WSJ Historically Speaking: In Epidemics, Leaders Play a Crucial Role

ILLUSTRATION: JON KRAUSE

Lessons in heroism and horror as a famed flu pandemic hits a milestone

A century ago this week, an army cook named Albert Gitchell at Fort Riley, Kansas, paid a visit to the camp infirmary, complaining of a severe cold. It’s now thought that he was America’s patient zero in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

The disease killed more than 40 million people world-wide, including 675,000 Americans. In this case, as in so many others throughout history, the pace of the pandemic’s deadly progress depended on the actions of public officials.

Spain had allowed unrestricted reporting about the flu, so people mistakenly believed it originated there. Other countries, including the U.S., squandered thousands of lives by suppressing news and delaying health measures. Chicago kept its schools open, citing a state commission that had declared the epidemic at a “standstill,” while the city’s public health commissioner said, “It is our duty to keep the people from fear. Worry kills more people than the epidemic.”

Worry had indeed sown chaos, misery and violence in many previous outbreaks, such as the Black Plague. The disease, probably caused by bacteria-infected fleas living on rodents, swept through Asia and Europe during the 1340s, killing up to a quarter of the world’s population. In Europe, where over 50 million died, a search for scapegoats led to widespread pogroms against Jews. In 1349, the city of Strasbourg in France, already somewhat affected by the plague, put to death hundreds of Jews and expelled the rest.

But not all authorities lost their heads at the first sign of contagion. Pope Clement VI (1291-1352), one of a series of popes who ruled from the southern French city of Avignon, declared that the Jews had not caused the plague and issued two papal bulls against their persecution.

In Italy, Venetian authorities took the practical approach: They didn’t allow ships from infected ports to dock and subjected all travelers to a period of isolation. The term quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning “40 days”—the official length of time until the Venetians granted foreign ships the right of entry.

Less exalted rulers could also show prudence and compassion in the face of a pandemic. After the Black Plague struck the village of Eyam in England, the vicar William Mompesson persuaded its several hundred inhabitants not to flee, to prevent the disease from spreading to other villages. The biggest landowner in the county, the earl of Devonshire, ensured a regular supply of food and necessities to the stricken community. Some 260 villagers died during their self-imposed quarantine, but their decision likely saved thousands of lives.

The response to more recent pandemics has not always met that same high standard. When viral severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) began in China in November 2002, the government’s refusal to acknowledge the outbreak allowed the disease to spread to Hong Kong, a hub for the West and much of Asia, thus creating a world problem. On a more hopeful note, when Ebola was spreading uncontrollably through West Africa in 2014, the Ugandans leapt into action, saturating their media with warnings and enabling quick reporting of suspected cases, and successfully contained their outbreak.

Pandemics always create a sense of crisis. History shows that public leadership is the most powerful weapon in keeping them from becoming full-blown tragedies.

WSJ Historically Speaking: The Quest for Unconsciousness: A Brief History of Anesthesia

The ancient Greeks used alcohol and opium. Patients in the 12th century got a ‘soporific sponge.’ A look at anesthetics over the centuries

ILLUSTRATION: ELLEN WEINSTEIN

Every year, some 21 million Americans undergo a general anesthetic. During recent minor surgery, I became one of the roughly 26,000 Americans a year who experience “anesthetic awareness” during sedation: I woke up. I still can’t say what was more disturbing: being conscious or seeing the horrified faces of the doctors and nurses.

The best explanation my doctors could give was that not all brains react in the same way to a general anesthetic. Redheads, for example, seem to require higher dosages than brunettes. While not exactly reassuring, this explanation does highlight one of the many mysteries behind the science of anesthesia.

Although being asleep and being unconscious might look the same, they are very different states. Until the mid-19th century, a medically induced deep unconsciousness was beyond the reach of science. Healers had no reliable way to control, let alone eliminate, a patient’s awareness or pain during surgery, though not for lack of trying.

The ancient Greeks generally relied on alcohol, poppy opium or mandrake root to sedate patients. Evidence from the “Sushruta Samhita,” an ancient Sanskrit medical text, suggests that Indian healers used cannabis incense. The Chinese developed acupuncture at some point before 100 B.C., and in Central and South America, shamans used the spit from chewed coca leaves as a numbing balm.

