The latest on books and the arts


Michael Dobbs at the House of Cards Netflix screening, 2013. Photo: Getty
House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs: "I must have sold my soul"
By Anoosh Chakelian - 07 July 13:53

The man behind television's most masterful political operator reveals the inspiration for his story, gives advice to the PM on the powers of persuasion, and recalls his own real-life political dramas.

Azealia Banks singing. Photo:Getty
From Nina Simone to Azealia Banks: female singers who aren't afraid to swear
By Liv Constable-Maxwell - 07 July 11:58

The new documentary What’s Happened, Miss Simone makes an interesting point about the power of women singers using swear words.

There are quite a few BDSM signifiers in the video to BBHMM. Photo: YouTube screengrab
Rihanna's BBHMM video has horrified many feminists – but I saw an empowering BDSM fantasy
By Margaret Corvid - 06 July 16:04

The last time I looked, a heavy black leather collar covered in D rings is not what supposedly goes with a bikini this year.

Olivia Colman stars in London Road, a musical about the murder of prostitutes in Ipswich.
London Road is a musical about the Ipswich prostitute murders - and it's a triumph
By Ryan Gilbey - 03 July 12:04

In that grey area between documentary and fiction, the movie finds a new kind of truth.

A losing game: Amy Winehouse at her Camden Town home in 2004. Photo: Karen Robinson/The Guardian
Mawkish tabloid fare: how the Amy Winehouse film fails
By Kate Mossman - 02 July 15:02

This film laments the way Winehouse's life was intruded upon while relying on the same methods to create drama.

Tessa Thompson (left) plays Sam in Dear White People.
Dear White People is clever - but too shallow to match the complex reality of race in America
By Ryan Gilbey - 02 July 14:43

Dear White People never exactly loosens up; the screenplay would make a good PhD thesis.

Mess hall: Tiggy (centre) faces up to reality with Denise and Vinny
Are posh people filthier than us? Yes - but their stories matter, too
By Rachel Cooke - 02 July 14:31

I wondered if there had ever been a lover. Had her parents been kind? When she cared for her ailing father, who had dominated whom?

Incredulous: Not the face Sandra Bullock was making as Steve Wright introduced her. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Sandra Bullock visited the studio - but Steve Wright kept talking as though she wasn't there
By Antonia Quirke - 02 July 13:59

“Sandra Bullock is quite simply the world’s most successful actress,” he informed Sandra Bullock.

Richard Dadd’s Halt in the Desert. Image: British Museum
The dangerous mind of Richard Dadd
By Michael Prodger - 02 July 9:35

Richard Dadd painted some dazzling visions abroad but found peace within the walls of Broadmoor.

A highway patrol officer guarding shops from looters during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Photo: Peter Turnley/Corbis
Keeping it real: All Involved by Ryan Gattis
By Leo Robson - 02 July 9:29

This novel about the 1992 Los Angeles riots holds itself to a standard of verisimilitude – of the raw, unvarnished, authentic – that is is deeply immersive and deathly dull.

Life lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger
By Yo Zushi - 02 July 9:24

To dismiss him as a right-wing cigar-chomper would be to disregard that rare phenomenon – a true star, an embodiment of the aspirations of his time.

The rise and fall of Peg Plunkett, 18th-century courtesan and consummate memoirist
By Sarah Dunant - 02 July 8:49

If sex in the past – in the sense of what people did to each other, in or out of bed – is notoriously hard to pin down, the larger history of sexuality and society is most rewarding.

Home to roost: the robin was recently voted the national bird but the house martin is our true human familiar. Photo: John Short / Design Pics
House martins, the little dolphins that love to slide on your roof
By Richard Mabey - 02 July 8:47

Martins are in steep decline now, but once their mud-cup nests, slung under eaves, were a familiar sight across Britain.

Backhand compliment: Roger Federer in 2014. Photo: Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
How Roger Federer made tennis beautiful again
By Simon Kuper - 02 July 8:43

This very enjoyable biography-cum-autobiography illuminates not just Federer’s place in tennis history but also the way in which the author converted his psychological problems into sporting fandom.

SRSLY #1: Grey Beginnings

In the first episode of the NS's new pop culture podcast, we discuss Grey by E L James, the new Amy Winehouse documentary, and why One Direction is actually the saddest music you will ever hear.

The gospel according to Taylor Swift: how her vulnerability leads to power
By Simon Parkin - 29 June 13:13

Pop's woman of the moment forms a friendship with fans through her honest lyrics and disarming stage presence.

Sandi Toksvig welcoming her guests for her last News Quiz. Photo: BBC/Lucy Eliot-Higgitt
Black tie, BBC “bias” and blubbing: at Sandi Toksvig’s last News Quiz
By Caroline Crampton - 26 June 15:33

The host of BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz is stepping down after nine years to go into politics. Caroline Crampton was there at her last recording.

Blood and honour: The Duel After the Masquerade (1857-59) by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Picture: © Walter Art Museum, Baltimore
Why are there so many duels in literature?
By John Mullan - 25 June 15:15

John Leigh's Touché: the Duel in Literature wears its learning lightly.

The romantic end of punk: not required for university admissions. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
My Ucca form wouldn't impress today – I was loitering at bustops and listening to The Cure
By Tracey Thorn - 25 June 14:56

I’d love to go back and read that Ucca form now. Or witness the expression on the faces of those who had to consider my application.

A bandmember at the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
"The singing war": how the American Civil War created a whole new style of music
By Antonia Quirke - 25 June 14:46

It was not just a huge body of songs that emerged but a whole musical style that was markedly non-European.

The Seattle Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry. Photo: REX
Alan Yentob's TV tribute to Frank Gehry was so in thrall, it was embarrassing
By Rachel Cooke - 25 June 14:23

The Gehry worshippers were like fashion editors at a Prada show, only minus the clothes, handbags and hair.

Back to the OK Corral: Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee (right) star in Slow West.
New indie western Slow West is filled with resonant emotions
By Ryan Gilbey - 25 June 14:16

The Beta Band's John Maclean makes his directorial debut with a wry, rootsy love story.

Sangiovese grapes, the variety used to make the Brunello di Montalcino wine. Photo: Getty Images
The grape that brought power to the people
By Nina Caplan - 25 June 10:31

In wine, the tendrils of power spread like well-nourished vines, wrapping around some surprising edifices.

Romantic revolutionary: Pushkin is seen as the founder of modern Russian literature. Photo: AKG-Images
Russian soul reawakened: startling revelations in a new anthology of Russian poetry
By George Szirtes - 25 June 10:19

The new Penguin Book of Russian Poetry has surprises to offer.

Steve Hilton is offering energetic ideas with a liberal twist. Photo: Sarah Lee/Guardian News & Media
Kind of blue: why Steve Hilton's manifesto is a challenge to the left
By Jon Cruddas - 25 June 10:11

Where is the equivalent to Hilton on the left? We have not even touched on the questions of human fulfilment, power and radical democracy that are offered up by modern technological change.

Hand in hand: Chinese and Pakistani border guards at the Khunjerab Pass, which extends between their countries
Farewell to the American century
By Mark Leonard - 25 June 10:09

As US influence wanes, a new world is emerging.

No resistance: an anti-drone protest in Pakistan.
Eyes in the sky: the legal and philosophical implications of drone warfare
By David Patrikarakos - 25 June 10:07

Regardless of its critics, drone warfare is here to stay.

Sometimes these characters go dancing in Shoreditch or Clapham – but they never enjoy it. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Check your privilege: satire is lacking in Left of the Bang by Claire Lowdon
By Philip Maughan - 25 June 10:05

A “cast of two-dimensional, middle-class bores” prevent this debut novel becoming the “Vanity Fair for our times” that it promises.

The director Nicolas Roeg in the new BBC Four documentary. Photo: BBC
“This is my time”: why the work of filmmaker Nicolas Roeg rewards a second look
By Ryan Gilbey - 24 June 17:07

A new BBC Four documentary reminds us not to take this director for granted.