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From forest cottages and Antarctic cruises to Chengdu and Greece in London

Aristotle and Alexander: The man who codified Greek ideas about nature, and the man who spread them abroad

Greek philosophers were edging towards the radical idea that there were no gods who controlled the destiny of life on earth from some detached mountaintop. Rather, it was man himself who, thanks to his own brainpower, could decipher the laws of the universe to become master of all nature.

Classical discoveries: Some humans begin to suspect the existence of laws of nature

Signs of a distinctive, new and eccentric pattern of human behaviour began to occur in what became the most famous of all the Greek city states – Athens. Long before the Persians razed the city to the ground in 480BCE this city had become a laboratory for experiments in novel human behaviour. In c594BCE, a poet called Solon won a victory for the city by capturing the nearby island of Salamis. He used the considerable power and prestige gained from this triumph to seize political control.

Age of heroes: How violence between mediterranean civilisations became the stuff of legends

The period between 1400BCE and 1100BCE set the stage for some of the most epic military struggles of all time, including the legendary Trojan Wars, supposedly fought between a confederation of small Greek states and the people of Troy, a city in western Asia Minor. Accounts of the wars are contained in the Greek poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey which, although partly mythological, provide a vivid account of the chaos and violence of the late Mediterranean Bronze Age.

A military revolution: How bronze age innovations ushered in an age of violence and inequality

About 3,000 years ago, from around the Black Sea, came a troublesome trilogy of innovations – horses, chariots and bronze weapons – that gave some people a huge military advantage over others. They did not hesitate to exploit it. Soon, the whole Eurasian world was locked in an arms race. Civilisations rose and fell, and warfare became endemic. Disputes erupted between Eastern and Western peoples (initially Persians and Europeans); a race called the Jews got caught in the middle. Meanwhile, in Greece and Asia Minor, enough people became sufficiently prosperous and secure to experiment with new lifestyles and ideas that would form the foundations of Western culture.

Minor British Institutions: The county of Rutland

Is it appropriate that the county arms and flag of Rutland feature an upturned horseshoe? The county's luck certainly ran out in 1974, a year of shame when many of the nation's idiosyncratic counties were welded together.

Pandas prepare for return to Britain after 16 years

Edinburgh Zoo hopes to be first to host the animals in this country since 1994 as Prime Minister backs deal

Hui beef stew with chickpeas

Serves 4

Simply sensational: Mark Hix uses cheaper cuts of meat to create some heart-warming Asian stews, and save on washing up, too.

If I've been out for a night on the town I usually end up in a restaurant in London's Chinatown with a craving for a beef flank hot-pot or a comforting stew made from the cheaper cuts of meat which yield a real depth of flavour when slowly cooked. But these Asian classics are easy to make at home, too; so why not treat your mates to a great dinner party without breaking the bank?

China Witness, By Xinran, trans. Julia Lovell, Esther Tyldesley & Nicky Harman

As she took her leave of Yao Popo, a medicine woman she had met by chance on the step of her ramshackle shop in Xingyi, south China, Xinran asked her to share the three happiest and unhappiest times in her life. Yao Popo was fairly certain about her list: the second hardest thing, she said, was "bringing up seven children in a tiny room of only twelve metres square". The second hardest thing.

The Investment Column: Carpetright floored by retail slowdown

AG Barr; Et-China

Three killed in Chinese earthquake

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck China's southwestern Sichuan province today, killing three people, state media has said.

Panda cub dies three days after birth

A panda cub has died three days after its celebrated birth following a rare success in artificial insemination, a Japanese zoo said today.

Dr Dre's son dies

Dr Dre's 20-year-old son has died, the rapper's publicist said last night

Morales poll win fails to ease tensions

Confirmed in office in a landslide recall election vote, the Bolivian President Evo Morales now plans to push through major constitutional reforms early next year that will further antagonise his rightist opponents.

Torch relay visits Sichuan earthquake zone

After a controversial journey dogged by international protests over China's crackdown in Tibet, the Olympic torch made a poignant visit to the Sichuan earthquake zone, shortly before the region was hit by a 6.0 magnitude aftershock yesterday.

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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick