Ian Garrick-Mason

The crusaders were not such incompetent zealots after all

One of the strange effects that modernist, progressive society has had on what the French Annales school would refer to as our civilisation’s mentalité is the almost complete attenuation of memory about what the crusades were, why they were fought and what part they played in a multi-century struggle between two successful, expansionary and universal

For Jack Tar, going to sea was the ultimate adventure

Seafaring and the rule of the waves — as the song would have it — was an integral part of Britain’s sense of identity for centuries, a fire in the national imagination arguably first sparked by the exploits of Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, rising to full flame with the

The Renaissance in 50 shades of grey

The Mediterranean-centred era spanning a century or so either side of 1492 is filled to the brim with stories. There was the discovery of the Americas by a bold Genoese navigator; power struggles between wealthy Italian families, waged through conspiracies, poisonings and stabbings; a radical Dominican monk who managed to impose near-theocratic rule on a

What do we really mean by the ‘language’ of animals?

The reality of animal communication (or, more precisely, our belief in that reality) is a fact underwritten not by science but by direct experience. A dog owner knows that his dog communicates with him because he makes eye contact with it, notices its body movements, listens to its barks and whines and yips, and associates

Everyday wonders

Walking home from work one day during the half-year I lived in London’s Maida Vale (almost three decades ago now), I was just about to turn into an archway leading to the mews house in which I rented a room when into my path a steady stream of grey feathers suddenly began falling. From directly

Ruling the waves | 22 November 2018

The sea — that wine-dark whale road, to mix Homeric and Anglo-Saxon evocations of it — has always held a special place in the human psyche. A site of both great peril and great opportunity, it has influenced our languages and our cultures, just as it has our economic systems and the contours of our

The unwinnable war

Many wars have outsized and enduring effects on the societies that fight them, but for Americans the Vietnam war has one attribute that guarantees its longevity as a suppurating wound in the national psyche: it was a loss. Analyses have been numerous and perennial, from David Halberstam’s contemporary portrait of the policymakers who led the

Through Western eyes

‘Why have we come here? The Directory has deported us,’ grumbled the heat-stricken and exhausted soldiers of Napoleon’s Army of the Orient, having travelled for days across the desert to a spot just west of Cairo. There, at what would later be called the Battle of the Pyramids, they would face the forces of the

Two pairs of unsafe hands

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek For a man who once promised the press, way back in 1962, that ‘you won’t have Nixon to kick around any more’, Richard Nixon has turned out to have a remarkably long political afterlife. After a five-and-a- half year presidency, he spent the two decades after

Making it up as we go

For the scales at which we live — the buildings we inhabit, the vehicles we drive, the sports we play — classical physics is a useful, highly accurate and reassuringly comprehensible system. But at scales we never personally encounter, at immense velocities, infinitesimal sizes or cosmic distances, things are not so simple. In these worlds,

The Thirty Years Slaughter

Of the many obscure conflicts of the ancient world, the Pelo- ponnesian war is perhaps the least obscure to us, thanks to Thucydides’ carefully written, if unfinished, account of it. Despite the enormous influence it grew to have on the practice of history itself, Thucydides’ achievement did not prevent future historians from tackling the same

Why Rome fell

I n the decade before his death in 1982, the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick was afflicted with a powerful delusion. He became convinced that the Roman empire was still in existence; that despite what was written in all the history books it had in fact never fallen. Nineteen-seventies California was merely a false projection,

Lord of misrule

According to the business press, the age of the ‘imperial CEO’ is now behind us, swept away by a wave of scandals and collapsing stock prices. But for much of the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Eisner was an emperor’s emperor. Recruited from Paramount in 1984, the Walt Disney Company’s new chairman and chief executive officer

The lights that failed

While the Victorian age was certainly one of unprecedented industrial and technical advances — an age, if there ever was one, of science and reason — it was also an age of unconventional religious enthusiams and spiritualist vogues. From seances held in the drawing-rooms of upper-class London families to Christian revivalist gatherings in the slums

The doubtful eye of the beholder

In this historic moment of struggle between freedom and tyranny, with the destinies of entire nations hanging in the balance, the question of what ‘beauty’ is might seem a frivolous one, best put off until happier times. Until, that is, one remembers that now is always a historic moment, that the destinies of nations are

A poor pre-emptive strike

‘You will be in charge, although, of course, nothing will happen, and I shall be back again this evening early,’ Major Henry Spalding told Lieutenant John Chard before riding away from the British supply depot in search of reinforcements that had failed to show up on time. Chard was thus the officer in command when

The five stages of a downhill descent

After defeating two fascist powers in a world war, the citizens of the democratic West have gradually come to throw the label ‘fascist’ around with abandon. Police officers are fascists to the protesters they confront. University administrators are fascists to the students they discipline. Think back: many of you probably had parents who were fascists

Moving swiftly on . . .

Titles that begin with the phrase A Brief History of … are no doubt written that way to connote a certain sense of humility, as if the author has been engaged in a casual endeavour and can offer no guarantee that the results will be definitive. The roots of this trend go a few decades

The posthumous patriot

In the spring of 1943, Allied armies in North Africa prepared to attack the Axis powers on the continent of Europe. Dominating the central Mediterranean, Sicily was the obvious first target, and it was clear the German High Command would heavily reinforce the island. To counter this, British naval intelligence concocted a bold disinformation operation

A regiment to reckon with

In the spring of 1990, at the age of 21, I found myself sitting on an English hillside in the sun as one member of a brand-new training platoon of British squaddies. Having been marched up hill and down dale for a couple of hours that afternoon, we were handed large cans of beer by