Reviews

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister

★★★☆☆ (2019)
This is a book about the three most famous sisters in Chinese history: the Soong sisters. They were international celebrities: highly educated, politically pivotal and ridiculously rich. They embodied the changes and tensions of early twentieth century China as the country set its political engine-room to warp speed 9…

Dress Codes

★★★★☆ (2021)
Richard Thompson Ford, the author of How Fashion Made History, loves suits. Really loves them. And to some extent, he has written a book explaining how all fashion up to the present day leads to suits as the ultimate in menswear…

Past Mistakes

★★★★☆ (2020)
Close your eyes and conjure up an image of Christopher Columbus… Did you do it? What did you see? If you are anything like me you will envisage a cheerful little fellow wearing a captains hat, pantaloons and buckled shoes…

Augustine

★★★★☆ (2015)
The tagline for this book could be ‘a biography of an autobiography’ – it conveys a sense of what Robin Lane Fox manages to achieve in his award winning book, an analysis of how one of the greatest thinkers in Christian theology thought about himself and his relationship to God.

About Time

★★★★☆ (2021)
Clocks are about more than just telling the time. At one level this is a statement of the obvious: we all know that the watch you wear is not chosen purely for its practicality as a time-keeping device…

Thebes

★★★★☆ (2020)
In 371 BCE the Thebans achieved one of the most shocking victories in the history of warfare, by trouncing the previously invincible Spartans at the battle of Luectra despite being outnumbered almost two to one.

In Defence of History

★★★★☆ (1997)
I have never knowingly met a post-modernist. Perhaps I have been going to the wrong parties – back in the days when I went to parties. I am keen to meet one. If you are one or can introduce one get in touch.

The reason that I am so interested to make this acquaintance is…

Castlereagh

★★★★☆ (2011)
This book comes highly recommended as a comprehensive and highly readable account of the life of one of Britain’s most influential Foreign Secretaries, with a particular focus on the earlier stages of Castlereagh’s life and career and the formation of his political philosophy.

Making Deep History

★★★☆☆ (2021)
How do you envisage a million years? Clive Gamble in “Making Deep History: Zeal, Perseverance and the Time Revolution of 1859” tell us that Charles Darwin was advised in 1868 to try this exercise: take a strip of paper 83 feet 9 inches (25.4 metres) long and stretch it around the walls of a large room. Then draw a thick thin pencil line across the strip that is 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) wide. This pencil line represents 100 years.

How to Be a Dictator

★★★☆☆ (2019)
Frank Dikotter’s ‘Dictators: the Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century’ is a highly readable potted history of eight twentieth century dictators, charting the rise and (more often than not) the fall of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Duvalier, Caucescu and Mengistu respectively, in whose dictatorships the cult of personality played a prominent part, albeit in different forms.

What is History?

★★★★★ (1961)
There is something about the theory of history or historiography – ie how and why the study of history is conducted – that can inflame passions among professional historians. Seemingly mild mannered individuals can become enraged, and previously impersonal prose becomes peppered with personal insults.

Ten Ceasars

★★★☆☆ (2019)
A week ago I went to see a blockbuster exhibition about an accused arsonist who murdered his wife and his mum. The star of the show (running until October 2021 at the British Museum in London) is of course the Roman emperor Nero. But was he really a bad guy? Maybe he was quite nice to the people who he didn’t kill? And did he or didn’t he burn down Rome to build himself a giant palace on the ashes?

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