Michael Burleigh

Worldly Wisdom

World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History

By

Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 420pp £25 order from our bookshop

Forty years ago I was the only undergraduate to turn up for the first class on the Italian Renaissance at the Warburg Institute. In came Sir Ernst Gombrich, Professor Michael Baxandall and two others whose names I forget. Commenting on how London University administrators ‘might have kittens’ at this unbalanced staff-to-student ratio, Gombrich and his colleagues kindly chatted for an hour about the Renaissance with their lone student. Baxandall went on about material facts like the cost of gold leaf to a painter’s patrons. Already very old, Gombrich burbled on about ‘ze turbulence in Leonardo’s late zwawings’. To my youthful mind, Gombrich had gone cosmic, something he shares with the nonagenarian Henry Kissinger, for in his new book on ‘world order’ the former US national security advisor and secretary of state’s perspective on human affairs seems almost drawn from deep space.

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