Jenny Uglow’s most recent book is The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh.
 (April 2014)

IN THE REVIEW

The Revolutionary Christian Girl

Edith Heckstall Smith: The Match Girl, circa 1884–1890

The Match Girl and the Heiress

by Seth Koven
Toward the start of his fascinating book The Match Girl and the Heiress, Seth Koven states that it “joins efforts by historians to reclaim pre–World War II Britain for Christianity, a salutary historiographical Reconquista.” This may set alarm bells ringing, with its implication that more secular-minded scholars should be driven …

A Seemingly Virtuous Monster

Engraving of Sabrina Bicknell at age seventy-five by Richard James Lane, after a portrait by Stephen Poyntz Denning, 1833; painting of Thomas Day by Joseph Wright, 1770

How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain’s Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate

by Wendy Moore
Wendy Moore has written an account of a crazed attempt by the eighteenth-century poet and philosopher Thomas Day to educate two foundling girls, so that one might become the ideal wife. Her book reads at times like a historical novel. Yet it is underpinned by meticulous research, and raises a …

The Saga of the Flaming Zucchini

Pierre Bonnard: Lunch at Grand-Lemps, 1899

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

by Bee Wilson
Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat combines a passionate gathering of information, diligently communicated, and an amused realism that brings us safely down to earth. Tirelessly, Wilson narrates many instances of scientists and engineers, often in cahoots with big business, setting out to solve kitchen problems, especially in inventing modern labor-saving devices like beaters and blenders. “What tulips were to Holland in the 1630s and Internet startups were to Seattle in the 1990s, eggbeaters were to the East Coast of the United States in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s,” Wilson says.</p

A Revolutionary Among the Stars

Nicolaus Copernicus with his model of the heliocentric universe

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

by Dava Sobel
Dava Sobel has carved a niche for herself as a writer who employs narrative and biography to present archaic and complicated theories in an engaging and accessible manner. After making her name as an award-winning science reporter for The New York Times, she published Longitude, her first book in this …

NYR DAILY

A Darkness Lit with Sheets of Fire

“Earthquake and Eruption of the Mountain of Asayama” in Japan in 1783, from an account by Isaac Titsingh, 1822

No wonder volcanoes, like sea-monsters, are the stuff of legends. The curators at the Bodleian have brought out its treasures and raided the archives of Oxford colleges for Volcanoes: Encounters through the Ages. The eyewitness accounts evoked in the Bodleian run from the famous letters of Pliny the Younger, about the eruption of Vesuvius in Naples in 79 BC—well known in the classical world—to the vulcanologists of today.

Howard Hodgkin: Paintings That Shout

Howard Hodgkin: DH in Hollywood, 1980-1984

Two weeks before the current exhibition of Howard Hodgkin’s portraits, “Absent Friends,” opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery, Hodgkin died. The labels for the exhibition were put up before he did. It tugged at my heart to read that “now eight-four years old, the artist continues to paint.” But while these pictures remain so vibrantly, splendidly present, I think he does.

When Art Meets Power

Isaak Brodsky: V.I.Lenin and Manifestation, 1919

It is impossible and wrong, in this fascinating exhibition on Russian art between 1917-1932, to separate art from politics, utopian propaganda from dystopian tragedy. Aesthetic judgement is inevitably compromised. Some may think it obscene to celebrate this period in Russian art: yet it is surely right to make us confront it, to see the boldness of the art and to try and fathom the mixed motives, the hopes and fears and struggles of the artists involved. Right too, when the headlines are full of Trump and Putin, to remind us of the history.

Our Animal History

Pressed fish specimen (Zeus faber) collected by Carl Linnaeus, 1758

The fascinating exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, “Making Nature,” investigates our long history of trying to comprehend the wealth of the animal world, while also making us dizzily aware that we are, after all, animals ourselves. One of the joys of these darkened rooms is the way that works of art share space with the scientific exhibits, often making the latter themselves seem fantastical.

NYR CALENDAR

Artist and Empire

An attempt to show how artists have responded to the history and ethos of empire over the last five centuries, and to address its legacy “not just in public monuments, but in social structures, culture and in the fault lines of contemporary global politics.”