Allen Lane

There is a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail outside a castle, brimming with French men-at-arms, who taunt King Arthur and his knights remorselessly, while the Britons are convinced that the Holy Grail lies behind the drawbridge. The Grail was, of course, membership of the Common Market ...

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The world’s best-known espionage officer, Vladimir Putin, would relish Christopher Andrew’s account of the role of his fellow practitioners at the 1816 Congress of Vienna. The secret services of France, Prussia, Britain, Russia, and Austria jostled to monitor the trysts of courtesans with the statesmen assembled in the ...

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As we await the fate of the United Kingdom in its tortuous process of extricating itself from the European Union, what better time to produce a provocatively titled text purporting to trace nothing less than the rise and decline of the British nation? ... (read more)

In 1996 the pre-eminent political economist Susan Strange published her final book, The Retreat of the State. Strange had dedicated most of her career to studying the ability of the state to tame the power of international finance. The nexus between state and firm had empowered the United States for more than a century ...

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The cover image on Seymour Hersh’s memoir, Reporter, could hardly be improved. Taken in 1974 in the newsroom of The New York Times, it shows Hersh with his left elbow propped on a typewriter with blank paper in the roller, sleeves rolled up and patterned tie loose around an unironed ...

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I was a part-time pilgrim on John Eliot Gardiner’s extraordinary year-long journey, from Christmas 1999 to New Year’s Eve 2000, when he took Johann Sebastian Bach on the road. Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, with his fifteen-member Monteverdi Choir and the twenty instrumentalists of the English Baroque Soloists, performed in Britain, Europe, and the United States all of JSB’s 198 surviving sacred cantatas on the liturgically appropriate days for which they were composed.

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The main title of John Darwin’s new book is simple but mischievous. Its primary purpose is to announce that he sees empire as an activity rather than a thing. People, millions of them, made it, and remade it constantly, over long stretches of time; it was always in progress, always being finished ...

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Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images …

These lines from Frank O’Hara’s 1960 poem ‘Ave Maria’ seem wistfully nostalgic now that you can watch Lawrence of Arabia on your iPhone on a tram, an Israeli missile vaporising a Hamas leader, your friend’s Bali holiday on Vimeo, the latest in S&M on an iPad, or a 3D vampire zombie franchise blockbuster in your home theatre, should you be so inclined.

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Norman Davies illustrates the literary life available to a score or so of living historians whose works at one time or another made the bestseller lists. Like Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson, and Paul Kennedy, he occupies a place in a Valhalla where the normal rules don’t apply. Instead of waiting nervously for publishers to give thumbs up to a cherished manuscript, agents offer large advances, wide publicity, and – best of all – a huge canvas on which to paint. Of course, the great gulf that separates such stars from hungry hacks yawns in many fields. Novelists like Toni Morrison or Julian Barnes, artists like Anselm Kiefer or Damien Hirst, architects like Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry enjoy similar advantages. Among the most striking privileges for historians in the pantheon is exemption from the usual 100,000-word limit. Davies can use as many pages as he pleases. The result is Vanished Kingdoms, which, at 847 pages, stands about as tall as a stack of five ordinary monographs. Apart from making it an unlikely book at bedtime, the question arises as to whether it is five times as good. Or has Davies drifted lazily into the category of ‘overweight or obese’?

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On China by Henry Kissinger

September 2011, no. 334

Henry Kissinger has never seemed at home in the United States, although he has served in its highest councils and received its richest rewards. When I was one of his students at Harvard, we called him Henry, to distinguish him from professorial luminaries such as Galbraith, Riesman, and Schlesinger. He did not fit the insistent reasonableness of the Harvard faculty. His guttural voice, anxiety to please, mischievous, self-deprecating humour, and fearsome views on nuclear warfare made him an almost unbelievable figure of playful profundity.

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