European history

There’s nothing shameful about hypochondria

The hypochondriac is the butt of jokes. Even his butt is the butt of jokes. A story doing the  rounds in the 16th and 17th centuries concerned a Parisian glassmaker who, believing himself to be also made of glass, fastened a cushion to his buttocks in case they broke when he sat down. His anxiety was mocked by a character in a play called Lingua, Or the Combat of the Tongue: ‘I am a Urinal, I dare not stirre,/ For fear of cracking in the Bottome.’ The aim of A Body Made of Glass is to take hypochondria, or ‘illness anxiety disorder’, seriously. But in a moment of levity, Caroline

Where does brave, stubborn Hungary stand today?

‘Deplorable,’ wrote the historian Denis Sinor in 1958 about the state of Hungarian historiography in English. ‘Not only are the interpretations out of date but the facts themselves are all too often erroneous, and a proper name which is not misspelt is received with a sigh of relief by the reader who knows Hungarian.’ That was only two years after the revolution of 1956, when Hungary was on the world’s lips. Today, when the government of Viktor Orbán and the country’s position on Russia and Ukraine makes it equally talked about, this book – from an author born in Budapest in 1956 – is well timed, and its subtitle ‘Between

Were the Ottoman Turks as European as they thought themselves?

This is the best of times to be writing history, since so much of what has been taken for granted, especially in the West, is being revised. Assumptions about the past that we accepted as fact, and events we once looked upon with pride, are now being questioned. A dark cloud hovers over the Benin Bronzes, Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and looks likely to burst. The same applies to figures who were considered heroes and placed on pedestals. If the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square had not been covered recently, it might have followed the fate of Edward Colston’s. Into this febrile atmosphere

Dark days in the Balkans: life under Enver Hoxha and beyond

For many in the West, Albania remains as remote and shadowy as the fictional Syldavia of the Tintin comics. The country came into existence only in 1912, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Its first ruler, King Zog, was ousted by Mussolini when he invaded in 1939. Hitler used Albania as a springboard for the Nazi invasion of Greece. The national resistance against Italy and Germany was led by the Albanian partisan supremo Enver Hoxha (pronounced ‘Hodger’). After expelling the hated occupiers, in 1946 the artful Hoxha proclaimed himself head of a newborn socialist republic. With his dangerous wife Nexhmije (the ‘Lady Macbeth of the Balkans’) he turned Albania