Arts and Entertainment

Towards the end of this illuminating book, Larry Siedentop describes a fourteenth century battle between two Christian monastic orders. The Dominicans and the Franciscans were mendicant orders, begging monks who had abandoned the comforts of the cloisters to preach among the poor.

The Sketch: IDS takes the lid off social reform as Dave flatters the feckless

It probably wasn't solely to annoy Polly that they held their poverty presser in Toynbee Hall but it must have been an incidental pleasure. Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron announced the Tory welfare plan in that Edwardian palace of civic goodwill and self-improvement. I'm not sneering at either mind you, that's a trick you find on the professional left. But the venue was iconic, and part of the message-sending thing they enjoy doing – like Ed Balls eating the Kleinwort Benson canapes.

The Ven Ronald Scruby: Archdeacon who overcame injuries sustained after D-Day to serve Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight

Archdeacon for eight years of Portsmouth and for 12 before that of the Isle of Wight, Ronald Scruby was one of the most loved and respected clergy in the Anglican diocese of Portsmouth. The loss of a leg in the Second World War barely inhibited him; he was a man of persistent courage and quiet holiness.

The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, By John Gray

Our greatest anti-utopian thinker returns to a favourite theme: that there's no such thing as human progress, and science cannot save us

Bishop Samuel Ruiz: Liberation theologian who championed the cause of the Mayan Indians in Mexico

When I interviewed Bishop Samuel Ruiz for The Independent in the picturesque southern Mexican town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in August 1993, he told me the poverty-stricken Mayan Indians of his parish were getting restless and some had taken up arms. He introduced me to a young man – "just call me Juan" – who spoke of a new armed group called the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organisation (EZP0), named after Mexico's peasant and revolutionary leader of the early 20th Century but styled after Peru's Shining Path guerrillas.

The Right Revd Dr Kenneth Stevenson: Colourful priest with a special interest in liturgy who became a popular Bishop of Portsmouth

He was drinking champagne and listening to his favourite Bach only hours before his death in hospital.

Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy, By CE Hill

CE Hill not only rejoices in the title of Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Verily, he is also the anti-Dan Brown. Whereas The Da Vinci Code author and his ilk delight in theories that evil popes and scheming prelates stamped out the many and often competing versions of Christianity circulating in the first four centuries AD, Hill has a more sober message. There was no conspiracy. Far from blaming the demon figure of the Council of Nicaea, Bishop Athanasius, for deciding that only his four chosen gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – should be the canonical ones, Hill argues that the Emperor Constantine's council was no dastardly cover-up enacted to cement the supremacy of Rome. The four we know as the main part of the New Testament today, he says, were commonly accepted as scripture far earlier.

Saintly Newman had a smarter, younger brother

Beatification plans have revived interest in a forgotten Victorian.

Noseda stakes all on Cup with Laddies Poker Two

Having already pulled off one pretty outrageous stunt with the same mare, Jeremy Noseda yesterday contrived to raise the bar higher still with Laddies Poker Two. The Newmarket trainer wants to give the grey her first race since landing a spectacular gamble at Royal Ascot in June – and, as such, only her second in two years – at the Breeders' Cup.

Julian Baggini: If science has not actually killed God, it has rendered Him unrecognisable

There is no room in the universe of Hawking or most other scientists for the activist God of the Bible

Howard Jacobson: Conspiracy theorists lack imagination

In our determined unimaginativeness, we turn Kelly and Blair alike into less than men

Newton and the Counterfeiter, By Thomas Levenson

By 1695, Isaac Newton was increasingly obsessed with odd theology but the towering genius was called on to solve a national crisis. Due to coin-clipping and forgery, His Majesty's coinage was increasingly debased.

Theodora: Actress, empress, whore, by Stella Duffy

Powerful consorts have often been trashed by prurient historians, and none more so than Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, wife of the sixth-century ruler, Justinian. Procopius's official work celebrated her piety and courage, but his scurrilous Secret History claimed to reveal her as a former prostitute of unsurpassed greed. A travesty, but Procopius had a novelist's flair for colourful detail: what reader could forget the circus performance with excited geese?

David Alexander: US national secretary to the Rhodes Trust

American secretary to the Rhodes Trust for 17 years, Professor David Alexander CBE was a driving force behind the success of the Rhodes Scholarships in the US.

One Minute With: Simon Schama

Where are you now and what can you see?

Jeff Tweedy, Union Chapel, London

"This song is about Jesus smoking crack," smiles a wry Jeff Tweedy, the frontman of Chicago rock band Wilco, who stands solo in front of the pulpit at the beautiful Union Chapel. "I keep getting invited to churches to play this song, so I'm guessing it's theologically sound."

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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
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Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
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A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

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After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

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