News and reviews

Who’s Afraid of the World Wide Web?

Added on 02/05/2019

James Griffiths’s The Great Firewall of China tells the 20 year story of how the Chinese authorities have brought the internet to heel by slowly developing and enforcing the doctrine of ‘cyber-sovereignty’. It’s also a story of naivety.


The World of the Crusades reviewed in the Times

Added on 01/05/2019

When it was suggested to Roger of Sicily that he might crusade in north Africa, he squeezed out a resounding fart. “If you are determined to wage holy war on the Muslims, then the best way is to conquer Jerusalem,”


MUP’s Unfinished Business banned by Northern Ireland prison

Added on 30/04/2019

A Northern Irish prison that holds some of the most dangerous republican paramilitary prisoners has banned a new academic book about dissident Irish republicans. Maghaberry in County Antrim has prevented inmates gaining access to…


The Vory shortlisted for Pushkin House Russian Book Prize

Added on 25/04/2019

Six highly readable books covering history, politics and memoir have been shortlisted for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2019. The award supports the best non-fiction writing in English on the Russian-speaking world.


Palaces of Pleasure reviewed in the Guardian

Added on 24/04/2019

Few British songs are as well known as “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”. For many listeners it only takes a few bars to conjure up hazy images of striped deckchairs and dripping ice-cream cones, strolling along the prom (prom prom)…


Victor Hugo gave Notre Dame life as the vibrant heart of France

Added on 22/04/2019

Victor Hugo was not enamoured with the title of Frederic Shoberl’s English translation of his 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. For the future “great man” of French literature, the book’s main attraction was the gothic cathedral itself.


The Club reviewed in the Sunday Times

Added on 21/04/2019

For the clubbable man of the 18th century there was no end to the fellowship on offer: you could join the Hellfire, the Kit-Kat, the Beefsteak, the Society of Dilettanti, the Everlasting, the Golden Fleece or the Cocoa-Tree club.


It’s a #masterpiece! What if Gauguin had been on Instagram?

Added on 20/04/2019

Let’s revisit history for a minute and pretend that Jean Genet, Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh and their ilk had been #blessed with the ability to share #dailyinspo with their presumably voracious online fans.


Shakespeare’s Lyric Stage reviewed in the TLS

Added on 19/04/2019

“Most men may flatter themselves a Prospero in the classroom”, Seth Lerer writes in the preface to Shakespeare’s Lyric Stage. I doubt that this is true for most men (or women) in our anti-authority age, where the magus is often…


Putin v. the People reviewed in the Guardian

Added on 18/04/2019

One of the silver linings running through the dark clouds of their history is that Russians have developed a strong line in subversive political humour. In one joke, Putin asks Stalin: “Why is everything here so bad? What should I do?”


The Princess Who Hid in a Tree featured in the Sunday Times

Added on 14/04/2019

This simple tale of the building of a church in Oxford by Frideswide, a princess who fled from marriage with King Algar of Mercia, is made special by the exceptional draughtsmanship and gorgeous colour of Alan Marks’s illustrations.


Culture in Nazi Germany reviewed in the Sunday Times

Added on 14/04/2019

One of the most notorious quotations of the Nazi era is customarily attributed to Hermann Goering: “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.” In truth, the words were uttered by a character in a play by Hanns Johst.