For her new book, Alex von Tunzelmann has chosen a subject that has recently become something of a minefield: statues. With her erudition and lightness of touch, Tunzelmann is as skilled a guide to the topic as one could wish for. There is not a dull sentence in the book, which begins with the moment American revolutionaries toppled the statue of George III in New York. Put up in 1770, the gilded lead statue was torn down six years later, with the ‘melted Majesty’ turned into musket balls to fire at British soldiers. There are also some good jokes, many involving the murderous dictator of the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo, who erected huge white monuments to his own penis, one around forty metres high.
In some senses one wishes the book covered more ground, though there could probably be less about Trujillo, whom the CIA helped to kill in 1961. The author might have found room for the Second Commandment and for the fate of statues of unloved emperors in ancient Rome, many of which were defaced or repurposed, with a number of portrait busts being reworked to celebrate a new ruler. When discussing statues, Pliny sounds as passionate as a Black Lives Matter activist might do today: