Paul Johnson

Apologies, but no apologetics

This is a massive work, 1,132 pages long, not counting the index. This is partly because the author, Professor of the History of the Church, at Oxford, seems anxious to downgrade the importance and uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth in founding the religion which bears his name, and therefore deals first with the millennium which

One man and his dogma

‘The second world war lasted for 2,174 days, cost $1.5 trillion and claimed the lives of over 50 million people. That represents 23,000 lives lost every day, or more than six people killed every minute, for six long years.’ This neat summary is characteristic of the way Andrew Roberts uses statistics to bring home to

The man who knew so much

Enlightening: Letters 1946-1960, by Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Homes The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy Isaiah Berlin was the most popular don of his time. While Maurice Bowra boomed, and David Cecil giggled and Trevor-Roper intrigued, Berlin talked his way into the hearts of

And Another Thing | 28 March 2009

Richard Strauss died 60 years ago this year. Not only is he one of my top ten favourite composers, he is also the one I would most like to be cast away with on an island so that I could pluck out the heart of his mystery. His subtleties are infinite, especially his constant, minute

And Another Thing | 21 March 2009

One of my favourite parts of London, in easy walking distance of my house in Newton Road, is what I call the Ardizzone country. This stretches from the edges of Little Venice into Maida Vale and is, or was until the crunch, in the process of rapid gentrification. I call it after the artist because,

And Another Thing | 14 March 2009

With one of those tremendous jolts to memory, I was taken back 60 years by the death of Conchita Cintron. She was the greatest of all women bullfighters and I was incredibly lucky to see her, in 1950, for that was the last year she was in the ring. Where did this take place? Was

And Another Thing | 7 March 2009

A.J.P. Taylor liked to talk about the Great Depression of the Thirties. ‘It was all right for some, such as myself,’ he said, with satisfaction. ‘With a nice, safe job as a university don, I was sitting pretty. Prices were stable or going down. Don’t let anyone tell you deflation is a bad thing. It’s

And Another Thing | 28 February 2009

What are the salient evils of our time? They are two-fold. One is social engineering, the idea that human beings can be changed, improved and moved about as though they are quantities of cement or concrete. Today, virtually all regimes, whether democratic, dodgy or outright totalitarian, practise social engineering. Not least Gordon Brown’s crumbling New

And Another Thing | 21 February 2009

During the Arctic weather I re-read that finest of winter pastorals, ‘Snowbound’ by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92). It gripped me, as it always does, by its combination of intense realism about the present and its imaginative sympathy for the past. Whittier describes heavy snow sealing off a household in the early 19th century, about the

And Another Thing | 14 February 2009

Being a professional writer is a hard life. Producing a book, especially a long one, is a severe test of courage and endurance. For even after a successful day of writing, one must begin again the next morning, the blank sheet of paper in front of you: a daunting image to start the day, the

And Another Thing | 7 February 2009

The more I see of the intellectual world and its frailties, the more I appreciate the truth of G.K. Chesterton’s saying: ‘When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything.’ It is one of the tragedies of humanity that brain-power is so seldom accompanied by judgment, sceptical

And Another Thing | 31 January 2009

What is simplicity? And is it desirable, on principle? A good question. My recent essay on the origins of the universe, arguing that the simple explanation, its creation by an omni-potent God, is more plausible than its sudden emergence as a result of infinitely complex (and disputed) events, angered some readers. They took the view

And Another Thing | 24 January 2009

It is a sobering thought that a year ago the nominal wealth of the world, as registered in bank holdings, stock and bond prices, real estate and company valuations, was twice what it is today. Where has all the money gone? Was it there in the first place? The $50 billion ‘invested’ with Bernard Madoff

And Another Thing | 17 January 2009

A Pantocrat who should be on everyone’s curriculum The decision by the authorities to drop Coleridge from the syllabus of state schools is intended as another nail in the coffin of English literature. He is to be replaced by a person unknown to me but apparently popular on TV quiz shows. No reason is provided

And Another Thing | 10 January 2009

Are you sophisticated? Here’s how to find out The word ‘sophisticated’, though commonly used, especially by persons who turn out on close investigation to be unsophisticated, is tricky, and truly sophisticated people avoid it altogether. Now, having got that off my chest, let us try to define it. One difficulty is that the root of

And Another Thing | 3 January 2009

This is the time of year when I repeat Christina Rossetti’s lines In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron Water like a stone. November was as cold as I remember this once-muggy, foggy month. And December even harder. The Met Office says the rest of winter will be severe,

And another thing | 13 December 2008

A simple explanation for the origins of the universe — and us too Some people maintain that, in the age of the internet and Google, public lectures are an outmoded way of acquiring knowledge. I don’t agree. They demand effort to get to, fighting London’s horrid traffic, crowded tubes, parking problems etc., and that is

And Another Thing | 12 December 2008

I am old enough to remember the last slump — I was three in 1932 and lived in the Potteries in North Staffordshire, always a precarious area economically, and badly hit by slack trade. Most of the workers in the pot bank were women and girls, traditionally paid low wages, and now subjected to pay

And Another Thing | 6 December 2008

Plus ça change in the bustling hurly-burly of Westbourne Grove The chill winds are already blowing down Westbourne Grove as the recession takes hold. They would, wouldn’t they? The Grove is a peculiarly fragile and sensitive street, and has been ever since it was set up in the 1850s. At one time it was known

And another thing | 29 November 2008

There are all kinds of reasons for objecting to Percy Bysshe Shelley. Selfish and often indifferent to the feelings of others (especially young women), while hypersensitive to his own, he was one of those intellectual monsters who think ideas matter more than people. But he was a great poet nonetheless. His ‘Ode to the West