Little changed over the centuries. In the 12th century, Nicholas of Salerno recorded in a treatise the recipe for a “soporific sponge” with ingredients that hadn’t advanced much beyond the medicines used by the Greeks: a mixture of opium, mulberry juice, lettuce seed, mandrake, ivy and hemlock.

Discoveries came but weren’t exploited. In 1540, the German alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus (aka Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) noted that liquid ether could induce sleep in animals. In 1772, the English chemist Joseph Priestley discovered nitrous oxide gas (laughing gas). Using it became the thing to do at parties—in 1799, the poet Coleridge described trying the gas—but no one apparently tried using ether or nitrous oxide for medicinal purposes.

In 1811, the novelist Fanny Burney had no recourse when she went under the knife for suspected breast cancer. She wrote later, “O Heaven!—I then felt the Knife rackling against the breast bone—scraping it!”

Despite the ordeal, Burney lived into her 80s, dying in 1840—just before everything changed. Ether, nitrous oxide and later chloroform soon became common in operating theaters. On Oct. 16, 1846, a young dentist from Boston named William Morton made history by performing surgery on a patient anesthetized with ether. It was such a success that, a few months later, Frances Appleton Longfellow, wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, became the first American to receive anesthesia during childbirth.

But these wonder drugs were lethal if not administered properly. A German study compiled in 1934 estimated that the number of chloroform-related deaths was as high as 1 in 3,000 operations. The drive for safer drugs produced such breakthroughs as halothane in 1955, which could be inhaled by patients.

Yet for all the continuous advances in anesthesia, scientists still don’t entirely understand how it works. A study published in the December 2017 issue of Annals of Botany reveals that anesthetics can also stop motion in plants like the Venus flytrap—which, as far as we know, doesn’t have a brain. Clearly, we still have a lot to learn about consciousness in every form.

WSJ Historically Speaking: The Ancient Magic of Mistletoe

The plant’s odyssey from a Greek festival to a role in the works of Dickens and Trollope

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Is mistletoe naughty or nice? The No. 1 hit single for Christmas 1952 was young Jimmy Boyd warbling how he caught “mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night.” It may very well have been daddy in costume—but, if not, that would make mistletoe very naughty indeed. For this plant, that would be par for the course.

Mistletoe, in its various species, is found all over the world and has played a part in fertility rituals for thousands of years. The plant’s ability to live off other trees—it’s a parasite—and remain evergreen even in the dead of winter awed the earliest agricultural societies. Mistletoe became a go-to plant for sacred rites and poetic inspiration.

Kissing under the mistletoe may have begun with the Greeks’ Kronia agricultural festival. Its Roman successor, the Saturnalia, combined licentious behavior with mistletoe. The naturalist Pliny the Elder, who died in A.D. 79, noticed to his surprise that mistletoe was just as sacred, if not more, to the Druids of Gaul. Its growth on certain oak trees, which the Druids believed to possess magical powers, spurred them to use mistletoe in ritual sacrifices and medicinal potions to cure ailments such as infertility.

Mistletoe’s mystical properties also earned it a starring role in the 13th-century Old Norse collection of mythical tales known as the Prose Edda. Here mistletoe becomes a deadly weapon in the form of an arrow that kills the sun-god Baldur. His mother Frigga, the goddess of love and marriage, weeps tears that turn into white mistletoe berries. In some versions, this brings Baldur back to life, carrying faint echoes of the reincarnation myths of ancient Mesopotamia. Either way, Frigga declares mistletoe to be the symbol of peace and love.

Beliefs about mistletoe’s powers managed to survive the Catholic Church’s official disapproval for all things pagan. People used the plant as a totem to scare away trolls, thwart witchcraft, prevent fires and bring about reconciliations. But such superstitions fizzled out in the wake of the Enlightenment.

Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: Kylo Ren, Meet Huck Finn: A History of Sequels and Their Heroes

The pedigree of sequels is as old as storytelling itself

ILLUSTRATION: RUTH GWILY

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” may end up being the most successful movie sequel in the biggest sequel-driven franchise in the history of entertainment. That’s saying something, given Hollywood’s obsession with sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes. Although this year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” was arguably better than the first, plenty of people—from critics to stand-up comedians—have wondered why in the world we needed a 29th “Godzilla,” an 11th “Pink Panther” or “The Godfather Part III.”

