Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Bonn, West Germany, in  1975.  After being ousted after eight years in power in 1982, he went on to become one of Germany’s most influential public intellectuals. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

His obituaries will say that he was a Hamburg native but Helmut Schmidt was, in his essence, a Hanseat. A Hanseat is as much a state of mind of the na(...)

‘Reading is a choice. Not only in the obvious sense of taking up a book, or taking up one book and not another, but when reading the book at hand. It’s assessing the facts of the case (even the fictional ones) and seeing some as more relevant to a satisfying reading than others.’

George O’Brien is Professor Emeritus of English at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He is author of three memoirs, The Village of Longing, Dan(...)

Ketil Bjornstad: ‘Sometimes I also rent a hotel room to write in peace.’ Photograph: Benedicte Ugland/

Ketil Bjornstad is a Norwegian pianist, composer and author. ketilbjornstad.comWhat was the first book to make an impression on you?It must have been (...)

Philip Hensher’s novel The Northern Clemency was shortlisted  for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Photograph: Simon James/PA Wire

What was the first book to make an impression on you? The Wizard of Oz, and especially the very weird sequel The Marvelous Land of Oz, where th(...)

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

It is Halloween, but it is also Reformation Day in Germany. Exactly 497 years ago Martin Luther strode up to the castle church in Wittenberg and na(...)

Marilyn Monroe relaxing at home. Photograph: Getty Images

‘This book,” writes Jacqueline Rose, “begins with the story of three women who create their lives in the face of incredible odds.” On the surface, the(...)

Iron Gustav is the story of one man, but it is also a vivid, atmospheric portrait of Berlin, showing how the war affected its citizens. Photograph: Roger Viollet/Getty Images

Gustav Hackendahl, former soldier and now employer, is a domestic tyrant. He runs his home in much the same way as he directs the daily routine in (...)

A fence surrounds the US Department of Commerce in Washington  as the government shutdown continued at the weekend. Photograoh: Reuters/Mike Theiler

The US federal government is shut down, we’re about to hit the debt ceiling (with disastrous economic consequences) and no resolution is in sight. (...)

The letters of Italo Calvino? Surely not, we might think, given this writer’s famous guardedness and privacy, his distrust of the biographical, of the(...)

It was the year before the Great War, so named because it was vast in its upheaval; it marked the death of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and redrew the (...)