Neal Ascherson

Neal Ascherson was for many years a foreign correspondent for the Observer, based in Bonn, and has written several books on Central and Eastern Europe, including Black Sea and The Struggles for Poland. He is also the author of Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland and a novel, The Death of the Fronsac. He has written a hundred pieces for the LRB, starting early in 1980 with an account of being in a taxi queue with the spy Anthony Blunt, ‘fervently cheerful’ now his secret had been revealed.

When Iremember the British Empire, two scenes – two stage sets, really – come to mind. One is a courtroom in Uganda, when it was still a British protectorate. Joseph Kiwanuka, a battered but irrepressible editor, was being tried yet again for ‘criminal libel’ – the favourite charge used by the colonial authorities to deal with seditious newspapers. As the...

Wessis and Ossis: Traces of the GDR

Neal Ascherson, 14 December 2023

Astate​ can suddenly vanish, leaving familiar streets under new flags. All Europeans know that. But how can a country’s smell vanish? East Germany had its own unique and unmistakeable niff, its Staatsduft, if you like. It enfolded you as soon as you entered the frontier controls: Chinese cigarettes, the fumes of two-stroke cars, the smoke of brown coal briquettes, the whiff of the...

Kings Grew Pale: Rethinking 1848

Neal Ascherson, 1 June 2023

On​ a Berlin street corner, just off Friedrichstrasse, there is a faded bronze plaque set into the wall. ‘Here on 18 March 1848, barricade fighters defended themselves against the troops of the Second Royal Regiment of Prussia who, hours later, refused orders to resume the attack.’ Then come three lines of verse: ‘Es kommt dazu trotz alledem/Dass rings der Mensch die...

On Tom Nairn

Neal Ascherson, 16 February 2023

TomNairn was shy of superlatives. The way post-Brexit British governments insist that every project is ‘world-beating’ or shows ‘global leadership’ made him smile. It’s just the language of the senile Ukanian state which has to believe in its own uniqueness, its non-pareil altitude above comparison. After his death last month, Tom was mourned as...


Bloody Londoners

15 December 2022

Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes that no Jacobite prisoners were executed by ‘hanging, drawing and quartering’ after the 1745 rebellion (Letters, 5 January). I would refer him to Paul O’Keeffe’s recent book Culloden: Battle and Aftermath, which describes the hanging and disembowelling of Jacobites before enthusiastic crowds on London’s Kennington Common. Beheading was a privilege reserved for...

‘The subtlest​ of insults to Scotland is, it seems, to return to it,’ Neal Ascherson wrote in the Scottish political review Q in 1975. The historian Christopher Harvie described the...

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Coleridge’s​ favourite novelist, John Galt, had a gift for encapsulating disgrace under pressure, and his novels of small-town Scottish life are among the early masterpieces of British...

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Beast of a Nation: Scotland’s Self-Pity

Andrew O’Hagan, 31 October 2002

In Westminster Abbey a couple of years ago, I stood for over an hour talking to Neal Ascherson. It was one of those freezing January evenings – cold stone, long shadows – and we...

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Misha Glenny, 9 May 1996

In the late Twenties, the paternal grandfather of Dimitri, a close friend of mine from Thessaloniki, decided to leave Novorossisk, the Russian Black Sea port. The Soviet Government had ended the...

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Sylvia Lawson, 24 November 1988

The book’s title mocks the author’s own position. It comes from a newspaper column of 1985 in which he attacked what he saw as ‘the retreat from politics’ into nihilistic...

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The Rat Line

Christopher Driver, 6 December 1984

By chance, the evening I took this book to bed for the painful reading expected, I jabbed the tooth of a comb down a fingernail and cried out. As a reminder of what Klaus Barbie was about, not...

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Liking Walesa

Tim Sebastian, 15 July 1982

For nearly eighteen months Lech Walesa walked on quicksand, buoyant and for all the world supremely confident. In the summer of 1981 I asked him whether he was worried about the Soviet tanks...

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Poland’s Special Way

Keith Middlemas, 4 February 1982

In the six months since Neal Ascherson’s intricate but lucid account of the rise of Solidarity was finished, Poland’s affairs have become the latest world-heroic saga. While the...

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