Skip to content
The eye of Justinian

   Popular history books


How can we apply history in our daily life?

by Anthony Webb, 26 May 2023

Regular readers of this website will, I imagine, often think to themselves:

I know you guys read a lot of history books but how does this actually help you in your day to day life?

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to describe my typical day and how a little historical knowledge can be surprisingly useful in all sorts of ways.

So here is a day in the life of me.

Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi in a London pub

Like Julius Caesar I get up early - usually just before my alarm at 7am.

I swing my legs out of bed making as little noise as possible so that I don’t disturb my wife, who reclines, Cleopatra-esque, under the duvet.

Unlike Julius Caesar I put on some trousers, and head downstairs for breakfast.

Unlike Juilius Caesar I put on some trousers.

My breakfast of choice is muesli with another cereal layered on top. I’m guided here by the oat munching Scots who we know from history were excellent warriors, repelling the Romans and then invading the rest of the world on behalf of the British Empire. Sufficiently fortified, it’s time to wake up the kids.

A few grumbles later they are also down at the breakfast table. Breakfast done it’s time for the school drop off. I’ll take the 4 year old, my wife will take the 7 year old. We are applying another lesson from the British Empire: divide and rule. Also they start school at different times.

The 4 year old safely ensconced in his classroom, I briefly reflect on his good fortune in not growing up in ancient Sparta, then it’s on to the tube to go to work.

The train ride is spent reading a history book. It could be anything from the evolution of humankind to a Dutch diplomatic mission to the Qing Emperor. My mind is a sponge: I will learn from anywhere, from anyone, and from any when.

I get to work at just before the 9.30 dot.

I’m an investment consultant for pension schemes. It’s my job to advise them on how they can earn a return without unnecessary risk. I am constantly (advising on) making decisions and this is where thinking about what great individuals from the past would do can really pay off.

First decision of the day, should we hedge currency exposure or not? What would Lord Nelson do I ask myself? Whatever the decision, it would be sure to be a bold one, taken swiftly and on instinct. So enough messing about - we’re hedging.

There’s time for just one more decision before lunch: frontier markets have taken a beating recently, but are they now good value? Using the example of Alexander the Great, who famously had a crack at both Persia and India, I decide it’s time to go in. Keen to expand his frontiers A the G wouldn’t have thought twice.

Lunchtime: emulating the frugality of Mahatma Gandhi I opt for a Tesco meal deal - sandwich, drink and snack for £4. The peanut satay wrap and pressed coconut water are a no brainer but which snack? Here I channel the spirit of Winston Churchill and select the double boiled egg snack-pack.

Emulating the frugality of Mahatma Gandhi I opt for a Tesco meal deal.

The afternoon is usually spent on internal company matters and this post-prandial-period is no different. There’s an important meeting for middle managers at the firm - we need to grapple with a potential new strategic initiative: opening a Moscow branch this December. It’s an online meeting so I don my headset and microphone and hunch down in front of the laptop camera. Today, as in all ages past, facetime is important.

“Who wants to take notes?” is the question. I immediately raise my virtual hand. Josef Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, owed his iron grip on his party to writing minutes and following up on actions outstanding. The others assent to my note-taking role. I can feel my grip tightening.

The call goes out for comments and initial views. “I oppose the measure.” I say “It’s madness. Have we learnt nothing?” There’s a silence. Everyone is ignoring me. Then Chris pipes up: “Anthony, you’re on mute.”

I turn on my mic. “I oppose the measure. Opening a Russian branch is pure folly. Are your memories so short that you have forgotten Napoleon already? He lost millions of men in his Russian venture. We’ve only got a few hundred in our entire firm - we just can’t sustain those sorts of losses. I tell you if we go into Moscow we will get our fingers burnt.”

Angry shouts, disagreement, loud scoffing. My opinions are dismissed as “irrelevant” and “ridiculous”. The motion is carried, we’re opening a Moscow branch.

But my opponents have forgotten one thing. When writing up the meeting minutes I amend the decision to “rejected”. Nipped in the bud - thank you Stalin. As an afterthought I insert a resolution censuring Chris for “online harassment of a colleague”.

I amend the decision to “rejected” - thank you Stalin.

It’s 6pm and time to go home. It’s been a good day: decisions made, crises averted, lunch eaten. Chris is suggesting that we should have a quick drink in the local pub and a small crowd is gathering by the lifts.

“Are you coming Anthony?” says Chris.

I think quickly. What would Gandhi do? I’m pretty sure he doesn’t drink. On the other hand it’s hard to imagine Winston Churchill turning down a brandy. And Julius Caesar would be keen for a glass of wine, although would probably insist on buying everyone else a drink too, and then pay for it with his credit card. Introducing Athenian democracy I put it to the vote. Gandhi is in the minority at 2 to 1: I’m coming.

I join the crowd going to the pub and order a London Pride. We talk about what we are hoping to do with our holidays. Someone mentions a trip to Moscow in December and I chuckle quietly into my beer foam moustache. Another drink? I’m asked. I order a brandy, two of them - with Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill outvoting the others. The evening progresses. More brandy: Stalin and Churchill are in the ascendant and have formed a powerful voting block with Alexander the Great and Napoleon.

“Ping pong Anthony?” I hear someone cry. But just as Stalin, Churchill, Alexander the Great and Napoleon raise their hands in support, Julius Caesar, with Gandhi close behind, leaps up and overpowers the quadrumvirate. It’s a coup and in a bloody flash the deed is done. Julius Caesar waves his sword in the air triumphantly, and Gandhi tries on Churchill’s bowler hat for size.

It’s all over - and so home to supper and to bed.


Next post

New history books in May 2023

image for New history books in May 2023

Last post

Great Kingdoms of Africa - review

image for Great Kingdoms of Africa - review