Books

Old disbelievers

04 February 2016 | by Averil Cameron
Tim Whitmarsh has conducted an excavation into classical Greek religious thinking with the aim of finding evidence for atheism, or at least scepticism towards the gods. Like feminist classical ­scholars who have retrieved hitherto ignored material and stories of the lives of ancient women (a comparison he makes himself), he has set about finding indications of atheism in the ancient world.

Slow progress

04 February 2016 | by Benedict Rogers
Few books on Burma attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of all the key aspects of this complex, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation that has suffered at the hands of one of the world’s most brutal military dictatorships for over half a century and has endured civil war in one part of the country or another since independence in 1948.

Future imperfect

04 February 2016 | by Nicholas Murray
Notwithstanding this year’s 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, the fictional imagination appears to derive more productive stimulus from the dystopian – or, to borrow the preferred term of Anthony Burgess, “cacotopian” – parallel world.

Impossible to pin down

28 January 2016 | by David Abulafia
“Neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”, in the famous non-definition of Voltaire, the Empire that claimed succession to ancient Rome in medieval and early modern Europe slithers all over the map and appears to defy any attempt to pin down where or what it actually was.

Speaking up for the concrete jungle

28 January 2016 | by Robert Proctor
I have spent much of my life in mid-twentieth-century buildings. I went to school in a 1960s building, attended special events in a Victorian city hall damaged in the war and beautifully rebuilt in the 1950s, and worshipped in churches built in the Sixties and Seventies.

Good stuff

28 January 2016 | by Jonathan Wright
“People always had things,” writes Frank Trentmann, “and used them not only to survive but for ritual, display and fun.” What’s apparently fairly new – dating back 600 years or so – is our addiction to accumulating goods with such gusto.

Dancing to Stalin’s tune

28 January 2016 | by Sue Gaisford
For some weeks in 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich would stand all night at the lift doors outside his fifth-floor apartment. So convinced was he that he would be arrested that he’d chosen to be ready, fully dressed, with a small suitcase packed, so that his wife and baby would not have to see him taken from them.

Silence and Pius XII

21 January 2016 | by Hilmar Pabel
The shadow of the Holocaust will always loom darkly over the legacy of Pope Pius XII. Why did he not publicly condemn the Nazis’ murder of Jews, about which the Vatican knew by 1942?

Art of storytelling

21 January 2016 | by Lynn Roberts
Here is a story of quest and detection, and also the tale of two men’s lives, accidentally braided together across time and place. One is of course the artist Velázquez, many of whose paintings have vanished into the alembic of history, and the other is a Victorian bookseller and printer ...

Balkan charmer

21 January 2016 | by Suzi Feay
A note explains the title: the 643 small red chairs laid out along the high street of Sarajevo in 2012 to represent the children killed by snipers and artillery during the city’s siege by Bosnian Serb forces.

Songs of praise

21 January 2016 | by Ian Bradley
In English Christianity, and more especially in Anglicanism, the crowning glory is surely its liturgy and music. Byrd, Tallis, Purcell and Vaughan Williams have proved more memorable and enduring than most English saints or theo­logians.

Amazing Grace

14 January 2016 | by Kaya Oakes
Two phrases recur throughout this collection of Marilynne Robinson’s essays. With one she gives us an unapologetic statement of her theological position: “I am a Calvinist.”

Ways of escape

14 January 2016 | by Noonie Minogue
Stefan Zweig, the worshipper of Freud, was bound to find a kindred spirit in Montaigne, the great “auto-psychologist”. That thirst for self-knowledge informs the passionate identification of writer

Unlikely heroine

14 January 2016 | by Brian Morton
Just as modern biographers of Catherine the Great have to “get past the horses”, as one Russian historian put it to me delicately, so anyone wanting to restore Lucrezia Borgia’s image has to clean up multiple spatters:

England’s outsider

14 January 2016 | by Hilary Davies
What are we to make of William Blake? Cockney visionary and mystic, madman, poet of genius, political revolutionary, dissenter and radical, proto-ecologist, gnostic myth builder, start­lingly inventive

Odes to Joy

07 January 2016 | by Judith Wolfe
Two years ago, an extraordinary literary discovery was made in an Oxford attic. A box of papers left 50 years ­earlier by Joy Davidman turned out to include a cycle of sonnets so remarkable that the canon of twentieth-century women’s poetry may need revision.

Fixtures and fittings

07 January 2016 | by Richard Lethbridge
For some years, author John Goodall and photographer Paul Barker have produced a weekly article in Country Life on parish churches and their rich assortment of precious artefacts.

Life on Grub Street

07 January 2016 | by Nicholas Murray
Why would anyone wish to be a professional author? Increasingly ill-rewarded, living precariously, battling to keep his or her head above water in an era of flickering iPhone and tablet screens showing ransacked intellectual property, the freelance scribbler faces an uncertain future and a rocky present.

Magical mystery tour

07 January 2016 | by James Moran
In 1967 the island of Dorinish, off the coast of County Mayo, was bought for John Lennon at a cost of £1,550. He visited the island twice, and after his death Yoko Ono sold the island and donated the proceeds to an orphanage.

The Poems of T. S. Eliot: The Annotated Text

29 December 2015 | by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, reviewed by Ian Thomson
Newborn Jesus, swaddled and laid in straw at Bethlehem, provided the inspir­ation for T. S. Eliot’s great poem “The Journey of the Magi”. Published in Christmas 1927, it was written one Sunday morning after church, Eliot claimed, “with the assistance of half a bottle of Booth’s gin”.

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor

29 December 2015 | by Elizabeth Norton, reviewed by Susan Doran
The “temptation” in the title of Elizabeth Norton’s new book refers to Elizabeth I’s early relationship with Lord Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, the “one man who had caught her fancy enough to tempt her to abandon herself to him”.

Antony Gormley on Sculpture

29 December 2015 | by Mark Holborn, reviewed by Marina Vaizey
What can we learn from artists about their art that is not in their art? There has been a spate of books this year that suggests artists’ own observations might tell us more about their work than professional critics.

The Unfriended

29 December 2015 | by Jane McLoughlin, reviewed by Mary Kenny
Occasionally, I encounter certain English people of my own vintage who, noting that I am a Dubliner of the 1960s generation, exclaim with much delight: “Oh were you at Trinners?”

John Henry Newman: a portrait Free

17 December 2015 | by Edited by Roderick Strange, reviewed by A.N Wilson
In a speech after the opening of the library and hall at Keble College, Oxford, in April, 1878, W.E.Gladstone spoke of the Oxford Movement; having spoken of Pusey and Keble, he added: “but there is a name which, as an academical name, is greater than either of these – I mean the name of Dr Newman.”

John le Carré: the biography Free

17 December 2015 | by Adam Sisman, reviewed by Jimmy Burns
As admirers of Graham Greene will know, espionage can provide the context for exceptional novels. Few living writers have learned that lesson as well as David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré.

Speed Reading Free

17 December 2015
In Eager to Love: the alternative way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr OFM (Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99; Tablet price £9) has produced something miraculous: a fun, back-to-basics spirituality guide that manages to be both commonsensical and mind-bendingly ...

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