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History

The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikötter - review

14 September 2013
The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957 Frank Dikötter

Bloomsbury, pp.400, £25, ISBN: 978408837573

The historian of China Frank Dikötter has taken a sledgehammer to demolish perhaps the last remaining shibboleth of modern Chinese history. This is the notion, propagated in countless books and… Read more

‘Uncle Bill’ as the troops remembered him

Uncle Bill, by Russell Miller - review

14 September 2013
Uncle Bill: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Viscount Slim Russell Miller

Weidenfeld, pp.466, £25, ISBN: 9780297865841

Given the outcome of recent military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is pertinent to look for one particular quality in our senior commander: honesty. In other words, after blaming… Read more

Christoph Amberger’s portrait of the Emperor Charles V, whose jaw was so prominent he could not eat in public

Danubia, by Simon Winder - review

7 September 2013
Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe Simon Winder

Picador, pp.530, £18.99, ISBN: 9780330522786

Why do we know so little about the Habsburg empire, given that it is the prime formative influence on modern Europe? Its pomp gave us the art, music, literature and… Read more

It was cheaper to paper a room with banknotes in Weimar Germany than to buy wallpaper

The Downfall of Money, by Frederick Taylor - review

7 September 2013
The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class Frederick Taylor

Bloomsbury, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9781408839911

In Germany in 1923 money was losing its value so fast that the state printing works could not keep up. The work had to be contracted out to 130 different… Read more

Dot Wordsworth: We've been self-whipping since 1672

7 September 2013

Isabel Hardman of this parish explained after last week’s government defeat that a deluded theory among the party leadership had held that Tory backbenchers were now self-whipping. When she aired… Read more

Is there geological evidence for Noah’s Flood — and if so, was it a local or  world-wide catastrophe?

The Rocks Don’t Lie, by David R. Montgomery - review

31 August 2013
The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood David R. Montgomery

Norton, pp.320, £17.99, ISBN: 9780393346244

This is a book about the clash of faith and reason over the truth or otherwise of a catastrophic, world-shaping flood — and it doesn’t once mention climate change. The… Read more

Russian Roulette, by Giles Milton - review

31 August 2013
Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.375, £20, ISBN: 9781444737028

Had Onan not spilled his seed upon the ground, he might have invented invisible ink. The possibility had not occurred to me until I read this account of the start… Read more

A scene from the French Wars of Religion, engraved  by Franz Hogenberg

The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure - review

24 August 2013
The Huguenots Geoffrey Treasure

Yale, pp.468, £25, ISBN: 9780300193886

France’s early 21st-century Protestants are eco-friendly, gender-sensitised and respectful of the Fifth Republic’s laïcité. But their ancestors were a less accommodating lot. La réforme in the France of the 16th… Read more

Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls, at the height of Brit Pop

A Classless Society, by Alwyn W. Turner - review

24 August 2013
A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s Alwyn W. Turner

Aurum, pp.615, £25, ISBN: 9781781310687

The title of Alwyn W. Turner’s book could deter readers. Even the Hollywood film The Secret Lives of Dentists promised more excitement. John Major sought the creation of a classless… Read more

The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber - review

24 August 2013
The Good Nurse Charles Graeber

Atlantic Books, pp.320, £12.99, ISBN: 9781782393474

Charles Cullen, an American nurse, murdered several hundred patients by the administration in overdose of restricted drugs. Hospitals should be safe places but they are actually rather dangerous: mistakes are… Read more

William Rainborowe senior’s fleet stationed at the mouth of the Bou Regreg in Western Morocco, blockading the pirate stronghold of New Sally (the modern-day Salé)

The Rainborowes, by Adrian Tinniswood - review

24 August 2013
The Rainborowes: Pirates, Puritans and a Family’s Quest for the Promised Land Adrian Tinniswood

Cape, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9780224091480

Adrian Tinniswood, so gifted and spirited a communicator of serious history to a wide readership, here brings a number of themes from his previous books together. The Verneys recounted the… Read more

Ann Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s last secret

17 August 2013

With his wife, Anne Boleyn, in the Tower, Henry VIII considered every detail of her coming death, poring over plans for the scaffold. As he did so he made a… Read more

Queen Victoria

The Coronation Chair and the Stone of Scone, by Warwick Rodwell - review

17 August 2013
The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone Warwick Rodwell

Oxbow Books, pp.304, £29.95, ISBN: 9781782971528

The Coronation Chair currently stands all spruced up, following last year’s conservation, under a crimson canopy, by the west entrance to Westminster Abbey. The sovereign has used this throne during… Read more

Bloody-Vikings

Sorry – the Vikings really were that bad

10 August 2013

Sometimes the really obvious take on history turns out to be the right one. For generations, we all assumed that the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in Belgium at the… Read more

Two scenes in Henry VIII’s Psalter, illuminated by Jean Mallard, depict the king as David: (right) in the role of penitent and (left) fighting the mighty Goliath of Pope Paul III

Tudor, by Leanda de Lisle - review

10 August 2013
Tudor: The Family Story Leanda de Lisle

Chatto, pp.539, £20, ISBN: 9780701185886

As parvenus, the Tudors were unsurpassed. In the early 15th century no one would have predicted that within a couple of generations these minor Welsh land-owners would mount the English… Read more

Island, by J. Edward Chamberlin - review

10 August 2013
Island: How Islands Transform the World J. Edward Chamberlin

Elliott & Thompson, pp.241, £14.99, ISBN: 9781909653382

‘Tom Island’ — that was the name I was given once by a girl I met on an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of course, she broke my heart in… Read more

The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic, by Henry Buckley - review

10 August 2013
The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic Henry Buckley

I.B. Tauris, pp.431, £20, ISBN: 9781780764290

With Spain’s economic crisis in the forefront of global news, it would be fascinating to see what a reporter of Henry Buckley’s stature would have made of its current predicament.… Read more

8th July 1941: A group of children whose homes have been destroyed by World War II bombing raids enjoy a walk in the English countryside to which they have been evacuated. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

A secret sperm donor service in post-first world war London

3 August 2013

These days there are sophisticated and scientific solutions to the dismal problem of unwanted childlessness — there are IVF, Viagra and well-established egg and sperm donor services. We think of… Read more

The Ghosts of Happy Valley, by Juliet Barnes - review

3 August 2013
The Ghosts of Happy Valley Juliet Barnes

Aurum Press, pp.320, £16.99, ISBN: 9781781310854

Rift Valley, Kenya The other day when I told the headmaster of a top British public school that I came from Kenya, he quipped, ‘Ah, still living in Happy Valley?’… Read more

A poster for the American mind-reader Alexander, 1915 (reputedly printed by ‘Av Yaga’, Bombay)

Magic, by Ricky Jay - review

3 August 2013
Magic Ricky Jay, Mike Caveny and Jim Steinmeyer

Taschen, pp.527, £44.99, ISBN: 9783836528078

People, they say, want different things from a book over the summer than they do the rest of the year. If, by chance, you are looking for a book that… Read more

‘Portrait of a Lady (Mrs Lionel Phillips)’, detail, 1903, by Giovanni Boldoni, Dublin 
City Gallery

Edwardian Opulence, edited by Angus Trumble - review

27 July 2013
Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century Angus Trumble

Yale, pp.417, £50, ISBN: 9780300190250

She sits there on the cover exuding sex and wealth and a certain knowingness. Mrs Lionel Phillips, who came from a modest background in South Africa, had the good sense… Read more

Macchiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli, by Corrado Vivanti; The Garments of Court and Palace, by Philip Bobbitt

27 July 2013
Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography Corrado Vivanti

Princeton University Press, pp.261, £19.95, ISBN: 9780691151014

The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made Philip Bobbitt

Atlantic Books, pp.238, £22, ISBN: 9781843546849

One more anniversary, one more cache of commemorative books. This time we are celebrating the half-millennium since Niccolò Machiavelli produced his notorious work, The Prince. He wrote it after a… Read more

The Annals of Unsolved Crime, by Edward Jay Epstein - review

27 July 2013
The Annals of Unsolved Crime Edward Jay Epstein

Melville House, pp.333, £12.99, ISBN: 978140883766

Edward Jay Epstein is an American investigative journalist, now in his late seventies, who has spent at least half a century trying to find answers to the troubling theories and… Read more

Queen Elizabeth I  playing the lute by Nicholas Hilliard

Music & Monarchy, by David Starkey - review

6 July 2013
Music & Monarchy: A History of Britain in Four Movements David Starkey and Katie Greening

BBC Books, pp.378, £20, ISBN: 9781849905862

British royalty, considered from a purely mechanistic angle, cannot function adequately without music. Deprived of marching bands, trumpeters and choristers or even of those ever so well-mannered regimental ensembles which… Read more

‘Madonna of the Future’, 1967, 
made from a 
headless mannequin, 
electric cord, 
a Belling’s heater and the Henry James novel of the same name

Adhocism, by Charles Jencks - review

6 July 2013
Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver

MIT, pp.256, £17.95, ISBN: 9780262518444

Here, for time travellers, is the whack-job spirit of ’68 in distillate form, paperbound and reissued in facsimile (with some exculpatory, older and wiser material fore and aft). Adhocism (re)captures… Read more