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R.W. Johnson: Alan Taylor, Oxford Don, 8 May 1986

... College, Oxford, the fact that my vote at college meetings counted the same as that of A.J.P. Taylor seemed to me, as it still does, a glorious democratic quirk of the Oxford collegiate system. I was just 26 and the youngest fellow; he was probably the most famous historian in the world. I was not long to think of him by his initials, for Alan was the ...

Success and James Maxton

Inigo Thomas, 3 January 2008

... the next stage.’ At 60, he looked ghostly; a diet of tea and cigarettes hadn’t helped. A.J.P. Taylor said that Maxton had wasted his political life: ‘He was a politician who had every quality – passionate sincerity, unstinted devotion, personal charm, a power of oratory – every quality save one – the gift of knowing how to succeed.’ A flaw in ...

Nobody wants it

José Harris, 5 December 1991

Letters to Eva, 1969-1983 
by A.J.P. Taylor, edited by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Century, 486 pp., £20, June 1991, 0 7126 4634 5
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... A cynic? How can I not be when I have spent my life writing history?’ Alan Taylor’s love letters to his Hungarian third wife created a predictably prurient, though transient, stir when they were published earlier this year. Their more lasting interest may lie in the light that they throw upon Taylor the practising historian, musing to a fellow historian about the mysteries of his craft ...

Ask Anyone in Canada

Neal Ascherson: Max Beaverbrook’s Mediations, 24 October 2019

Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman 
by Charles Williams.
Biteback, 566 pp., £25, June 2019, 978 1 84954 746 8
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... later, repeatedly ‘brought party disunion and electoral defeat’ (in the words of A.J.P. Taylor, who was to become the Beaver’s favourite historian). In Taylor’s definition, ‘Imperial Preference … meant in practice British tariffs on foreign food, while foodstuffs from the Dominions came in free.’ There ...

Principal Ornament

José Harris, 3 December 1992

G.M. Trevelyan: A life in History 
by David Cannadine.
HarperCollins, 288 pp., £18, September 1992, 0 00 215872 8
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... And similarly the wide readership and powerful television presence of historians such as A.J.P. Taylor, E.P. Thompson, Asa Briggs, and Cannadine himself, suggest that although history may no longer define communal national consciousness it has not lost its capacity to engage and entertain a large mass of individuals. Cannadine admits that Trevelyan was ...

Short Cuts

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Gordon Brown, 7 June 2007

... that anyone now remembers, but even that has eluded Brown, who attributes the phrase to A.J.P. Taylor. This is a mistake a competent ghost-writer might have avoided. But our new prime minister should be able to fend off any doubts about authorship. Cavell ‘sought to replicate those exacting standards and instil an equally uncompromising dedication to ...


J.I.M. Stewart, 19 March 1981

Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars 
by Paul Fussell.
Oxford, 246 pp., £8.95, March 1981, 0 19 502767 1
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... the first importance. But it is a very considerable sociological problem. I an sorry that A.J.P. Taylor, who has ventured to express himself as puzzled by it, is therefore judged by Mr Fussell to be ‘dim-witted’ – one of Orwell’s expressions. Mr Fussell, who is quite up-to-date, adds ‘wet’ off his own ...

The Great War Revisited

Michael Howard, 23 April 1987

The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 
by Trevor Wilson.
Polity, 864 pp., £35, September 1986, 9780745600932
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British Strategy and War Aims 1914-1916 
by David French.
Allen and Unwin, 274 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 04 942197 2
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The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos 
by Peter Parker.
Constable, 319 pp., £15, March 1987, 0 09 466980 5
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... all others to awe-struck silence. On domestic politics Lord Beaverbrook and his acolyte A.J.P. Taylor gave us plenty to be going on with, even before younger specialists like Cameron Hazlehurst began to dissect the minutiae of Cabinet crises. Arthur Marwick boldly opened up the whole question of war and social change. Recently a number of younger ...


Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell, 5 October 2000

Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... call-to-arms for all makers of literary lives, and Adam Sisman, previously a biographer of A.J.P. Taylor, has taken on a genuine task, a presumptuous task indeed, to write a biography of the biography, in the hope of casting light on the very real subject of how to make a biographical subject real. His book is successful in ways that might draw attention to ...

Dig, Hammer, Spin, Weave

Miles Taylor: Richard Cobden, Class Warrior, 12 March 2009

The Letters of Richard Cobden. Vol. I: 1815-47 
edited by Anthony Howe.
Oxford, 529 pp., £100, November 2007, 978 0 19 921195 1
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... before the First World War, by 1920 he had become an ‘international man’. In the 1950s, A.J.P. Taylor retrospectively enlisted him as a member of CND, but a decade later he was being pulled in the opposite direction by the free marketeers of the Mont Pélérin Society in Europe and the Foundation for Economic Education in the US. This volume of letters ...

Uniquely Horrible

Michael Howard, 8 September 1994

The Wages of Guilt 
by Ian Buruma.
Cape, 330 pp., £17.99, June 1994, 0 224 03138 4
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... erzwungene Krieg (a war forced on Germany) to explain Nazi aggression. In Germany itself, A.J.P. Taylor has found few if any disciples. But even if a shadow of doubt hung over the question of Germany’s responsibility for the war, there was none whatever about her conduct of it. Goering and his co-defendants at the Nuremberg Trials made hay of the highly ...

Merry Wife of Windsor

Patricia Beer, 16 October 1980

The Duchess of Windsor 
by Diana Mosley.
Sidgwick, 219 pp., £8.95, June 1980, 9780283986284
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... Simpson divorced Mr Simpson for his own good. The best method, surely, is the one used by A.J.P. Taylor in his editorial foreword to Beaverbrook’s book: he feels that Mrs Simpson was unfairly blamed; he says so and says why, briefly. Lady Mosley’s other aim is ‘to try and discover something about the woman who inspired such a deep and lasting love and ...

In the Hands of the Cannibals

Neal Ascherson, 20 February 1997

Europe: A History 
by Norman Davies.
Oxford, 1365 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 19 820171 0
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... provincialism of conventional Western history writing. (Another model and tutor, the late A.J.P. Taylor, took a different line, treating the smaller nations of Eastern Europe with impatient contempt.) But he is the first to offer the general public a convincing alternative. It was high time. The old versions were already losing credibility. As Davies ...

Who ruins Britain?

Peter Clarke, 22 November 1990

Friends in High Places: Who runs Britain? 
by Jeremy Paxman.
Joseph, 370 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3154 1
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The Sunday Times Book of the Rich 
by Philip Beresford.
Weidenfeld, 336 pp., £18.95, October 1990, 0 297 81115 0
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... The term ‘Establishment’, in its secular modern sense, seems to have originated with A.J.P. Taylor in 1953. He stretched its provenance from the Established Church to cover the governing classes in general. What Henry Fairlie did two years later in a famous article in the Spectator was to gloss the term as identifying a particular sort of informal power ...


Neal Ascherson: Hugh Trevor-Roper, 19 August 2010

Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Weidenfeld, 598 pp., £25, July 2010, 978 0 297 85214 8
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... an exaggerated relish that suggests insecurity. In this, he was unlike the much tougher A.J.P. Taylor, who came to Oxford from middle-class Lancashire and was able to view the place with affectionate detachment. Taylor got on sturdily with his work. Trevor-Roper let himself be drawn into energy-sapping college ...

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