Conrad Black adheres firmly to the ‘great man’ view of history

George Orwell has a story that when Sir Walter Raleigh published the first volume of his projected history of the world while in prison, he witnessed a brawl outside his rooms in the Bloody Tower which resulted in the death of a workman. Despite diligent enquiries, Raleigh was unable to discover the cause of the quarrel. Reasoning that if he could not even ascertain the facts behind what he had observed he could hardly accurately report what had happened in distant lands centuries earlier, he burned his notes for the second volume and abandoned the entire project. No such doubts assail the 79-year-old Conrad Black, sometime proprietor of The Spectator,

Everyday life in the Eternal City: Roman Stories, by Jhumpa Lahiri, reviewed

The middle story in this compassionate collection follows disparate folk loosely linked by a set of steps. Among them, there’s the mother who climbs them first thing in the morning, the girl who descends them at two in the afternoon and the screenwriter who lives at the foot of them, and who stays home nearly all day. Together, these men, women and children represent a cross section of society. One comes from ‘a faraway tropical city’; another compares the grubby sight of graffiti to hearing ‘foreigners talking on the street’. Yet, here they are, existing side by side in a Roman neighbourhood, going about their ordinary daily routines. Which is

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

Why all Roman roads really did lead to Rome

Whatever the problems involved in building, let alone finishing, HS2, it is hoped that it will replicate what was ultimately achieved – prosperity, intentionally or not – by the 53,000 miles of roads with which Rome covered its empire (and so successfully that prosperity is now found wherever networks of Roman roads were established across Europe, including Cornwall). The first Roman road was the Via Appia (named after its proposer Appius Claudius), built in 312 bc. It connected Rome with the port of Brindisi 300 miles south; it also offered easy crossing to the wealthy Greek East. This became of great importance: travel by ship, far faster than by road,

James Delingpole

Enthralling: BBC4’s Colosseum reviewed

In the year 2023, the Neo-Roman Empire was at the height of its powers. A potentially restive populace was kept in check using a time-honoured technique known as ‘Bread and Circuses’. The ‘Circuses’ part consisted of a remarkable piece of technology in which spectacles could be beamed directly into the homes of the citizenry, filling them with awe, wonder, gratitude and a sense of their insignificance in the sweep of history. One such spectacle was a docudrama called Colosseum (BBC4), in which no expense was spared to recreate the majesty, power and cruelty of the original Roman Empire, as evinced by that grand precursor to the television: a vast amphitheatre

‘I always made an awkward bow’: John Keats’s poignant farewell

On Sunday 17 September 1820, John Keats and his travelling companion, the young painter Joseph Severn, set sail for Italy, where it was hoped that the warmer climate would benefit the poet’s failing health. It didn’t. He died of tuberculosis in Rome the following February at the age of only 25. The last five months of Keats’s life – the sea voyage to Naples, including ten exhausting days stuck in the bay in quarantine; the overland journey to Rome; his last weeks spent in the rooms above the Spanish Steps that are now a museum – are the focus of this enthralling and original new study. Its author, Alessandro Gallenzi,

Raphael – saint or hustler?

For tourists to Rome, the must-see event of 1833 was the exhumation of Raphael from his tomb in the Pantheon. For years the city’s Accademia di San Luca had been claiming possession of the artist’s skull and running a profitable line in souvenirs. That September, the question would be settled. Was the ‘most eminent painter’, lauded in his friend Pietro Bembo’s fulsome epitaph as having ‘lived virtuously 37 virtuous years’, really buried there? And did his skeleton have a head? Hans Christian Andersen was one of 3,000 ticket holders for the six-day lying-in-state. The skeleton was there all right, complete with head, but its dignity, reported Andersen, was somewhat dented

Is it an exaggeration to talk of a ‘gender war’?

According to Nina Power’s forceful and rather unusual What Do Men Want?, we in the West are currently engaged in a ‘battle over sex’. And while that has been going on, ‘another war is being waged. This one is against men, the whole damn lot of them!’ To back up this ‘war on men’ idea, Power cites, among other examples, I Hate Men, a book by the French writer Pauline Harmange in which she damns men as ‘violent, selfish, lazy and cowardly… men beat, rape and murder us’. Power’s argument is that the all-out assault on men has gone too far. The mistake, she says, is in ‘treating people as