But sequels aren’t simply about chasing the money. They have a distinguished pedigree, as old as storytelling itself. Homer gets credit for popularizing the trend in the eighth century B.C., when he followed up “The Iliad” with “The Odyssey,” in which one of the relatively minor characters in the original story triumphs over sexy immortals, scary monsters and evil suitors of his faithful wife. Presumably with an eye to drawing in fans of the “Iliad,” Homer was sure to throw in a flashback about the Trojan horse. Continue reading…

WSJ Historically Speaking: The Power of Pamphlets: A Brief History

As the Reformation passes a milestone, a look at a key weapon of change

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

The Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, as legend has it, nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Whatever he actually did—he may have just attached the papers to the door or delivered them to clerical authorities—Luther was protesting Catholics’ sale of “indulgences” to give sinners at least partial absolution. The protest immediately went viral, to use a modern term, thanks to the new “social media” of the day—the printed pamphlet.

The development of the printing press around 1440 had set the stage: In the famous words of the German historian Bernd Moeller, “Without printing, no Reformation.” But the pamphlet deserves particular recognition. Unlike books, pamphlets were perfect for the mass market: easy to print and therefore cheap to buy. Continue reading…

The Sunday Times: Amanda Foreman: public schools shun classic novels

A bestselling biographer fears Austen and Dickens have been forsaken to boost results

Photo by DAN CALLISTER

Top public schools including Eton and Marlborough have been accused of “shutting children out of their literary heritage” by failing to teach classic novels.

The academic and writer Amanda Foreman is campaigning to return classic novels by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot to the curriculum of some of Britain’s most famous schools.

She was spurred into action after being “horrified” to discover that her 16-year-old daughter “had not read a single 18th or 19th-century novel” at her private school in England. Continue reading…

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

ABOUT THE BOOKBUY THE BOOKREVIEWSMULTIMEDIAPHOTOS

books0703gallagherWinner of the Fletcher Pratt Award for Civil War History

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

The New York Times Top Ten Books of 2011

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, The Economist, Nancy Pearl, NPR, Bloomberg.com, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly

 

Though with the North we sympathize
It must not be forgotten
That with the South we’ve stronger ties
Which are composed of cotton
Punch, 30 March, 1861

It is said that the closeness of siblings can be measured by the intensity of their fights. During the first one hundred years, Britain and the US were almost always arguing about something. Trade, maritime rights, and boundary disputes were the chief tinderlights; a spark from each had the capacity to send troops running to the barricades. Much good such martial spirits did for the belligerents. The war of 1812 ended ignominiously for both sides: the British Army suffered a stunning defeat at New Orleans, but not before it had seized Washington and set fire to the White House.

American anglophobia, already high, increased after 1812. It was positively unhealthy to be suspected of pro-British leanings. Every decade saw some fresh dispute. During the 1840s the quarrel centered on territory, in the 50s a friendly discussion over colonial ambitions in Central America turned into sour recriminations. Yet the two countries were each other’s best customers.

Southern cotton and Northern wheat fired up British factories and fed her workers. In return, manufactured goods and financial investment poured in to a hungry economy that was increasing faster than its population. (Between 1840 and 1860 America doubled from seventeen to thirty-two million.) The South grew richer and more genteel, while the North grew bigger and more powerful as artisans turned into workers, and entrepreneurs became bankers or industrialists. A vast network of railroads, partly financed by British capital, connected the North in a lattice of commerce. By 1860 an English oak dining table could be unloaded in New York on Monday and set for lunch in Chicago on Wednesday.

