The Going Strikes

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WHILE IT IS true that in some areas of Chinese life the Communist Party permits more open political debate and criticism than ten years ago, most readers of serious newspapers in the West realise that this flexibility does not extend to organised non-Party political groups. It is also widely known or assumed that Christians and […]

A Kingdom of Their Own

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the most striking and pertinent examples of the legacy of colonialism in Africa and the misconceived plans of the rulers that followed is the predicament of the Bakonzo people, who live in the far west of Uganda. The Bakonzo, together with their close relatives the Baamba, live in the upper reaches of the 15,000-foot, […]

Conquest In Double Time

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IT MAY SURPRISE readers to learn that this reviewer, who was born in the highlands of Iranian Kurdistan during the Blitz, has been associated with the British army all his life, though always remotely and with long interruptions. My small market town of Sahneh, on the ancient Royal Road between Persepolis and Sardis, was grateful […]

Full Spectrum Dominance

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE SCOPE OF contemporary US dominance is unparalleled in human history. America has 752 military facilities in 130 countries, some of them until recently part of the Soviet empire. What the American military calls ‘a-spectrum dominance’ includes 9,000 Abrahams tanks, nine ‘supercarrier’ battle groups, and various kinds of stealth aircraft with ‘smart’ munitions. Pilotless drones […]

Sweet Hart

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The death of the once-independent publishing firm Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd was an agonisingly slow one. First, for lack of means, it became a British subsidiary of the American giant Harcourt Brace. Then, in 1963, Harcourt Brace, dissatisfied with its acquisition, sold it on to Granada. For a while, Hart-Davis stayed on as a director. But his […]

Everyday Horrors

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘GRIM IS THE lot of the Russian poet: / an inscrutable fate / leads Pushkin to the pistol’s barrel, / Dostoevsky to the scaffold’, wrote the poet and magus Max Voloshin in 1922 after he witnessed the slaughter of the Whites by the Reds in the Crimea. His prophecies were never truer than in the case […]

Only Opium Could Make Him Charming

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN 1818 GEORGE Crabbe was offered £3,000 by the publisher John Murray for his new poems, Tales of the Hall. Even today a poet would need quite a reputation to command that sort of massive sum. Six years earlier Jane Austen had gloated over the £140 that Sense and Sensibility earned, which only made her […]

Infinite Riches in a Little Room

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ON 30 MAY 1593, at ten o’clock in the morning, the poet Christopher Marlowe was at Deptford, drinking in the ‘house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow’. He had three companions, all of them intimately connected with Thomas Walsingham, cousin of the head of Queen Elizabeth 1’s espionage service. The men spent the day drinking […]

Not Even the Horse Was Normal

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WHAT SHOULD BIOGRAPHY do? Should it widen our sympathies, like all great literature, or may it also confirm our old ideas? I had hoped Peter Parker’s new biography would do the first, but instead it has done the second. I regret this, and, if I’m not alone, Parker may regret it even more. But what […]

Time of the Trireme

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE GREATEST NAVAL battle of antiquity took place from dawn to dusk on 25 September 480 BC (has anyone ever noticed, by the way, that the great sea battles of history always seem to occur in autumn – Actium, Lepanto, Quiberon, Trafalgar, Leyte Gulf, etc?). The battle of Salarnis was the climax of King Xerxes’ […]

Men At Arms

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

So MANY EDWARDIAN biographies are brought to a close by death and severance on the Western Front that it is almost refreshing to find a book which takes the slaughter as its point of commencement. Instead of ending with the loss of life and the breaking of bonds, The Guardsmen emphasises the extent to which […]

At the Going Down of the Sun

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Titling a series ‘The New Oxford History of England’ raises numerous expectations. ‘New’ suggests daring revisionism; ‘Oxford’ implies orthodoxy; ‘history’ an officially approved narrative; and ‘England’ itself, once what people meant when they spoke of ‘Britain’, is today, thanks to the EU and New Labour, fast becoming a frowned-upon, literally unthinkable concept. It is a courageous […]

The View Over the Parapet

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  THE FIRST WORLD War was Britain’s September 11. Nothing comparable had happened to the British before and it changed the way they saw themselves and their security. For the first time since Dutch ships had sailed up the Medway in the seventeenth century, the homeland came under direct attack when Scarborough was shelled and […]

The Teetering Domino

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

FIFTY YEARS AGO this month the siege of Dien Bien Phu ended with the surrender of the French garrison there, a defeat that led to the French withdrawal from Indo-China, and, indirectly, to the American involvement in Vietnam, which itself would end twenty years later in a far more humiliating scuttle. Unlike the Americans, the […]

The Reign In Spain

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WITH THE DECLARATION of the Spanish Second Republic in April 1931 King Alfonso XIII went into exile; but he did not abdicate, or renounce his hereditary claim to the throne as head of the Bourbon dynasty. On his death in 1941 this claim passed to his son Don Juan. Don Juan was never to become […]

Brain Matters

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

FOR ALL ITS strife, seventeenth-century England was paradise for science and scholarship. As if the existence of Wren, Newton, Hobbes and Harvey in one century were not enough, to be blessed in addition with ~o~ Sydenham and Locke seems an unfair bounty. And these are just the ones who became household names; many of their […]

Title Chasing

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ASIANS HAVE ALWAYS done a good line in grandiloquent titles. Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Five Rivers, the nineteenth-century Sikh princeling, could also demand to be addressed as Lion of Lahore, Highly Stationed One equipped with Ardour and Might, or Paragon of the Magnificent Grandees when he really wanted to impress. Dost Mohammed Khan, his […]

A ‘Wonder Wild’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WHEN LUCIA JOYCE. only daughter of James Joyce, threw a chair at her mother, Nora, during her father’s fiftieth birthday party in Paris in February 1932, she took the first step in her own ‘dance of death’. Her brother Giorgio committed her to a maison de santi. Released, she found a new outlet for her […]

Man On A Manumission

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS an indispensable war leader, an admirable president, and a good man. His compatriots proclaimed him ‘first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen’. Without him, America’s fate would have been radically different and less happy. But nowadays, the fact that he was a slave-owner is held […]

A Stitch In Time

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Is TIME TRAVEL possible? If we believe certain versions of the view that the universe consists of curved space-time, the answer is yes. In the second election of his A Brief History & Time, Stephen Hawking developed the idea, first mooted by Einstein in 1935, that it might be possible to visit different eras in […]

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