Why I’m going to the National Conservatism conference in Rome

The Guardian has heavily criticised me for agreeing to speak at a conference on national conservatism in Rome, alongside several European political leaders. The paper has suggested a Tory MP should not speak at an event ‘with far-right’ figures on the subject of nationalism. But they are wrong – and here is why I will be going nonetheless. What is the fate of national independence and self-determination in the context of today’s European Union? Are the freedom of nations that were promised when the Berlin Wall fell a generation ago still desirable now? Both are fair questions, you might think and ones the conference will aim to answer. But any

How to spend 48 hours in Rome

Contrary to the title of this article, do not spend 48 hours in Rome on your first attempt. Unless you have legs of steel, high levels of determination and a desire for non-stop sightseeing. The two pivots about which the city’s history turns – the Vatican and the Roman Forum – are best taken a day each and visited early, fuelled by €1 coffees and sweet, crumbly pasticcini off sticky local bar counters: 48 hours, done. But to focus on these titanic monuments of European history alone is to miss the real chatter of the city: couples meeting for Monday drinks by the Ponte Sisto, watching the sun go down

How Rome’s rubbish became a political problem

‘Excommunication,’ reads a stone plaque on the wall of the church of St Theodore in Rome, ‘and a fine of 200 gold ducats for any person who should dare to unload… waste of any kind and cause a stink outside these precincts.’ This threat might have worked when the plaque was erected in 1703, but it certainly doesn’t work now. A few paces down the street, a waist-high pile of stinking rubbish bags festers in the autumn sunlight, pecked at by seagulls. In Rome, even the rubbish is eternal. Italy’s capital is strewn with litter — geological layers of the stuff. In a pile of last year’s crumbled leaves by

Tales from my private jet

Gstaad I was very sad to read of Rupert Hambro’s death. I didn’t know him well, but first met him long ago, along with his younger brother Rick, also gone. They were both quintessential English gentlemen: handsome, kind and with a great sense of humour. Rupert invited me to lunch quite a few times, but because of circumstance I was never able to reciprocate. The last one was at Wiltons, which he owned, I believe, but he never gave any indication that all was not well. In an age of crybabies and professional victims, Rupert stood out like a saint in hell. He leaves his lovely wife Robin, a Philadelphia-born

An elegy on the end of elegance

Gstaad During these dark, endless periods of lockdown, let’s take a trip down memory lane to a time when we still had real high life: parties galore, carefree girls in their summer dresses, and drunken dawns playing polo in dinner jackets. Life forms began to move properly about 500 million years ago, but I will take you back only 50 or so years, when chic creatures moved to the beat of the samba, the tango, the waltz and the cha-cha-cha. The Roaring Twenties roared because of the Great War’s privations, and the fabled, fabulous Fifties were a reaction to the second world war. People ached to have a good time

A Chaucerian tale: Pilgrims, by Matthew Kneale, reviewed

Matthew Kneale is much drawn to people of the past. In his award-winning English Passengers, he captured the sensibilities of a group of 19th-century seafarers bound for Tasmania in search of the Garden of Eden by chronicling their voyage in 21 singular, vibrant voices, and by weaving into their journey a heavy thread of racist and colonial endeavour. In his latest book, he returns to these themes of voyage and discovery, adventure and prejudice with his band of 13th-century pilgrims who have assembled in England as a ‘proper party’ in order to travel to Rome — without, they hope, being ‘stabbed or robbed or cudgelled to death along the road’.

It’s still impossible for Horst Wächter to recognise his father as a Nazi war criminal

In 1926, while putting in place the repressive laws and decrees that would define his dictatorship, Mussolini appointed a new chief of police. Arturo Bocchini was 36, a lawyer and former prefect of Brescia, a cynical, vengeful, witty and corpulent Neapolitan. Under his 17-year tenure, fascist Italy became one of the most sinister and efficient police states of the years between the wars, with overlapping and rivalrous legal and illegal police bodies, fed by a vast army of informers and spies. Said to number around 10,000 at their peak, these men and women were to be found in every corner of Italian life, from the civil service to the Vatican,

Guilt by association at Rome’s National Conservatism Conference

This week’s National Conservatism Conference in Rome was an important meeting of national conservatives from all over the world. Sadly, it has been sullied by disgusting attacks from British liberals against the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski for agreeing to take part. Publications from BuzzFeed to the Guardian pounced on Kawczynski’s decision to appear alongside European leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Italy’s Matteo Salvini as proof of ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ beliefs, held not only by Daniel but the political party to which he belongs, the Conservative party. The Tories subsequently proved themselves to be utterly witless in the face of the attack (a point to which I return