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History

Churchill reading in his library at Chartwell

Churchill was as mad as a badger. We should all be thankful

19 April 2014
The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor Jonathan Rose

Yale, pp.516, £25, ISBN: 9780300204070

Land sakes! Another book about Winston Churchill? Really? Give us a break, the average reader may think. Actually though, as title and subtitle suggest, this isn’t just another biographical study.… Read more

English explorers on expedition in the Sudan, 1860-63

Sudan was always an invented country. Maybe we should invent it again

19 April 2014
A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts James Copnall

Hurst and Co, pp.315, £19.99, ISBN: 9781849043304

Sudan — a country that ceased to exist in 2011 — is or was one of the last untouristed wildernesses on earth. And for good reason: while it still existed… Read more

Tony Benn Joins Remebrance Ceremony For 204 Dead Soldiers

We have to tell the truth about Tony Benn now. Who will hear it later?

22 March 2014

I could start by remarking that we should not speak ill of the dead, quoting the pertinent Latin phrase: de mortuis nil nisi bonum (‘of the dead, only good’). But… Read more

15 March 2014

Years of war Imaginative souls have tried to compared the situation in Ukraine with that which preceded the first world war 100 years ago. Are years ending in 14 especially… Read more

Children At Auschwitz

When a survivor of Auschwitz asks for your story, what do you say?

8 March 2014

My aim as a hospital visitor is to cheer, befriend, have a chat, do something to disrupt the bleak monotony of the modern hospital day. Some patients talk amiably while… Read more

Kim Philby at the press conference he called in 1955 to deny being the ‘Third Man’

Kim Philby got away with it because he was posh

8 March 2014
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal Ben Macintyre

Bloomsbury, pp.368, £20, ISBN: 9781408851722

The story of Kim Philby is, of course, like so many English stories, really one of social class. He was one of the most scandalous traitors in history, and from… Read more

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Niall Ferguson

1 March 2014

 São Paolo It was back in 2001 that my good friend Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the acronym ‘Bric’, short for Brazil, Russia, India, China. These were the emerging… Read more

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A secret from my African childhood has become a deeper mystery

22 February 2014

About 55 years ago, when I was about ten, my younger brother Roger and I discovered a slave pit in Africa. Actually it probably wasn’t a slave pit and we… Read more

When Scotland goes, will England return?

22 February 2014

Who, my husband asked, expects every man will do his duty? He was responding to the interesting and important question that Charles Moore raised last week about the name of… Read more

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How the first world war inspired the EU

8 February 2014

Among the millions of words which will be expended over the next four years on the first world war, very few will be devoted to explaining one of its greatest… Read more

1 February 2014

The battle over aid Sir: Why Nations Fail, the book rightly lauded in The Spectator (‘Why aid fails’, 25 January), is one of the inspirations for many of the changes… Read more

Taken lying down: Thomas Edison demonstrates the cat-nap, Virginia, July 1921

America's war on sleep

25 January 2014

 Fredericksburg, Virginia Ask an American to name the author of the line ‘Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care’, and he will promptly reply ‘Shakespeare’. It’s pure guesswork… Read more

O.Z. Whitehead, Dorris Bowdon, John Carradine and Henry Fonda in the 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath

The two people who brought us The Grapes of Wrath

25 January 2014
Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage Susan Shillinglaw

University of Nevada Press, pp.312, £29.50, ISBN: 9780874179309

John Steinbeck (1902–1968), an ardent propagandist for the exploited underdogs of the Great Depression, had barely enough money for subsistence during the years he spent preparing and writing The Grapes… Read more

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The Spectator book review that brought down Macmillan's government

18 January 2014

Fifty years ago this week, a cover story in The Spectator helped to bring down a Conservative government. It was called ‘The Tory Leadership’ and was written by the editor,… Read more

Nixon-shearer

Harry Shearer on bringing out Richard Nixon’s feminine side

18 January 2014

Hollywood tends to treat Richard Nixon as an oafish B-movie villain, so it is ambitious and original of Harry Shearer to try to convince a British audience of the very… Read more

