Prince Harming

Spare, Prince Harry, London: Transworld, 2023, hb., 410pps., £28 There are times when English feelings for their royal family come close to obsession. Through all the tumults of England’s trajectory, its monarchy has formed an imaginative bond between Anglo-Saxon origins and today’s Kingdom – celebrated by its greatest writers, and extolled as an exemplar of… Continue reading

From myth to mob-rule, and back

The Prophets of Doom Neema Parvini, Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2023, pb., 227pps., £14.95 The West, it is said, is modernity, but if it is, there is melancholy at its core. Our most confident centuries have subsisted in the shadow of Rome – our Ozymandian awareness that the greatest powers must pass, and all empires will… Continue reading

The prices of freedom

Obedience is Freedom Jacob Phillips, London: Polity, 2022, pb., 172 pages, £13.55 Johannes Brahms had a personal motto, frei aber froh (‘free but happy’), which features famously as the note sequence F-A♭-F in the first movement of his Third Symphony. He adopted this cheerful philosophy as a jovial riposte to his friend, the violinist Joseph… Continue reading

The goodness of King George

George III – The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch Andrew Roberts, London: Allen Lane, 2021, 758pps, £35 Andrew Roberts is renowned for Winston Churchill scholarship, starting with the lacerating Eminent Churchillians of 1994 and culminating in 2018 with his exemplary Churchill: Walking with Destiny. But he has always had other interests, as… Continue reading

English origins

The Anglo-Saxons – A History of the Beginnings of England Marc Morris, Hutchinson, 2021, hb, 508pps, £25 England is one of the oldest nations in the world, and tales of its foundation have been told since at least 731 AD, when the Venerable Bede completed his Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum. The Northumbrian monk described the… Continue reading

The index, linked

Index, A History of the, Dennis Duncan, Penguin, 2021, 340 pps., £20 All readers of non-fiction take for granted the ability to find whatever they’re looking for quickly by recourse to an index at the end. In this playful but profound work, literary historian Dennis Duncan shows that this apparent afterthought has an intriguing history… Continue reading

From hobbits to H-bombs

Britain at Bay – The Epic Story of the Second World War: 1938-1941 Alan Allport, Profile Books, 2020, £25                            ‘The Second World War,’ says Britain at Bay’s flyleaf, ‘was the defining experience of modern British history. It is our founding myth, our Iliad.’ It is the inspiration for an ongoing outpouring of national (often justifiable)… Continue reading

Monumental follies

Iconoclasm – Identity Politics and the Erasure of History Alexander Adams, Imprint Academic, 2020, 154 pages, £19 The ill-starred year of Covid also saw another, more localised, virus – an outbreak of attacks on public monuments in several countries, particularly the United States and Britain. While this sickness presents as a skin-disease, only scarring symbols,… Continue reading

Realms of fiction

The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien – The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth John Garth, Frances Lincoln, 208 pages, £25 Authors have always imagined alternative universes, but in the bulging gazetteer of authorial Erewhons, from the transient town of Abaton via Atlantis, Earthsea and Hogwarts to Zyundal in the Isles of Wisdom, none attract such… Continue reading

Sowing the seeds of future farming

A Small Farm Future Chris Smaje, Chelsea Green, 2020, 297 pages Chris Smaje is almost certainly the only sociologist-turned-farmer in Somerset, and probably in England. This unusually ecologically-aware agriculturist hopes the sobering effects of COVID can encourage global radical rethinking that can reset society by restructuring rurality. More of us now see the fragility of… Continue reading