You Are Where You Eat

Restaurants went mainstream in the 19th century, but the boom in places to dine out brought unexpected perils – menu anxiety, excessive table talk and ‘strange ladies’ among them.

Interior of a Restaurant, Vincent Van Gogh, 1887.

In late 19th-century Paris and London, there were many places to eat out and many reasons for doing so. But the fashion for restaurants was rooted in what the philosopher Jean-Paul Aron has called the ‘bourgeois ideal of gluttony.’ Middle class desire for conspicuous consumption was a way of staking out a reputation for wealth and savoir faire.

Home Truths

Jen Calleja | Published 25 January 2019
Growing up opposite a US military base in Karlsruhe, Germany in the 1980s, Nora Krug knew that something ‘had once gone terribly wrong’. She and her classmates would use certain words, without fully understanding their meaning. A Konzentrationslager , for example, was sinister and ominous, but as a child she imagined it as a place where people were ‘forced to concentrate to the point of physical anguish’. Krug’s inchoate knowledge of Germany’s wartime history meant that asking her parents questions often led to confusion. She caused her mother alarm when, returning from school, she asked: ‘Are Jews evil?’ Later, travelling...Read more »
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Behind Every Great Roman

Penelope Goodman | Published 18 January 2019
Rome’s early emperors were eager to pass their power to blood successors, though in practice this proved difficult. In this new and accessible book, Guy de la Bédoyère demonstrates just how much the line of succession to the principate depended on women (for all that this was obscured by the use of adoption). Focusing on the Julio-Claudians, de la Bédoyère puts women front and centre, telling the history of the period through their biographies. As he shows, the expectations placed upon elite women in ancient Rome were impossible and often contradictory. Negotiating them took intelligence and strength of character. It...Read more »
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Dark Arts

A warped path from Caspar David Friedrich to Adolf Hitler arrives at the dark heart of German Romanticism. Does a painting represent human triumph or a humbling? The answer is in the ideological eye of the beholder.

Adolf Hitler presented with a painting by Heinrich Himmler, 1939.

By the time US soldiers arrived at the Berghof in May 1945, Hitler’s alpine retreat had already been gutted. Allied bombing had obliterated much of the site, before SS guards ignited what was left. Earlier photographs of the Great Hall show an uneasy mix of the rustic and opulent. There were busts of the composer Richard Wagner and Hitler’s mentor, the morphine-addicted playwright Dietrich Eckart. Given that Hitler spent much of the war here, there was a globe, a marble table for meetings and a Gobelin tapestry that concealed a cinema screen.

The United Ideologies of America

Adam Smith | Published 11 January 2019
One of the ways in which the current President of the United States differs from all his predecessors, from George Washington to Barack Obama, is that unlike them he does not speak of his country’s special mission. When Donald Trump talks about making America ‘great’ again, he means only aggrandisement and enrichment, of being the biggest bully on the block in an endless, purposeless jostling and scrapping of nations. What he does not mean is progress toward a providentially ordained goal, a ceaseless quest to live up to the meaning of the American creed. In a most un-American way, he...Read more »
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Under Good Birds

Mathew Lyons | Published 08 January 2019
Pity the wryneck – a species of long-tongued woodpecker – in ancient Greece: it had the great misfortune to be considered an essential part of a sex toy. The poor bird was spread-eagled and bound to the four spokes of a wheel, which, when spun, whistled in a way thought sure to arouse desire in its recipient. We remember its fate today when we jinx people: the word jinx being derived from its Greek name, iunx . Pity, too, the pigeon squab on a Roman farm, force fed two or three times a day and confined to a caged nest...Read more »

Mathew Lyons is a columnist for History Today and the author of The Favourite: Ralegh and His Queen (Constable & Robinson, 2011).

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Man with a Movie Camera

No smoking: the ‘cutting room floor’ frames from the Roundhay Gardena Scene by Louis Le Prince, October 1888. In 1888, in Leeds, the French inventor Louis Le Prince shot what many now consider to be the world’s first films. Fragments of three survive – the Roundhay Garden, Accordion and Leeds Bridge scenes – in which the inventor managed to capture moving pictures years before Thomas Edison or the Lumière brothers. Le Prince, however, never got to show the world beyond his workshop what he had achieved. On 16 September 1890, just before he was due to demonstrate his films in public for the first time, he boarded the Dijon to Paris train and was never seen again.

Louis Aimeé Augustin Le Prince, a young artist, engineer and photographer, came to Leeds in 1866, where he worked in a brass foundry, married, started a family and involved himself in the social and intellectual circles of the city. In 1888, he built a single lens camera with which he shot a number of films.

Irfan Shah | Published 07 January 2019
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Published in
Volume 69 Issue 1 January 2019

Any Book You Like

Peter Brown | Published 17 December 2018
In Robert Darnton’s hands the accounts and letters of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) become an eye-opening story of how foreign publishers smuggled forbidden and pirated books into France between 1769 and 1789. Paris firms had a stranglehold on the nation’s publishing, reinforced by state edicts suppressing ‘subversive’ works. An illicit industry satisfied the appetite of readers for all kinds of writing, sanctioned or not. Covert networks were extensive and professionally organised. From Amsterdam to Avignon, publishers not constrained by the laws of the ancien régime , let alone copyright, delivered books across France. Darnton follows the picaresque progress...Read more »
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The Life of Thomas Cromwell

Andrew Pettegree | Published 07 December 2018
Diarmaid MacCulloch is one of our greatest living historians and this is one of his finest books. One might have thought that, after A History of Christianity , a definitive study of the Reformation and a host of prize-winning books, now was the time to wind down: a victory lap round the book festivals, a little light reviewing. Instead, MacCulloch has been back in the archives, immersing himself in every scrap of documentation relevant to the career of Henry VIII’s most humble servant: the enigmatic, ruthless, but devastatingly effective Thomas Cromwell. We have heard a lot about Cromwell thanks to...Read more »
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Lisbon After The Earthquake

Iona McCleery | Published 20 November 2018
There are several ways of writing the history of a place. There is the personal approach, in which history is interspersed with experiences and anecdotes; Bill Bryson is the master here. There is the focused thematic approach: a city viewed through one lens, as in Jim Chevalier’s history of food in Paris. There is the monumental approach; see Peter Ackroyd’s biography of London in over 800 pages. A key factor should be knowing your audience and making it accessible to them. This new history of Lisbon is a readable, if rather breathless, chronological whirlwind. Hatton tries to pack everything into...Read more »
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