History & Classics

‘Agent Sonya’

Malcolm Gaskill

6 January 2022

Ursula Kuczynski vowed to be better than her mother, an artist whose main talent was for self-regard. However, she found being a good parent harder than being a good communist, and when she had to choose between the two, she invariably chose communism.

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Gentlemanly Bullets

Tim Parks

6 January 2022

Between​ the third and fifth centuries of the Christian era the major world religions ceased to sacrifice animals to appease their gods. For reasons that remain unclear, a practice that had been . . .

England under Siege

Jessie Childs

6 January 2022

Thomas​ Hobbes used to tell people that the Spanish Armada was the reason he had been born prematurely. ‘My mother gave birth to twins,’ he said, ‘myself and fear.’ He never . . .

Learning to Laugh

Fara Dabhoiwala

16 December 2021

In​ a largely illiterate world, laughing was something one did with other people. Early theorists of humour considered it a form of speech rather than writing. And speech could be extremely dangerous . . .

George III

Ferdinand Mount

16 December 2021

On​ Christmas Day 1788, the king hid his bedclothes under the bed, put a pillowcase on his head and hugged the pillow, which he called Prince Octavius and said had just been born (Prince Octavius . . .

The Public Voice of Women

Mary Beard, 20 March 2014

Iwant to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not...

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Watch this man: Niall Ferguson’s Burden

Pankaj Mishra, 3 November 2011

He sounds like the Europeans described by V.S. Naipaul – the grandson of indentured labourers – in A Bend in the River, who ‘wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else’, but also ‘wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves’.

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Diary: Working Methods

Keith Thomas, 10 June 2010

It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written. The awful warning is Lord Acton, whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him.

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‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’: Springtime for Robespierre

Hilary Mantel, 30 March 2000

Robespierre thought that, if you could imagine a better society, you could create it. He needed a corps of moral giants at his back, but found himself leading a gang of squabbling moral pygmies. This is how Virtue led to Terror. 

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The Sound of Voices Intoning Names

Thomas Laqueur, 5 June 1997

In a happier age, Immanuel Kant identified one of the problems of understanding any of the genocides which come all too easily to mind. It is the problem of the mathematical sublime. The...

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Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

‘Iwill never, come hell or high water, let our distinctive British identity be lost in a federal Europe.’ John Major’s ringing assurance to last year’s Conservative Party...

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Goodbye Columbus

Eric Hobsbawm, 9 July 1992

Afew weeks ago, in Mexico, I was asked to sign a protest against Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the original native populations of the American continents and islands, or rather, of their...

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Grim Eminence

Norman Stone, 10 January 1983

The historian Edward Hallett Carr died on 3 November 1982, at the age of 90. He had an oddly laconic obituary in the Times, which missed out a great deal. If he had died ten years before, his...

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War and Peace

A.J.P. Taylor, 2 October 1980

War has been throughout history the curse and inspiration of mankind. The sufferings and destruction that accompany it rival those caused by famine, plague and natural catastrophes. Yet in nearly...

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Get your story straight: Soviet Nationhood

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 2 December 2021

The territory of the USSR closely matched that of the imperial Russia of the tsars’ empire, with Russian still the lingua franca and a major Russian city its capital. It was natural to ask whether...

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Peace without Empire

Perry Anderson, 2 December 2021

Gradual changes have already started to act as counterforces to the follies of unbridled speculation, fears of uncontrolled immigration and contagions of civil war. For Stella Ghervas, balance of power...

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Short Cuts: Rewritten History

Richard J. Evans, 2 December 2021

‘We won’t allow people to censor our past,’ Robert Jenrick, then communities secretary, said in January. ‘It is our privilege in this country to have inherited a deep,...

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Greek Hearts and Diadems: Antigonid Rule

James Romm, 18 November 2021

Antigonus’ grandfather had compared Athens to a lighthouse for its effect on public opinion in Greece. For more than forty years the Antigonids had hoped to win the city’s endorsement, and...

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Imperial Narcotic

Neal Ascherson, 18 November 2021

The Empire Windrush, bringing eight hundred Caribbean passengers to Britain, docked at Tilbury on 21 June 1948, while the Nationality Act was still going through Parliament. Here again, myth has fogged...

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Loose Talk: Atomic Secrets

Steven Shapin, 4 November 2021

When the Manhattan Project was launched in 1942, the military was fully on board and totally in charge. The army knew all about secrecy in weapons development and how to ensure it: people were vetted;...

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The lush comic hip-hop of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B illustrates the core element of Old Comedy that is most often obscured in contemporary Anglophone translations – the flow. Aristophanes,...

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Powers of Darkness: Made by Free Hands

Michael Taylor, 21 October 2021

Having announced to the world that they traded only in legitimate produce, and with idealistic shoppers content to pay more for goods made by free hands, merchants on both sides of the Atlantic found establishing...

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Great Sums of Money: Swingeing Taxes

Ferdinand Mount, 21 October 2021

The new fad for ‘levelling up’ doesn’t show any weakening of the Tory mindset. On the contrary, it seems that the levelling is to be achieved almost exclusively by the brilliance...

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The Scissors Gap: China takes it slow

Rebecca E. Karl, 21 October 2021

The many young economists who devoted themselves to preventing shock therapy fell from power in 1989 when Zhao Ziyang was ousted: like Zhao, their support for the Tiananmen Square protesters had political...

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Milman Parry, Albert Lord and Nikola Vujnović toured the villages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, interviewing and recording the guslari they met there. Some sang tales from legend; others told of the...

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The new capitalist economy produced a form of civic equality. In ever more areas of daily life, men and women operated under the same formal abstract rules – the rules of the consumer marketplace...

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Fake it till you make it: Indexing

Anthony Grafton, 23 September 2021

The index gave its users formidable power to find and quote adages and examples, narratives and poems, scriptural and patristic texts, whether or not they had actually read the full works they cited. That...

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Exile Language: Fondness for Yiddish

William Pimlott, 23 September 2021

Ben-Gurion’s government saw Yiddish as an ‘anti-nationalist’ goles shprakh (‘exile language’) that represented life in the diaspora. Yiddish had been spoken by an urbanising...

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Flocculent and Feculent

Susan Pedersen, 23 September 2021

Are our Fitbits and exercise apps, our vegan diets and locavore restaurants, holdouts against our food system or merely further evidence of its remorseless adaptability, its capacity to supply niche markets...

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Invidious Trumpet: Find the Printer

Thomas Keymer, 9 September 2021

Warrants could be readily obtained (or sometimes just not obtained) to raid the premises of printers, arrest and interrogate writers, or confiscate and destroy equipment. Informal harassment was rife,...

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Prussian Disneyland

Jan-Werner Müller, 9 September 2021

Defenders of Berlin’s new palace claim that as home to the Humboldt Forum – a collection of objects from Africa and Asia – it demonstrates Germany’s eagerness to engage in a ‘dialogue...

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United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner, 9 September 2021

One might think it impossible to erase an event of this magnitude from historical memory. But Tulsa tried its best. Scott Ellsworth discovered that police reports and National Guard records had been systematically...

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