film starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. During the battle, the unremarkable farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, fortuitously placed in a strategically critical position, was defended against Napoleon’s forces by the 400-odd riflemen of the Second Light Battalion King’s German Legion.

09 April 2015 by Jonny Steinberg, reviewed by Chris Chivers

Jonny steinberg, associate professor in the African Studies Department at Oxford University, is one of the leading interpreters of South Africa and its public institutions since the dawn of democracy. He has investigated its police and its gangsters, the drug culture and the HIV-Aids pandemic.

09 April 2015 by Michael Arditti, reviewed by Alexander Lucie-Smith

Michael Arditti has carved out a unique place for himself in current British fiction. He writes interesting and non-didactic novels about religion. Not only does he invent memorable characters and situations – a love story set in Lourdes, for example, or an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a priest in the Philippines, which uncovers much of that country’s murky history

02 April 2015 by Walter Kasper, reviewed by Richard R. Gaillardetz

Over the past two years, Cardinal Walter Kasper has earned the un­official title of chief theologian of Pope Francis. At Francis’ invitation, he addressed the February 2014 consistory of the College of Cardinals on a theology of the family, and the Pope has praised the book on mercy that Kasper gave him a few days before his election.

02 April 2015 by Brandy Schillace, reviewed by Brian Morton

In his last months, interviewers would ask Christopher Hitchens how he was. “Well, I’m dying,” the great anarch would say, and then, after a delicious pause, “… but so are you.”

02 April 2015 by Terence Brown, reviewed by Fergus Mulligan

From its first issue in 1859, The Irish Times was the newspaper of the Anglo-Irish, the 3,000 or so Protestant ascendancy families. Considered British in Ireland and Irish in Britain, many only felt at home on the Irish Sea. From 1922, with the establishment of the Irish Free State, it was a bastion of Protestant Ireland, along with the Bank of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, the Royal Dublin Society and the Guinness brewery.

02 April 2015 by Robyn Cadwallader, reviewed by Madeleine Minson

Imagine leaving ordinary life behind when you are just 17, never to enjoy the changing seasons or human company again. Imagine entering a dank cell attached to a village church, and even having burial rites performed over you before the door is nailed shut behind you.

26 March 2015 by Hubert Wolf, translated by Ruth Martin, reviewed by Hilmar M. Pabel

A church historian at the University of Münster, Professor Hubert Wolf is an eminent authority on the archives of the Holy See. He leads a team of scholars publishing online at the reports, contained in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, that Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, wrote while papal nuncio first in Munich and then in Berlin (1917-29).

26 March 2015 by Virginia Nicholson, reviewed by Hilary Davies

The fifties. What do they conjure up? Women with impossibly tiny waists and conical breasts, wholesome kitchens where Mummy rather contradictorily seems to be using all the latest products of a fledgling consumer industry, effortlessly balancing the requirements of comfort-loving husband, rosy-cheeked children and her own beauty-queen status?

26 March 2015 by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day established him as a novelist who could fathom the undercurrents of the British heart. His new novel goes deeper: it describes a Britain of the past, still linked to the tradition of knightly valour chronicled by Malory.

26 March 2015 by GIacomo Leopardi, translated by Tim Parks, reviewed by Robert Carver

The nobel Prize winning author Elias Canetti observed that “all the great aphorists read as if they knew each other well”. They also often read as if they had access to each others’ notebooks. Was it Kafka or Chamfort who claimed “Revenge is so sweet one often wishes to be insulted so as to be able to take revenge”?

19 March 2015 by Alan Allport, reviewed by David Goodall

For nearly 50 years, from 1914 to 1963, the majority of able-bodied British men at some time in their lives underwent military service. How effective were these temporary (and often reluctant) conscripts as a fighting force? How did they respond to the rigours, irrationalities, discomforts and dangers of military life?

19 March 2015 by Anne Tyler, reviewed by Markie Robson-Scott

“She couldn’t bear to think that their family was just another muddled, discontented, ordinary family.” Turning Tolstoy slightly aslant, this is Abby Whitshank, a grandmother in her seventies, living with her husband Red in Baltimore, in the house Red’s father built.

19 March 2015 by Diana Walsh-Pasulka, reviewed by Christopher Howse

Diana Walsh Pasulka begins with an anecdote. Giving a Lent talk to the Catholic student centre at her university, at Wilmington, North Carolina, she began to speak on the subject of her research, Purgatory. She felt a tap on her arm and Sr Mary, an Ursuline nun said: “Purgatory is not a doctrine of the Church any more, is it?” And, the author adds: “The question was posed as a statement.”

19 March 2015 by John Moses, reviewed by Erik Varden

THE THOUGHT of Thomas Merton – energetic, argumentative, irresistibly curious – turning 100 is incongruous. It is difficult to imagine him as an old man. Born on 31 January 1915, his death in Bangkok in 1968 swept him away in his heyday. It is the image of him then, posing for photographs with a youthful-looking Dalai Lama, that is fixed in our minds.

12 March 2015 by John Cottingham, reviewed by Maximilian de Gaynesford

“on Love of all subjects, writing can carry conviction only if it is born of everything that a man has in him to say about it.” John Cottingham’s Philosophy of Religion made me think often of this remark by Bernard Williams. Writing in his characteristically clear, thoughtful and gently passionate style, Cottingham carries conviction precisely because he exercises this kind of generosity.

12 March 2015 by Johann Har, reviewed by Ian Thomson

In 1953, during his Hollywood exile, Aldous Huxley ingested four-tenths of a gram of mescaline and waited to see what would happen. When he opened his eyes, he recalled, “I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his own creation”. In other words: pure California neon dust. Huxley was 59.

12 March 2015 by Robert MacFarlane, reviewed by Mary Blanche Ridge

Robert Macfarlane tells us that Landmarks, his fifth book, has been years in the making. All his life he has been drawn to writers who describe landscape and natural life with truthfulness and precision rather than in merely general terms. This unlocks its mystery and power, and enables us to behold nature with wonder.

12 March 2015 by Claire Hajaj, reviewed by Lynn Roberts

There is a desperate relevance to this book; its author has a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, and she tells the story of the courtship, marriage and fractured lives of a Jewish girl and a Palestinian boy.

05 March 2015 by Benjamin J. Kaplan, reviewed by Jonathan Wright

The rules of theological correctness in post-Reformation Europe were very strict. It was argued, for example, that you should have as little as possible to do with those on the opposite side of the confessional divide.

05 March 2015 by Andrew O’Hagan, reviewed by Suzi Feay

Women tend to write domestic novels, it’s sometimes claimed, while male authors are more likely to tackle “bigger” issues. For his fifth novel, as if taking aim at such gendered preconceptions, Andrew O’Hagan seems to have attempted one of each: a female-focused story, gentle, interior and elegiac, and a male narrative that could not be more ballsy.

05 March 2015 by Karen Joy Fowler, Narrated by Katherine Mangold, reviewed by Julian Margaret Gibbs

Rosemary has an extraordinary sister, Fern. When Rosemary is five, Fern suddenly disappears. The rest of this enthralling novel (shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year) deals with the fall-out: Rosemary’s grief that turns her from a cheery, loquacious child into a silent, friendless observer on the margins

05 March 2015 by Mary Portas

Memoirs of Catholic upbringings, especially as told by celebrities, have a habit of hitting a sour note when they come to the Church, all blame and reproach, a bad experience that they have managed to put behind them. But Mary Portas offers the opposite.

26 February 2015 by Sam Harris, reviewed by Melanie McDonagh

Is there anything, anyone, more irritating than the self-styled “spiritual but not religious”?

26 February 2015 by Reviewed by Geoffrey Elborn

Were T.S. Eliot’s character to be judged solely on the basis of the most recent volume of his letters, the verdict would not be kind. The first to be published since his widow Valerie’s death in 2011, John Haffenden pays tribute to her and her editorial work.

26 February 2015 by Amy Mason, reviewed by Sue Gaisford

The acknowledgements at the end of Amy Mason’s debut novel start with the conventional words of gratitude: “I would like to thank …” but then she immediately adds “(most of these should also be apologies)”. Mason ends her list with the name Stefan Brugger – but again, subverts the convention with another rider: “(unless he dumps me, then please cross this one out)”.

26 February 2015 by James Carroll, reviewed by Nicholas King

As all Tablet readers will know, the title of this book comes from Bonhoeffer, rather than Hugh Grant. The theologian, facing execution in a Nazi jail, wrote, in the light of the ugly new world that had been ushered in, “Who is Christ actually for us today?”

19 February 2015 by Edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck, reviewed by Ian Thomson

In the end for Samuel Beckett, it all boiled down to a question of words, and the fewer the better. The pared-down prose of a late fable like Ill Seen Ill Said was in some ways a distillation of the whiskey-fuelled blarney that Beckett had absorbed as a student in his native Dublin in the mid-1920s.

19 February 2015 by Muriel Spark, reviewed by Melanie McDonagh

Carcanet press is a benefactor of mankind, or at least, the reading public, or that bit of it which rates Muriel Spark as the genius she was. Last year, it reissued her extraordinarily insightful writing on Mary Shelley, which did justice to the lady’s originality, though Shelley didn’t come terribly well out of it.

