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Jeremy Harding: Basil Davidson, 5 August 2010

... Writing about Basil Davidson’s work for the LRB blog a few days after his death last month, I’d a sense that there was more to say. The record is magnificent: his sterling work in occupied Yugoslavia for the Special Operations Executive during the war, his books about this period, and then, famously, the histories of precolonial Africa and the writings on the anti-colonial liberation movements ...

The Partisan

Jeremy Harding, 23 June 1994

The Search for Africa: A History in the Making 
by Basil Davidson.
Currey, 373 pp., £25, March 1994, 0 85255 719 1
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... Travelling in West Africa a little over forty years ago, Basil Davidson was shown around the chamber of the new territorial assembly in Bamako, built by the French as a concession to the growing demand for independence in Mali. The chairman of the assembly ‘pointed with a cautious smile to the plaster-white figure of the French state symbol on the chamber wall above his ceremonial chair ...

People’s War

John Ellis, 19 February 1981

Tomorrow at Dawn 
by J.G. de Beus.
Norton, 191 pp., £5.75, April 1980, 0 393 01263 8
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The Crucible of War 
by Barrie Pitt.
Cape, 506 pp., £8.95, June 1980, 0 224 01771 3
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by Richard Rhodes James.
Murray, 214 pp., £10.50, August 1980, 0 7195 3746 0
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The Chief 
by Ronald Lewin.
Hutchinson, 282 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780091425005
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Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War 
by Basil Davidson.
Gollancz, 288 pp., £8.50, July 1980, 0 575 02820 3
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... but of the whole root and branch, the causes and the effects, of fascist ideology. As Mr Davidson says, ‘the true epic of those years lay in the courage and determination with which countless men and women followed the hope and vision of a radical democracy. Vaguely perceived perhaps ... and yet so real and so worthwhile, in the grim conditions of ...

Cocoa is blood and they are eating my flesh

Toby Green: Slavery and Cocoa, 11 April 2013

Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa 
by Catherine Higgs.
Ohio, 230 pp., £24.95, June 2012, 978 0 8214 2006 5
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... World War and forced labour continued to be used in colonial Africa well into the 20th century: as Basil Davidson discovered, it continued in Angola in the 1950s, and recent research shows that it may have been widespread as late as the independence wars of the 1960s.* The Angolan colony was key to propping up the struggling economy of the Salazar regime ...

The Road to Independence

David Caute, 21 November 1985

Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe 
by Terence Ranger.
James Currey, 377 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 85255 000 6
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Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe 
by David Lan.
James Currey, 244 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 0 85255 200 9
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... road to independence has been neither a carbon copy of Kenyan capitalism nor, as John Saul and Basil Davidson inferred in the late Seventies, an inferior version of Frelimo-style socialism in neighbouring Mozambique. According to Ranger, the disparaging depictions of Zanu and its military wing Zanla were based on unavoidable ignorance: ‘While the ...


Jeremy Harding: The Late Jonas Savimbi, 21 March 2002

... battle-hardening came a grim hardening of party political practice – a kind of Stalinism, as Basil Davidson later came to think of it – mirrored in the bases of the Namibians and South Africans. Swapo ‘traitors’ were tortured by their commissars, while ANC dissenters were shoved in pits or executed. The balanced view is that Moscow and Havana ...

A Kind of Greek

Jeremy Harding: Frank Thompson, 7 March 2013

A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson 
by Peter Conradi.
Bloomsbury, 419 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 1 4088 0243 4
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... partisans already mustered in Serbia: the missing word here would be ‘henceforth’. Nonetheless Basil Davidson, a liaison officer with Tito’s partisans, felt that E.P. had it right about the drops to Frank and his crew: London wanted the Bulgarian operation to wither. That might have been a tactical decision based on intelligence from the liaison ...

The Age of EJH

Perry Anderson: Eric Hobsbawm’s Memoirs, 3 October 2002

Interesting Times: A 20th-Century Life 
by Eric Hobsbawm.
Allen Lane, 448 pp., £20, September 2002, 0 7139 9581 5
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... Of Hobsbawm’s personal views, we learn little, beyond the fact that he was sceptical that Basil Davidson could have been a British agent as charged along with Rajk, since his career had suffered in the Cold War. There is no clue to his opinion of the Moscow Trials that destroyed the Old Bolsheviks and set the pattern for the sequels in ...


James Davidson, 8 February 1996

The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe 
by John Boswell.
Fontana, 412 pp., £8.99, January 1996, 0 00 686326 4
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... of every possible carnal connotation from the most innocent vocabulary. When the Emperor Basil I ascended the throne, for instance, he sent for the son of the widow Danelis, ‘on account of their earlier partnership in spiritual brotherhood’. Boswell omits the clarification ‘spiritual’ from his translation altogether and notes that ...

Matters of Taste

Peter Graham, 4 December 1986

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen 
by Harold McGee.
Allen and Unwin, 684 pp., £20, September 1986, 9780043060032
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The French Menu Cookbook 
by Richard Olney.
Dorling Kindersley, 294 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 86318 181 3
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Out to Lunch 
by Paul Levy.
Chatto, 240 pp., £10.95, November 1986, 0 7011 3091 1
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The Good Food Guide 1987 
edited by Drew Smith.
Consumers’ Association/Hodder, 725 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 340 39600 8
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... makes its consumption of a third of the world’s meat more shocking); and his remarks on dill, basil, gin and vodka contain minor inaccuracies. More seriously, he becomes much less persuasive the moment he gets anywhere near the subject of consumerism. The healthy scepticism which informs the rest of the book and allows him to debunk several persistent ...

Dream on

Alexander Nehamas, 17 July 1997

Dinner with Persephone 
by Patricia Storace.
Granta, 398 pp., £17.99, February 1997, 1 86207 033 4
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... earlier – uncontaminated by later, particularly foreign, intrusions. ‘The Romans,’ James Davidson wrote recently in these pages, ‘were so thorough in forestalling the possibility of any actual heroics that might disturb the Roman peace that the dream-world of discourse was the only space left to the Greeks for great deeds’ (LRB, 23 ...

Dummy and Biffy

Noël Annan, 17 October 1985

Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community 
by Christopher Andrew.
Heinemann, 616 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 02110 5
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The Secret Generation 
by John Gardner.
Heinemann, 453 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 434 28250 2
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Two Thyrds 
by Bertie Denham.
Ross Anderson Publications, 292 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 86360 006 9
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The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933-1939 
by Wesley Wark.
Tauris, 304 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 1 85043 014 4
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... should enquire in his diary: ‘Is Lloyd George a traitor?’ In the end, Lloyd George sacked Basil Thomson, head of the Special Branch, whose predilection for forged documents and putting tabs on the leaders of the Labour movement became intolerable. Andrew’s examination of the Zinoviev letter is particularly thorough. He concludes that it was probably ...

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