At a sports carnival early in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall, the schnockered schoolmaster Prendergast, unsteadily wielding a starting pistol, shoots poor Lord Tangent in the foot. Thereafter, Tangent barely appears in the narrative, with only a sentence now and then charting his slow medical decline. ‘Everybody else, however, was there except little Lord Tangent, whose foot was being amputated in a local nursing home.’ And later still: ‘It’s maddenin’ Tangent having died just at this time,’ some old sea dog mutters.
It seems hard to imagine that we need more books on World War I after the tsunami of publications released during the recent centenary. Yet, here we have a blockbuster, a 926-page tome, Staring at God, by Simon Heffer, a British journalist turned historian in the tradition of Alistair Horne and Max Hastings.