The latest on books and the arts


Chasing the dragon: the 19th-century craze for opium made a fortune for many adventurers. Image: William Douglas Almond/ Private Collection / © Look And Learn / Illustrated Papers Collection / Bridgeman Images
Amitav Ghosh concludes his Opium War trilogy in brilliant, ramshackle style
By Randy Boyagoda - 11 June 8:53

Amitav Ghosh’s new novel, Flood of Fire, takes you to the end of its exploring, only to hint that the story is just beginning.

Windows on the sole: why we buy shoes we’re never going to wear
By Jane Shilling - 11 June 8:39

As Shoes: Pleasure and Pain opens at London’s V&A, Jane Shilling explores why our footwear carries such emotional weight.

Sound investment: the history of the record industry is a tale of technology, stars and shady deals. Photo Montage by Dan Murrell
Music is free now – and the industry only has itself to blame
By Bob Stanley - 11 June 8:35

Bob Stanley unpicks the recording industry’s tangled history of takeovers, piracy and changing technology.

Quite contrary: a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft (circa 1787) by John Keenan. Photo: Private Collection/Bridgeman Images
Finding vindication: on the intertwined lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
By Melissa Benn - 11 June 8:27

Charlotte Gordon has managed to produce that rare thing, a work of genuinely popular history.

The poisoning of King John: one of Magna Carter's terrible kings. Photo: British Library
Tom Holland: Magna Carta was forged from royal failure
By Tom Holland - 11 June 8:18

No coincidence that the most celebrated of all the waymarks on the road to freedom under the law was sealed by England’s most appalling king.

Inscrutable and rootless: the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Photo: Rex
Condemned to death, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remains inscrutable
By Nicky Woolf - 11 June 8:06

That evil is banal has been observed. The route to it in the case of the Tsarnaevs was a meandering path to which hindsight can bring little meaningful insight.

The coronation of King Henry III: is the Magna Carter a warning to radicals? Photo: British Library
Not so radical: Jesse Norman on Magna Carta's conservatism
By Jesse Norman - 11 June 8:02

Here, as so often in our history, it is property rights that secure individual freedom.

Cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus founded the Cannon film company. Photo: YouTube screengrab
The Cannon Group: the most disreputable duo in cinema?
By Ryan Gilbey - 10 June 16:35

Looking back at the exploitation enterprise of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus's cinematic output.

The poet Craig Raine, whose "Gatwick" started a twitter storm. Photo courtesy the author
"Of course, the stupid are always with us": Craig Raine defends his Gatwick poem
By Craig Raine - 10 June 16:13

I realise the purpose is to make me feel like a war criminal. Sorry, tweeters, I don’t.

Joshua Oppenheimer: "Non-fiction cinema is doing what journalism should be doing"
By Yohann Koshy - 10 June 15:31

The US director is continuing to expose the stories of Indonesia's past atrocities, and sees film as a conduit to subjects investigative journalism no longer has the resources to reach.

Novelist Anne Enright poses at an Auckland writers' festival. Photo: Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Anne Enright's The Green Road is a devastating, savage novel about home
By Frances Wilson - 10 June 10:08

In Rosaleen Madigan, Enright has created a mater dolorosa without rival in the annals of Irish mothers.

Amy Schumer in April 2015. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Why everyone is talking about Amy Schumer
By Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett - 09 June 12:48

She’s a feminist comedian who doesn’t shy away from ridiculing women. She reaches millions of viewers on the internet without breaking a sweat. Oh, and she’s just really, really funny.

Far out: Bloch reads much into Kitchener’s preference for the company of young men. Photo: THE PRINT COLLECTOR/PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES
A camp history of Westminster's queer MPs
By Chris Bryant - 08 June 12:02

Michael Bloch's book on homosexuality in the house is fun - but little more than a naughty pleasure.

Lyrics accompanying a city symphony: street names help us do more than just find our way
By Oliver Farry - 05 June 16:16

Street names tell of a city's character and story, rather than simply being a function to help us get around.

The NS Podcast #96: A limerick and Ali Smith
By New Statesman - 05 June 11:26

Plus, the leadership race.

Cracks up: Anthony Andrews and Cara Theobold in The Syndicate.
The (utterly batty) Syndicate is the gift that keeps on giving
By Rachel Cooke - 04 June 17:41

I would love to have been in the meeting when Mellor pitched this version of her drama.

