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The good old ways: nature’s best chance of recovery

Britain is one of the most nature-depleted places on Earth. The consequences for human wellbeing and resilience, as well as for non-human life, are grave. Conservationists and others say it doesn’t have to be this way. But when it comes to recovery, what should we aim for? How much can we know about what was

Disgusted of academia: a university lecturer bewails his lot

There’s a beautiful moment in I Am the Secret Footballer (2012), a Guardian column turned whistle-blower memoir, when the anonymous author is momentarily freed from an enveloping depression caused by his career as a professional sportsman. He’s at Anfield to play against Liverpool in one of the biggest games of the season when he picks

Kapows and wisecracks: Fight Me, by Austin Grossman, reviewed

Superheroes are the trump card of genres. As a rule of thumb, if a novel has a murder, it’s ‘Crime’; if it has a murder on a space station, it’s ‘Science Fiction’; and if it has a murder on a haunted space station, it’s ‘Horror’. But a novel with crimes, robots, faeries, cavemen, magic, cyborgs

At last we see Henry VIII’s wives as individuals

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. Nearly 500 years after the death of Henry VIII, can there be anything new to say about his queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr? Does the world need another book about this sextet? The answer to both questions, as

Jam-packed with treasures: the eccentric Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of London’s most eccentric buildings, containing a riot of classical fragments, paintings, architectural models and plaster casts jammed in to overflowing narrow galleries packed into a Georgian town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane viewed it as a reflection of his busy intellect, ‘studies for my own mind’, he

The sheer drudgery of professional tennis

Wimbledon’s starched whites, manicured flower beds and hushed silence enable tennis to present itself as a genteel sport. But Wimbledon only represents tennis in the way that an Olympic 100m final represents athletics. It is the best players in the best setting for a brief period. Actual tennis, the day-to-day life of a regular player

The costly legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s monetarism

Post-war British economic history is littered with failed policy panaceas. Keynesian demand management would solve the unemployment problem; the Exchange Rate Mechanism would provide an anchor for stability and end sterling’s perennial weakness; the Barber and Kwarteng budgets – separated by 50 years – would throw off the shackles of Treasury orthodoxy and put the

Second life: Playboy, by Constance Debré, reviewed

Playboy is part one of a trilogy that draws on the life of its author, Constance Debré. Part two, Love Me Tender, was published in Britain last year. The trilogy was inspired by Debré’s experience of leaving her husband, abandoning her career as a lawyer, and then losing custody of her child when she re-emerged

Why must we be in constant battle with the ocean?

I recently learned to dive in the bay of Dakar. It was exciting. I’d started learning in a Leeds swimming pool and though I knew the ocean would feel different, I didn’t expect it to feel comfortable. It shouldn’t. It is not my element, and humans have long since left it to the rest of

The ordeal of sitting for my father Lucian Freud

The frontispiece of this book is Lucian Freud’s portrait of his daughter Rose naked on a bed. Rose says that when her father asked her to sit, which she had long hoped he would do, she naturally assumed he would want her naked, but asked him not to paint her hairy legs. He, in turn,

Did the Duchess of Windsor fake the theft of her own jewels?

On 16 October 1946, the Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, and his wife Wallis were visiting England for a short period. They were staying with their friends the Dudleys at Ednam Lodge in Surrey, and felt sufficiently comfortable not to store Wallis’s impressive collection of jewellery in the house’s safe room, but instead

When Stalin was the lesser of two evils

‘We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime… Any man or state who fights against Nazism will have our aid.’ These words were spoken by Winston Churchill in a BBC radio broadcast to the nation from Chequers on the evening of 22 June 1941. Churchill detested Stalin – but he

China’s role in Soviet policy-making

Why should we want to read yet another thumping great book about the collapse of the Soviet empire? Sergey Radchenko attempts an answer in his well-constructed new work. Based on recently opened Soviet archives and on extensive work in the Chinese archives, it places particular weight on China’s role in Soviet policy-making. The details are

A tragedy waiting to happen: Tiananmen Square, by Lai Wen, reviewed

Lai Wen’s captivating book about growing up in China and witnessing the horrific massacre in Tiananmen Square reads like a memoir. The protagonist’s name is Lai, and her description of her parents is utterly convincing – the pretty, bitter housewife mother, jealous of the opportunities her daughter has; the father permanently cowed after being briefly