George Landseer’s portrait of Alexander Gardner — adventurer, outlaw and mercenary, who took unseemly pride in parading decapitated heads

Ripping yarns

13 May 2017 9:00 am

In the 1860s, when British visitors first began to explore the high altitude pleasures of Kashmir, it was not just…

One that got away: a dog with his young owner after a night raid on Hendon, May 1941

Pets in the Blitz

13 May 2017 9:00 am

War Horse, by way of book and play and film, has brought the role of horses in war into the…

A great awakening

13 May 2017 9:00 am

One afternoon in August 1978, Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan were flying from Beijing to Shanghai. They were on the…

An early modern battle scene depicted in a Mughal miniature looks like a graceful pageant compared to today’s nuclear and cyber warfare

When will we ever learn?

6 May 2017 9:00 am

In 2012, sugar became more dangerous than gunpowder. According to the historian Yuval Noah Harari, of the 56 million people…

On the trail of a lost masterpiece

6 May 2017 9:00 am

On 27 May 1939, the German liner St Louis docked in Havana with 937 passengers on board: all but a…

Novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo attends the Hay Festival on May 29, 2011 in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

Cinderella in China

6 May 2017 9:00 am

She was a foundling in her own family, shunted to adoptive parents for two years, then to the edge of…

Walt Whitman, aged 35, as he appeared in the first edition of Leaves of Grass

Climb trees and grow a beard

6 May 2017 9:00 am

A few years after Walt Whitman brought out the first edition of Leaves of Grass (it didn’t do well), he…

The 19th-century craze for mesmerism led to séances that were more freak shows than scientific demonstrations

Suspension of disbelief

6 May 2017 9:00 am

The history of modern medicine is a roll call of brilliant minds making breakthrough discoveries. We rarely hear about the…

In a dark forest

6 May 2017 9:00 am

In his mid-forties Will Ashon realised he was adrift and confused, confronted by the situation Dante described in the Divine…

Portrait of a lady in black, thought to be Margaret Douglas, c.1545

Burning issues

6 May 2017 9:00 am

Set discreetly into a wall in Smithfield, amid the bustle and bars of this rapidly gentrifying part of London, is…

Appointment with death

6 May 2017 9:00 am

It’s reassuring that of Ed Docx’s three admirably eclectic, though sometimes uneven, previous novels, Let Go My Hand most resembles…

The fearful forties

6 May 2017 9:00 am

In an early chapter of All Grown Up, the narrator Andrea says to her therapist: ‘Why is being single the…

Ida Nettleship, aged 24, the year she married Augustus John

A husband to die for

6 May 2017 9:00 am

What will we do when there are no longer caches of letters to piece together and decipher; only vague memories…

Saint Helena and the Emperor Heraclius restore the Holy Cross to Jerusalem after its recapture from the Persians. Altarpiece by Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat, c.1485

The wondrous cross

29 April 2017 9:00 am

How did the cross, from being such a loathsome taboo that it could scarcely be mentioned, change into an image…

Rostock, in north Germany, joined the Hanseatic League in 1251. It has one of the oldest universities in Europe and was a major ship-building city for the Baltic

Europe’s best hope

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Go into any high street bookshop and find the European history section. There’s usually a shelf or two on France…

Dark secrets of village life

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Jon McGregor’s first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, a surprise inclusion on the 2002 Booker longlist that went…

The gangster life of Ryan

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Lisa McInerney found a brilliant way to turn heads and hone her craft as the ‘Sweary Lady’ behind the ‘Arse…

A cuckold’s revenge

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Perhaps the least necessary piece of advice ever given to a Hanif Kureishi protagonist comes in 2014’s The Last Word.…

The beginning of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876 , by the Oglala-Lakota artist Amos Bad Heart Bull

America’s other civil war

29 April 2017 9:00 am

‘What makes the Red Man red?’ the Lost Boys asked in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953). According to Sammy Cahn’s lyric,…

‘Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze...’ The infamous lynchings in Marion, Indiana, inspired the song ‘Strange Fruit’ and Laird Hunt’s weird novel

On the way to a lynching

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Southern trees bear a strange fruit in Laird Hunt’s seventh novel, a dark historical fiction filled with dreams and visions…

Boxing clever

29 April 2017 9:00 am

Thirty years ago, Russell Davies wrote a weekly sporting column in the New Statesman. It proved unsustainable and was soon…

A Kalash girl in traditional dress

The curse of the Yeti

29 April 2017 9:00 am

This book, according to its author Gabi Martínez, is ‘a non-fiction novel’. It tells the story of Jordi Magraner, a…

Fighting talk — but little action — from Ernest Hemingway

29 April 2017 9:00 am

On 11 May 1937, at the Gare St-Lazare in Paris, Ernest Hemingway said goodbye to a friend who was leaving…

‘An inconceivable operation of the gigantic forces of nature’: a total solar eclipse sweeps across Indonesia in March 2016

Unearthly darkness

22 April 2017 9:00 am

Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipsesby Norton, £20, pp. 336 On 28 May 1900…

A choice of first novels

22 April 2017 9:00 am

If you go down to the woods today… That is the starting point for Idaho by Emily Ruskovich, who grew…