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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Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why