Not good enough

23 October 2010
The Verdict: Did Labour Change Britain? Polly Toynbee and David Walker

Granta, pp.314, 18.99

Tony Blair gave his record in government ten out of ten, though an ungrateful electorate scored rather less well and his Cabinet colleagues performed even worse. Sadly, they were ill-equipped… Read more


. . . and they did to us

9 October 2010
The Blitz: The British Under Attack Juliet Gardiner

Harper Press, pp.431, 25

The craters are all filled in, the ruins replaced, and the last memories retold only in the whispery voices of the old. Apart from celebrating the resilience of our parents… Read more

Hunting and working

7 July 2010
Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography Adam Sisman

Weindenfeld and Nicholson, pp.598, 25

Why are scholars so prone to melancholy? According to the expert, Robert Burton of Christ Church, it is because ‘they live a sedentary, solitary life… Why are scholars so prone… Read more


Aces high

23 June 2010
The Battle of Britain James Holland

Bantam, pp.592, 25

Gun Button to Fire Tom Neill

Amberley, pp.320, 20

Last of the Few Dilip Sarkar

Amberley, pp.240, 20

Seventy years after the RAF repelled the Luftwaffe, the Battle of Britain continues to have a powerful resonance. The conflict not only decided Britain’s very survival as an independent nation,… Read more


Triumph of the will

7 April 2010
The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East Alistair Urquhart

Little, Brown, pp.312, 18.99

Alistair Urquhart describes himself as ‘a lucky man as well as an angry man’. Alistair Urquhart describes himself as ‘a lucky man as well as an angry man’. No one… Read more


Survival of the fittest

7 April 2010
Back from the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection Peter Snowdon

HarperPress, pp.419, 14.99

When I was at Eton, many years before David Cameron, much of the school was run by a self-elected society known as ‘Pop’. When I was at Eton, many years… Read more


In the shadow of Mau Mau

24 March 2010
Dreams in a Time of War Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Harvill Secker, pp.256, 12.99

When the Kenyan human rights campaigner, Maina Kiai, recently addressed the House of Commons, his list of policy recommendations probably surprised many MPs. Be tough on Kenya’s fractious government, he… Read more


Annals of war

24 March 2010
The Iraq Papers John Ehrenberg, J. Patrice McSherry, José Ram

OUP, pp.528, 15.99

‘I was not an enthusiast about getting US forces and going into Iraq,’ Dick Cheney said in 1997, looking back on the First Gulf War. ‘I was not an enthusiast… Read more


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

Shady characters

24 February 2010
A Life Apart Neel Mukherjee

Constable, pp.12.99, 342

Children of the Sun Max Schaefer

Granta, pp.387, 12.99

A great deal of time in Neel Mukherjee’s A Life Apart and Max Schaefer’s Children of the Sun is spent in gents’ public toilets — cottaging being a key feature… Read more


Fleeing fog and filth

24 February 2010
Kipling Abroad Andrew Lycett

I.B. Tauris, pp.254, 19.50

In a sense, as this interesting collection of his writings makes clear, Rudyard Kipling was always abroad. His first vivid memories were of an early childhood in Bombay, ‘light and… Read more


Spoilt for choice

24 February 2010
Living Dolls Natasha Walter

Virago, pp.273, 12.99

It is more than ten years since Natasha Walter published The New Feminism, a can-do look at the ‘uniquely happy story’ of the women’s movement. It is more than ten… Read more

Always a murky business

24 February 2010
Where Power Lies Lance Price

Simon & Schuster, pp.455, 20

Inside Out Peter Watt

Biteback, pp.203, 16.99

Lance Price is better placed than most to write about ‘spin’ in politics, having worked as a BBC political reporter and as Alastair Campbell’s deputy in Downing Street. Lance Price… Read more


Elder, but no better

20 January 2010
Pitt the Elder: Man of War Edward Pearce

The Bodley Head, pp.372, 25

William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham was hailed by Victorian schoolboys as the man who made England great. He was the patriot leader, the minister who steered the country… Read more

The face of a muffin

30 December 2009
Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought with Good Manners Andy Merriman

Aurum, pp.296, 18.99

What was it about post-war British cinema? Our films were lit up by a collection of wonderfully idiosyncratic performers. Think Alistair Sim, Terry-Thomas and Robert Morley. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic… Read more

The myth survived

25 November 2009
The Celtic Revolution Simon Young

Gibson Square, pp.320, 14.99

You may find this book irritating. A complex exposition of 2,000 years of history, it is intended for the general reader, whoever he is (a general reader would surely not… Read more

Facetious or scandalous?

11 November 2009
An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain John O’Farrell

Doubleday, pp.375, 18.99

The Making of Modern Britain Andrew Marr

Macmillan, pp.451, 25

Very funny guy, John O’Farrell. Very funny guy, John O’Farrell. His columns are a hoot and his excellent memoir, Things Can Only Get Better, turned me temporarily into an insomniac.… Read more

Beyond the call of duty

24 June 2009
Men of War: Courage under Fire in the 19th-century Navy David Crane

Harper Press, pp.480, 30

David Crane’s latest book is much more interesting than its title would lead you to believe. If you buy it hoping for a collection of stories of derring-do and British… Read more

Exit the hero

6 May 2009
The Movement Reconsidered: Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and their Contemporaries Zachary Leader (editor)

OUP, pp.319, 18.99

It was in The Spectator, in 1954, that the Movement was christened, and its members’ stereotyped image was soon set: white, male (except for Elizabeth Jennings), non-posh poets who rhymed… Read more

Back to the future?

29 April 2009
When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies Andy Beckett

Faber, pp.576, 20

With the economy in recession, the close attentions of the IMF, taxation rising to punitive levels and a general sense of our having lived beyond our means, reminders of the… Read more

One-man triumph

28 January 2009
The Companion to British History (Third Edition) Charles Arnold Baker

Loncross Denholm Press, pp.1425, 78

The Companion to British History (Third Edition), by Charles Arnold Baker Readers familiar with the first edition of The Companion to British History (Loncross, 1997) will already know that its… Read more

Chalk and cheese

26 November 2008
The British in France: Visitors and Residents since the Revolution Peter Thorold

Continuum, pp.273, 30

The British in France: Visitors and Residents since the Revolution, by Peter Thorold Peter Thorold has not written an orthodox history of French and British political cultural and social relations.… Read more