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Volume 62 Issue 9 September 2012

Bilbo Baggins first strode onto the world stage on September 21st, 1937.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild died on September 19th 1812.

The full text of Jonathan Steinberg's interview with History Today editor Paul Lay.

In our final round up of histories of the nations that make up the British Isles – or, if you prefer, the Atlantic Archipelago – Maria Luddy examines an event which shaped 20th-century Ireland, the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising.

In recent years the reputation of Mary Seacole as a pioneering nurse of the Crimean War has been elevated far beyond the bounds of her own ambition. Meanwhile that of Florence Nightingale has taken an undeserved knocking, as Lynn McDonald explains.

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

Sarah Fraser examines Bruce Lenman’s 1980 article on Jacobite exiles, part of a vigorous, influential rebuttal of a worn-out image.

Cromwell’s military campaign in Ireland is one event that the British can never remember and the Irish can never forget. Tom Reilly questions one of the most enduring and troubling topics in Irish history. 

Changing sides during the British Civil Wars was more common than once thought, claims Andrew Hopper, and played an important part in determining the outcome of the conflict.

The popular image of crusading is derived almost entirely from western accounts of the victorious First Crusade. Yet when historians examine Byzantine sources about the campaign a very different picture emerges, argues Peter Frankopan.

Jane Everson highlights the social networks of the Italian academies, the first of their kind in Renaissance Europe.

Roger Hudson reflects on a photograph of Blondin, the tightrope walker whose crossings of Niagara Falls became ever more bizarre.

‘Black’ propaganda in south-east Europe took many forms during the Second World War. Ioannis Stefanidis looks at top secret British attempts to undermine Nazi domination of the Balkans via the airwaves.

The story of penicillin is well known, as are those Nobel Prize winners who were honoured for their part in its discovery. But one man’s contribution has been overlooked. Malcolm Murfett sets the record straight on the biochemist Norman G. Heatley.

Modern secularists often paint a naive view of the medieval church. The reality was far more complex, argues Tim Stanley.

Recent episodes in Russia paint a disturbing picture in which the Little Father’s actions and legacy are undergoing rehabilitation, says Emily Whitaker.

Colin Greenstreet describes a new collaboration to transcribe and enhance 17th-century records of the High Court of Admiralty.

The recent attempt at House of Lords’ reform and the capacity of the issue to do serious damage to the cohesion of the governing coalition invites comparisons with the past, says Jeremy Black.

The battle of Cuito Cuanavale was a key moment in the smokescreen conflict of the Cold War played out in southern Africa. Gary Baines looks at the ways in which opposing sides are now remembering the event.

In 1624 a former army captain called Thomas Gainsford complained that Londoners would ‘come and ask every day for new Newes’. Gainsford was a writer of corantos: short, regularly printed broadsheets and pamphlets packed with letters and intelligence from abroad. The news that his readers were so eager to obtain was about the conflict between Protestant and Catholic nations then consuming mainland Europe and which would come to be known as the Thirty Years War.

When and how was the game we know of as football born? How did its rules evolve? Who were the first players and the first professionals? These questions, and many others, are answered in Keith Dewhurst’s fascinating and entertaining Underdogs. Although this book is ostensibly the story of a team from a Lancashire cotton town called Darwen and their giant-killing FA Cup run in 1879 there is much, much more here to enjoy.

When archaeologists opened an ancient Egyptian tomb in 1964 they weren’t sure quite what to make of the relationship between the two men interred there. Carvings showed Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum embracing and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Were these men friends, lovers or brothers? How, in 2400 BC , did their clear affection for each other play out with the royal court where they worked or with the wives and children who were also depicted?

The blurb of Richard Aldous’s book refers to his ‘startling conclusion’ that ‘the weakest link in the Atlantic Alliance of the 1980s was the association between its two principal actors’. Although that is quite an overstatement, Aldous provides a readable account of the many occasions on which Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did not see eye to eye. In retrospective portrayals, not least by Reagan and Thatcher themselves, the differences were airbrushed away.

‘There is something comic in the great British nation, with its infinite variety of talents, having this undistinguished and limited-minded German bourgeois to be its social sovereign,’ wrote Beatrice Webb of the Prince of Wales in 1897.

The story of supersonic passenger transport is one of the strangest in aviation history. Once it was the obvious course of development for the American, European and Soviet aircraft industries. Yet within a decade no one wanted supersonic travel (SST) and the only viable plane, Concorde, was an expensive embarrassment.

How central was what we would regard as magic in the lives and thoughts of the rulers and scholars of Elizabethan England?  Very much so, Glyn Parry claims in his engaging biography of John Dee, mathematician, book-collector, alchemist and prolific occult philosopher, called upon from time to time for advice by counsellors such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and even by Queen Elizabeth herself. 

Those expecting that Brian Walker’s ‘political history’ will be yet another journey over well-trodden ground will be both pleasantly and profitably surprised by his account of Ireland’s 20th century history. In place of the familiar narratives Walker instead offers us a much wider definition of ‘politics’ by focusing on the deeper complexities and contradictions of British/Irish identity and how this clash has produced political division and violence since 1921.

Joyce Tyldesley is a professional Egyptologist inching here towards the terrain of popular culture, delirious rumour and wild superstition. The ‘Tutmania’ that followed the 1922 discovery of the intact lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings and the repeat of the frenzy when the tomb contents toured to the British Museum in 1972 has ensured that many readers will be familiar with the story. Six weeks after the formal opening of the tomb the patron of the excavation, the frail Earl of Carnarvon, was bitten by a mosquito, suffered blood poisoning and pneumonia and then died in Cairo.

Although globalisation is not a phenomenon that is readily associated with the Middle Ages Timothy May makes a strong case for the emergence of a quasi-global system from the early 13th to the mid-14th century, the era in which the Eurasian continent was dominated by the Mongol Empire founded by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (who died in 1227). The Mongols did not, in the event, fulfil their supposed mandate to subjugate the whole world; but their empire extended from the China Sea to Anatolia and the Carpathians and from Siberia to the Hindu Kush and the Persian Gulf.

The 20th century has been dubbed the ‘age of anxiety’. By the 1950s one in every 20 Americans was routinely swallowing a sedative over breakfast. In the mid-1990s Prozac had become the second best-selling drug in the world. It was billed as the magic bullet for depressives. Despite some evidence that anti-depressants are only marginally more effective than placebos more and more people turn to drugs to alleviate their sadness.