Have smoking jacket, will travel: Wilde, photographed in New York in January 1882 by Napoleon Sarony. Photo: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
How Oscar Wilde cracked America
By Philip Hoare - 04 June 14:06

The story of Wilde's coming to America is also the story of modern celebrity.

Caroll Spinney (left, wearing legs) with Big Bird architect Kermit Love. Photo: © COPPER POT PICTURES
How Big Bird got to Sesame Street
By Erica Wagner - 04 June 13:42

Caroll Spinney has been playing Sesame Street's star for 46 years. I Am Big Bird shows the man behind the feathery mask.

Handel, who new research suggests has invested in the slave trade. Photo: YouTube screengrab
In Search of the Black Mozart: A revealing look at Handel's investment in the slave trade
By Antonia Quirke - 04 June 11:54

The programme slowed palpably to accept the age-old information that people who create beauty aren’t always good and frequently don’t even come close.

The demure bulldozer: Melissa McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper in Spy.
In Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, the Moneypennies trump the Bonds
By Ryan Gilbey - 04 June 11:48

These back-room frumps whisper instructions into the earpieces of tuxedo-wearing spies out on the casino floors, or save them from pursuers by launching strategic missile attacks at a moment’s notice.

to get into clubs, Rodgers used to have to explain to bouncers that he’d written the songs the DJ was playing inside. Photo: PAL HANSEN/CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES
The man with two brains: inside the strange mind of Nile Rodgers
By Kate Mossman - 04 June 9:56

Nile Rodgers is responsible for $2bn worth of hits – with Chic, Madonna, David Bowie – but he can’t switch off the noise in his head.

Red wine being poured in Paris. Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
An inspired sommelier loves two things at least as much as wine: people and stories
By Nina Caplan - 04 June 9:34

I’ve nothing against celebrated wines: enormous care and attention goes into their creation. Still, a little imagination is a heavenly thing.

City lights: Gavin Corbett reimagines Manhattan. Photo: © IRENE SUCHOCKI
Green Glowing Skull is a fantasy for modern Manhattan
By Erica Wagner - 04 June 9:04

Gavin Corbett blends the implacable logic of a folk tale with a funny, alternative-present setting.Gavin Corbett blends the implacable logic of a folk tale with a funny, alternative-present setting.

Ali Smith with her award-winning novel "How to be both". Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Why we still need women-only book prizes
By Sarah Ditum - 04 June 7:36

Ali Smith’s How to be both, the winner of the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, is a particularly apt riposte to the literary class divide that says men are serious and women are silly.

Happy Jerry. Photo: Natural History Museum.
Culture vultures: which species have changed the way we portray the natural world in film and literature?
By Tosin Thompson - 01 June 17:14

BBC Radio 4 and the Natural History Museum join forces in a weekly series called Natural Histories to tell the story of 25 species that changed the world.

The art of rapprochement: what the Havana Biennale reveals about thawing Cuba-US relations
By Rick Jones - 01 June 16:39

How symbolism and happiness are captured in joint American-Cuban cultural endeavours.

David Byrne, who is curating the Southbank Centre's Meltdown festival. Photo: CHALKIE DAVIES/GETTY IMAGES
David Byrne: a great curator beats any big company's algorithm
By David Byrne - 01 June 11:49

The Talking Heads member on curating the Southbank Centre's Meltdown festival, the unfairness of book awards, and why the best line-ups surprise.

George Lucas and Mark Hamill on the Star Wars set in Tunisia. Photo: LUCASFILM LTD
Want to understand Star Wars fans? Start here
By Tom Shone - 01 June 11:35

It’s junk cinema but, like the Millennium Falcon, it’s fast junk – and don’t you dare call it junk unless you’re a fan, for only its fans can criticise it.

Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Do It Like a Woman, at the National Women's Conference. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
What does it mean to Do It Like A Woman in a sexist society?
By Rachel Holmes - 01 June 10:51

After successfully earning Jane Austen a place on the £10 note, Caroline Criado-Perez has turned to feminist action around the globe.

Judy Blume, whose In the Unlikely Event is out now. Photo: LINDA NYLIND/THE GUARDIAN
Even as an adult, reading Judy Blume feels like being admitted into a secret club
By Sarah Ditum - 01 June 10:42

In the Unlikely Event is Blume's first novel for adults since 1998. If only grown-up fiction learned from teen writing more often.