Read more here

The same ease of transport enabled British immigrants to avoid the fetid slums of New York and seek a new life in any of the thirty-four states and seven territories of America. There were Englishmen in the New England mills and on the Texas homesteads, Cornishmen in the Wisconsin lead minds, Welshmen in the Ohio collieries, and Scots in the Vermont Quarries and Carolina plantations. Unlike the Germans, Poles, Italians and Irish, who clustered in conspicuous communities in the North, the British tended to integrate very quickly. In the North their sentiments were largely pro-Union and vehemently anti-slavery, while below the Mason-Dixon line they sided with the majority in favour of secession. During his tour of the South, the Times correspondent, Sir William Russell, was surprised to see what a difference a few miles could make to the moral opinions of his compatriots. Among the most articulate defenders of slavery were some of the, ‘British residents, English, Irish and Scotch, who have settled here for trading purposes, and who are frequently slave-holders. These men have no state rights to uphold, but they are convinced of the excellence of things as they are…’

As the bickering between the North and South turned into bitterness, southerners took great satisfaction in pointing out that the world depended on its cotton. In 1858 the loud-voiced Senator from South Carolina, James H. Hammond, spelled it out to a silent Congress. No one dared say no to the South, he declared, not even mighty Britain. Deprived of cotton she, ‘would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares make war on it. Cotton is King.’

The war officially began on 12 April 1861, when the South Carolina artillery pounded the tiny Federal garrison out of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour. Understandably, news of the engagement roused secessionism to a fever pitch among southerners. They were absolutely convinced of two things: that the North did not have the stomach for a fight, and that Britain would recognize their independence. They were wrong on both counts.

London remained loudly silent. The government was inclined to recognise the South, but not at the cost of becoming involved in the war. It feared losing southern cotton, and yet did not wish to prop-up a slave economy. The British press, however, suffered no such doubts. Editorials applauded Lincoln and denounced the South as ‘bullies’. The rush of volunteers in the free states added excitement to the reports crossing the Atlantic. These were heady although precarious times. The Secretary of State, William H. Seward, bluntly told Russell, that the North would fight Britain too, if she attempted to interfere. ‘We shall not shrink from it,’ he warned. ‘A contest between the Great Britain and the United States would wrap the world in fire.’

When Britain revealed her hand in May 1861, North and South were equally enraged. Queen Victoria issued a Proclamation of Strict Neutrality. This was far less than what the South had expected, and far more than the North would tolerate. Strict Neutrality recognised the South as a legitimate fighting entity, but also the North’s right to blockade her ports. Britain considered this a fair compromise. But the North considered it tantamount to a recognition of Southern independence. A leading Northern Senator pronounced it ‘the most hateful act of English history since the time of Charles II’.

In theory the Proclamation prohibited British subjects from enlisting in either military service, from violating the Northern blockade, and from fitting out or equipping Union or Confederate vessels for warlike purposes. In practice, people did exactly as they pleased. In the first months of the war, officers, soldiers and ordinary civilians left in droves for America. They joined a mass exodus that included thousands of Germans, Irish and other Europeans. Later, as the Northern blockade increased, Britain also furnished an unofficial navy of blockade runners. ‘Firm after firm,’ recalled an English blockade runner, ‘with an entirely clear conscience, set about endeavouring to recoup itself for the loss of legitimate trade by the high profits to be made out of successful evasions of the Federal cruisers.’ At the height of the war, between 1862-4, Liverpool exhibited an energy and spirit not seen since the bustling days of the Slave Tra de. Seamen who supported the Confederacy scratched the figure of a turkey into the lintels of their houses, a few of which survive to this day.

Altogether, some 50,000 British men and women participated in the war. The South, already disappointed by Britain’s refusal to grant recognition, deeply resented the influx of foreigners who filled the ranks of the Union army. However, as we shall see, it too attracted a sizable number. Moreover, it was the grit and tenacity of the British blockade runners which enabled the Confederate army to enter the field with more than bowie knives. The problem for the South was not a lack of rifles but the dwindling supply of men.
The British involvement in the Civil War has always been a sensitive subject. At the time, Northerners accused Britain of complicity; Southerners, of betrayal. The bitterness engendered by the war no longer taints Anglo-American relations. However, grudging acceptance has come at the cost of historical amnesia. The British who fought alongside Union and Confederate soldiers have disappeared from the picture. With them, the world they inhabited, an Anglo-American world bound by shared ideals, shared dreams and shared kin, has disappeared too.
As cousins by culture and yet strangers by nature, these British adventurers are unrivaled historical witnesses. Moreover, their perspective as both the parent and rival of American civilisation, their experiences of immigration and integration, their understanding of the outsider’s struggle, makes them a talisman for the present. There has never been a book about the bloody pas-de-deux between these closest of strangers.

