The Virtues of the Table

The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think, by Julian Baggini, Granta, RRP£14.99, 320 pages

Surely it’s not quite healthy, surely it’s not quite right, this obsession we have with – let’s be frank – stuffing our faces. Look, there’s The Great British Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood casting a scathing eye over a tottering croquembouche; there’s Nigella Lawson, gazing adoringly into the cornucopia of her fridge; and here you are, standing at the grocery store checkout with goat’s cheese and a goose egg in your basket and wondering, how did it come to this?

Viking hoards at the British Museum

If you are looking for evidence of the reach, and breadth, of Viking culture, the Vale of York hoard is a fine place to start. Part of the British Museum’s forthcoming exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, this remarkable collection of objects discovered in 2007 is one of the most important finds of its type in Britain.

Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain

Pagan Britain. By Ronald Hutton. Yale University Press; 400 pages; £25. To be published in America in February; $45.

Ronald Hutton describes his new book as a history of religious belief from the “Old Stone Age to the coming of Christianity”. So it is, but also it is more provocative than that. With “Pagan Britain” he has written a thoughtful critique of how historians and archaeologists often interpret ruins and relics to suit changing ideas about religion and nationhood. Intriguingly for a historian, Mr Hutton makes plain just how little evidence there is for belief systems of the distant past.

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

THE dance between politicians and the press can appear awkward, largely because both sides want to be the ones who are leading. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a popular scholar of American politics, traces the early days of this fraught negotiation in “The Bully Pulpit”. Here she tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th president, who at the turn of the 20th century became the first to install a press room in the White House.

Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven

The Blood of Heaven, by Kent Wascom, Atlantic Books, RRP£14.99/Grove Press, RRP$25, 456 pages

Kent Wascom’s brutal bildungsroman starts in 1861 as the state of Louisiana celebrates its secession from the no-longer United States. That Angel Woolsack – the vicious, compelling narrator of this sprawling debut – marks his own jubilation by pissing blood down on to the cheering crowds below his window offers a warning to the reader who may be faint of heart. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, for The Blood of Heaven is a tale of fire and brimstone, the ballad of a man, and a nation, forged in a crucible of suffering.

Donna Tartt: back & brilliant with The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch. By Donna Tartt. Little, Brown; 784 pages; $30 and £20. Buy from

AT THE start of Donna Tartt’s third novel, her hero Theo Decker is 13 years old. His mother—adored and adoring, artistic, thrift-shop glamorous—has taken him to see her favourite painting, a small miracle of 17th-century Dutch art. Carel Fabritius’s picture (right) gives the book its title, “The Goldfinch”, and in the opening scene it is hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Robert Harris takes on the Dreyfus Affair

 An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris, Hutchinson, RRP£18.99, 483 pages

“There is no such thing as a secret – not really, not in the modern world.” It doesn’t matter what your privacy settings are on Facebook, all our information is going to get out: if we didn’t suspect it before, the likes of Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning have rung the alarm. This is the 21st century, after all.

Or is it?

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon


MAXINE TARNOW is riding the subway when this novel finally hits its stride. It is the year 2001 in New York City, not long after 9/11; Maxine, a freelance fraud investigator, begins to wonder how she is linked to what might or might not be a global terror plot flourishing online in the “Deep Web”, a nexus of servers and avatars which is still very much a hidden world. At 72nd and Broadway, her express train passes a local train: “the windows of the other train move slowly past, the lighted panels appear one by one, like a series of fortune-telling cards being dealt and slid in front of her.” A woman gestures to her from the passing train, they meet, and the stranger hands her an envelope: it looks like things could get interesting.

Beeban Kidron: InRealLife, kids and the internet

It started when Beeban Kidron heard her daughter screaming. The 14-year-old was in her bedroom with a friend. They were online. “I heard screaming, screaming. Some boy had given them an email with a link to what he said was a jokey site. When they’d gone on it, it turned out to be a loop of very, very violent sex, involving men … really abject violence. It went on a loop, over and over. And they were profoundly upset.”