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Von Hötzendorff’s Desire

Margaret MacMillan: The First World War, 2 December 2004

Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy 
by David Stevenson.
Basic Books, 564 pp., £26.50, June 2004, 0 465 08184 3
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... The Great War seems far off, the world before 1914 even further. We find it hard to believe that men and women cheered in the streets as Europe lurched towards war that July, that the men who poured onto the battlefields in their millions talked the language of duty, and that Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians travelled across the world to help the ‘mother country ...

A Bit of Chaos

Margaret MacMillan: The Great War and After, 5 February 2015

The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 
by Adam Tooze.
Allen Lane, 672 pp., £30, May 2014, 978 1 84614 034 1
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... A common​ and still widely accepted story of the origin of the Second World War is that it was the direct result of what happened in 1919 at the end of the Great War. The French were recklessly vengeful towards the defeated, the British callously indifferent to what was happening on the Continent, and the Americans smugly isolationist. The Allies made Germany sign a humiliating treaty and forced it to pay exorbitant reparations, enabling the rise of the Nazis to power ...

Omnipresent Eye

Patrick Wright: The Nixon/Mao Show, 16 August 2007

Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 384 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 7195 6522 7
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... and walks towards his welcoming host for the first of many carefully held handshakes. That, as Margaret MacMillan confirms, is more or less what took place at Beijing airport on Monday, 21 February 1972. It’s also the opening scene of John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, premiered in Houston in 1987, and staged again at the London Coliseum over a ...

The First Calamity

Christopher Clark: July, 1914, 29 August 2013

The War That Ended Peace 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Profile, 656 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 1 84668 272 8
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July 1914: Countdown to War 
by Sean McMeekin.
Icon, 461 pp., £25, July 2013, 978 1 84831 593 8
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... historical ‘forces’, but of short-term realignments and shocks to the international system. Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace and Sean McMeekin’s July 1914 both bear the imprint of these perspectival shifts. They are both attentive to the play of contingency in crises that involved multilateral interactions among numerous sovereign ...

Between Jesus and Napoleon

Jonathan Haslam: The Paris Conference of 1919, 15 November 2001

Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 574 pp., £25, September 2001, 0 7195 5939 1
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... Central Europe in the years that paralleled and immediately followed the Paris peace. As Margaret MacMillan acknowledges in her fine study of decision-making at the summit, these forces ultimately undermined the settlement and operate still today, as we saw in the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation. It is not least for these reasons that no ...

At Notre Dame de Lorette

Gavin Stamp: The International Memorial , 20 November 2014

... of Waterloo without General Blücher and his Prussians. The recent books by Christopher Clark and Margaret Macmillan, which suggest that the catastrophe of 1914 was caused, in part, by secret treaties, devious and incompetent diplomacy and a culture of militarism from which Britain can’t be exculpated, have had little impact on public attitudes. The ...

Squeamish

Peter Clarke: Lloyd George versus Haig, 3 April 2003

Lloyd George: War Leader 
by John Grigg.
Allen Lane, 670 pp., £25, October 2002, 9780713993431
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... 22 months of his wartime Premiership, to October 1918, within sight of the now inevitable victory. Margaret MacMillan, whose impressive and engaging book on the Paris Peace Conference, Peacemakers, rightly won so many prizes last year, has supplied a graceful and authoritative conclusion, leaving Lloyd George at the summit of his authority, with the ...

Grand Old Man

Robert Blake, 1 May 1980

The Last Edwardian at No 10: An Impression of Harold Macmillan 
by George Hutchinson.
Quartet, 151 pp., £6.50, February 1980, 0 7043 2232 3
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... about a person while he is still alive, as Mr Alastair Horne is now doing in the case of Mr Macmillan. But to publish in the subject’s lifetime is difficult. There are things in some people’s careers which it is impossible even to mention while they are living and many more which it is hard to treat in proper perspective. To steer the course between ...

Grantham Factor

Martin Pugh, 2 March 1989

Rotten Borough 
by Oliver Anderson.
Fourth Estate, 320 pp., £5.95, March 1989, 0 947795 83 9
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... In a few short months Margaret Thatcher will chalk up her first decade as prime minister. The celebrations to which this occasion will give rise in the mass media are certain to focus attention once again upon the phenomenon of ‘Thatcherism’ and its supposed origins in the Prime Minister’s own childhood experience of life above the grocer’s shop in Grantham ...

Holding all the strings

Ian Gilmour, 27 July 1989

Macmillan. Vol. II: 1957-1986 
by Alistair Horne.
Macmillan, 741 pp., £18.95, June 1989, 0 333 49621 3
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... Macmillan’s premiership started at near rock bottom, with his party in disarray following the Suez debacle – it was not at all certain that the Government would last more than a few weeks. It reached its peak with his towering victory in the 1959 General Election, and it stayed for a time on a fairly high plateau, until economic troubles and deflation, the sacking of a third of his Cabinet, the failure of Britain’s application to join the Common Market, and the Profumo case, sent his fortunes down almost to where they had been in 1957 ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... can a boy from Abersychan who acquired an accent like that be lazy?’ From Princess Margaret comes a comment on the moribundity of the London Season: ‘Every tart in London can get in.’ Kynaston appreciates the respect for working-class values which he associates with the work of Williams, Young and Richard Hoggart, and before that of ...

Impressions of Nietzsche

Keith Kyle, 27 July 1989

The Lives of Enoch Powell 
by Patrick Cosgrave.
Bodley Head, 518 pp., £16, April 1989, 0 370 30871 9
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... set out with bleak, relentless logic the case for monetarism and the free market decades before Margaret Thatcher presented herself as what he thought was a most unsuitable candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party. The attempt to supply a separate ‘Life’ for each chapter lands the author in the absurdity of dividing up Powell’s time in ...

In Pyjamas

R.W. Johnson: Bill Deedes’s Decency, 17 November 2005

Dear Bill: A Memoir 
by W.F. Deedes.
Macmillan, 451 pp., £14.99, July 2005, 9781405052665
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... usually expressed more forcefully by a fearsome, chauffeur-driven auntie figure, as played by Margaret Rutherford, or, in Deedes’s own life, by Margaret Thatcher. Journalists love him – always have loved him – because he is so much one of them. When editor of the Daily Telegraph he horrified the paper’s ...

Dissecting the Body

Colm Tóibín: Ian McEwan, 26 April 2007

On Chesil Beach 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 166 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 08118 4
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... of his erection, ‘broomstick hard and pulsing’ right beside her. In the background is Harold Macmillan. It is 1962, after the end of the Chatterley ban but before the Beatles’ first LP. As the couple eat their supper, they can hear his voice on the radio in the hotel bar below. He is present in this novel much as ...

Longing for Mao

Hugo Young: Edward Heath, 26 November 1998

The Curse of My Life: My Autobiography 
by Edward Heath.
Hodder, 767 pp., £25, October 1998, 0 340 70852 2
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... himself two decades ago, as the face of the old, generous, socially concerned Conservatism that Margaret Thatcher destroyed and neither John Major nor William Hague has done anything to re-create. While most other believers in this brand of Toryism, not only from Heath’s generation but the next two, have slipped away, to the House of Lords and points ...

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