Historians have, of course, written diplomatic histories of the war; made studies of foreign volunteers; exposed the extent of Federal and Confederate espionage in Britain, described the Confederate naval operations in England, and examined the international reporting of the conflict. But no one – understandably, given the breadth and depth of the research required – has ever drawn all the facets together into a multi-stranded narrative of the Anglo-American world during the Civil War.

A World on Fire’ began as a study of the British volunteers. But eight years of research revealed a vast cyclorama, an immersion of humanity, that demanded its own epic telling. The British volunteers provided a wealth of unique histories. But it was only by placing each one within and alongside the biographies of their neighbour, their enemy, their army, their government, and ultimately the war itself, did the many and the one achieve a synthesis of meaning.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 22 of A World on Fire, ”Crossroads at Gettysburg,” pages 486-497

Dawson watched as 14,000 Confederate soldiers assembled in the woods. One division, led by the ringletted George Pickett, was almost exclusively Virginian. Prayers were read to the brigades, as though the men were receiving the last rites. ‘This is a desperate thing to attempt,’ Dawson heard one of the brigadier generals remark. ‘Just then,’ Dawson continued, ‘a hare which had been lying in the bushes, sprang up and leaped rapidly to the rear. A gaunt Virginian, with an earnestness that struck a sympathetic chord in many a breast, yelled out: “Run old heah; if I were an old heah I would run too.”’

The Federals could not see the Confederates massing in the woods across from them. ‘From our position the eye ranged over a wide expanse of uneven country, fields broken by woods, showing nowhere any signs of an army movement, much less of conflict,’ Charles Francis Adams Jr. wrote in his memoirs. Even at the height of the battle, Gettysburg seemed pleasingly pastoral: ‘a quiet, midsummer, and champagne country. Nei- ther our lines nor those of the enemy were visible to us; and the sounds of battle were hushed.’ When the Confederate artillery fire began, Charles Francis Jr. and the survivors of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry had been lying on the grass, near their horses, while they waited for orders. The thick heat and soft buzzing of insects acted as a kind of sop- orific. ‘Lulled by the incessant roar of the cannon,’ he recorded, ‘while the fate of the army and the nation trembled in the balance, at the very crisis of the great conflict, I dropped quietly asleep. It was not heroic; but it was . . . war.’

Forty-seven Confederate regiments spaced a mile apart began advancing across the 1,400-yard field which lay in front of Cemetery Ridge. Francis Lawley – too ill to climb the tree himself – shouted up to Justus Scheibert to describe the charge to him. The Prussian started a running commentary, full of technical descriptions, prompting Lawley to bellow at him in frustration to use layman’s terms, but Scheibert was at a loss for further words, having never witnessed such butchery. The closer the Confederates stumbled towards the concave Federal line the easier tar- gets they presented. Fremantle entered the wood where Pickett’s division had gathered only a few minutes before. Federal shells were bringing down huge tree limbs, and yet the wood was full of grey-clad soldiers, ‘in numbers as great as the crowd in Oxford Street in the middle of the day’. Then he saw that every single one was wounded.

The woodland scene confused Fremantle. When he found Longstreet, who was sitting on a rail at the edge of the wood, he made an exception- ally thoughtless comment. ‘Thinking I was just in time to see the attack,’ he wrote contritely, ‘I remarked to the General that “I wouldn’t have missed this for any thing.”’ Longstreet gave a hollow laugh,‘“The Devil you wouldn’t! I would like to have missed it very much; we’ve attacked and been repulsed; look there!”’28 Longstreet asked wearily for a drink and Fremantle offered him a sip of rum from his flask. Scattered in heaps and fragments below were nearly 7,000 Confederate soldiers. George Pickett had lost two-thirds of his division, including all thirteen colonels. ‘I suppose that I was the first man to whom Pickett spoke when he reached the line,’ wrote Francis Dawson. ‘With tears in his eyes, he said to me: “Why did you not halt my men here? Great God, where, oh! where is my division?” I told him that he saw around him what there was left of it.’

Read the comprehensive bibliography for A World on Fire here.

