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History

17.01

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

Two girls

Why do the British love cryptic crosswords?

16 November 2013

Everyone loves an anniversary and the crossword world — if there is such a thing — has been waiting a long time for this one. December is the 100th anniversary… Read more

The Milad Tower in Tehran

A place of paranoia, secrecy, corruption, hypocrisy and guilt

16 November 2013
The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran Hooman Majd

Allen Lane, pp.272, £20, ISBN: 9781846144905

‘Is he a good writer? Is he pro-regime?’ an Iranian journalist in London once asked me of Hooman Majd. Majd is an Iranian-American journalist who was born in Tehran in… Read more

Portrait of Modest Musorgsky by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Why do we pounce on Wagner's anti-Semitism, and ignore that of the Russian composers?

9 November 2013
Musorgsky and His Circle Stephen Walsh

Faber, pp.469, £30, ISBN: 9780571245628

Before ‘nationalism’ became a dirty word, it was the inspiration for all sorts of idealistic and reform-minded people. This was never more true than in the history of music. Clearly,… Read more

A fearless horsewoman: Christabel Russell and her son Geoffrey  with the West Kent hounds at Otford 
for the Christmas meet, 1928

Can virgins have babies?

9 November 2013
The Virgin’s Baby: The Battle of the Ampthill Succession Bevis Hillier

Hopcyn Press, pp.282, £25, ISBN: 9780939297760

Mrs Christabel Russell, the heroine of Bevis Hillier’s sparkling book, was a very modern young woman. She had short blonde hair which she wore in two large curls on the… Read more

Joanne Spencer, who sold salad and rabbits from a basket in Portobello, c. 1904

Portobello's market mustn't be allowed to close

9 November 2013
Portobello Voices Blanche Girouard

The History Press, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9780752499369

After reading Portobello Voices, I feel more strongly than ever that the unique Portobello market mustn’t be allowed to close. It gets over a million visitors a year and is… Read more

Greta Garbo (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bill Bryson's 'long extraordinary' summer is too long

9 November 2013
One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson

Doubleday, pp.557, £20, ISBN: 9780385608282

Hands up Spectator readers who can remember the American celebrities Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the  adulteress and husband-killer Ruth Snyder … 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

Communal, comforting and calming: tobacco in a war zone has always been important, says Kate Adie

Why Jeremy Paxman's Great War deserves a place on your bookshelf

2 November 2013
Great Britain’s Great War Jeremy Paxman

Viking, pp.368, £25, ISBN: 9780670919611

Fighting on the Home Front Kate Adie

Hodder, pp.416, £20, ISBN: 9781444759679

The Great War involved the civilian population like no previous conflict. ‘Men, women and children, factory, workshop and army — are organised in one complete unity of social resistance, to… Read more

Underneath the arches: Cruikshank’s illustration of ‘one of those afflicting occurences in the life of London: 
TOM, JERRY and LOGIC are arrested in their progress home by the melancholy discovery of Corinthian KATE 
in the last stage of a Consumption, disease & inebriety’

Hogarth and the harlots of Covent Garden were many things, but they weren't 'bohemians'

2 November 2013
The First Bohemians Vic Gatrell

Allen Lane, pp.484, £25, ISBN: 9781846146770

It was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that his pictures ‘breathe a certain close, greasy, tavern air’, and the same could be said of this book. It describes the fermenting… Read more

The ruins of Hamburg after Allied bombing,  July 1943

Hitler didn't start indiscriminate bombings — Churchill did 

26 October 2013
The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 Richard Overy

Allen Lane, pp.821, £30, ISBN: 9780713995619

‘I cannot describe to you what a curious note of brutality a bomb has,’ said one woman who lived through the initial German raids on London during the second world… Read more

Prince Albert (Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayall/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Clash of the titans

26 October 2013
High Minds Simon Heffer

Random House, pp.837, £30, ISBN: 9781847946771

This is an odd book: interesting, informative, intelligent, but still decidedly odd. It is a history of the Victorian era which almost entirely eschews wars and imperial adventures and concentrates… Read more

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron a

Tristram Hunt

19 October 2013

ONE OF THE MINOR sociological treats of being appointed shadow education secretary is a frontbench view of David Cameron’s crimson tide — that half hour journey, every Question Time, during… Read more

The Florentine banking aristocracy worship the Christ-child in Botticelli’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’. 
On either side the scene is stacked with Medici sons, grandsons and associates

How to avoid bankers in your nativity scene

19 October 2013
The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Disease and Excess in an Age of Beauty Alexander Lee

Hutchinson, pp.592, £25, ISBN: 9780091944346

In the vast Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore between Siena and Rome, the cycle of frescoes depicting the life of St Benedict by Giovanni Anionio Bazzi includes a charming… Read more