Magazine article The Spectator

One-Man Triumph

Magazine article The Spectator

One-Man Triumph

Article excerpt

THE COMPANION TO BRITISH HISTORY (THIRD EDITION) by Charles Arnold Baker Loncross Denholm Press, £78, pp. 1425, ISBN 9780956098306

Readers familiar with the first edition of The Companion to British History (Loncross, 1997) will already know that its value as a reference work proceeds from an inclusive attitude towards its subject.

Besides providing the rudiments -- monarchs, battles etc -- the CBH was particularly strong on the constitution, law, local history, the Empire, anecdote, circumstance, and much else. It was also a useful stand-in for The Dictionary of National Biography. This third edition comes again with the glorious yellow jacket (which Routledge's second edition discarded), but it has many more entries. We can read, for example, a crisp two-page summary of the Blair and Brown Government.

A passing reference to 'public relations tacticians known as spin doctors' might tempt us to look up Alastair Campbell, but he is not there. He is named, however, in the entry under 'Spin doctor', where the author observes that he was 'thought to have an undue influence on policy in 2003.

See Goebbels.' Now we can also discover precisely what a tomahawk is, sandwiched between Tolpuddle and Toman (which is followed by Tomatoes); or learn that bollards were 'redundant naval cannon' buried, after 1815, 'muzzle-down to adorn streets, mark off pavements and assist turning carriages'.

Bonhoefer, Fatwa, Polynesia and Sir John Wilkinson have been allowed entry, but not Alan Turing. In a work of this kind there are bound to be gaps, and one may dispute interpretations. Yet there is no other work of this kind.

It could be argued that The Companion to British History is among the most remarkable books ever written. It is the word 'written' which is important, for the CBH is not merely edited or compiled by Charles Arnold-Baker. While the research, which is mind-boggling, is his own, the book is actually written by him. …

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