Volume 63 Issue 3 March 2013

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

One of the great postwar publishing ventures and a highly original study of British attitudes to imperialism were among the winners at our annual celebration of excellence in history.

Martin Evans offers a frank reassessment of his article on 30 years of Algerian independence, published in History Today in 1992.

The civil war between Roman Catholics and Huguenots reached a brief peace on March 19th, 1563.

The notorious prison was closed for good on March 21st, 1963.

Canberra was born on March 12th, 1913.

A new exhibition at the British Museum on the aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 raises questions about the relationship between past and present, says Daisy Dunn.

Stephen Bates on the divisions that split Peel’s Tory administration in the mid-1840s, resonant of splits in the Conservative Party today.

Pevsner Architectural Guides still bear the mark of their founder, despite ample revision. Jonathan Meades plots their glorious evolution.

Following his disastrous Russian campaign, the emperor of France needed money quickly. The desperate measures he took are revealed by Noelle Plack.

Jonathan Fenby looks at a brief experiment in Chinese democracy, brought to an end by political assassination.

Sean McGlynn reconsiders the origins of the popular myth and suggests a new contender for the original folk hero; not an outlaw from Nottingham but a devoted royal servant from Kent, who opposed the French invasion against King John in 1216.

Roger Howard recalls a moment 50 years ago when Israel was rocked by exaggerated claims of a threat posed by Egypt.

Postwar Britain’s relationship with its past was laid bare in a long-running television show, argues Tim Stanley.

Far from enslaving Anglo-Saxons under the Norman yoke, the Conquest brought freedom to many, as Marc Morris explains.

The term ‘Cobbett and Hunt’ was shorthand for radical politics in the early 19th century, but the petty hatred that developed between the two men had a devastating effect on the outcome of the 1832 Reform Act, says Penny Young.

Roger Hudson views the famous vessel from an unfamiliar perspective.

Hal Wert tells the story of the two Lithuanian-American aviators, Steponas Darius and Stanley Girenas, whose attempt to bring honour to the land of their birth ended tragically in July 1933.

Peter Mandler explains how the anthropologist Margaret Mead, author of best-selling studies of ‘primitive’ peoples, became a major influence on US military thinking during the Second World War.

Some commentators predict that the 21st century will be the ‘Asian century’, marking a significant shift in power from West to East. If so, it will not be so different from the global order of the 19th century, says Thomas DuBois.

European colonialism, it was once believed, redeemed its many sins by bringing modern science and medicine to the benighted East. Over the last few decades, however, numerous rigorously researched historical studies have shown that the work of colonial scientists was far from immune to the self-interest, violence and racial presuppositions characterising imperialism as a whole. This fine new book by Pratik Chakrabarti establishes, yet again, how the introduction of modern science in India was shaped by political and cultural imperatives.

Physically lightweight it may be, but A Little History of Science delivers a far heavier punch than its modest title would suggest. Ranging from Babylon to bosons, from astrology to astrophysics, this chatty account for teenagers covers not only the world of science but also the scientific history of the world. To enjoy this book you need know nothing about history and little about science. Directly addressing his readers as ‘you’, William Bynum encourages us to contemplate the wonders of nature with the same questioning gaze as did our ancestors several millennia ago.

It is so common to see the ‘Nazi invasion of Russia’ written in texts on the Second World War that it is  easy to forget that the German armed forces (not of course ‘the Nazis’) invaded the Soviet Union, alongside around 750,000 Finnish, Hungarian, Romanian and Slovakian forces and, later, with the participation of volunteers from much of the rest of Europe. The force that contested the war on the Eastern Front was multinational, even if the military core and the most competent commanders were German.

Carl Watkins’ latest book concerns English beliefs from the Middle Ages to the 20th century about death and the possibilities of an afterlife. Experts in the subject will find little new in it, but even they should enjoy the colour and excitement of the writing, serving up familiar material in an especially vivid form. Newcomers to the field could not hope for a better introduction. The technique Watkins uses is to focus on specific texts and monuments linked to particular personalities and locations to illustrate how attitudes developed over time.

What do St Petersburg, Bombay, Shanghai and Dubai have in common and what can we learn from it? The simple answer is that each was more or less a newly created settlement with a specific purpose of ‘opening a window on the West’. The book is presented as a search for precedents for Dubai in places that were ‘ideas’ before they were cities. In each case the West meant modernity: challenging the norms of a settled religious and social order; expressing the challenge through new foreign building styles, new forms of economic activity.