Category Archives: History

Toby Litt – Wrestliana

When we visit Toby Litt in his office at Birkbeck University of London he tells us that all the books in the building have had to be removed because the Georgian building can’t take the weight. All, it seems, except those in his office, which appears to be single-handedly keeping the faith. This seems right. Toby is very much a man of literature – he teaches creative writing at Birkbeck and he has published thirteen fine novels and collections of stories. But Toby’s new book is not fiction. It is by turns a meditation on his ancestry, the meaning of being a father, an examination of the neglected sport of Cumberland … Continue reading

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Grady Hendrix – Paperbacks From Hell

You might think it eccentric to speak of a golden age of satanic possession, murderous infants, flesh-eating crustaceans and Nazi leprechauns, but for enthusiasts of paperback horror novels, the 70’s and 80’s were the glory days.  This was a time of the most lurid nightmares spawned, it seemed, from the very bowels of Hell. This was a time when books were proud to be horror rather than ‘chiller’ or ‘thriller’, and when the word Satan on the cover was a guarantee of sales (even if there was nothing supernatural inside). Grady Hendrix has written a hugely entertaining history and celebration of this splendid time. We talked to Grady via skype from a restaurant kitchen in … Continue reading

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Jamie Cawley – Beliefs And The World They Created

It goes without saying that there is a difference in kind between what you “believe” and what I “know to be true”. Whether it is the True Religion (be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam), Dawkinsite scientific certainty or the Demonstrable Facts of realpolitik, we all have our cherished articles of faith, and it can be fighting talk to question the shibboleths. So you might think that Jamie Cawley is a brave man to undertake a panoramic discussion of belief as a recurring phenomenon in human societies. Between the worldwide emergence of polytheism and the contemporary creed of Environmentalism, he makes a brisk and entertaining tour of the high watermarks of belief around … Continue reading

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Mike Jay – High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture

Our noble species has a fraught relationship with intoxicants, narcotics, stimulants and hallucinogens. We crave their mind-altering powers, but once they become woven into the fabric of our cultures, we have to either come to terms with them, or make generally futile attempts to shun them. The range of substances is breathtaking, from the completely natural – peyote, alcohol, tobacco – to the explicitly synthetic – LSD, Ecstasy and the dazzling variety of contemporary designer drugs – but what is most striking is the ubiquity of the human embrace of the possibilities of getting out of our heads. We are a junkie species. Books about drugs are catnip to Tim, … Continue reading

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Nicholas Wapshott – The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

Senator Burton K Wheeler put the question best: If the war in Europe was America’s war, why was she not fighting it? It was the vital question of its day. Should America join the European war or not? There are various approaches to history where wars are concerned. One is military history – who shot whom. Much more interesting is the political intrigue – who came out on top, and how. After the Great War, there was a strong, not to say, dominant strain of isolationism, a huge apprehension of the dangers of getting into another European war. The isolationists were a mixed bunch, comprising principled constitutionalists liberals, and American … Continue reading

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Alwyn W turner – The Last Post

No Man’s Land is already littered with books on the Great War, and there will be many more hurled into the fray, but not many of them will be as original as this thoughtful and engaging treatment by the historian Alwyn W Turner. Ostensibly a history of the bugle call that came to symbolise the honour of a military death, it ranges very much more widely, taking in all the main symbols of remembrance (all associated with the First War rather than the Second) and serves also as a history of the development of social attitudes towards the soldier, and of public opinion in locating the significance of war. http://media.blubrry.com/timhaighreadsbooks/p/www.green-shoot.com/podcast/green-shoot_thebookspodcast_alwynturner-thelastpost.mp3Podcast: … Continue reading

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Humaira Shahid – Devotion and Defiance

Humaira Shahid might have had a gilded life, and no-one would have blamed her. She was born into the privileged classes of Pakistan, enjoyed a happy and liberal childhood, and married well into a newspaper dynasty. The important men in her life adored her and admired her and encouraged her to fulfil herself rather than take the subservient role imposed on many Pakistani women. She became an academic, teaching literature, and that might have been that. But Humaira’s personal life contained a series of heartbreaking tragedies, and as she participated in her husband’s journalistic activities, she gained a first-hand knowledge of dreadful injustice and suffering in Pakistan. Driven by a fiery … Continue reading

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Christopher Fowler – Film Freak

There was a time when film publicity consisted of having a poster painted, and sending the posters with the reels of film in the van when they were delivered to the cinemas. And then advertising industry foot-soldiers Christopher Fowler and Jim Sturgeon had an idea. What the movies needed was somebody who did film publicity in a much more imaginative way. They were right. What happened after that is laugh out loud funny, indiscreet and revealing, and treads cheerfully on the feet of silver screen glamour; and it is all weirdly plausible. Whether he is telling the story of his ill-judged first visit to the Cannes Film Festival (everybody’s first … Continue reading

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Alwyn W Turner – Things Can Only Get Bitter

The writer Alwyn Turner has spotted a fascinating statistical anomaly and it is this:  the generation to which he belongs has produced significantly fewer front rank politicians than those either side of it. Or indeed any generation within living memory. In fact it would be fair to say that, politically speaking, this is a lost generation.  Being a social historian Alwyn was prompted to figure out why, and the answer is his ebook, Things can Only Get Bitter. He identifies the pivotal 1992 general election as the crucial event, and analyses the impact on popular culture of the disgust of a generation which turned instead to comedy, music, movies, and … Continue reading

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Nicholas Wapshott – Keynes Hayek – The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

Can government action fix a broken economy? Eighty years ago John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek arrived at diametrically opposed conclusions. Far from being a dry and technical academic argument, it was then and is now the central division within political economy. The story of the row between these men and their followers is explosive and astonishingly bad-tempered. Bring up the subject with any politician or social scientist and they will be aware of this story. But only now has anybody written the book. There’s nothing Tim Loves more than a knock-down, drag out, punch up between intellectual heavyweights, so he met Nicholas Wapshott at his London publishers to talk … Continue reading

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