19 February 2015 by William Gibson, reviewed by Patrick West

William Gibson is considered something of a prophet of the near future, a status he attained with his 1984 novel Neuromancer, which foretold of a world dominated by cyberspace, technology and wanton capitalism.

19 February 2015 by David M. Friedman, reviewed by Terry Philpot

Four years out of Oxford, Oscar Wilde was probably the first person to attain celebrity in its modern sense: he became famous for being famous.

12 February 2015 by Nick Bunker

The truth of the cliché, variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw or to Winston Churchill, that the Americans and the British are “two peoples divided by a common language” becomes more apparent with every year that passes.

12 February 2015 by Tom Vaughan, reviewed by Peter Stanford

Many of us believe we have a novel in us. Very few act on that conviction, beyond jotting down the odd paragraph and dreaming. And the number of those who actually make it into print are dauntingly small. So hats off to Tom Vaughan – a collateral descendant of Herbert Vaughan, the former proprietor of this newspaper who went on to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

12 February 2015 by Tom Vaughan, reviewed by Peter Stanford

Many of us believe we have a novel in us. Very few act on that conviction, beyond jotting down the odd paragraph and dreaming. And the number of those who actually make it into print are dauntingly small. So hats off to Tom Vaughan – a collateral descendant of Herbert Vaughan,

12 February 2015 by Tessa Murray, reviewed by Rick Jones

Few things were as damaging to the cause of English music as the monopoly of music printing and publishing that Queen Elizabeth I granted to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd in 1575. After one unsuccessful publication, they produced almost nothing, and instead of the widespread dissemination of many scores...

12 February 2015 by Georges Perec, trs. Davis Bellos, reviewed by Lynn Roberts

“Madera was as heavy,” Perec begins. “I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory.”

12 February 2015 by Julie Burchill, reviewed by Ian Thomson

The only British writers to have stuck up for Jewry “before the days of Hitler”, according to George Orwell, were Charles Dickens and Charles Reade. Orwell had forgotten George Eliot, whose Daniel Deronda was portrayed as a good Jew.

05 February 2015 by John Pollard, reviewed by Hilmar M. Pabel

Mainly because of the First World War, the Vatican in its efforts on behalf of peace became “a new force in international affairs”, as John Pollard observes.

05 February 2015 by John Hooper, reviewed by Richard Owen

To most visitors Italy is simply the land of la dolce vita: fine arts and fine wines, lakeside villas, cypress trees and delectable Mediterranean food.

05 February 2015 by Emma Hooper, reveiwed by Sarah Hayes

Writers’ biographical notes tend to be stingy: they name a few works and sometimes go so far as to disclose where the writer lives.

05 February 2015 by Hans Fallada, reviewed by Peter Wood

The German novelist and short-story writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947) was an expert on how to survive imprisonment in the cause of writing.

29 January 2015 by Sarah Helm, reviewed by Ian Thomson

If this is a Woman adapts the title of Primo Levi’s memoir of Auschwitz, If This is a Man. Sarah Helm’s book is a history of Ravensbrück concentration camp, the only Nazi camp built for women. Situated north of Berlin, the camp claimed between 30,000 and 90,000 Jewish and non-Jewish lives. Levi’s friend Lidia Rolfi was deported from her native Italy to Ravensbrück in 1944, where she was set upon by dogs, starved and made to slave in a Siemens electrical plant.

29 January 2015 by David Lodge, reviewed by Martin Stannard

This is a hair-shirt autobiography, punitively self-critical. One of our finest literary satirists and critics marks his eightieth birthday by tracing his life from humble beginnings to his first major success, aged 40, with Changing Places in 1975.

29 January 2015 by Antonia Fraser, reviewed by Jessie Childs

“I think it’s the subject, don’t you?” said Antonia Fraser’s publicist on the way to an interview in 1969. The extraordinary success of Mary Queen of Scots had put them all on the back foot. Few people had expected the 36-year-old daughter of Lord and Lady Longford – and married mother of six – to write serious history.

29 January 2015 by C.S. Lewis, reviewed by Jerusha McCormack

Some years ago, coming out of my husband’s funeral, a friend handed me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. She was a close friend, no stranger to pain; someone I trusted. I learned also to trust this book.

22 January 2015 by Yuval Noah Harari, reviewed byTeresa Morgan

Sapiens tells the (or rather, one possible) story of human history, arguing that it has been decisively shaped by three revolutions: cognitive, agricultural and scientific.

22 January 2015 by Shami Chakrabarti, reviewed by Nocholas Sagovsky

Shami Chakrabarti describes herself as a “professional teenager”. She certainly has a knack of stripping away layers of pretence and getting to the heart of some very difficult questions. As a young barrister, she worked for the Home Office – deep within what she now calls The Dark Tower.

22 January 2015 by Daniel Kehlmann, trs. Carol Brown Janeway

Daniel Kehlmann’s 2005 novel Measuring the World achieved both critical acclaim and huge international sales. His latest novel, like Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money and John Lanchester’s Capital, tackles the financial crisis of 2008, yet is perhaps more ambitious than either in its merciless dissection of the whole fabric of modern society.

22 January 2015 by Maggie Ross, reviewed by Kirsty Jane McCluskey

There is much on which to reflect, and much with which to argue, in this engaging and provocative book. Maggie Ross, an Anglican solitary, is trenchantly anti-institutional, anti-dogmatic and anti-clerical. She describes institutional Christianity as a return to the Temple, the post-ninth-century Eucharist as magic, not sacrament, and the tabernacle as “God quite literally in a box”.

15 January 2015 by Sven Beckert, reviewed by Hugh Prysor-Jones

I was born in Liverpool and so from an early age knew all about King Cotton, who reigned in Manchester next door but whose realm was really Dixie, the antebellum American South of black slaves and Gone with the Wind, fine manners and horrible cruelty all rolled into one.

15 January 2015 by Emmanuel Carrère, reviewed by André Van Loon

“In those days we were used to Soviet dissidents being bearded, grave, and poorly dressed, living in small apartments, filled with books and icons, where they would spend all night talking about how Orthodoxy would save the world. And here was this sexy, sly, funny guy, a cross between a sailor on leave and a rock star.”

15 January 2015 by Lynn Shepherd, reviewed by Lynn Roberts

Another mystery for Lynn Shepherd’s nineteenth-century detective Charles Maddox, and another superlatively clever take on a literary monument. Charles’ great-uncle sorted out Murder at Mansfield Park (pace Jane Austen), and he has himself pulled skeletons from the cupboards of Dickens’ Bleak House (in Tom-All-Alone’s) and tracked down the poet Shelley’s doppelgänger (in A Treacherous Likeness).

15 January 2015 by Edward O. Wilson, reviewed by Mary Colwell

Now 85, the father of sociobiology, the world’s expert on ants, Edward O. Wilson has been hailed by some as the new Charles Darwin. In spite of the grand title, his latest offering is a meander through Wilson’s well-furnished mind rather than a systematic attempt to unravel all the mysteries of life.

08 January 2015 by Henry Kissinger

THIS CONCISE, penetrating book must surely be the valedictory work of the most eminent political scientist and diplomatic practitioner of our age, now in his ninety-second year. It is the summation of an extraordinarily long career spent reflecting on, and directly influencing, the course of international relations.

08 January 2015 by James Boyce, reviewed by Philip McCosker

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I was reminded of this popular, too frequently ignored saying when I read this ambitious, thought-provoking book on original sin. Any salvation in Christ must be a salvation from something, a positive answering some negative.

08 January 2015 by Roberto Ampuero, reviewed by Lucy Popescu

During his lifetime, Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel Laureate, held various diplomatic positions abroad and served as adviser to President Salvador Allende. He was hospitalised at the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet and died of prostate cancer shortly afterwards, on 23 September 1973.

08 January 2015 by Göran Rosenberg, reviewed by Bernard Wasserstein

In an essay in 1945, George Orwell recorded a series of remarks, generally hostile, about Jews that he had heard in the course of the previous year or two. Among these was that of an “intelligent woman on being offered a book dealing with anti-Semitism and German atrocities”.

30 December 2014 by Neil MacGregor, reviewed by Nicholas Boyle

What do you write after you have written a history of the world? Not everyone would think of moving on to a history of Germany. But Neil MacGregor’s sequel to A History of the World in 100 Objects – like its predecessor, the richly illustrated companion to a British Museum exhibition and to an addictive series of radio broadcasts – is not just a history.

30 December 2014 by Brian O’Driscoll with Alan English, reviewed by James Moran

In November, the Irish Government unveiled plans for the centenary of the Easter Rising. The launch featured a video called “Ireland Inspires’’ which, bizarrely, made no mention of those who fought and died in 1916, but instead culminated with footage of Brian O’Driscoll scoring a try. Meanwhile, in the same week, ...

30 December 2014 by John Lanchester, reviewed by Christopher Howse

John lanchester here provides the tin-opener to the money men’s can of worms. The most memorable of his facts (listed in alphabetical order) comes under S for “Seventy-Two”.

