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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A new Russian revolution

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Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
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Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
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The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

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Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried