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Spring forward, fall back

Republics, as much as monarchies, need founding myths in order to legitimise themselves in the eyes of their subjects. For a long time, the image of Chairman Mao leading his rag-tag troops over 10,000 kilometers, across 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers, offered abundant proof of communist bravery, endurance and selfless idealism to the Chinese.

Harnessing the horses of Apollo

In my ignorance, before reading this most instructive, entertaining and beautifully produced book, I had idly regarded sundials as agreeable garden ornaments with little or no practical purpose. To quote Hilaire Belloc, ‘I am a sundial and I make a botch / Of what is done much better by a watch’. Yet our expert guide

A talent for losing

Wavell was a great soldier and a great man: wise, courageous, clear-headed, an inspired and inspiring leader, a pattern of integrity. It is peculiarly unfair that the three greatest tasks he undertook all ended in near total failure. He made his name between the wars as a thoughtful, forward-looking soldier who did as much to

Relocation with a vengeance

In 1975, a few months after the two Turkish invasions of Cyprus that had stormed across the northern tier of the island in the preceding summer, I stood in the square of Lawrence Durrell’s old village of Bellapaix and watched the Greek villagers being rounded up for deportation to the south. Within a short space

A toddle along the Gibbon trail

What is likely to be the future of Europe? Is some kind of unity really on the cards? Boris Johnson, in his formative period a student of the classical world, finds his mind turning back from the Treaty of Rome to the pukka Romans, the ancient chappies. What do they have to tell us about

What next — after the end of history?

Professor Fukuyama is famous for having told us at the end of the Cold War that history was at an end. By this he meant that the slow advance of liberal democracy was inevitable. As he explains in his latest book he did not mean that we should try to accelerate the process by killing

Mad about the Bard

At school there was a group of us who thought that Samuel Beckett was the coolest person on the planet. What could be more thrilling than the apocalyptic minimalism of a play featuring two people who lived in dustbins? We found validation for our passion when a teacher drew our attention to the Polish critic

All go in the name of God

The Bickersteth family has performed its Levi-like role in the Church of England for several generations, providing it with some of its best traditional pastors. Rectories, vicarages, deaneries, palaces have homed them and parish churches and cathedrals have long witnessed their work. And work it still is, as this autobiography of a 20th-century bishop proves,