Boris Johnson to write book about Sir Winston Churchill

Boris is to write a book about Winston Churchill. As Boris puts it in a cantering press release: ‘The point of the ‘‘Churchill Factor’’ is that one man can make all the difference.’ The point of the ‘Boris Factor’ is that only one man has the spunk to invite comparison between himself and Churchill. David Cameron is, evidently, self-assured; but he would not take such a risk. Confidence is Boris’ gift; over-confidence his enemy. BoJo and Sir Winston are, to an extent, kindred spirits: witty and determined, and chancers both.

Countering Terrorism in Britain and France, by Frank Foley – review

Have you ever wondered why we’re stuck with the radical cleric Abu Qatada? It’s a question the last four Home Secretaries will have asked as they battled, and failed, to deport him. Now Theresa May is learning just how stubborn the old curmudgeon can be. Indeed, the whole issue of deporting terror suspects is a difficult one. In the nine years that followed the 9/11 attacks, France deported 129 individuals considered to be threats to national security, while we removed just nine. The intransigence of British judges is not new. Long before the ‘War on Terror’ brought matters of international security to public attention, the French had been pursuing Rachid

Jane Austen’s pinny

This is the third entry in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the other instalments here. It’s almost two years since the Bodleian celebrated its hard-fought acquisition (nail biting auction) of Jane Austen’s manuscript draft of her abandoned novel, The Watsons. Thank you again National Heritage Memorial Fund, Friends of the Bodleian, Friends of the National Libraries, Jane Austen Memorial Trust and all supporting Janeites everywhere. Once a manuscript has been fetched into the bosom of the Bodleian, repaired, shelf-marked, and safely housed, it needs to be studied. So it was that at a seminar with Professor Kathryn Sutherland,

Jesse Norman interview: Edmund Burke, our chief of men

When he arrived in London, Burke had a very brief career in law. He soon dedicated his time to critical thinking, writing and politics. Burke published a number of ground breaking books, including: A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, and Reflections on the Revolution in France. In his new book, Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman dissects Burke’s outstanding intellect, and his career. He then asks how these ideas might be applied to modern politics. Jesse Norman is Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire. In 2012 he was named as the Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year. He is a member of the Treasury

Edmund Burke – a writer one should always read

I thought readers might be interested in this piece in the current print edition of the magazine. It is my review of a very interesting new book on Edmund Burke, Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet by the MP Jesse Norman. I much recommend it. Those who haven’t read Burke before will, I am sure, be spurred to do so. And those who have are certain to head back to him. As I mention in the piece, Burke is one of those writers who give you that wonderful feeling of, ‘why don’t I just read this all the time?’

Dreams and Nightmares: Europe in the twentieth century

So much abuse has been heaped on the European Union in recent years that it is easy to forget that Europe and the EU are not the same thing. Geert Mak reminds us of this fact. He is one of the most celebrated journalists and commentators in the Netherlands. Mak – widely read, multi-lingual and endlessly curious – considers the whole of Europe to be his home. He has won awards for his books in Germany, as well as in his native Holland, and been inducted into the Legion d’Honneur in France. He is also, on the side, a bit of an anglophile. In 1999, with millennial fever rising, Mak

George Lowe’s Letters from Everest

I was hoping this was going to be a post featuring an interview with a writer. After reading a proof copy of George Lowe’s Letters from Everest, I had the idea of talking to him about the book. How could it not be fascinating, went the thinking, to meet the 89 year-old sole survivor of the 1953 expedition that finally conquered the world’s highest mountain? His letters home, which are being published to mark the occasion’s 60th anniversary, are wonderful. They run from February of that year, when Edmund Hillary’s team arrived in Bombay, through to June, when they were being feted for their achievement wherever they went. ‘Already unknown

Interview: Jared Cohen and The New Digital Age

Jared Cohen is Director of Google Ideas, a think tank set up by Google dedicated to understanding global challenges by applying technological solutions. Cohen is also an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as a member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, working as a close advisor with two former Secretaries of States, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, focusing on the Middle East, South Asia and counter terrorism. Cohen has co-written, together with Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, The New Digital Age; a book that examines a number of different challenges that will arise as cyberspace drastically changes in the coming decade.

The Ize Have It

She divided us in life, she’s dividing us in death. Baroness Thatcher was so controversial that a single letter in a single word in the subtitle of a book that someone else has written about her and is being published after her funeral can get people’s backs up. Charles Moore’s biography is, according to its cover, ‘authorized’. Iain Dale isn’t happy (and I’m sure he’s not alone). ‘I am appalled,’ he writes on his blog, ‘that they have used the American spelling … It’s certainly not what she would have wanted and it grates. Penguin ought to remember its British roots.’ Good news, Iain – it turns out ‘-ize’ isn’t

Ceremonies of Bravery: Oscar Wilde, Carlos Blacker, and the Dreyfus Affair by J. Robert Maguire – review

The life of Oscar Wilde is so wearily familiar that we assume that there is nothing new to think or say about him. This book proves us wrong. Carlos Blacker – the central figure of  J. Robert Maguire’s research for more than half a century – rates, at best, a bare mention in Wilde’s many biographies. Yet, as Maguire conclusively demonstrates, he is no footnote. Blacker, a handsome man of Latin extraction, knew Wilde in the days of his London pomp, was a witness at the writer’s wedding to the long-suffering Constance Lloyd, and often saw his friend on a daily basis. Wilde’s own testimony after his fall is ample

