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Volume 62 Issue 5 May 2012

Mihir Bose asks why sport has become so central to modern culture.

Britain and the United States may have been on the same side during the Second World War, but cinematic representations of the conflict could stir controversy between them, as Jeffrey Richards explains.

In 1729 a young entrepreneur, Jonathan Tyers, took over the failing management of the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall. During his long tenure he was able to make it a resounding success, as David Coke  explains.

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

Derek Wilson looks at the life of a French princess, who married and helped depose an English king during a tumultuous period of Anglo-French relations that was to end in the Hundred Years War.

Roger Hudson reveals a big splash: Chairman Mao photographed attempting to swim the River Yangtze in July 1966.

Modern dance was born with the premiere of L'apres-midi d'un faune on May 29th, 1912.

The Antipodean reformer died on May 16th, 1862.

The only British Prime Minister to be assassinated whilst in office was murdered on May 11th, 1812.

During the Second World War many cities were bombed from the air. However Rome, the centre of Christendom but also the capital of Fascism, was left untouched by the Allies until July 1943. Claudia Baldoli looks at the reasons why and examines the views of Italians towards the city.

Nigel Jones traces the chequered history of European referendums and asks why they appeal as much to dictators as to democrats.

Two hundred years ago Britain was gripped by a wave of violent machine breaking, as skilled textile workers, invoking the mythical Ned Ludd, attacked factories and factory owners in an attempt to defend their livelihoods. Richard Jones looks at how the phenomenon affected the industrial heartlands of Yorkshire.

Suggestions that the European Union should have control over Greece’s budget in order to curb its debt crisis have caused a fierce reaction from Athens. James Barker explores a parallel situation in 19th-century Egypt.

Ed Smith considers contingency, a factor central to both sport and history.

Taylor Downing appreciates the continuing relevance of an article questioning the accuracy of popular views of the wartime RAF.

The election for London Mayor took place on May 3rd, marked by the bitter rivalry between the present incumbent Boris Johnson and his predecessor Ken Livingstone. But, says Penelope J. Corfield, it’s just another chapter in London’s long electoral history.

The debate on Scottish independence has been dominated by economic arguments, to its detriment, argues Tim Stanley.

The abdication crisis of 1937 forced a royalist magazine to present a different face to the world, as Luci Gosling reports.

Ramona Wadi reports on the continuing struggle to shed light on the death in 1973 of the Chilean singer and political activist Victor Jara.

The same spotlight of historical enquiry that scholars have long been shedding on the biblical past is now starting to illumine the origins of Islam, as Tom Holland explains.

Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins have hitherto played a minor part in history. Now a new book by Leonore Davidoff, whose Family Fortunes (written with Catherine Hall) was such a founding text of women’s history when it was published in 1987, places them centre stage.

These two books, very different in approach, scope and length, are in fact complementary; and, given current media interest in the role of intelligence in war and peace, they are both relevant for contemporary debate. Professor Jeffrey, a professional historian, has been given access to Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) papers covering 40 years from 1909 through two world wars to 1949, an early year in a long Cold War. Although his was an official commission, the judgements he makes on individuals and institutions are very much his own.

To the world at large the late Joseph Rotblat is known as the Polish-born, British-based scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb and for the rest of his life campaigned for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He and the unofficial federation of European, American, Soviet and other scientists that he founded in 1957, known as Pugwash, were jointly awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 1995.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of English archives is their continuity. This is especially apparent in the collection of the City of London Corporation.

"In the district of Toulouse, a damnable heresy has recently arisen which, like a cancer gradually diffusing itself over the neighbouring places, has already infected vast numbers throughout Gascony and other provinces."

This declaration, from the Council of Tours in 1163, announced open war on heresy in medieval Christendom. Papal bulls made heresy into a form of treason, a bloody crusade was launched against southern France, and denunciations and mass burnings followed.

As its title suggests, this is a quirky book. It veers, often in cavalier fashion, from informed opinion to cultivated impression, from gobbets of information to glib reflections that manage to provoke a sense of irritation (in this reader at least).

Imagine a world where you could be whipped for lustful thoughts, gaoled for fornication and sent to the gallows for adultery. This is not 21st-century Saudi Arabia but England for most of its history. In his exhilarating, groundbreaking book Faramerz Dabhoiwala takes a voyeuristic look at the 18th-century sexual revolution that swept away this repressive system and ushered in a new era of sexual freedom.

Readers of The Lady’s Preceptor in 1743 were advised to prepare subjects of conversation in advance of social visits, thereby ensuring that they need not fall back on that perennial topic of last resort, the weather. But anyone who followed this advice was missing out. Jan Golinski reveals that attitudes to weather in the 18th century were one of the great test cases for the project of Enlightenment in Britain. To talk about the weather was to venture into the realms of religion, science, politics and pathology.

It is more than 50 years since Alan Moorehead wrote The White Nile, his magisterial study of efforts to find the source of the great river that rises in the lakes of central Africa and flows down through the swamps of southern Sudan to bring life to the cotton fields of Egypt, before reaching the Mediterranean.

Having written biographies of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, two of the quintet of great Victorian explorers of the Nile (the others being John Hanning Speke, Richard Burton and Samuel Baker), Tim Jeal is well placed to bring this story up to date.