Tom holland

A Christian revival is under way in Britain

Tom Holland recently invited me to attend a service of Evensong with him at London’s oldest church, St Bartholomew the Great. Holland, who co-hosts the phenomenally popular The Rest is History podcast, has been a regular congregant for a few years. He began attending while researching Dominion, his bestselling book which outlined the way the 1st-century Christian revolution has irrevocably shaped the 21st-century West’s moral imagination. It also recounts how Holland, a secular liberal westerner who had lost any vestige of faith by his teenage years, came to realise he was still essentially Christian in terms of his beliefs about human rights, equality and freedom. Christianity is not just a

The best of this year’s children’s books

In some children’s books, nothing much happens. In Roberto Piumini’s Glowrushes (Pushkin Press, £9.99), it’s like this: a father, a great Turkish lord, hires an artist to paint his sick son’s rooms for his 11th birthday, and together the boy and the painter create walls of wondrous imaginary landscapes. It turns out that you don’t have to travel outside your own room to inhabit new worlds. One wall is for the meadows of a goatherd, with tiny red goats, a lame dog and a distant minaret and a muezzin with a big nose. Another is for a besieged castle with a lovely princess atop a tower. And one room has

Why do the British still dream of bricks and mortar?

In Building Soul, Thomas Heatherwick’s recent Radio 4 series, architects are villains. According to the puckish designer of Google’s King’s Cross campus, the profession is in thrall to a ‘cult’ of modernism, intent on forcing us to live in houses that make us ill and work in offices that make us depressed. Is property ownership a natural state? When did we start toregard homes as investments? Heatherwick is often accused of over-simplification. His latest attack on the architectural profession, and his blaming of Le Corbusier as miscreant-in-chief, is worse. It misrepresents how and why buildings come to be. They are the work not of lone fanatics but of countless competing

The best children’s books: a Spectator Christmas survey

J.K. Rowling Poignant, funny and genuinely scary, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my favourite books as a child and the story has lingered in my imagination ever since. Blue iced cakes always put me in mind of Cruella de Vil’s experimental food colourings, and whenever our dogs whine to get out at dusk I imagine them joining the canine news network, the twilight barking. There’s simply no resisting a book containing the lines ‘There are some people who always find beauty makes them feel sadder, which is a very mysterious thing’, and ‘Mr Dearly was a highly skilled dog-puncher’. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall There are countless children’s

Our love affair with the Anglo-Saxons

On 5 July 2009, an unemployed 54-year-old metal detectorist called Terry Herbert was walking through a Staffordshire field when his detector started to beep and didn’t stop. Herbert guessed almost immediately that he’d found gold. What he didn’t realise was that he had made Britain’s greatest archaeological discovery since the second world war. Three hundred sword-hilt fittings, many of them spectacular examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork; a mysterious gold-and-garnet headdress, apparently for a priest; miniature sculptures of horses, fish, snakes, eagles and boars. The Staffordshire Hoard, as it became known, led to a sold-out exhibition, an Early Day Motion in parliament saluting ‘the UK’s largest haul of gold Anglo-Saxon treasure’, and,

Wine that puts politics in its place

In the era of vinyl, lost in one of Bruckner’s longueurs, it could be hard to tell what was stuck, the record or the composer. Sir Jim Gastropodi would make regular appearances in the Peter Simple column, conducting the Soup Hales Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Bruckner’s interminable symphony. Despite Boris Johnson’s attempts to enliven it, this is the interminable election campaign. In effect, it has been going on since 2016, but the end may be in sight. Barring a 2017-scale upset (which is unlikely — though Boris has faults, he is not Theresa May mark two), he will return to No. 10 with a majority. He will also enjoy

The British broadcaster brave enough to discuss Islamic violence

Last night Channel 4 broadcast a deep and seriously important programme. ‘Isis: The Origins of Violence’ was written and presented by the historian Tom Holland and can be viewed (by British viewers) here. Five years ago, to coincide with his book ‘In The Shadow of the Sword’ about the early years of Islam, Holland presented a documentary for Channel 4 titled ‘Islam: The Untold Story’. That was something of a landmark in UK television. For while there had previously been some heated and angry studio discussions about Islam and plenty of fawningly hagiographic programmes about the religion’s founder presented by his apologists, here was a grown-up and scholarly treatment which

Police force

I’ve often thought that a good idea for an authentic TV cop show would be to portray the police as neither dazzlingly brilliant (the traditional approach) nor horrifically corrupt (the traditionally subversive one) — but just a bit hopeless at solving crimes. There is, though, one thing that prevents the idea from being as original as I’d like: this is how the police already come across in many true-life dramas. Take, for instance, the harrowing and — given its high-profile scheduling — extremely brave Three Girls (BBC1, Tuesday to Thursday), which provided an unsparing and wholly believable account of the Rochdale child-grooming scandal. The first episode opened in 2008 with