Stephen Ward and friends, 1963. Christine Keeler is on the right

William Astor: My father, his swimming pool and the Profumo scandal

11 January 2014

Christine Keeler and Jack Profumo might never have met in the swimming pool at Cliveden if it had not been for a filly called Ambiguity. As children, growing up at… Read more

Irwin Piper takes his sheep to slaughter

How we lost the seasons

4 January 2014
The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing of the Year Nick Groom

Atlantic Books, pp.400, £22, ISBN: 9781848871618

So, what are you doing with your Christmas decorations? Still up? Did the tree get put out on 2 January? Maybe you’re holding out until the Twelfth Day, on the… Read more

Journey's End, 1939 Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty

To see how good Journey's End is, just look at who it's offended

14 December 2013
Journey’s End: The Classic War Play Explored Robert Gore-Langton

Oberon Books, pp.132, £10.99, ISBN: 9781849433952

‘You have no idea,’ wrote the publisher Ralph Hodder-Williams in 1929 to one of his authors, what terrible offence Journey’s End has given — and terrible pain too, which is… Read more

Left to right: Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI, Sara Roosevelt (the President’s mother), Queen Elizabeth and FDR at Hyde Park on Hudson

A book that's inspired by a movie (for a change)

30 November 2013
Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR Met George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson Peter Conradi

Alma, pp.300, £20, ISBN: 9781846882944

Books become films every day of the week; more rarely does someone feel inspired to write a book after seeing a film. Peter Conradi’s Hot Dogs And Cocktails tells the… Read more

Labour Beat

Profumo. Chatterley. The Beatles. 1963 was the year old England died

23 November 2013

Shortly before his death, David Frost rang to ask me to take part in a radio series he was making to mark the 50th anniversary of ‘the year, Chris, that… Read more

JFK at work at his desk in the Oval Office

The wounded Kennedy – and the people who gave him strength

23 November 2013
Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House Robert Dallek

HarperCollins, pp.492, £20, ISBN: 9780062065841

The Letters of John F. Kennedy Martin W. Sandler

Bloomsbury, pp.384, £20, ISBN: 9781408830451

Ten years ago, a determined historian transformed our picture of John F. Kennedy. Robert Dallek had finally got his hands on the president’s medical records and discovered just how big… Read more

The London terminus of the North Western Railyway in the 1860s, showing a busy scene in front of the Euston Arch, which was demolished a century later

The men who demolished Victorian Britain

23 November 2013
Anti-Ugly: Excursions in English Architecture and Design Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.260, £16.99, ISBN: 9781781311233

Lost Victorian Britain: How the 20th Century Destroyed the 19th Century’s Architectural Masterpieces Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.192, £12.99, ISBN: 9781781310182

Anyone with a passing interest in old British buildings must get angry at the horrors inflicted on our town centres over the last half-century or so. Gavin Stamp is wonderfully,… Read more

Top of the happiness scale: Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (English School, 15th century)

Look! Shakespeare! Wow! George Eliot! Criminy! Jane Austen!

16 November 2013
A Little History of Literature John Sutherland

Yale, pp.275, £14.99, ISBN: 9780300186857

Among the precursors to this breezy little book are, in form, the likes of The Story of Art, Our Island Story and A Brief History of Time and, in content,… Read more

The Menin Gate Memorial at 
Ypres lists 54,389 missing. 
Ware was determined that every individual casualty should be honoured

The Briton whose achievement equals that of the Pharaohs'

16 November 2013
Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves David Crane

Collins, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007456659

We constantly need to be reminded that the consequence of war is death. In the case of the first world war it led to death and destruction on an inconceivably… Read more

Priscilla

Blonde, beautiful — and desperate to survive in Nazi France

16 November 2013
Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Occupied France Nicholas Shakespeare

Harvill Secker, pp.425, £18.99, ISBN: 9781846554834

Around 200 Englishwomen lived through the German Occupation of Paris. Nicholas Shakespeare’s aunt Priscilla was one. Men in the street stopped to gaze at this blonde with the careless allure… Read more