Read the comprehensive bibliography for A World on Fire. To download the comprehensive bibliography for A World on Fire, please click the following links:

“History as a Cecil B. DeMille epic…One puts down A World on Fire with a sense of awe.” —The Boston Globe

“Thrilling narrative on a grand scale.” —History Today

“[A] remarkable book…an extraordinary cast.” — The New York Times Book Review

“[A] magisterial history.” —Newsweek

The New Yorker – 1 August 2011
Over There” by Hendrik Hertzberg
Amanda Foreman’s “A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War” (Random House; $35) broadens the scope. Her story is more than an eye-opening corrective to American insularity. It is an immensely ambitious and immensely accomplished—and just plain immense—work of narrative art. At a third of a million words sprawled over nearly a thousand pages, “A World on Fire” is not far south of “War and Peace.” Yet the pages fly like the wind—like “Gone with the Wind”—because there’s so much life, so much action, and so many vivid people in them.

The Wall Street Journal – 25 June 2011
When Cotton Wasn’t King” by Michael Burlingame
Amanda Foreman’s well-researched and highly readable “A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War” examines why the British government never did recognize the Confederacy. Ms. Foreman, the author of the best-selling biography “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” (1999), is such an engaging writer that readers may find this 958-page volume too short. She supplements the traditional scholarly approach to British-American relations with an array of testimony from dozens of British witnesses to and participants in the Civil War. Their diaries, letters, reminiscences and newspaper reports provide insights into the war that differ from similar accounts by Americans, who perforce could not achieve the detached perspective of foreigners.

Guardian – 27 November 2010
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided by Amanda Foreman“” by Jay Parini
Amanda Foreman leapt into public view with her Whitbread-prizewinning portrait of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, in 1999, proving herself a storyteller of lavish gifts, a writer with an eye for the telling biographical detail who could also portray society at large – in that case the world of late-18th-century aristocrats in Britain and France. More than a decade later, she has delivered a massive work of considerable artistry, which tells the complex and riveting tale of British involvement in the American civil war.

More reviews here.

Virtual Book Signing – 2 November 2012
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop – Chicago, IL
Host Daniel Weinberg speaks to Amanda Foreman about her book A World on Fire.

The New York Historical Society – 8 November 2011
The Civil War: Great Britain’s Role

Ohio University – 31 January 2012
The George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics, and Institutions
Amanda Foreman speaks to an audience at Ohio University about her inspiration for writing A World on Fire.

C-Span – 15 July 2011
BookTV: After Words
Amanda Foreman discusses her book A World on Fire with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner.

CBS Boston – 8 July 2011
NightSide: Amanda Foreman, Author of “A World On Fire” Discusses The American Civil War

The Oldie – 7 June 2011
Oldie Literary Lunch
Amanda Foreman speaks to an audience of The Oldie magazine readers about A World on Fire and the discovery that led her to the subject while she was researching for Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

C-Span – 26 March 2011
The Lincoln Conference, Washington DC
Britain’s Response to the Emancipation Proclamation

Video: http://www.c-span.org/video/?298687-2/britains-response-emancipation-proclamation

5 x 15 – 18 April 2011
Amanda Foreman @ 5 x 15

George IV by Chistopher Hibbert

9781403983794_p0_v1_s600Foreword

The prevailing view of George IV was entirely negative until Hibbert’s sympathetic biography revealed a gifted individual whose harsh upbringing and personal weaknesses conspired to ruin his potential. It was also the prince’s misfortune to fall into the hands of the brilliant but dissolute Whigs. The Duchess of Devonshire, Charles James Fox, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan were indeed a “School for Scandal.” But while they eventually grew into sadder and wiser middle-age, the prince never matured past adolescence.

George IV’s pathological self-indulgence turned him into a buffoon, blinding critics then and now to his contribution towards Britain’s cultural heritage. Many of London’s most beautiful buildings owe their genesis to this much maligned king. As Hibbert argues, no other monarch cared so passionately about art and architecture.

Eschewing the obvious for the nuanced, Hibbert rescued George IV from the clowns’ corner to restore him to his true, tragic glory.