The Secret Lives of Books – occasional tales from the Bodleian

Does monotropa hypopithys, or yellow bird’s nest, still grow in Mickleham, Surrey, in the woods once owned by Sir Lucas Pepys the celebrity physician who, in ministering to King George III, ‘found the stool more eloquent than the pulse?’ The question is prompted by the Bodleian’s recent acquisition of a ‘Catalogus Plantarum’ kept in the 1790s by an anonymous Botanist who roamed the south of England looking for specimens and noting them down with meticulous care in an exact italic. The volume, snapped up from the Norfolk dealer Sam Gedge, contains some 75 alphabetically arranged pages, each including the plant’s Linnaean name, English name, the place where it was found

Wisden finally merits the epithet ‘Cricket Bible’

The man who christened Wisden ‘The Cricket Bible’ had little religion. Wisden is an unprepossessing sight: a 1,500 page tome surrounded by a flame-yellow dust jacket covered in mud brown lettering. The book’s content often matches its artless appearance; thousands of statistics and scorecards that read like the turgid genealogical passages of Genesis. Abraham begat Isaac; Jack Hobbs scored 61,760 runs. A record of the chosen people is important; but it does not inspire belief. The record tells you nothing of how Abraham raised Isaac; neither do Hobbs’ stats tell you how he scored his runs. Bald facts contain little mystery, and what do those know of God who know

The Young Van Dyck edited by Alejandro Vergara and Friso Lammertse – review

Precocious genius will never fail to impress. But it is also very hard to relate to. Aged 14, Anthony Van Dyck painted a Portrait of a Seventy-Year-Old man that looked like a portrait by a seventy-year-old man, signed it, and marked it with his age, the idea being that the younger you are, the more impressive you are. And Van Dyck was impressive. Looking at the work he produced in his teenage years, it’s hard not to think of Julius Caesar, sniveling before a statue of Alexander the Great because he achieved so much, so young. Frankly, I feel like a loser. Which is why The Young Van Dyck, edited

Zero Six Bravo proves that too much secrecy over Special Forces is a bad thing

Zero Six Bravo tells of 60 Special Forces operators forced to remain silent in the face of accusations of ‘cowardice’ and ‘running away from the Iraqis’ in the 2003 war. In the face of such savage media criticism, and being branded as ‘incompetent cowards’ who ran an ‘operation cluster f___’ in Iraq, the men who served in this epic mission had no way to tell their own side of the story and clear their names. Why? For two main reasons. First, because the MOD operates a policy of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ anything regarding UK Special Forces. This extends to neither confirming nor denying the very existence of such elite

How To Pronounce It – U and non-U. A guide for George “innit” Osborne.

Sometimes, in the joyous lotteries we call ‘secondhand bookshops’, you find a volume that takes you back to a different era because of its physical appearance. Sometimes you find one that adds to the effect by its content – a book about Victorian cricket, perhaps, or 1950s industrial policy. But sometimes you find one that goes beyond even that: it shows you a world where books mattered in a way they simply can’t today, and indeed never will again. That’s what happened to me recently, when I bumped into a copy of the sublimely archaic How To Pronounce It by Alan S.C. Ross. Published in 1970, it has a dust-jacket

Atlas of History’s Greatest Military Victories, by Jeremy Harwood – review

Final proof – if any were needed – that Englishmen are not made of the same mettle as their rough, tough ancestors is provided on the website of the Towton Battlefield Society, who have cancelled their annual re-enactment of England’s bloodiest battle this Sunday ‘for safety’s sake…’ on the grounds that the battlefield has been waterlogged by this year’s unremitting wet weather. This is an irony of ironies. For those who fought the original battle on the high Yorkshire plateau of Towton on Palm Sunday, March 28th 1461, during the Wars of the Roses, were not constrained by the same health and safety fears. Instead, between 50-80,000 men stood toe

21 books for a godson, pt. 2

This post is the second half of a list of 21 books that a man might give to his godson on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday.That is novels done. The bespoke bookcase is more than half loaded; 12 slots are full, nine remain. I conceive the selection of other titles as a complement to the novels we have already chosen – an acknowledgement too, if you like, that the novel is the highest of all art, let alone book, forms and other texts should therefore pay homage to it. Having ended prose fiction with a novel that pretended to be a long poem we will now begin the best

Rifleman by Victor Gregg is a book you ought to read

I live in New York and until this month I had never heard of Victor Gregg, the World War II veteran whose 2011 memoir, Rifleman, was hailed as possibly the most honest and outspoken ever written by an enlisted soldier and ‘an outstanding book that deserves to become a classic’. Gregg is 93, which is an achievement in itself, but bright as a button. When I heard an interview he gave recently to the Today Programme replayed on National Public Radio, I was reminded of Stanley Holloway playing Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady. In fact, the only role Gregg ever played was that of a working man who, through no

A tale of two colonels

This week, March 11th, marks the 50th anniversary of the shooting by firing squad near Paris of the last person (so far) to be executed by the state for political offences in France. 36-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Bastien-Thiry, a brilliant young officer of the French Air Force, was a rocket scientist (he invented the SS-10 anti-tank missile) – involved at the highest levels of France’s attempt under President De Gaulle to forge a path independent of US hegemony in developing its own defence capability. A fervent Catholic and father of three young daughters, Bastien-Thiry was also deeply involved in plotting the violent death of De Gaulle, the autocratic ruler who had

Review: Mod! – A Very British Style, by Richard Weight

Doesn’t it all seem a long time ago? For years, the 1960s remained a key cultural reference, universally understood. But then, at some point, probably around the turn of the millennium, the Eighties took over and the Sixties began to fade into a psychedelic version of 1920s sepia. The two periods, separated by the shame and loon pants of the Seventies, were both about being young and “cool”. They were also about being bang up-to-date and liberated from “old” thinking. And, in the way of things, both have aged badly. The Mods of 1960s Britain were a social movement wrapped up in a fashion statement. Modernism, by contrast, is timeless.