20th-century history

Fighting every inch of the way: the Italian Campaign of 1943

In Whitehall, visible to even the most short-sighted from the gates of Downing Street, stands an outsize statue of Lord Alanbrooke, the strategic adviser to Winston Churchill during the second world war. His job was to help the prime minister see the big picture and concentrate on the decisions that really mattered. This was no easy task. Churchill was both a tricky master and ‘tinkerman’, but Alanbrooke had Ulster blood and knew how to say no. One little village, San Pietro Infine, took more than a week and 1,500 American casualties to capture He also had a remarkable facility for explaining complex strategic problems in simple terms. There is good

The phoney mystics who fooled the West

In recent years when we’ve talked about the relations between India and the West, we’ve gone back to stressing the impossibility of interchange. A hundred years ago, E.M. Forster ended A Passage to India with the certainty that Aziz and Fielding could not be friends. Forster thought things would be different after Indian independence, but the spectres of cultural appropriation and the assertion of ongoing imperialist guilt have discouraged equal exchange.  Meher’s spiritual energy was soon devoted to persuading Hollywood to make a massive movie about his life That may explain why the excellent story Mick Brown tells in The Nirvana Express has hardly been covered in the past. How

The horrors of 1922 included atrocities, assassinations and the rise of Mussolini

Sixty years ago the Daily Express ran a regular feature entitled ‘Just Fancy That!’ Each short segment highlighted some strange coincidence or weird incident that would hook readers’ interests. Human oddities, unlucky mischances, freaks of nature and improbable statistics were dealt out every day. It made for easy reading, but sometimes gave pause for thought. Nick Rennison has adapted the ‘Just Fancy That!’ formula to make a handy book for the bedside table in the visitors’ bedroom. In crisp and evocative snatches, he gives monthly summaries of global events, domestic episodes, newspaper sensations, sporting triumphs and cultural acclaim during 1922. He writes in the friendly tone, tinged with the sense

A divided city: the Big Three fall out in post-war Berlin

When did the Cold War start? Not when the second world war ended. There were many differences between the Soviet Union and its western allies, but they did not then seem insuperable. It was not obvious that the post-war world would be divided by ideology. On the contrary, the victorious United Nations hoped for an era of peace. The Americans planned to pack up and leave Europe as soon as possible. The future of Germany had been decided before a single Allied soldier had crossed onto German soil. Meeting at Tehran in November 1943, the Big Three — Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin — had agreed that defeated Germany would be