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David Crane rss

Burying the dead of Waterloo

Narrative history at its best – and bloodiest

11 October 2014
Waterloo: The Aftermath Paul O’Keeffe

Bodley Head, pp.392, £25, ISBN: 9781847921826

Anyone thinking of bringing out a book on Waterloo at the moment must be very confident, very brave or just plain daft. Over the last month there have been at… Read more

What, in the end, was it all for? In a French caricature of 1814, Napoleon precariously spans Madrid and Moscow and begins to topple. Fontainebleau — scene of his abdication — is depicted centre-stage

If you want to admire Napoleon, it helps not to have met Gaddafi

4 October 2014
Napoleon the Great Andrew Roberts

Allen Lane, pp.940, £30, ISBN: 9781846140273

Forty-odd years ago, in the early phase of the Gaddafi regime, I had the slightly mixed fortune to attend the new Benghazi University’s first degree ceremony. The university had actually… Read more

‘The Final Advance of the Guard’ by Nicolas Toussaint Charlet

An old soldier sees through the smoke of Waterloo

21 June 2014
Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies Gordon Corrigan

Atlantic Books, pp.341, £30, ISBN: 9781848879289

There is a very nice story of a dinner for Waterloo veterans at which Alexandre Dumas — ‘Dum-ass,’ as the Antarctic explorer Taff Evans would have him — was for… Read more

Patrick Leigh Fermor as a major in the parachute regiment, October 1945

Patrick Leigh Fermor and the long, daft tradition of Brits trying to save Greece

31 May 2014
The Ariadne Objective: Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis Wes Davis

Bantam, pp.329, £20, ISBN: 9780593072806

Twenty-odd years ago, while on holiday in the deep Mani at the foot of the Peloponnese, I got into conversation with an old and only partially reconstructed Greek communist shop-owner.… Read more

Three of the best: Edward Thomas (left), Wilfred Owen (above right) and Edmund Blunden

Look again – the first world war poets weren't pacifists

10 May 2014
Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew Max Egremont

Picador, pp.336, £20, ISBN: 9781447241997

If the poets of the first world war probably enjoy a higher profile now than they have done at any time in the last 100 years, it has not been… Read more

‘There was no better way’: Ancient Celts or Gauls go into battle against the massed ranks of Rome, and are slaughtered for the good of posterity

War is good for us

5 April 2014
War: What is it Good For? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots Ian Morris

Profile Books, pp.495, £25, ISBN: 9781846684173

At the heart of this work is a startling and improbable statistic and the equally surprising and counterintuitive thesis that flows out of it. We are used to looking back… Read more

Danish Jews escaping the Nazi's across the Oresound to neighbouring Sweden Photo: Getty

How Denmark’s Jews escaped the Nazis

8 March 2014
Countrymen: The Untold Story of How Denmark’s Jews Escaped the Nazis Bo Lidegaard

Atlantic Books, pp.395, £22, ISBN: 9781782391449

Of all the statistics generated by the Holocaust, perhaps some of the most disturbing in the questions they give rise to are the following. Of the Jews in Hungary, the… Read more

The Duke of Wellington 
at the Battle of Salamanca, 
22 July 1812

How we beat Napoleon

2 November 2013
Britain Against Napoleon: The Organisation of Victory, 1793-1815 Roger Knight

Allen Lane, pp.677, £30, ISBN: 9781846141775

Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814 Rory Muir

Yale, pp.672, £30, ISBN: 9780300186659

It feels the height of ingratitude to blame Jane Austen for anything, but it probably is her fault that most people seem to think that the only impact that the… Read more

The British experience at Mons was just one of many examples of defeat dressed up as moral victory, according to Max Hastings

Why does Max Hastings have such a hatred for the British military?

14 September 2013
Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War, 1914 Max Hastings

Collins, pp.628, £30, ISBN: 9780307597052

One of the great problems for any historian writing of 1914 and the slide into conflict is that everyone knows the causes of the first world war and those of… Read more

Portrait of Byron in Greek national dress by Thomas Phillips

Byron’s War, by Roderick Beaton - review

1 June 2013
Byron’s War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution Roderick Beaton

CUP, pp.338, £30, ISBN: 9781107033085

On 16 July 1823 a round-bottomed, bluff-bowed, dull-sailing collier-built tub of 120 tons called the Hercules made its slow, log-like way out of the port of Genoa. Roderick Beaton writes:… Read more

The Young Titan, by Michael Shelden; Churchill’s First War, by Con Coughlin - review

