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Volume 62 Issue 3 March 2012

The 19th-century view from Albion of the shortcomings of the US Constitution was remarkably astute, says Frank Prochaska.

Churchill’s four-year quest to sink Hitler’s capital ship Tirpitz saw Allied airmen and sailors run risks that would be hard to justify today, says Patrick Bishop.

One of Britain’s finest Renaissance scholars and a ground-breaking study of the night in Early Modern Europe were among the winners­ at our annual celebration of excellence in history.

A selection of readers' correspondence with the editor, Paul Lay.

The historical debate over the United Kingdom has been led by those who wish to bring the Union to an end. David Torrance believes the public deserves a more balanced discussion.

Kate Retford explains how the artist Johan Zoffany found ways to promote a fresh image of royalty that endeared him to George III and Queen Charlotte – a relationship he subsequently destroyed.

Global history has become a vigorous field in recent years, examining all parts of the empires of Europe and Asia and moving beyond the confines of ‘top-down’ diplomatic history, as Peter Mandler explains.

Guibert of Nogent was a French abbot who found it difficult to adapt to the 12th-century Renaissance. Yet his writings are among the first works to examine man’s inner life, says Charles Freeman.

Barack Obama’s admiration for the progressive Republicanism of Theodore Roosevelt ignores the true nature of both early 20th-century America and the president who embodied it, argues Tim Stanley.

Ivan became Grand Prince on March 27th 1462, following the death of his father.

The Flemish cartographer was born on March 5th, 1512.

Alex Keller tells the story of how an unlikely friendship between a Dutch doctor and a young Italian nobleman led to the establishment of the first scientific society, which lent crucial support to the radical ideas of Galileo Galilei.

Richard Hughes uncovers the patriotic efforts of the actor and playwright Noël Coward during the Second World War and argues that he should be remembered for more than merely entertaining the troops.

Tom Holland argues that the return of religion and the West’s current obsession with decline make Roy Porter’s profile of Edward Gibbon, first published in History Today in 1986, curiously dated.

Constructing the Victoria Embankment on the north bank of the River Thames in London: an image analysed by Roger Hudson.

Jonathan Downs reports on the fire last December that caused extensive damage to one of Egypt’s most important collections of historical manuscripts.

Albert Speer’s plan to transform Berlin into the capital of a 1,000-year Reich would have created a vast monument to misanthropy.

Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) has long been a favourite of biographers, particularly in Germany, where he reigned as Holy Roman Emperor, and in Italy, where he ruled sternly and efficiently as king of Sicily and southern Italy. His reputation as a patron of culture, open to the insights of Muslim and Jewish scholars, and his bitter conflicts with some of the most powerful popes of the Middle Ages have become intertwined, so that he has been portrayed as an ‘infidel emperor’ who scorned the tenets of the Catholic Church. The myth of Frederick is as interesting as the real man.

Between 1943 and 1945 thousands of Italian men and women took part in what became known as ‘The Resistance’. Many were extremely young and most of those who died at the hands of the Italian Fascists and the Nazis were in their teens or early twenties. These men and women took to the mountains to carry out guerrilla warfare against the occupying German army and Mussolini’s faithful followers. They did so out of ideological conviction (as Communists, socialists, Catholic anti-fascists and monarchists) or simply to get rid of foreign troops from Italian soil.

These two books achieve the unexpected: saying something genuinely new about the great world crisis that began with the Depression in the late 1920s and continued until Allied victory in 1945. Both challenge received wisdom: not only the narratives embedded in hundreds of popular books and TV histories, but also prevailing assumptions among scholars. Read separately, they are intriguing and persuasive; together they combine to create a coherent new synthesis that highlights the importance of international cooperation and economic regulation in sustaining and reconstructing world peace.

The Victorian era may have come to an end in 1901 but modern novelists do not seem to have got the memo. Check out most bookshops and you’ll find many examples of authors offering us the stories that the Victorians dared not write about themselves (usually about sex and dirt). There is nothing new about what critics call the ‘neo-Victorian novel’ (one thinks of John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman) but writers such as Sarah Waters or Michael Faber, author of the recently televised Crimson Petal and the White, define themselves by revisiting Victorian sensation fiction.

Gallipoli stands almost alone among battles of the First World War. This campaign, fought at the Dardanelles in 1915, has a romance almost entirely missing from the attritional struggles on the Western Front in spite of the fact that this attempt to knock Turkey out of the war was a far greater failure than Passchendaele or the Somme. It is instructive to compare the vast number of books on Gallipoli with the handful on the battles of the hundred days of August-November 1918 when a highly effective British army made a mighty contribution to winning the war.

Everybody who uses The Buildings of England, or ‘Pevsners’ as they are affectionately known, must wonder how Nikolaus Pevsner, that quintessential German scholar, was transformed into an anglicised architectural pundit, broadcaster and national treasure. The answers are in Susie Harries’ deft and judicious new biography.

This book has all the best qualities of its author’s Newsnight persona. It is wry, clear, tough-minded, intelligent and to the point. Jeremy Paxman has already written a very good book on The English so this imperial foray is in many ways a natural follow on. The book has an excellent and comprehensive bibliography that generously acknowledges its major competitors rather than ignoring them as some recent authors of books on Empire have chosen to do.

I have always found Katherine of Aragon easy to admire but hard to like. Perhaps others have felt the same. Though she figures largely in David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2004), the standard life of her was Garrett Mattingly’s fine book, now more than 60 years old.