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Jonathan Sumption rss

The good war?

1 October 2011

Jonathan Sumption admires the sweep and bravura  of Max Hastings’s account without agreeing with every word The second world war is still generally regarded as the ‘good war’. In the… Read more

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Nothing left to lose

20 August 2011
The End: Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45 Ian Kershaw

Allen Lane, pp.508, 30

In chess, the king is never taken. When defeat is inevitable, the losing player resigns. And so it is in war. Defeated leaders sue for terms. Or they are toppled… Read more

The problems of PR

11 June 2011
The Coalition and the Constitution Vernon Bogdanor

Hart Publishing, pp.162, £20

Two centuries ago, Edmund Burke famously mocked the intellectuals of revolutionary France for trying to devise a perfectly rational constitution for their country. The Abbé Sieyès, he wrote, had whole… Read more

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Setting the world to rights

7 May 2011
Wicked Company: Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary Paris Philipp Blom

Weidenfeld, pp.384, 25

Wicked Company is the collective biography of a group of men with little in common, apart from a generalised dissatisfaction with the state of the world around them. Perhaps that… Read more

Design for living

19 March 2011
Justice for Hedgehog Ronald Dworkin

Belknap Press, pp.506, 14.95

The first thing to be said about this remarkable book is that it has nothing to do with animal rights. The title is borrowed from the archaic Greek poet Archilochus,… Read more

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On the silver trail

15 January 2011
The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V Hugh Thomas

Allen Lane, pp.697, 35

The Spanish empire was the first of Europe’s great overseas empires, and for many years the richest and most powerful. The Spanish empire was the first of Europe’s great overseas… Read more

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Thynges very memorable

6 November 2010
De Viris Illustribus / On Famous Men John Leland, edited and translated by James P. Carley, with the asisstance of Caroline Brett

Published in Europe by the Bodleian Library, in North America by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, pp.1028, 120 / $175

John Leland, who died in 1552, lived less than 50 years and was mad for the last five of them. Today he is one of the forgotten worthies of 16th-century… Read more

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Mawkish charades

28 August 2010
Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality Theodore Dalrymple

Gibson Square, pp.260, 14.99,

This book is an engaging rant against the folly, claptrap, self-indulgence and hypocrisy of mankind, written in the brisk and trenchant style which readers of the author’s Spectator articles will… Read more

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All eyes and ears

14 August 2010
GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency Richard J. Aldrich

Harper Press, pp.666, 30

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There Sinclair McKay

Aurum, pp.336, 20

Both of these books aim, in their different ways, to cater for Britain’s long-standing obsession with espionage and other forms of political and military intelligence. Both of these books aim,… Read more

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Might and wrong

30 June 2010
Moral Combat: A History of World War II Michael Burleigh

Harper Press, pp.650, 30

‘Was all this the realisation of our war aims?’, Malcolm Muggeridge asked as he surveyed the desolation of Berlin in May 1945. ‘Was all this the realisation of our war… Read more

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Unholy warriors

14 April 2010
Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents Ian Buruma

Princeton, pp.142, 13.95

Taming the Gods is an extended essay about the secular state, something which would until recently have been regarded as a non-issue by English-speaking readers. The separation of Church and… Read more

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Not as bad as the French

10 March 2010
Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England Anthony Julius

OUP, pp.811, 25

This is a long book, but its argument can be shortly stated. Anthony Julius believes that anti-Semitism is a persistent and influential theme in English history, which is all the… Read more

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Weighed in the balance

10 February 2010
The Rule of Law Tom Bingham

Allen Lane, pp.213, 20

We sanctify some expressions, and in the process empty them of meaning. ‘Democracy’, ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’ are all used in ways that beg more questions than they answer. As Orwell… Read more

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Tensions in the European Union

13 January 2010
The New Old World Perry Anderson

Verso, pp.561, 24.99

Perry Anderson was an editor of the New Left Review in the days when there was a New Left, and a pro-European Marxist at a time when this seemed a… Read more

Poisonous relations

30 December 2009
England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy, 1940-1942 Colin Smith

Weidenfeld, pp.490, 25

‘The Axis powers and France,’ declared Marshall Pétain and Hitler at Montoire in October 1940, ‘have a common interest in the defeat of England as soon as possible.’ Why this… Read more

The peace to end all peace

18 November 2009

The first world war was the last major conflict to be brought to an end in the traditional fashion, with a formal treaty of peace. Or, rather, several treaties of… Read more

Concentrating on sideshows

16 September 2009
Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord, 1940-45 Max Hastings

HarperPress, pp.576, 25

It is becoming difficult to say anything new about Churchill as a war leader. The basic facts about the conduct of allied strategy have been known for many years. Diaries… Read more

The human element

29 July 2009
The Idea of Justice Amartya Sen

Allen Lane, pp.448, 25

Writing in 1792, in the aftermath of the French revolution, Jeremy Bentham famously dismissed all talk of the rights of man as mere rhetoric. Justice, he said, was concerned with… Read more

Pointless but necessary

17 June 2009
The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis Matthew Cobb

Simon & Schuster, pp.403, 17.99

For 20 years after the war, the Resistance was the presiding myth of French society. No one would say that now. A generation that never experienced occupation and respected no… Read more

Doomed to despotism

7 April 2009
Khomeini’s Ghost Con Coughlin

Macmillan, pp.367, 25

The Life and Death of the Shah Gholam Reza Afkhami

Con Coughlin Gholam Reza Afkhami University of California Press, pp.713, 24.95

Khomeini’s Ghost, by Con Coughlin The Life and Death of the Shah, by Gholam Reza Afkhami The fall of the Shah of Iran at the beginning of 1979 took the… Read more

A slow decline

11 February 2009
The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 Chris Wickham

Allen Lane, pp.622, 35

The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000, by Chris Wickham This outstanding book covers what used to be called the ‘dark ages’. Publishers rarely speak… Read more

New light on a dark age

19 November 2008
Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom Tom Holland

Little, Brown, pp.476, 25

Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom, by Tom Holland Millennia, like centuries, are artificial quantities, mathematical nothings. Medieval men may not have shared our obsession… Read more

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The pragmatic approach

1 October 2008
What Next? Surviving the Twenty-first Century Chris Patten

Allen Lane, pp.459, 25

‘The Half’ is how actors refer to the half hour before their play begins, when they ready themselves, steady themselves, for their performance. It seems a bit early to be… Read more

Dearly beloved Meg

13 August 2008
A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More John Guy

Fourth Estate, pp.378, 25

Sir Thomas More was the most dedicated of Henry VIII’s Chancellors before becoming the most famous of his victims. Sir Thomas More was the most dedicated of Henry VIII’s Chancellors… Read more

Ruthless but ineffective

18 June 2008
Gideon’s Spies: The Inside Story of Israel’s Legendary Secret Service, The Mossad Gordon Thomas

JR Books, pp.698, 16.99

Gideon may or may not have overcome the Midianites by superior intelligence. The Book of Judges is a little obscure about that. But there is still something in the old… Read more