In praise of a precious poet

Never having experienced anything that I would attribute to a supernatural cause, I am obliged to confess that my prayers have always gone unanswered. But I only have to read George Herbert — rector of a small church near where I grew up, and therefore a poet who has always been particularly precious to me — to regret this: Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, The land of spices; something understood. To read more from our Spectator survey of answered

High life | 30 June 2016

The two most beautiful words in the history of the world, in any language, are ‘Molon labe’, the accent on the second syllable of both words, the ‘b’ pronounced ‘v’ in the second. These two little words were the laconic answer of King Leonidas of Sparta to the offer made by the great Persian king Xerxes of not only safe passage, if the Greeks laid down their arms, but also a settlement of lands of better quality than any they currently possessed. You know what I’m talking about. The Hot Gates, or Thermopylae in Greek. The year is 480 BC, the month is August, and the Persians number more than

Less than Marvellous

Captain America: Civil War is the 897th instalment — or something like it — in the Marvel comic franchise. This time round, the superheroes take sides, with the marketing asking if you’re #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan but not if you’re #TeamNeither, as would be most useful in my case. I swear this is the last Marvel film I will see as I never get anything out of them and whatever I say only sets the fans against me, which is not what you want at my age. I only attended this one because I had read the American critics (and some of the British ones who’d had a heads up). They

Where Alcibiades once walked, amateur tax spies are trying to entrap poor pistachio-sellers

 Athens I am walking on a wide pedestrian road beneath the Acropolis within 200 meters of the remaining Themistoclean wall and the ancient cemetery to eminent Athenians. One side is lined with splendid neoclassical houses, none of them abandoned but most of them shuttered and locked up. This is the area where once upon a time Pericles, Themistocles and Alcibiades — to name three — trod, orated and debated non-stop. Back in those good old days we Athenians ruled supreme. Reason, logic and restraint placed us at the head of the queue, and genius also helped. I am climbing to the Pnyx, where Themistocles rallied his fellow citizens to defy

Spectator letters: Slavery continues to this day; and why Russia’s re-emergence as a world power is down to Obama’s apathy

Slavery isn’t over Sir: I was alarmed to read Taki’s piece in this week’s High Life (8 March) which claimed that ‘slavery… has been over since 1865, except in Africa’. The Centre for Social Justice, whose board I chair, last year published its groundbreaking report It Happens Here, exposing the desperate plight of those in modern slavery in the UK. The CSJ’s work revealed exploitation taking place across the country, from young British men enslaved on traveller sites and forced into manual labour, to vulnerable children forced to live as slaves behind closed doors in one of Britain’s thousands of cannabis farms, to young British girls being trafficked into sexual

In defence of Herodotus

How many writers would give their eye teeth to have a book reissued 2,500 years after their death? It certainly beats being pulped after a year or two. And who better to receive the Penguin Hardback Classic treatment than Herodotus, the fifth-century BC ‘Father of History’, he to whom historians today owe so much, whether they know it or not? This is a new translation. of a book that remains more relevant than ever. by the popular historian Tom Holland, with an introduction by the Cambridge professor Paul Cartledge, doyen of classicists, citizen of Sparta and a Herodotean to the core. The Histories is a masterpiece on the grandest scale,

Channel 4 cancels Tom Holland’s history of Islam, but the extremists will not win

In what may prove to be the most depressingly predictable story of the year, we learn that Channel 4 has chosen to cancel a screening of Tom Holland’s programme ‘Islam: the untold story‘ tomorrow night  because of threats to the author and presenter. If there is a reason why so many stories and facts to do with Islam remain ‘untold’ it is simply because of this. None of the people who threatened Tom Holland even have to mean it — the threat is enough to ensure that Channel 4 don’t go ahead. I don’t blame them, and have seen this happen too many times, in too many different countries, to be

The history of Islam is not off-limits

I’ve only just got around to watching Tom Holland’s documentary for Channel 4 from earlier this week: ‘Islam: the untold story.’ It had some good things in it, despite suffering from the two problems all documentaries now suffer from: attention-grabbing statements at the end of segments which are not followed up on, and endless shots of the presenter doing strangely unconnected things (travelling on an elevator, sitting on a bed etc.) But Holland was an engaging and pleasant presenter, and the documentary was something of a landmark in that it finally brought to wider public attention a subject which has been almost completely off-limits in recent years. Because of violence