News Dr Andrew Davis claims rival camps in the debate over how to teach children to read are acting like 'religious fundamentalists'

Children who are fluent readers are being damaged by the Government’s insistence on using synthetic phonics in the classroom, a leading academic warns today.

John Rentoul: Ed Balls's contribution to philosophy

The Education Secretary* has caused a fuss by saying on the Today programme this morning, speaking for "the Government": "None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi."

Simone de Beauvoir, By Ursula Tidd

Reaktion has published a distinguished series of these shorter critical appraisals of famous literary figures, or "leading cultural figures of the modern period" as it would have it: Kafka, Joyce, Dalí and Baudelaire all feature in its list of 21 biographies.

Just Me, By Sheila Hancock

The Two of Us was Sheila Hancock's first foray into memoir writing, offering a tender account of her life with late husband and actor, John Thaw, and their 28-year marriage.

Erin Norman: in praise of Bertrand Russell

Do you remember the excitement of discovering someone who shocks you, inspires you, makes you laugh in wonderment, makes you nod in agreement?

Philosophy, ed David Papineau

Philosophy has six sections – World, Mind and Body, Knowledge, Faith, Ethics and Aesthetics, and Society – and every one is written by a professor in the field. It is printed on thick, luxury-quality paper and lavishly illustrated, with colour pictures of famous philosophers and mood pictures of outer space, book-lined studies, running horses... It is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. But the inevitable result of squeezing all of philosophy into one book is a loss of detail: Kant is compressed into three pages (though he is referenced elsewhere in the book). Sometimes explanation is simply not there, as in: "It seems there can be infinities of different sizes". Seems? (The explanation is well-known in mathematics – the set of fractions is of a greater order of infinity than the set of integers, for the latter could not be mapped one-to-one on to the former).

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons From the Wild, By Mark Rowlands

The United States once pursued a policy of eradicating its wolves; shooting, poisoning and trapping them until there were almost no free wild wolves in the country, says Mark Rowlands. However, with the policy now abolished, they are again roaming through parts of Wyoming, Montana and Minnesota. They are also prowling in abundance through the pages of literature, in the strikingly vivid Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow and Joseph Smith's hauntingly beautiful debut, The Wolf.

Nothing to Be Frightened Of, By Julian Barnes

This is a thoughtful and elegantly written memoir, as one would expect from Julian Barnes: an account primarily of his lifelong fear of death, but also of his relationship with his parents, his philosopher brother (the word "rivalry" is never mentioned, but one can feel it) and with several dead writers, most notably Jules Renard of Poil de Carotte fame.

Politics and the Occult, By Gary Lachman

Gary Lachman has certainly done his research. This history of how the occult has influenced national politics – and not just wacky, fascist politics but mainstream and progressive political movements too – includes detailed discussion of the ideas of Johann Andreae, Dr John Dee, Francis Bacon, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Comenius and the rest of the gang, not forgetting the alchemists, Gnostics, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, and our mysterious friends the Knights Templar. It could be fascinating, but the prose is stodgy, and the actual aims of these secret societies, where revealed, are often uncontroversial and bland – to create a better world, that sort of thing.

Study shows happiness 'is contagious'

"Hell is other people," wrote the French existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, in one of his most famous lines from Huis-clos (No Exit). Half a century later, research has shown exactly the reverse may be true.

The Ten Best Ethical Gifts

Spare your conscience and opt for ethical gifts for your friends and family this Christmas.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, By Muriel Barbery, trans. Alison Anderson

A cuddly tale of philosophy and beauty – with nasty barbs

The Meaning of Life, By Terry Eagleton

Eagleton pre-emptively announces on page one that he's not a philosopher, but anyone tackling this subject is de facto a philosopher; the question is, how good? Eagleton indulges in some needlessly laboured analysis of terms, but is less interested in philosophical argument than in sticking it to his enemies, those pesky liberal humanists.

The great philosophers guide - free with the print edition

The Independent has created a 14-day series on ‘The Great Philosophers’, covering the lives and work of some of history’s greatest thinkers.

Paperback: I Am, Therefore I Think, ed. Alexander George

Sceptre £7.99

First Night: The Life of Galileo, Olivier National Theatre, London

Star performance takes Brecht's Galileo into a different orbit
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newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
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Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
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Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
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Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
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Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Prague, Budapest and Vienna
Lake Garda
3.	Provence 6 nights B&B by train from £599pp
Prices correct as of 20 February 2015
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn