New and Noteworthy

Contemporary Review, June 2003 | Go to article overview

New and Noteworthy


One of the more interesting aspects of modem English life is the degree to which history remains a favourite topic for television whether in series presented by tele-dons (as mentioned above) or in dramatisation, as in Stephen Poliakoff's The Lost Prince. This two-part BBC drama, broadcast last January and later to be released as a cinema film, told the story of George V's youngest son, Prince John, who suffered from epilepsy and who was kept out of the public eye. The film's writer, Stephen Poliakoff, was anxious to fend off criticisms of historical inaccuracy and wrote a long introduction to the published script, The Lost Prince (Methuen, [pounds sterling]9.99 p.b.).

On Channel Four last January we also had Niall Ferguson's Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World which was accompanied by a book with the same title, published by Allen Lane at [pounds sterling]25.00. The presenter, who now teaches in New York University, set out to answer two questions: how did the United Kingdom come to possess the world's biggest empire ever and, secondly, was the Empire 'a good or bad thing'. The answer to the first question follows traditional interpretations. With regard to the second question, the very fact that Prof. Ferguson asks it shows that he does not follow the anti-Empire views that have dominated Britain's intelligentsia since Suez if not since the 1930s. Because Prof. Ferguson is an economic historian he pointedly reminds readers that 'no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries'. The Empire also brought impartial justice and ordered government to places which had neither. In the wake of the Iraq war the book's assertion that it is the U.S. which is the centre of a new Anglo-Saxon empire takes on an added dimension.

Yet another series, this time one broadcast on BBC Two, is Andrew Roberts' Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership (Weidenfeld & Nicolson. [pounds sterling]18.99). Dual biographies are one of the latest historical fashions and Mr Roberts has already done one on Wellington and Napoleon. Here and on television he argued that behind both men lay a large amount of luck: neither created events as much as their reputations have implied. Each performed numerous 'confidence tricks' and inspired their peoples with hopes dressed up as assertions. Without Churchill there would have been no allied victory in 1945 and without that victory the future of Britnin, of Europe and of the world would have been very bleak indeed. As a study of leadership, of good and evil, this is a fascinating book that is as timely as ever.

A final new history title is a new edition of an old standby, The Longman Handbook of Modem British History 1714-2001 by Chris Cook and John Stevenson ([pounds sterling]16.99). This, the fourth edition, replaces that of 1996 and brings the unique collection of facts contained in it up to the general election of 2001 and the second victory of 'New Labour'. As before, the text is divided into seven areas: political history, social and religious history, economic history, foreign affairs and defence, biographies, a glossary of terms; and, finally, a 'topic bibliography'. At 506 pages this new edition is larger than ever and, as with the first edition of 1983, it remains an indispensable source in any library.

Among new releases on World War Two we begin with two from ROUTLEDGE. The first is Roderick Stackelberg and Sally A. Winkle's The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts ([pounds sterling]55.00 and [pounds sterling]17.99 p.b.), a massive collection of 148 original documents in English translation which will prove invaluable to students of twentieth-century Europe. The editors have wisely chosen to begin their selections with the nineteenth century background because, they argue, the origins of Nazism lie in 'the increasingly desperate rearguard campaign against the modemising trends of the nineteenth century'. …

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