All posts filed under: British History

Letters from an American Farmer (J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur)

This is a strange little Colonial-era book that, nonetheless, tells us something about America today. It was written by a protean Frenchman, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur. Born French, in Caen, he fought on the Plains of Abraham for Montcalm, and was wounded. He then became a British citizen, married, and settled down to farm in the Hudson Valley in 1769. But he did not want to take sides in the War of Independence, so he went back to France, and returned to America only in 1783. This book was published to wide acclaim in 1782, and the most interesting part of it, by far, is Crèvecœur’s anguished description of how, despite his hopes for the Enlightenment making all men better, it didn’t, as shown by the hatreds and violence engendered by the war.

Singapore: Unlikely Power (John Curtis Perry)

Singapore is, in some ways, the modern Venice, a maritime city made wealthy by being in the right place, with the right assets, at the right time. Also like Venice, it doesn’t loom large in the modern American imagination. Mostly, if we think of Singapore, it’s as the setting for Crazy Rich Asians. It should get more attention—Singapore is interesting for its history, its economics, and for combining democracy with limitations on the popular will, a particular interest of mine. So, wanting to learn more, and given that this book is the only recent overview of Singapore, by a noted Asia expert, I thought it would be a good choice. Not really. This book is dull, plodding, and a bit of a fraud.

The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr (Leanda de Lisle)

As with Nicholas II, the last ruling Romanov, how we view Charles I is largely set by how his days ended.  And as with Nicholas, we have been further conditioned by generations of propaganda pumped out by the winners and their ideological allies, claiming that it was Charles’s own bad philosophy, coupled with incompetence, rather than mostly bad luck and choices only wrong in retrospect, that led to his death.  Leanda de Lisle’s The White King rejects the fake news and offers an even-handed view.

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Theodore Dalrymple)

When I am dictator, which hopefully will be any day now, I am going to bring back what was once a crucial distinction.  Namely, the sharp separation between the deserving and the undeserving poor.  Theodore Dalrymple’s book shows both why that distinction is necessary, indeed absolutely essential, and why it has fallen from favor among those who decide society’s rules.  Moreover, Life at the Bottom offers a wide range of food for related thoughts, so many that I am afraid, beginning this review, that it is likely to go on for a very long time.  But at the end, I will solve all the problems for you.  Strap in.

Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond (William Dalrymple and Anita Anand)

Koh-i-Noor is not about the diamond, to my disappointment.  Oh, sure, it makes an appearance here and there in this book.  But very little is actually said here about the diamond itself, probably because the Queen of England hasn’t made it available for analysis and study, and prior generations didn’t record much about its specifics.  Rather, this is a book of cultural history revolving around people who have owned the diamond.  That’s interesting, in its own way, but not what I was promised.

American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Bradley J. Birzer)

Charles Carroll, once famous as the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the last signatory to die, is no longer much in the public consciousness.  If asked to name a signatory, most people would say “John Hancock,” since he wrote his name in big letters.  Thomas Jefferson would also come to mind; perhaps also John Adams, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, especially for those who watched the John Adams miniseries on HBO a few years back.  Not that long ago, though, Charles Carroll would also have sprung to mind, and Bradley Birzer’s goal is to, if not restore Carroll, at least clear away some of the dust that has covered his memory.

How to be a Conservative (Roger Scruton)

English traditional conservatives today exhibit a depressed passivity.  They ruminate, probably with a glass of claret in hand, on how good the past was and how little can be done about today.  Doubtless this enervation has to do with living in The Place Where Great Britain Used To Be, which is, like most of Europe (other than Hungary and Poland), a den of thought suppression and self-hatred, cursed with leaders who are mealy-mouthed, emasculated men and women of no use or value.   Caught with wine glass in hand, the prolific Roger Scruton, who somehow manages to combine the highest quality thought with constant output, offers us a combination of worthwhile philosophy and worthless enervation.  At best, this combination is unsatisfying.  More importantly, this book is not timely, because it is inwardly focused and passively philosophical, in an age when too much focus on philosophy, and too little focus on brute action, has, like Judas Iscariot, betrayed conservatism into the hands of its enemies.

Five Children and It (E. Nesbit)

Five Children and It is a book that resonates on two levels.  On one level, it is an outstanding and well-drawn children’s story.  We read it to our own five children to general acclaim.  On another level, it is a glimpse of upper-class child-rearing in Edwardian England, very interesting as social history to today’s adults, even with no children around.

The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe (Rita Chin)

I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal.  Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all.  I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm.  It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.

The English and Their History (Robert Tombs)

This book is a massive history of the English, written by an English expert on France, Robert Tombs.  Somehow, against the odds, it manages to be sprightly, interesting, and, most of all, generally upbeat about the past, present, and future of England.  Tombs rejects the idea of “Whig history,” not because English progress does not exist, but because the past was rarely as bad as we often think, making any progress less dramatic than it may appear.  He offers rational, yet clear-eyed, hope for a bright future—one not destined to be good, but certainly with a better than even chance of being so.  Thus, this book is a counterweight to recent narratives of English decline (such as 1999’s The Abolition of Britain, by Peter Hitchens), and a book that all pessimists should read.