30 December 2014 by Alessandro Gallenzi, reviewed by Thomas Tallon (We apologise for erroneously printing Thomas Tallon as "Thomas Tallis" in the printed edition)

Many in these fact-lite days will know nothing of Giordano Bruno. Some will remember a statue in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome; they may have a vague idea of a freethinker born out of due season, a kind of Don Cupitt or Richard Holloway of the Italian Renaissance, and a victim of the fire of the Inquisition.

18 December 2014 by Graham Ward, reciewed by Rowan Williams

Not many serious books about culture and epistemology begin with a ghost story from a Cambridge college – a narrative exemplary in both atmosphere and inconclusiveness. But the point of this unorthodox opening is not to make us wonder whether ghosts exist so much as to wonder what makes such a story believable.

18 December 2014 by Michael Hall, reviewed by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

One of the great pleasures of recent gothic revival scholarship is that its personalities have begun to emerge. For some reason both Georgian and arts-and-crafts architects are introduced as human beings: that’s always been part of their story.

18 December 2014 by Teresa Waugh, reviewed by Clarissa Burden

It would be a very long bookshelf indeed that would accommodate all the books with the name Waugh on the spine. Teresa Waugh, widow of the late and much-lamented Auberon, although not a blood relation, has successfully adopted the family business and would take up a respectable amount of space on that bookshelf herself.

18 December 2014 by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Tolkien’s Beowulf is a mixed work, both in readability and nature, for reasons which a quick tour through Tolkien’s publication history helps make clear. Although a visit to a good bookstore will often reveal shelves and indeed cases of works by J.R.R. Tolkien, within his own lifetime, the Oxford professor was renowned for not publishing.

18 December 2014 by Michael Pye, reviewed by Timothy O’Sullivan

More of a lake than an ocean in the canon of the earth’s raging deeps, the North Sea is small, grey and shallow. To Bede on the banks of the Tyne at Jarrow in the eighth century it was a well of the unexpected, most of it unwelcome. Farther south on the low, hazy shores of “holy” Suffolk a snake’s head prow on the horizon perhaps bespoke Leviathan, in this instance a Viking longship.

11 December 2014 by Austen Ivereigh, reviewed by Michael Walsh

At the back of this substantial volume there is a list of biographies of Pope Francis. Nine are mentioned, five by Argentinian journalists. Also named are other recollections of Francis, including Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s reminiscences of the 2013 conclave and one, by a fellow novice of the Pope’s, intriguingly entitled Bergoglio and Me: lives almost in parallel.

11 December 2014 by Wendy Cope

When a child named Janet came to play with little Wendy Cope, she brought a cushion with her, from which she drew snippets of beautiful fabrics. “It was”, the older Wendy remembers, “wonderful.”

11 December 2014 by Peter Carey, reviewed by Suzi Feay

The opening is striking. A virus has released the computerised locks of Australia’s prisons, releasing their inmates. Because the security systems were mostly designed by American companies, the virus affects their jails too. A female hacker is apprehended, with echoes of the Julian Assange affair:

11 December 2014 by Robert Montagu, reviewed by Michael Estorick

Having spent much of his adult life turning the grim raw material of his childhood into fiction, Robert Montagu was recently persuaded by the publisher Naim Attallah to tell his story straight. The result, written in just a few months, is as gripping as a thriller.

04 December 2014

The long nights of winter are perfect for catching up on reading. Here some of our regular reviewers look back at books they have enjoyed over the past 12 months and select their favourites

27 November 2014 by Lee Jackson, reviewed by Jonathan Wright

Only a lunatic could enjoy strolling along Oxford Street in 2014. The bird-pecked remnants of kebabs, the chewing gum underfoot and the petrol-choked air add up to misery. Things could be worse, however. Spare a thought for our Victorian forebears.

27 November 2014 by Elif Shafak, reviewed by Amanda Hopkinson

Five years ago, The Elephant’s Journey by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, appeared. It told of the Indian beast’s overland travels from Lisbon to Vienna, centre of the Habsburg empire in the sixteenth century.

27 November 2014 by William M. Morris, reviewed by Christopher Lamb

It’s hard not to see the case of the Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, as a David and Goliath battle between a plucky pastor of the outback and the implacable might of the Roman Curia.

27 November 2014 by Atul Gawande, reviewed by James Le Fanu

“After 70 years,” wrote Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy, “all is trouble and sorrow.” But not any more. Rather, most of us can reasonably anticipate an extra decade at least, digging the garden, travelling to exotic places and playing with the grandchildren.

20 November 2014 by Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama will doubtless be remembered by posterity as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, which, shortly after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, proposed that the world had achieved a final Hegelian synthesis in the form of free markets and liberal democracy.

20 November 2014 by David Kynaston, reviewed by Brian Morton

So here we are, then, between the Chatterley band and the Beatles’ first LP, at the very moment when sexual intercourse was invented. It wasn’t, actually, the sexiest moment in our collective history: it was a time marked by periods of what was unironically called “restraint”, and by town planners,

20 November 2014 by Jessie Burton, reviewed by Sarah Lawson

Nella, a country girl, comes to Amsterdam in 1686 to live with her new husband, a wealthy merchant. The household is not what she expected. The husband is kind but distant, his sister is a menacing and drearily Calvinistic Mrs Danvers; the servants – an ex-orphan and a black ex-slave from Dahomey – are enigmatic.

20 November 2014 by Gavin D’Costa, reviewed by Michael L. Fitzgerald

Nostra Aetate (NA), the Declaration on the relations of the Church with people of other religions, was a surprise result of the Second Vatican Council, not foreseen in the original agenda. Interfaith relations were not a major concern for the Church at that time.

13 November 2014 by Rowan Williams, reviewed by Anthony Kenny

Rowan williams stood down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012; 11 months later he delivered the Gifford Lectures that form the substance of this book. Like several of his predecessors as lecturer, he is not totally at ease with Lord Gifford’s call to expound a natural theology.

13 November 2014 by R.J.B. Bosworth, reviewed by Robert Carver

Few of its many observers, analysts, and visitors have remained indifferent to the Serenissima. To John Ruskin it was “the paradise of cities”; to D.H. Lawrence, “an abhorrent, green, slippery city”; and for the Italian Futurist poet Marinetti, “a magnificent sore from the past” whose canals he would have had filled with the rubble of the demolished palazzi and museums.

13 November 2014 by Richard Flanagan, reviewed by Harriet Paterson

Immaculately kept yet heartbreaking, the Death Railway war graves in Thailand and Burma mark one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War. In 1943 the Japanese drove a quarter of a million slave labourers to establish a supply route from Bangkok to Burma. Around half perished.

13 November 2014 by R.F. Foster, reviewed by Robin Blake

W.B. Yeats was out of the country on the warm Easter Monday in 1916 when armed rebels took over Dublin’s General Post Office and proclaimed Ireland’s freedom. By the end of the week their fledgling republic was snuffed out, and the summary trials and executions began. Yeats was shocked but also powerfully, if rather reluctantly, moved.

06 November 2014 by Raymond Edwards, reviewed by Christopher Howse

What would you think is the underlying theme of the myths of J.R.R. Tolkien, exemplified by The Lord of the Rings? Good versus evil; martial heroism; the virtue of trees? Tolkien’s answer, late in his career, was “Death! Inevitable death.”

06 November 2014 by Anne de Courcy, reviewed by Melanie McDonagh

Anyone who has read Dorothy Parker’s devastating review of Margot Asquith’s autobiography may find it difficult to take the subject of this book altogether seriously. As she observed, Margot rubbed shoulders with the great and made sure everyone knew about it.

06 November 2014 by Marina Warner, reviewed by Lynn Roberts

This is a small book – as small as some of the books which are its subject-matter – but, in the way of fairy tales, it is bigger on the inside than the outside: start reading it, and you are immediately in the company of Oscar Wilde’s mother, Sigmund Freud and Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and Jean Cocteau, Italo Calvino, Keats and Matthew Bourne.

06 November 2014 by Robert Merle, reviewed by Thomas Tallon

In England, Henry VIII broke with Rome for supremacy, not doctrine, and, having stifled dissent and put down the Pilgrimage of Grace, kept the peace; but the Reformation instantly split France like a sword because Francis I was too weak to prevent it.

06 November 2014 by James Booth, reviewed by Matthew Adams

On Boxing Day 1968, Philip Larkin settled at a desk in his mother’s house to treat Monica Jones (the most enduring and most troubled of his girlfriends) to a festive missive emblazoned with the heading “GLUM LETTER”.

30 October 2014 by Grant Wacker, reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney

Is it conceivable that Pope Francis would send Billy Graham, who turns 96 on 7 November, a birthday card? It is. But one also imagines that Billy’s son, Franklin, would be unimpressed. Over the last decade, Franklin has steadily scattered the goodwill his father built up over a half-century.

30 October 2014 by Peter L. Berger, reviewed by David Martin

Peter berger is an inexhaustible fount of radical ideas, mellifluously expressed, about “modern” religiosity. He makes these ideas come alive with thought experiments and illuminating stories. Berger is also an influential political entrepreneur, who in apartheid South Africa, and now in religiously repressive China, conducts direct conversations with the power elites.

