What She Ate by Laura Shapiro review – witty essays on women and food

From Barbara Pym’s love for gastronomy to Eva Braun’s ruthless dedication to staying thin, these biographical essays about famous women and their food are clever and revealing

In this collection of clever, witty biographical essays, Laura Shapiro explores the relationship of six famous women to food. We start with Dorothy Wordsworth, who kept house for her brother at Dove Cottage in the early years of the 19th century. If William was the high priest of poetry, Dorothy was the vestal virgin, who delivered the sacraments in the form of freshly picked peas from the garden, mild bacon from the neighbours and her own bottled rum. Luminous though the details of the siblings’ meals may appear in Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal, there is nothing here that smacks of fleshly indulgence. Throughout the years of her ecstatic service, she retained the body of a high priestess, flayed into elegance by all ...

Blood on the Page by Thomas Harding review – the first British murder trial held in secret

A man is found dead in his London home. The killer is jailed. But is it all a high-level cover-up?

Writing a true-crime book while the legal process is still unfolding is a high-stakes business. There’s no assurance of a neat outcome, or really any outcome at all. The goodies might turn out to be baddies, and all that righteous anger about a possible miscarriage of justice could leave you looking foolish. Trial dates slip, which means you’re deprived of a cracking finale in which grateful relatives embrace you on the courtroom steps while the police stand by looking sheepish. You could end up, in other words, with a sort of fretful trailing off …

All of which happens in Blood on the Page. Despite the title, which promises a “body in the library” plot from the golden age of detective fiction, Thomas Harding has written a real-life procedural about ...

The Bedside Guardian 2017 review – 12 months that shook the world

From Trump to tragedy, Wonder Woman to The Maybot … a compelling roundup from an eye-opening year

This has hardly been a year for sweet dreams, and the latest edition of The Bedside Guardian is not in the business of pretending otherwise. In the 67 pieces selected here from the newspaper’s annual output – including everything from reportage and reviews to obituaries and analysis – we are plunged back into the 12 months that shook the world. Starting with Trump’s shock win in November 2016 (The Bedside Guardian runs from autumn to autumn) and ending with the row in which a transgender model was sacked by L’Oréal for claiming that all white people are racist, this was the year that didn’t so much shake things up as take a wrecking ball to them.

In his introduction, editor Gary Younge explains his decision to reprint an extract from the Guardian’s ...

Big & Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies by Lynne Vallone – review

How size has mattered from Queen Henrietta Maria’s dwarf to contemporary fat-shaming

If, like me, you pored over the Guinness Book of Records as a child, then perhaps you too found yourself gripped by the section on the tallest, shortest, thinnest and fattest men and women who ever lived. It was definitely the best section, much better than the bits about people staying awake for 10 days or walking around the world on their hands. My favourite record-holder was Daniel Lambert, a Georgian strongman of 53 stone whose coffin needed wheels. But I also had a soft spot for Robert Wadlow who was nearly 9ft tall and still growing at the time of his death in 1940. How I longed for Wadlow to be still alive so that he could stand beside the current shortest woman in the world, a bright sprite from India of 2ft.

Related: Wiping out ...

The best biography and autobiography books of 2017

Memories of the high life, heart surgery and a Homer odyssey move Kathryn Hughes

The Book of Forgotten Authors (Riverrun) sounds like a post-modern meta-novel from the early 1980s, one that everyone pretends to have read in the original Spanish. In fact, it’s the title of Christopher Fowler’s invigoratingly down-to-earth catalogue of 99 writers, mostly anglophone, who used to be famous 50 years ago but whom no one now remembers. There’s Pierre Boulle, the engineer who doubled up as the author of Bridge Over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes. Intriguing too is Pamela Branch, whose second novel from 1951, The Lion in the Cellar, features a drunken bartender with a phantom marmoset on his shoulder. Bibliophiles will love revisiting the midlist of yesteryear while uppity authors should be given the book as a memento mori, a hint as to where they will be heading next.

Anxieties around ...

Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello review – brilliant essays on immortal beasts

The meanings of Dürer’s rhino, Mozart’s starling, Darwin’s tortoise and others explored with wild imagination and pyrotechnic prose

Elena Passarello starts this extraordinary book with the image of Yuka, a woolly mammoth chiselled from the softening permafrost by Siberian tusk hunters in 2010. First a rounded hoof comes into view, then a hollowed-out eye and finally the flank still bearing evidence of the gash that must have done for young Yuka – she was no more than 10 years old when she died – nearly 40 millennia ago. Most surprising of all, though, is the burning smoulder of her pelt, which has kept to its unconvincing ginger-red despite the passing centuries. Whoever knew that woolly mammoths shared their hair colour with dime-store dolls?

As Yuka is flopped on to the snowmobile it is not her odd dislocations – most of her spine is gone although her legs remain rigid – that qualify ...

Folk Song in England by Steve Roud review – the music of the common people?

It has been easy to mock the collectors of rustic tunes and enthusiasts of Merrie England. But their favourite songs were communal without being nationalistic

When is a folk song not a folk song? When it’s accompanied by someone on the piano? When its origins lie not in a ploughed field but on a music hall stage? When it’s written not by “anon” but by a person with a proper name? When Vaughan Williams decides to riff on it using the full resources of a military band? When it could equally accurately be described as a madrigal, a ballad or a nursery rhyme?

These are the questions over which clergymen, antiquarians and ladies of a liberal bent fretted at the end of the 19th century as they set out to recover the precious remnants of England’s vernacular musical culture. Armed with notepad, pencil and even the occasional phonograph, they cycled out ...