11 May 2013
Young Titan Michael Shelden

Simon & Schuster, pp.383, £25, ISBN: 9781471113222

Churchill’s First War Con Coughlin

Macmillan, pp.298, £25, ISBN: 9780230758513

One evening in 1906, shortly after the election that brought Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberals into power, an understandably nervous Eddie Marsh, a middle-ranking civil servant in the Colonial Office, paid a social… Read more

Last tango in Paris. Albert Guillaume captures the relaxed mood of Europe in 1913

'1913: The World Beforethe Great War', by Charles Emmerson

20 April 2013
1913: The World Before the Great War Charles Emmerson

Bodley Head, pp.582, £25, ISBN: 9781847922267

In May 1913 a British delegation visited the United States to discuss plans for celebrating 100 years of Anglo-American peace. At their final meeting in New York’s Plaza Hotel, the… Read more

Deserter

'Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War', by Charles Glass - review

6 April 2013
Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War Charles Glass

Harper Press, pp.390, £25, ISBN: 9780007345922

On the morning of 31 January 1945, a private soldier in the United States army, a minor ex-con with a juvenile record for theft, called Eddie Slovik was put to… Read more

Carve their names with pride

10 November 2012
War Memorial Clive Aslet

Viking, pp.342, £20, ISBN: 9780670921539

On a ridge high above the River Ancre, four miles to the north of the town of Albert, stands the greatest of all Britain’s memorials to its dead. For some… Read more

English_Hero1

Another doomed youth

11 August 2012
A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson Peter J. Conradi

Bloomsbury, pp.419, 18.99, ISBN: 9781408802434

It is very possible that unless you are a Bulgarian or a Wykehamist or an SOE buff or ideally all three you will not have heard of Frank Thompson. Somewhere… Read more

Against all odds

4 August 2012
Clive Brittain: The Smiling Pioneer Robin Oakley

Racing Post, pp.259, 20, ISBN: 9781908216229

For more than 40 years now Clive Brittain has enjoyed a unique position in British racing. There are plenty of other trainers who could match his record in top races,… Read more

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If only …

18 February 2012
The Lost History of 1914 Jack Beatty

Bloomsbury, pp.392, 20

In the early summer of 1910, a naval officer, bound for the Antarctic, paid a visit to the office of Thomas Marlowe, the editor of the Daily Mail. He had… Read more

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Titanic mistakes

14 January 2012
Titanic Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew Richard Davenport-Hines

Harper Press, pp.404, £20

There is nothing quite like a good centenary to remind us how surprising it is that anyone got out of the 20th century in one piece. In the space of… Read more

Ugly old Europe

31 December 2011
Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945 Neill Lochery

Public Affairs, pp.306, 18.99

There are moments and places in history that one would have paid good money to avoid, and wartime Lisbon was one of them. For those rich enough to afford the… Read more

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An intemperate zone

29 October 2011
The Gentry: Stories of the English Adam Nicolson

Harper Press, pp.460, 25

Two years before the outbreak of the first world war, a Royal Navy officer, addressing an Admiralty enquiry into the disturbing question of lower-deck commissions, ventured the cautionary opinion that… Read more

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What was it like at the time?

30 July 2011
In the Garden of Beasts: Love and Terror in Hitler’s Berlin Erik Larson

Doubleday, pp.448, 20

At midday on Thursday, 8 June 1933 — Erik Larson is very keen on his times — the newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a call put through to… Read more

The price of victory

11 June 2011
With Our Backs to the Wall David Stevenson

Allen Lane, pp.688, 30

In the patriotic mythology of British arms 1759 may be the one true annus mirabilis, the ‘year of victories’, the year of Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay, but has there… Read more

Consummate con artist

5 February 2011
The True Story of Titanic Thompson Kevin Cook

Picador, pp.247, 12.99

‘Taylor, I dreamt of your lecture last night,’ the polar explorer Captain Scott was once heard to exclaim, after sitting through a paper on icebergs by the expedition physiographer, Griffith… Read more

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A lore unto himself

18 December 2010
Frankincense and More: The Biography of Barry Hills Robin Oakley

Racing Post Books, pp.288, 18.99

The Art of the Race Amanda Lockhart

Envisage Books, pp.168, 30

Barry Hills has never been an easy man to love but I don’t suppose he would have it any other way. Barry Hills has never been an easy man to… Read more

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Thoroughly hooked

14 April 2010
Blood Knots Luke Jennings

Atlantic Books, pp.227, 16.99

On the southern edge of Kensal Green cemetery, beneath the wall that separates the graves from the Grand Union Canal, is a memorial inscription that would stop a Duns Scotus… Read more