30 October 2014 by Charles Spencer, reviewed by Jonathan Wright

The events of 1660 provoked an urgent and unsettling question. Would Charles II take revenge on those who had fought against and killed his father during the 1640s? Ahead of his return to England, Charles promised clemency, but some likely targets decided to flee the country. They made the correct decision.

30 October 2014 by Colm Tóibín

After all the brouhaha about Colm Tóibín’s last novel – from Booker shortlist to Barbican stage via Broadway “blasphemy” – Nora Webster presents a quiet corrective. Three times longer than The Testament of Mary, it examines everything that happens to a woman in the immediate years after bereavement, rather than meditating on all that led up to such loss.

23 October 2014 by Helen Castor, reviewed by Jessie Childs

There were saltires in the streets of Paris almost 600 years ago. They were sported by the adherents of John, the “fearless” duke of Burgundy, who took the city from the count of Armagnac in 1418. Men caught wearing Armagnac’s rival white sash were massacred and their bodies were stacked up “like sides of bacon – a dreadful thing”, in the words of a Parisian chronicler.

23 October 2014 by Edel Bhreathnach, reviewed by Colmán Ó Clabaigh

Although very different in approach, content and format, these books constitute two of the most important recent publications on medieval Irish history. Both represent the coming to fruition of the work of a mature scholar who has engaged with their subject for decades, indeed since childhood – both credit a parent for introducing them to what has become their life’s work.

23 October 2014 by Alan Johnson, reviewed by Terry Philpot

The second volume of Alan Johnson’s memoirs start where the first, the much-lauded This Boy, left off. Our 18-year-old hero leaves shelf stacking and takes a job as a postman, first in Barnes, west London, and then in Slough on the capital’s edge.

23 October 2014 by Samantha Harvey, reviewed by Suzi Feay

“Middle-class problems” are currently trending on Twitter, with tales of lattes containing too much foam, shops running out of quinoa and unsatisfactory skiing holidays. A bit unfair, probably, but it kept coming to mind as I read Samantha Harvey’s third novel.

16 October 2014 by John W. O’Malley SJ, reviewed by Hilmar M. Pabel

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. In 1773, under intense pressure from Catholic European monarchs, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the prestigious but also much maligned religious order “for the peace and tranquillity of the Church”.

16 October 2014 by Andrew Borowiec, reviewed by Denis MacShane

The first fighting in the Second World War happened on Polish soil and continued there into April 1945. Poland was invaded first by Nazi Germany and then by Communist Russia.

16 October 2014 by John Boyn, reviewed by Mary Kenny

John Boyne is the successful author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a story essentially for younger readers which made a compelling movie, starring David Thewlis as a beastly Nazi running a concentration camp and satisfyingly punished at the culmination of the film.

16 October 2014 by Stephen Schloesser, reviewed by Peter Quantrill

“I don’t belong to my era,” cried Olivier Messiaen in 1979, but he did, as we all do, whether he liked it or not. During his lifetime, biographers tended to take him at his own estimation.

09 October 2014 by Adrian Goldsworthy, reviewed by Noonie Minogue

Few dictators have filled the latter years of their rule with quite such a perfume of peace, prosperity and good governance as Augustus, whose second millennial celebrations have rumbled on throughout this year.

09 October 2014 by Bernardine Bishop, reviewed by Patrick West

Bernardine Bishop died last year from a long illness, so it’s unsurprising that this posthumous novel is concerned with the themes of death and fate.

09 October 2014 by Rory MacLean, reviewed by Robert Carver

Spirit of place is a difficult essence to distil. Many excellent travel writers fail – for them the journey, the sensations of movement are paramount.

09 October 2014 by Bernard McGinn, reviewed by Alban McCoy

St thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is a masterpiece of systematisation, universally acknowledged as the finest example of what was a relatively new literary form that had emerged in the late twelfth century.

02 October 2014 by Garry Wills, reviewed by Clare Asquith

How did she do it? Illegitimate, excommunicated, head of a disputed national Church, and, worst of all, a single woman – Elizabeth’s survival on the English throne for 45 years is one of the most remarkable political balancing acts of history.

02 October 2014 by Kerry Brown, reviewed by Simon Scott Plummer

In late 2012 the BBC ran in parallel two stories of major significance: the American presidential election and the emergence of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.

02 October 2014 by Brigid Allen, reviewed by Ian Thomson

Born in suburban Middlesex in 1931, the poet and classical scholar Peter Levi is somewhat forgotten today, which is a shame. His father, Bert Levi, had Sephardic ancestors who sold carpets in Constantinople. In 1928 his devoutly Catholic mother, Mollie, had persuaded Bert to convert.

02 October 2014 by Marilynne Robinson, reviewed by Peter Stanford

Marilynne Robinson’s exquisite, peerless novels are about nothing and everything. There is no one quite like this American writer, or quite as good as her.

25 September 2014 by A.N. Wilson, reviewed by Roy Hattersley

Queen Victoria is one of the figures from British history about whom most people know something but few people know very much. She has come to personify what is popularly regarded as a golden age of imperial glory and economic supremacy.

25 September 2014 by David Martin, reviewed by Rowan Williams

David martin does not believe in “religion”; that is, he does not think that religious belief, practice and speech can be reduced to a neat corpus of essentials that can be treated as a discrete form of human activity.

25 September 2014 by Paul M. Cobb, reviewed by Peter Jackson

In general – and increasingly over the past four decades – scholarship has tended to view the Crusades as above all an important element of medieval European history.

25 September 2014 by Ian McEwan, reviewed by Brendan Walsh

It will drive you up the wall, but do try to read this cracking novel.

25 September 2014 by Judith Wolfe

“Paths not works” was the motto Martin Heidegger chose for the collected edition of his writings, and he elsewhere remarked that “paths of thought bear in them the mystery that we can walk them forward and backward – indeed the way backward alone leads forward.”

25 September 2014 by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Read by Hakeem Kae Kazim and Mpho Tutu. Reviewed by Julian Margaret Gibbs

Who better to write about forgiveness than Desmond Tutu, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, partially responsible for South Africa’s transition to peaceful racial co-existence after apartheid?

18 September 2014 by Karen Armstrong, reviewed by Scott Appleby

“Religion is the cause of today’s most vexing social problems, not least the plague of deadly violence gripping the planet.”

18 September 2014 by Muriel Spark, edited by Penelope Jardine

In an interview with an Italian newspaper in 2003, Muriel Spark observed: “It is my aim always to give pleasure.” And she did: is there anyone who isn’t captivated by her first (and best) novel, The Comforters?

18 September 2014 by Rowan Williams, reviewed by Graham Kings

Although Rowan Williams is sometimes accused of being “never knowingly understood”, this introduction to the basics of Christianity, emanating from his Holy Week talks to the people of his diocese in Canterbury Cathedral, is crisp and lucid.

18 September 2014 by Martin Amis, reviewed by Emma Hughes

Even his staunchest admirers would concede that Martin Amis has dropped some clangers over the years. But Time’s Arrow, his novel exploring the Final Solution, wasn’t one of them.

11 September 2014 by Christopher Allmand

It is hard to deny that the Christian community’s view of itself as “Christendom”, now transformed into “Europe”, altered radically between the appearance of Luther in 1517 and the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648.

11 September 2014 by Hilary Davies

Feminism, ah, there you have me. Hydra-headed, it can seem that it has as many manifestations as there are commentators about it, or women who live it.

11 September 2014 by Lucy Popescu

“I was never going to get out on my own,” says the narrator in Hanne Ørstavik’s searing portrait of a young woman’s sexual awakening. “

11 September 2014 by Nick Spencer

During the Darwin-mania of 2009, the think tank Theos (for which I work) conducted research into anti-evolutionary beliefs.

04 September 2014 by Hugh Thomas, reviewed by Andrew Breeze

In his earlier two books, Rivers of Gold: the rise of the Spanish empire and The Golden Age: the Spanish empire of Charles V, Hugh Thomas staked a claim to match Fernand Braudel for narrative drive, detail, breadth and ambition.

04 September 2014 by Tom McLeish, reviewed by Rodney Holder

Tom Mcleish relishes the earlier name for science, “natural philosphy” – in other words, “loving wisdom about nature”. In this fascinating book McLeish, professor of physics at Durham University, presents a rich and positive alternative to the sterile thesis of the “New Atheists” that science and faith are in perpetual conflict.

04 September 2014 by Harry Bucknall, reviewed by Christopher Howse

The defining moment in Harry Bucknall’s 1,411-mile walk to Rome came three weeks in, when he was suddenly confronted with Laon Cathedral. He had seen it growing larger on its hilltop as he snaked his way through the countryside on foot, then he turned a corner and was “assaulted by its sheer size … its beauty stopping me in my tracks”.

04 September 2014 by Carys Bray, reviewed by Sarah Hayes

Novels about families in the stranglehold of religion have a way of ending badly. Madness, dysfunction, and apostasy are often followed by death. In Carys Bray’s touching first novel the usual order is reversed. A death precedes the collapse of a family, bringing in its wake madness, dysfunction and so forth.

28 August 2014 by G.K. Chesterton, reviewed by Raymond Edwards

Chesterton’s Father Brown holds an unexamined but stubborn place among the Great Detectives; the reissue of the five collections of stories featuring him is a chance to ask the embarrassing question, Is he, are they, any good?

28 August 2014 by Ben Shepfard, reviewed by Chris Nancollas

Psychology, the science of the mind, only really began to coalesce into a respectable discipline towards the end of the Victorian era. It aimed to free our understanding of the mind from the shackles of superstition, and bring tidy scientific methodology to mystical speculation.

28 August 2014 by Patricia Ferguson, reviewed by Clarissa Burden

ONCE AGAIN Patricia Ferguson has set a novel in Cornwall. Many of the characters from her last book, The Midwife’s Daughter, reappear here, along with plenty of new ones, as Ferguson continues to trace the changing lives of women between the two world wars.

28 August 2014 by Karen Bartlett

If you were a fan of pop music in the Sixties, you will remember Dusty Springfield. Born Mary O’Brien, a Catholic girl born in West Hampstead, her haunting voice was often to be heard on transistor radios, while her striking peroxide blonde hair and heavy eye make-up made her a symbol of Swinging London.

21 August 2014 by Nicholas King, reviewed by Richard Bauckham

Very few people have singlehandedly translated the whole Bible into English. Even William Tyndale did not manage to complete the task. So Nicholas King’s translation is a remarkable achievement. It is also distinctive in that the Old Testament (which includes the “deuterocanonical” books) is translated from the ancient Greek version (the Septuagint), rather than from the Hebrew.

21 August 2014 by James Hall, reviewed by Marina Vaizey

We live in the age of the selfie. Everybody can do it, and everybody does. It is hardly, however, the “examined life”. James Hall’s cultural history examines a different kind of looking at our selves, that of the professional visual narrator of both the inner and the outer life.

21 August 2014 by Teresa Whitfield

Mystery surrounds the Basques, their language and their history. Much of this is because their tongue is older than the Indo-European from which all the other languages of Europe descended, and because the earliest Basque written texts do not emerge till the late Middle Ages, having been passed on orally from successive generations for millennia.

21 August 2014 by Philip Hensher, reviewed by Caroline Jackson

Of all the qualities required to write a novel, confidence is one of the most vital. Philip Hensher has confidence in spades, not only in his reach but in his readers’ stamina. His self-assurance and brio invests The Emperor Waltz with quasi-Victorian breadth and length, and with stylish authority.

14 August 2014 by Alana Harris, reviewed by James Sweeney

One of the things Pope Francis picks out in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is the importance of popular religiosity. It is now widely acknow­ledged that an unintended consequence of the transformation of Catholic consciousness at the time of the Second Vatican Council was a neglect of the ordinary forms of piety.

14 August 2014 by Michael Broers, reviewed by Jonathan Wright

Napoleon had little affection for the Catholic Church, but, as Michael Broers points out, he “realised how central to French culture Catholicism remained”, so in 1800 he instructed his minions to negotiate a Concordat with the representatives of Pius VII.

14 August 2014 by Paul French, reviewed by Simon Scott Plummer

IN 2005, when Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea, Paul French published a history of that repulsive but fascinating state. Now, with the third of the dynasty, Kim Jong-un, in charge, he returns to the theme at greater length.

14 August 2014 by Nicola Barker, reviewed by Sue Gaisford

THIS enormous novel is a nightmare to review, but one must try. Forgive the direct approach: if you keep reading you may understand.

07 August 2014 by Rupert Shortt, reviewed by Mark Chapman

The current and the previous occupants of the throne of St Augustine at Canterbury could hardly be more different. Rowan Williams, who served from 2002 to 2012, is someone of prodigious intellect, with a theological wisdom ranging across virtually the whole of the discipline.

07 August 2014 by David I. Kertzer, reviewed by Richard Owen

GIVEN THE attention devoted to Pope Pius XII and Naziism in recent years, it is salutary to be reminded that his predecessor Pius XI grappled with much the same kind of challenges and dilemmas.

07 August 2014 by Prue Shaw

You might expect an introduction to The Divine Comedy written by one of the world’s foremost Dante scholars, an Australian-born, much admired academic in British universities for several decades, who has spent many a year working in the dark corners of libraries decoding manuscript after manuscript, to be astute and accomplished, perhaps even definitive.

07 August 2014 by Niall Williams, reviewed by Michael Paul Gallagher

Ruth Swain, 19, suffers from a strange undefined illness and lies in bed, in an attic room near the River Shannon in County Clare, where the skylight streams with rain. Surrounded by nearly 4,000 books inherited from her father, she is writing an unusual family history, seeking to understand the mystery of her poet father.

31 July 2014 by Philip C. Almond, reviewed by Peter Stanford

It’s the “new” bit in the subtitle that caught my eye. I confess to a slight hurt, as when I offer to lend my teenage son a treasured jacket and he groans, “Oh, Dad, that’s so last century.” Some 18 years ago, I wrote my own biography of the Devil, and of course thought it very new at the time.

31 July 2014 by Stephen Parker, reviewed by Malcom Forbes

Towards the end of his life, Bertolt Brecht explained that his commitment to theatre began “when I found other plays wrong”. It is tempting to believe that Stephen Parker embarked on his biography after finding previous efforts wanting.

31 July 2014 by Richard Benson, reviewed by Paul Routledge

In a a 2005 review of Richard Benson’s first book, The Farm, I described it as “a neat little tribute to a lost way of life” on the Yorkshire Wolds. I also lamented, “If only a miner’s son could emulate his achievement. Perhaps it is too soon, yet.”

31 July 2014 by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn, reviewed by Amanda Hopkinson

Philosophers and scientists have yet to establish the point where mathematics meets metaphysics or where infinity becomes eternity. Such speculations and ruminations are not an obvious topic for a best-selling first novel.

24 July 2014 by Hillary Rodham Clinton

A second President Clinton would probably be more accomplished at managing Washington politics than President Obama. But the speeches wouldn’t be as good

24 July 2014 by Akhil Sharma

“I used to think my father had been assigned to us by the government. This was because he appeared to serve no purpose.” Ajay, eight, is about to emigrate to America with his mother and older brother Birju.

24 July 2014

David suchet has been best-known for years for his TV portrayal of Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot. This recording of him reading every word of the New International Version of the Bible is an entirely different sort of tour de force. It is also wonderful. Suchet’s voice, freed from the stiff disguise of Poirot’s accent, is melodic but strong.

24 July 2014 by Bernard Wasserstein

The title is intriguing. Whoever thought “virtue” could be ambiguous? But the fraught period during which the book’s protagonist, Gertrude van Tijn, was active ensured that matters were rarely straightforward, as Bernard Wasserstein so adeptly relates.

17 July 2014

The getaway season is upon us, and with it the chance to get lost in a book. Here some of our regular reviewers choose the reads they’ll be packing for their holiday entertainment and enlightenment

10 July 2014 by Gerald O’Collins

A new autobiography charts 32 of the past century’s most eventful years in the Church

10 July 2014 by Joanna Bourke

The Subtitle may seem to suggest that religious approaches to coping with pain have been superseded by the resources of modern pharmacology.

10 July 2014 by Emma Healey

An old lady called Maud is pottering about one cold evening in her friend Elizabeth's garden.

10 July 2014 by Michael Schmidt

This enormous book weighs nearly two kilograms and is roughly the size of a telephone directory.

03 July 2014 by Adam Begley

What’s left? one asks, looking at the cover photo of a coy-confident Updike on the beach, with the beautiful young arrayed behind him. What’s possibly left to tell of a life that has been so insistently mined for fictional ore? The wives, the friends, the mistresses, the children have all appeared often and often without disguise.

03 July 2014 by Paul Murray OP

Although it is only partly about grief, Scars is the kind of book you might buy for a bereaved friend. With fortuitous timing, my review copy arrived not long after I suffered a significant loss of my own. Reading it proved to be a useful experience and a healing one, but I had to persist.

03 July 2014 by Stephen Bates

History may be, as the historian R. G. Collingwood remarked, “a pattern of timeless moments”, but these three disparate books deal with very specific moments: key, catalyst years whose legacies are still with us, politically, socially and culturally.

26 June 2014 by Sarah Bachelard

It is staggering how little good recent theo­logical writing on the Resurrection there is. You might expect that the pivotal element of the Christian Gospel would have been the focus of theologians’ attention for centuries; you would be disappointed.

26 June 2014 by Jonathon Green

Sometimes it’s tempting to take slang-soaked speech for a foreign language, particularly when it’s delivered with speed in a strange accent. “You dig, ole man, that from early bright to late black, the cats and the chippies are laying down some fine, heavy jive;

26 June 2014 by Robert Proctor

Post-war Catholic church architecture is beginning to attract attention from architectural historians. Its wider significance was not recognised, which meant that damaging changes to interiors and fittings were more likely to happen.

26 June 2014 by Tim Winton

WESTERN AUSTRALIA, as the protagonist of this novel muses, is “big … thin-skinned. And rich beyond dreaming. The greatest ore deposit in the world. The nation’s quarry. China’s swaggering enabler.” Fremantle is the setting, and it’s slightly disturbing to see that Tim Winton’s observations could be echoed by inhabitants of almost any big Western city.

19 June 2014 by Ronald Hutton

Pagan Britain isn’t just another way of saying “Prehistoric Britain”, the shadowy millennia from the first settlement of the island until Roman times and beyond; this wonderful book is precise­ly what it says on the cover, an attempt to say something about pre-Christian religion.

19 June 2014 by Laline Paull

it is difficult to read this book undiverted by an imagined clamour of publishers and agents celebrating expected mass sales. Other noises off include the gnashing of other writers’ teeth as they wish they’d been the first to dream up the premise: a thriller set in a beehive.

19 June 2014 by David Grossman

IN DAVID Grossman’s unforgettable novel See Under: Love, the child of two Holocaust survivors finds that his parents refer to it as something that took place “over there”. The characters in Falling Out of Time walk to go “there” to find their dead children.

19 June 2014 by Patrick McGuinness

This is a wonderful book about memory and place, how they interact in our imagination and how our affective life is inseparable from our connection to the place in question. Here, the memories revolve around Patrick McGuinness’ accumulated visits to a small Belgian town.

12 June 2014 by Thomas Piketty trans. Arthur Goldhammer

Although I never met Keynes – I was eight years old when the great man died – I knew some of his Cambridge contemporaries. One of them, the late Sir Dennis Proctor, who worked as a civil servant on the wartime publication Full Employment in a Free Society, was a classicist who was bold enough to ask Keynes, a mathematician, whether one needed to be a mathematician to understand economics.

12 June 2014 by Virginia Burrus and Marco Conti (editors)

The Life of St Helia is a curious Latin work preserved as one of eight female hagiographies contained in a tenth-century Spanish manuscript copied in AD 954. The critical text given here is based on this and on a second tenth-century manuscript now in Paris; the critical edition and translation are mainly the work of Conti, the introduction and commentary of Burrus.

12 June 2014 by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Stay is part a history of suicide and part a passionate plea against it. When two close friends took their lives, Jennifer Hecht, a poet and historian, wrote a blog. It was picked up by the Boston Globe, and the response was overwhelming, perhaps because suicide is so frighteningly common today.

12 June 2014 by Edward St Aubyn

He was, he acknowledged wearily, something of a writers’ writer; his wry, waspish semi-autobiographical novels were far more highly esteemed by his fellow scribes than read by the Richard and Judy-following public.

05 June 2014 by Andreas Campomar

People still living under the illusion that football is nothing more that 22 human beings – usually males – kicking a ball around for 90 minutes should make this hefty tome by Andres Campomar part of their required summer reading, and without delay.

05 June 2014 by Nick Spencer

Atheism is complicated. There are different ways of rejecting religion – that’s taken for granted. The real complication is that, paradoxically, the Western tradition of God-rejection is shaped by religion itself.

05 June 2014 by Christiana Z. Peppard

Water is the most visible face of climate change. Global warming is causing floods and droughts, exacerbating problems resulting from population growth and increased levels of water consumption.

05 June 2014

A couple of interesting new books on the notorious spy Kim Philby have recently appeared. You stand at the bus stop waiting for ages for a number 11, then along come two at once.

29 May 2014 by John Keay

In the last few years, there has been no shortage of excellent books about post-independence India, among them Patrick French’s India: a portrait, Mark Tully’s India: the road ahead and, perhaps the most comprehensive, Ramachandra Guha’s India after Gandhi.

29 May 2014 by Barbara Ehrenreich

BBC Radio 4’s series My Teenage Diary is aired during the half-hour evening slot designated for comedy for a reason. Without the comedic frame, teenage diarists’ accounts of parental sleights, first loves, bodily sproutings and existential awakenings are cringe-inducing, if not excruciating.

29 May 2014 by Lucy Beckett

This is the story of Josef, a Jewish boy who miraculously escapes from the devastation of wartime Lithuania, having lost all his family through the twin genocides carried out by the Nazis and the Russians. He is billeted on a bracing farm in North Yorkshire, an area which Lucy Beckett, who taught at Ampleforth for many years, has observed and loved all her life.

29 May 2014 by Thomas M. Kelly

Just ten days after Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, Rutilio Grande, a close friend who was master of ceremonies at his episcopal ordination, was assassinated. A hail of bullets fired by a death squad killed him, his sacristan and his altar server as they drove to celebrate Mass in Grande’s home village of El Paisnal.

22 May 2014 by Adam Tooze

Once we are done re-examining the origins of the great European conflagration which broke out 100 years ago, attention will shift to how the West won that war, and then, as the cliché has it, “lost the peace”.

22 May 2014 by Sarah Coakley

ALL THE MAJOR Christian Churches are in crisis over sexuality, whether concerning gender roles and ordination, or homosexuality; the teaching of doctrine, especially the Trinity, is often regarded as irrelevant; contemplative prayer and asceticism are marginal to the lives of most Christians.

22 May 2014 by Julian Baggini

Drinking with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, their fellow philosopher Raymond Aron pointed to his glass and said, “If you were a phenomenologist, my dear fellow, you could talk about this cocktail and make a philosophy out of it.

22 May 2014 by Paul Lynch

BarnabAs Kane HAS a herd of 43 cattle in the fields of Donegal. A fire in the byre in which his cows are housed kills every animal. Worse still, one of Kane’s most loyal friends attempts to save the burning livestock, and ends up dying in the blaze.

15 May 2014 by John Campbell

This biography is as substantial as its subject. John Campbell draws extensively on press comments and articles, personal letters from and to friends and colleagues, Parliamentary debates, books and diaries. The century Jenkins lived through was a century of words. Few people had a greater or more sensitive appreciation of words, written and spoken, and few enjoyed them more.

15 May 2014 by Paul McPartlan

Fifty years ago, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Pope Paul VI met Athenagoras, the Patriarch of Constantinople. No one knew what would happen. No wonder. There had been no encounter like it since 1054, when Eastern and Western Christianity, for complex reasons, had gone their separate ways.

15 May 2014 by David Adam

Hans Christian Andersen was so frightened of being buried alive that he never went to sleep without leaving a note on his bed to assure anyone who might think he had died that “Jeg er skindød”, or “I only seem to be dead”.

15 May 2014 by Sarah Moss

This unsettling novel, set in Victorian Manchester, focuses on the Moberley family, or, more specifically, on the women of the Moberley family. There is Elizabeth, who believes herself to be excellent wife material: “Not given to extravagance.

08 May 2014 by Richard Scorer

Richard Scorer’s account of the sexual-abuse scandals over the past 30 years makes distressing and depressing reading. Scorer is a leading specialist in child-abuse litigation. He has brought together a selection of case histories from the 1960s to the present day that illustrates turning points and recurring themes;

08 May 2014 by Fernando Marías

This generously illustrated book commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco. The author is professor of art history at Madrid’s Universidad Autónoma, the curator of the current exhibition, the largest ever, being held at the Museum of Santa Cruz and in other venues in Toledo through to 14 June.

08 May 2014

Desmond Seward’s The Demon’s Brood proceeds at a lively pace. The author’s preference is for a rather old-fashioned kind of history, focusing on kings: who they were, what they were like and what they did or failed to do.

08 May 2014 by Timothy Brittain-Catlin

Most of us fear failure. Timothy Brittain-Catlin’s pithy, rigorous and sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious account of the struggle for success in architecture is a disarming exploration of an unexplored aspect of this common fear.

08 May 2014

First, a confession. The presiding spirit of Paul Bailey’s new novel, a paen to the pleasures of interwar Paris, is Marcel Proust. And I’ve never really warmed to his signature brand of sugar-dusted melancholy.

01 May 2014 by Terry Eagleton

I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” Julian Barnes has said: a nostalgic sentiment quite different from Samuel Beckett’s anger at God’s not being there at all: “He doesn’t exist, the bastard!”

01 May 2014 by Mary Kenny

I have been reading Mary Kenny for years, ever since I began to read the newspapers. Then, back in the 1970s, she had a column in The Sunday Telegraph. As a boy of 13, I would always turn to that column first thing, and never found it anything less than fresh, original and thought-provoking.

01 May 2014 by Andrés Neuman, trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

The Spanish-Argentinian writer Andrés Neuman, who is still in his thirties, has already published 22 titles in a wide range of genres. His novels, short stories, poems and essays have won major European prizes. So why is his new novel, Talking to Ourselves (Hablar Solos) only the second of his works to find its way into English?

01 May 2014 by Glyn Williams

From “that Old Pyrating Dog”, William Dampier, the self-taught botanist and world-circumnavigating buccaneer, to Charles Darwin, the diffident country gentleman and Cambridge theology student destined, he thought, “for a quiet country rectory”, the course of modern natural history has been closely linked to ambitious voyages of exploration during the eighteenth century to the Pacific, South America, Africa and Asia.

24 April 2014 by Kenan Malik

Morality has become the great unspeakable. Pass a moral judgement and you will be accused of judgmentalism.

