Thursday, 31 May 2012

Gibbon's Britain and Imperial Rome

I am afraid I am a bit pressed for time right now, so I have extemporised this week's episode to save writing a script.   It may not be as lucid as normal, but its better than nothing.  I'll try and get a transcript up when I have some time.  But quality aside, at least I have now worked out why the empire fell.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

1984 by George Orwell

I don't think anyone since Shakespeare has contributed quite as many sayings and allusions to the English language as Orwell.   And the most remarkable thing is that most of them come from only two relatively short books.  Orwell was not a prolific writer and he died at a much earlier age than most of us would have wanted him to. Read more about 1984 by George Orwell at the new home of the blog.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Barbarians on the Rhine - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 25 Part 4

The wide waters of the Rhine separated the rich and peaceful provinces of Gaul from the violent barbarians of Germany.  But it was no barrier.  The warlike tribes were only prevented from helping themselves to the property of the empire's inhabitants by the Roman army.  The frontier was tough to defend and during the reign of Constantius had become very porous indeed.  But the stunning victory Julian had scored at the battle of Strasbourg had shocked the Germans.  The glow of invincibility it conferred allowed him to follow up with some effective diplomacy that ensured the peace he had created would last. The watch on the border was as a consequence lighter than usual.  Most of the strain was being taken by some auxiliary units from the tribes of the Batavians and Heruli, who had been settled inside the empire just over the borders as the first line of defence.

Read more about Barbarians on the Rhine at the new home of the blog.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by David Aaronovitch

The biggest problem with studying history is remembering that the people taking part in it didn't know what was going to happen next.  And there is another problem as well - they often didn't know accurately what had happened before either.  People's motivations are often therefore hard to fathom.  And the existence of conspiracy theories makes it even harder.  It is in the nature of conspiracy theories that they tend to be very specific to particular times and are often completely forgotten about later.  Take for example the Protocols of the Elders of  Zion.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Parable of Galileo

I have become a bit embarrassed by the amount of interest my post about the trial of Galileo has generated.  It was a very quick and not particularly thought out piece that I just knocked out in half an hour or so in response to a Pious Fabrication's video.   But it has been the most read post on my blog all week.  Comments made on it were rather better written and much more informed than my actual post.  That was humbling. But it has got me thinking about why the story of Galileo continues to resonate, especially given that the event itself was a bit confused to say the least.   I think it's because it has gone beyond an historical event and has turned into a parable.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

What have the Southwark Good Stewards got against gays?

Have you ever had two tabs open on your browser and found an unexpected connection between the pages?  Here's a thing. Is there something relating these two?  In one there is a story about conservative Anglicans in London who have come up with a great wheeze.  

Friday, 18 May 2012

Lessons of Greece

Soviet communism was a failure.  In particular, it failed by the most basic of measures.  You wouldn't want to live there.  By the time it ended just about everyone was fed up of it and it has subsequently had few mourners.  Certainly nobody is likely to get very far trying to bring it back. But I think that even though it basically didn't achieve what it set out to do - which was improve the standard of living of the average worker - the story of the USSR isn't quite as bleak as most people think of it.  Continue reading at the new home of the blog

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Reigns of Valentinian and Valens - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 25 Part 3

A common sight on the streets of Rome in the late empire was abandoned children.  The economy was in a bad way.  Taxes were rising.  Many parents simply gave up the struggle of trying to cope with another mouth to feed.  It is a harrowing thought to think of the suffering involved, both on the part of the abandoned children and the desperate parents.  But there was some help at hand.  Valentinian was a brutal badly educated tyrant. If he didn't like you, he'd kill you. But deep down he had some well buried human compassion that as ruler of the world he was able to indulge.

Continue reading at the new home of the blog 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Making of the English Working Classes by E.P.Thompson

This huge book was also a huge success when it came out.  There was a time when it was a common sight on buses and trains, and every bookshop in Britain had it in stock.  In the seventies and eighties it seemed perfectly obvious that everyone was interested in the working class so a long and detailed history of it was a very logical proposition. Read more at the new home of the blog

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Trial of Galileo - My Response to Pious Fabrications

I always enjoy the stuff Dave Withun puts up on his blog Pious Fabrications and particularly the almost daily videos he puts on Youtube. They are well put together and thought provoking, and it’s good to hear a point of view a long way from my own. I’m generally happy just to read or listen and sometimes make the odd comment, but I really can’t let his video on the Trial of Galileo past without question.  Read more about the trial of Galileo at the new home of the blog.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Procopius - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 25 Part 2

Valentinian and his brother Valens were both emperors but were not really equal partners, Valens was very much carried along in Valentinian's coat tails.   So it was Valentinian that was responsible for dividing the empire in two.  The empire had been carved up in various ways for diverse reasons over its history so far.  There was no particular reason why anyone, least of all Valentinian himself would have suspected that the division made in 364 would prove to be permanent.  But with hindsight it is easy to see that it was in fact inevitable.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Berlin by Antony Beevor

I think most of us have already made up our minds about the Nazis.  On the whole, they aren't popular.  But if you are wavering, have a read of Berlin by Anthony Beevoir.  I put it down thinking, well I never liked them but I never realised they were that bad.  Stalin was desperate to capture Berlin and was prepared to suffer huge casualties to make sure that it was the Red Army that reached the Reichstag first.  It was conceivable that a determined thrust by the Western allies might have taken the German capital first.   Stalin who was always a bit paranoid suspected that the Germans would fall back to allow the British and the Americans an easy ride.  In fact there is no indication that the senior Nazis ever thought along those lines, but it must have occured to a lot of the lower officials that it would have been about the shrewdest thing the Germans could have done by 1945.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy

The Spanish Armada - One of Fifteen Decisive Battles (Thanks to Wikipedia)

History books always tell you a lot about the era in which they were written, and never was this more true than of this classic from 1851.  Britain's empire was at its apogee.  It would get bigger and richer, but at this point Britain's empire was at its most secure.   It was without a rival and without a care in the world. Edward Creasy took full advantage of the situation.  

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Brief Reign of Jovian - Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 25 Part 1

Jovian had given away a big chunk of the empire in his humiliating deal with the Persians.  He betrayed loyal subjects of key frontier towns in the process.  His purge of political enemies deprived the state of the services of some able administrators and soldiers.  But his army was saved.  He was in personal charge of the most powerful single unit in the empire.  They  were exhausted after a 1500 mile round trip in hostile territory across tough terrain, but even so they were Jovian's key to the throne.  By the rules of the game he was playing, Jovian was winning.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

UK Local Elections - History Books Review Analysis

As I blogged recently, I don't follow the news very much on the grounds that I am better informed if I don't.   But there are some stories I make a conscious effort to keep up on, one of which is what is happening in politics.  But I try to take a broad view.  I want to know what is going on, not just what has happened and certainly not what an overpaid drunk with the attention span of a chipmunk that needs the loo thinks.  So let's have a look at the recent local elections in the UK.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Planet Narnia by Michael Ward

This book reads a bit like a PhD thesis.  (And may well have been exactly that in fact. I haven't done any research to find out.)  But  if you like your books full of references and with a very precise structure you are in for a treat.  And it is a double treat if you like a rather tortured academic style of writing.

Read more at the blog's new home Planet Narnia