24 April 2014 by Ed. Pete Ayrton

Every week, of every year, literary editors find among the haul of new books at least two about the world wars of the last century.

24 April 2014 by Frei Betto, trans. Jethro Soutar

Yes, “Frei” really is Portuguese for Brother (as in “friar”) and Betto really is the same Brazilian theologian whose conversations with Castro were published as Fidel and Religion.

24 April 2014 by Jerry Hayes

Jerry Hayes, perhaps the only Catholic to have his confession heard in the snooker room of the Savile Club, was one of the most clubbable Tory MPs in the bleak Thatcher/ Major years.

24 April 2014 by Dennis Butts and Peter Hunt

Writers of books about children’s literature tend to be over-earnest, perennially conscious of the possible scorn of those adult readers who have decided to put all aspects of this subject well behind them.

16 April 2014 by David Bentley Hart

What on earth do we mean by “God”? David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, public intellectual and controversialist – a kind of Eastern G.K. Chesterton – based in America.

16 April 2014 by Jerry White

Although we haven’t even reached the precise anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, already we are awash with books about it.

16 April 2014 by Rebecca Mead

Novels cannot tell us how to live better lives: that is not what fiction is for. But life can teach us how to be better readers, as we see in Rebecca Mead’s clever and charming study of her favourite novel.

16 April 2014 by Hermione Eyre

Has there ever been a time when women have not yearned to be beautiful and have not had recourse to unguents, creams and potions of all kinds in pursuit of that elusive goal?

16 April 2014 by Christine M. Fletcher

Most of us associate Dorothy Sayers with the tales of her crime-solving detective Lord Peter Wimsey and popular mystery novels such as Gaudy Night or The Nine Tailors.

10 April 2014 by Jessie Childs

The “Elizabethan Catholic experience was a wide and wavering spectrum,” writes Jessie Childs, and she is absolutely correct.

10 April 2014 by Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi is still a young writer but this, impressively, is her fifth novel (her first, The Icarus Girl, was written when she was still at school). Fascinated by myth and legend, whether Western or African, she crafts intricate, riddling tales of transformation and illusion, focusing especially on the richness of women’s experiences.

10 April 2014 by Peter Ackroyd

In 1942 Charlie Chaplin suffered what his biographer Peter Ackroyd calls “one of [his] worst domestic disasters”. It is a mark of what a zesty personal life Chaplin led that what follows (an old lover staked out his house, crashed her car in his driveway and forced him to sleep with her at gunpoint

10 April 2014 by James Martin SJ

As the subtitle suggests, the new book by James Martin, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything is as much about the author and reader as it is about Jesus. We are taken us on a journey to find and experience the historical Jesus, walking in Christ’s footsteps through the Holy Land,

10 April 2014 by John Carey

John Carey, once Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford, is an impressive combination of the scholar and the popular man of letters. He translated Milton’s Latin work De Doctrina Christiana. He knows about Ovid and Renaissance poetry.

10 April 2014 by Alessandra Zamperini

Veronese (1528-88) was born Paolo Bazaro, the son of a spezapreda (stone- cutter). His mother was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman; it was then the custom for such discards to marry skilled artisans. Paolo, a sixth child, began by working for his father.

10 April 2014

This is both a most ambitious and a most bizarre book, full of wisdom and startle and full of holes. Larry Siedentop, a lecturer in politics in Oxford for several decades and the author of a highly regarded study, Democracy in Europe (2001)

03 April 2014

The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is a reminder to people like me of how uncertain we are about that period of history. Comfortable for years with generalisations about the whys and wherefores – I can remember older teachers at school reminiscing about the trenches in Flanders – suddenly our prejudices are challenged; our ignorance jolted.

03 April 2014 by Kelly Grovier

With its selection of some of the best, and best publicised, works of art of the past two decades, this book will provoke lively debate. The American poet and critic Kelly Grovier both tells and shows us the extraordinary sea change in how contemporary art is perceived, and how radically different it is from the work in the Western tradition that went before it.

03 April 2014 by Michael Hanby

In 1991 John Milbank issued a provocative challenge to theologians enamoured of the potential of social science for expanding the horizons of contemporary theological enquiry.

03 April 2014 by Norman Lewis

This almost unbearable account of the treatment inflicted on the forest Indians of Latin America by fundamentalist Christian missionaries leads inexorably to the uncomfortable conclusion that Christianity and imperialism will be bedfellows ...

03 April 2014 by Audrey Magee

Aremarkably accomplished first novel by the Irish journalist Audrey Magee, this book tells the story of Peter Faber, a German soldier at the Eastern Front. Peter arranges to marry Katharina Spinell, the only daughter of a down-at-heel Berlin family hoping to progress under Hitler’s leadership.

27 March 2014 by David Pilling

Japan signalled its re-emergence as an economic power from the ruin of the Pacific War with the staging of the Tokyo Olympiad in 1964. With its harmonious shop-floor relations, tight quality control and “just-in-time” inventory systems, it subsequently became a model for industries in the West.

27 March 2014 by Tina Beattie

“Modern” can refer to a curious range of things: from “the time in which we live”, to a period in art history (beginning with Impressionism and ending in Pop Art), to a late-medieval position on universals (the via moderna as distinct from the via antiqua).

27 March 2014 by Robert Scoble

For a minor Edwardian writer, Frederick Rolfe, often known by his sometime pen-name Baron Corvo, has been lavishly provided with biographies, none wholly satisfactory, and most understandably focused as much on his colourful life as on his writing.

27 March 2014 by Tim Walker

Set to the background of a north London increasingly settled by bankers and hipsters, a south of France infested by British expats, and a soulless Dubai where philistine traders abound, Completion tells the history of a disjointed, dysfunctional family bidding goodbye to a home steeped in bitter-sweet memories.

20 March 2014 by David Lodge

Amusing, thoughtful and exquisitely engineered, this book is a delight.

20 March 2014 by Barbara Taylor

In 9 November 1977. I had stayed up too long and thought too much.”

20 March 2014 by Enzo Bianchi, translated by Susan Leslie

How are we to read the Bible today? Enzo Bianchi’s answer, in this remarkable little volume ...

20 March 2014 by Mark Cheng & John Sysmons

Here are two historical novels which deal with Communism, the first in China, the second in Europe, and both of which leave the reader in no doubt that the sufferings caused by Marxism are among

13 March 2014 by Ed. Eamon Duffy

To say that this big, thick book of prayers is informed by a historian’s mind is not to condemn it as a trip into the past. Eamon Duffy does not want us to ape the worshippers of the late fifteenth century, whose religious life he brought to life 20 years ago in The Stripping of the Altars.

13 March 2014 by Rachel Cohen

Even during his lifetime (1865-1959) the art critic, aesthete and picture entrepreneur Bernard Berenson suffered a catastrophic loss of prestige after it was revealed he had a secret agreement with picture dealer Joseph Duveen to “authenticate” Old Masters ...

13 March 2014 by Sophia Waugh

Sophia Waugh is the daughter of Auberon and the granddaughter of Evelyn, and she has inherited the literary gene of that marvellously prolific family.

13 March 2014

Lest anyone doubt it, the fourfold occurrence of the word “story” in the short first paragraph of Hanif Kureishi’s new novel should dispel any notion that The Last Word might be its author’s swansong.

06 March 2014 by Doug Gay

Given the overwhelmingly secular and rather shallow tenor of the debate on Scottish independence, with both sides appealing largely to narrow economic self-interest, any injection of deeper considerations is to be welcomed.

06 March 2014 by Mark Vickers

Although Vincent Nichols cannot have been pleased by the long wait for his appointment as a cardinal (almost five years), he should spare a thought for his sometime predecessor at Westminster, Francis Bourne, who had to wait almost 12 years before being similarly honoured.

06 March 2014 by James Naughtie

There is a curiosity to this political thriller which first strikes the unsuspecting reader on page 7, when our hero, Will Flemyng, a Foreign Office minister, makes for “the phone box on the next corner”, assembles a pile of coins, and rings his brother.

27 February 2014 by Robert Bartlett

The question here is St Augustine’s, pondering the wondrous miracles of the saints. A more fundamental question – “what’s a saint?” – is posed by the devils in Newman’s Dream of Gerontius. They supply their own answer: “a bundle of bones, which fools adore”.

27 February 2014 by Richard Harries

This is an infuriating book. Its subject is fascinating: the revelation of how many artists have produced work on Christian subjects during the last 100 years is (even to an art historian) both surprising and hopeful.

27 February 2014 by Flannery O’Connor. Introduced by C.E. Morgan, illustrated by Deanna Staffo

In a brief career the intriguing, bedazzling Flannery O’Connor produced two acclaimed novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away, and a slew of short stories, 17 of which have been included in this handsomely bound, boxed and illustrated edition

20 February 2014 by Lawrence Freedman

Evolving “as a natural consequence of scarce vital resources and the struggle for survival”, “strategy” was until comparatively recently an essentially military concept, denoting a way to win a campaign by a judicious mixture of force, forethought and deception.

20 February 2014

Lent, and Lenten reading, will soon be upon us. This year has the usual crop of new titles, both predictable and unexpected.

20 February 2014 by Nathan Schneider

The Occupy Wall Street movement remains difficult to assess, over two years on. On one level, it was just an expression of extreme left-wing rhetoric about the need for a new social order; the airing of the same old half-truth that capitalism and war are evils we must urgently oppose.

20 February 2014 by Kingsley Amis

First published in 1976, The Alteration imagines an alternate 1970s England in which there has been no historic break with Rome: Martin Luther had become Pope, and Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon had produced a son. England is still Catholic, frozen in time.

13 February 2014 by Edward Kessler

Reviewed by Ian Netton SCM Press, 224pp, £35 Tablet bookshop price £31.50 Tel 01420 592974

13 February 2014 by Samantha Ellis

Reviewed by Carlene Bauer CHATTO & WINDUS, 272pp, £16.99 Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974

13 February 2014 by Joanna Trollope. Read by Rachael Stirling

Reviewed by Julian Margaret Gibbs Jammer Audiobooks, £20.41

13 February 2014 by Peter Ackroyd

Reviewed by Harry Mount Chatto & Windus, 256pp, £14.99 Tablet bookshop price £13.50 Tel 01420 592974

13 February 2014 by Masha Gessen

Reviewed by Lucy Popescu GRANTA, 144pp £9.99 Tablet bookshop price £9 Tel 01420 592974

06 February 2014 by David Runciman

Reviewed by Chris Patten Princeton University Press, 408pp, £19.95 Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

06 February 2014 by Anthony Towey

Reviewed by diana Klein Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 537pp, £22.99 Tablet bookshop price £20.70 Tel 01420 592974

06 February 2014 by Linda Stratmann

Reviewed by Robert Carver Yale University Press, 316pp, £20 Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

06 February 2014 by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern

Reviewed by Emma Klein New York Review of Books, 160pp, £12.99 Tablet bookshop price £11.70 Tel 01420 592974

06 February 2014 by Joseph Boyden

Reviewed by Clarissa Burden Oneworld, 486pp, £16.99 Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974

30 January 2014 by Shlomo Avineri

When Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, died in 1904 he was just 44 years old. Had he lived to see the establishment of the State of Israel 44 years later, he would most likely have been elected its first president.

30 January 2014 by Ronald Dworkin

Every big quake is followed by tremors. So it is with atheism: having survived the earth-shattering experience of New Atheism, readers are now gently rocked by a variety of publications by, about, against and for atheists.

30 January 2014 by Anthony Seldon and David Walsh

This thoughtful and concise book is the fruit of industrious research and bears all the marks of a labour of love. It invites comparison with Peter Parker’s The Old Lie: the Great War and the public-school ethos (1987)

30 January 2014 by Anna Whitelock

Writing the story of daily life at Elizabeth I’s court, especially of what went on in the Queen’s private chambers, is an excellent idea. It is fascinating to learn about what Elizabeth liked to eat

30 January 2014 by Christopher Nicholson

In 1924, the novelist Thomas Hardy was 84 years old. Married to a much younger woman (his second wife, 45-year-old Florence) he became infatuated with a beautiful 27-year-old actress called Gertrude Bulger...

23 January 2014 by Nigel Biggar

The Allied generals who fought the First World War’s Battle of the Somme would seem rather unlikely candidates for a revival of historical reputation. A “byword for criminally disproportionate military slaughter” – the battle wrought 622,221 Allied casualties – to achieve only a six-mile advance.

23 January 2014 by Martha C. Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum continues to impress by the sheer energy of her engagement with all that it means to be human. In this wide-ranging but ultimately unsatisfying book, she sets out to fill in some of the gaps in the political reasoning of John Rawls

23 January 2014 by Martin Bailey

Perhaps we haven’t been alive enough in Britain to the sunflowers in Van Gogh’s work. From today to 27 April there is a rare opportunity to see two of the original group side by side:

23 January 2014 by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry

It is the future. The Italy of bunga-bunga parties and revolving-door governments has been replaced by a stern Catholic group, led from the Vatican and enforced by a team of crack priest-detectives dedicated to the pursuit and capture of euthanasiasts and abortionists.

16 January 2014 by John L. Allen

Following the screening of a documentary film, Faith of our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs, parishioners were asked how they would respond to such persecution were it to occur today. It seemed a purely hypothetical question.

16 January 2014 by Theo Hobson

The central thesis of this book has two poles. One is that Christians should fully accept a pluralistic state, and should do so on Christian, not pragmatic, grounds. Free choice is God’s gift to us which he always respects;

16 January 2014 by Jennifer Johnston

16 January 2014 by Nicholas Shakespeare

Nicholas Shakespeare opens this fascinating book by writing of the fascination his aunt Priscilla exerted on him in his childhood. Priscilla’s beauty was enhanced, he tells us, with a glamour akin to the “timeless allure” of Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.

16 January 2014 by Morrissey

The world knows Steven Patrick Morrissey, co-founder of the 1980s indie rock band the Smiths, by his surname alone. He’s the child of Irish Catholic parents who emigrated from Crumlin, Dublin, to Manchester in 1958, the year before he was born.

09 January 2014

Kate Cooper’s preface is a remarkable piece of autobiography that explains how and why a professor of ancient history came to write this book about early Christian women.

09 January 2014 by Anabel Hernández

What exactly is going on in Mexico, a country where some 80,000 people have been killed in the war against drugs?

09 January 2014 by Mark Lawson

This enjoyable novel scrutinises the “new aristocracy of money”: bankers, financiers, PR men.

09 January 2014 by Hanna Krall, translated by Philip Boehm/ Maxim Leo, translated by Shaun Whiteside

Two contrasting, intensely personal accounts of the harrowing twentieth-century history of Central Europe deftly navigate the shadowy territory between memoir and fiction.

09 January 2014 by Tim Fischer/ Francis Rooney

In March 2007, 15 sailors on a Royal Navy frigate were seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards while patrolling the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

02 January 2014 by Jay P. Corrin

Professor Corrin’s study is narrowly focused on Slant, a journal founded by a handful of Catholic undergraduates at Cambridge, which ran from 1964 until 1970, and its ramifications on the Catholic scene in England at the time.

02 January 2014 by Jung Chang/ Ben Chu

For most Westerners, China is an enigma. Despite centuries of commentary, it tends to remain elusive, frozen in stereotype.

02 January 2014 by J. David Pleins

Darwin’s theory of evolution didn’t stop at animals and plants. According to J. David Pleins, professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, California,

02 January 2014 by Colm Keena

With a premise both simple and of limitless complexity, Bishop’s Move might be either tragedy or comedy.

02 January 2014 by Philip Ball

Physics, they say, goes much deeper than any other science into the riddle of existence.

02 January 2014 by Brigid Brophy

Here is a book for the Desert Island beside the Bible and Shakespeare. Brigid Brophy writes in such depth about Mozart that she also covers art, psychology, women, history and religion almost as a by-product.

19 December 2013 by Gary A. Anderson

What is charity? A random act of individual kindness? In its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the Church “claims the works of charity as its own inalienable right and duty”.

19 December 2013 by Leo Damrosch

There is no shortage of biographies of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and it is not difficult to see why. The author of Gulliver’s Travels leaves so many tantalising unsolved

19 December 2013 by Libby Horner

This “astonishing compendium” catalogues the work of an artist described as “the father of new romanticism in English glass”.

19 December 2013 by Penelope Lively

What do ammonites and leaping fish have in common?

19 December 2013 by Mary Morrissy

The playwright Seán O’Casey grew up amidst appalling poverty in nineteenth-century Dublin.

19 December 2013 by Patrick Leigh Fermor; edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper

The dream odyssey of every footloose student”, is what the editors call the tripartite travel book that started with A Time of Gifts in 1977, continued with

19 December 2013 by Jean Vanier; translated by Ann Shearer

As Jean Vanier points out, the Second Vatican Council “breathed energy and hope back into the Church”.

19 December 2013 by Mark Cocker, photographs by David Tipling

Mark Cocker has done it again. In 2005 he published Birds Britannica, in which he wove a tapestry featuring birds in the foreground but always with humans in attendance.

12 December 2013 by N. T. Wright

This massive work comes accompanied by enthusiastic endorsements from a dozen of the most distinguished biblical scholars in the English-speaking world.

12 December 2013 by Anne Cadawallader

Photographs of two British army soldiers giving Nazi-style salutes were published recently.

12 December 2013 by Susan Weber

Regarded by some as the equal of Inigo Jones, Vanbrugh or Capability Brown, William Kent (1685-1748) was an accomplished and influential designer ..

12 December 2013 by Patrick Marnham

When Joseph Conrad arrived in the Congo in 1890, he walked up a road “littered with the corpses of men who had been chained together and forced to build a railway”.

12 December 2013 by Jonathan Coe

Although Jonathan Coe achieved acclaim in the 1990s with a series of expansive, bitter-sweet novels, his more recent output has been of a gloomier vein, and less enthusiastically received.

05 December 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, The Tablet’s reviewers look back on the best of the past year’s reading