Amanda Foreman

Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF ENGLAND’S REBEL KING

“Christopher Hibber’s George IV is at once soundly based on research in the Royal Archives at Windsor and a rollicking good read. I found it invaluable when I was researching The Unruly Queen, my life of George IV’s wife Queen Caroline, and I recommend it to anyone interested in George IV’s flamboyant and outrageous personality.”
Flora Fraser, author of Princesses and The Unruly Queen

“This is one of the most satisfying biographies of an English king: it is ample, convincing and well written.”
Times Literary Supplement

In this definitive biography of George IV, Christopher Hibbert delivers a superbly detailed picture of the life and times of England’s rebel king. From his exorbitant spending on his homes, his clothes, his women; throughout his patronage of the arts; his “illegal” marriage to Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert; and lesser known facts such as his generous charity donations, George IV led a rich and enchanting life. Hibbert also revives George IV’s many witty one-liners, including one he uttered when he met his bride-to-be (Caroline of Brunswick) for the first time: “Harris, I am not well, fetch me a brandy”.

Christopher Hibbert, “ a pearl of biographers” (New Statesman), was born in 1924 and educated at Radley and Oxford. He is the beloved author of many highly acclaimed books, including The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, The English: A Social History, and Cavaliers and Roundheads. He lives in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

Amanda Foreman is the author of The New York Times best-seller Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which won the Whitbread Prize for Best Biography, and is currently writing about the American Civil War. She lives in New York.

Copyright© 2008 Christopher Hibbert

Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

What Might Have Been by Andrew Roberts

Throughout history, great and terrible events have often hinged upon sheer luck. Tiny changes to great enterprises can produce profoundly different results. We all ask ‘what might have been?’ about our own lives, now Andrew Roberts has assembled a team of twelve leading historians and biographers and asked them what might have happened if major world events had gone differently?

Each concentrating in the area in which they are a leading authority, historians as distinguished as Antonia Fraser, Norman Stone and Anne Somerset look at vital moments of history and consider: ‘What Might Have Been?’

In her first publication since her acclaimed Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman looks at what might have happened if Lincoln’s Northern States of America and Lord Palmerston’s Great Britain had gone to war, as they so nearly did in 1861. Whether it’s Stalin fleeing Moscow in 1941, as imagined by Simon Sebag Montefiore, or Napoleon not being forced to retreat from it in 1812, as recorded by Adam Zamoyski, the events covered here are important, world-changing ones.

George W. Bush’s former White House advisor David Frum considers a President Al Gore’s response to 9/11, while Simon Heffer posits a Heseltine premiership had Margaret Thatcher been assassinated by the I.R.A. in Brighton. Conrad Black wonders how the United States might have entered the Second World War if the Japanese had not bombed Pearl Harbor.

All twelve essays are thought-provoking and scholarly, some of them posit a fascinating and often horrifying parallel universe – a universe that so easily just might have been.

Reviews

‘This is counter-factual history at its best – drawing fresh but informed conclusions from perfectly credible errors. Stimulating, provocative and playful, What Might Have Been is everything one looks for in a collection of essays.’
Graham Stewart, Literary Review

‘The main object of these essays is to entertain, and they do so handsomely. This book is a hymn to the accidental and the erratic. Look on these works, ye Determinists and Dialectical Materialists, and at least consider the possibility that you might not be entirely right.’
Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph

Moments when the fates of nations seem to turn on the roll of a die, haunt the minds of the twelve writers assembled for this intriguing and entertaining anthology.’
Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

What Might Have Been is the latest of a series of volumes in which a gifted team of authors envisages alternative historical scenarios. As has become the custom of the genre,20some of the contributors submit sober and measured assessments, while others spot a chance for playfulness.’
Blair Worden, Sunday Telegraph

‘All twelve essays are good fun, and the will make the reader think – and that is, after all, what all good history, ‘factual’ or ‘counterfactual’, should be about.’
T.G. Otte, Times Literary Supplement

Copyright© 2008 Andrew Roberts

Georgiana’s World by Amanda Foreman

6As one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the late 18th century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was an icon of her time. Born Lady Georgiana Spencer, she married the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1774; within a short space of time she had become the undisputed queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince Regent, an intimate of Marie-Antoinette, an influential Whig hostess and a darling of the common people. Yet for all her aura of public glamour, Georgiana’s personal life was fraught with suffering brought on by her compulsive gambling, which led to insurmountable debts and ignominy, and her search for love, which caused misery and exile.

“Georgiana’s World” is the illustrated version of Amanda Foreman’s bestselling biography, “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”, and brings a fresh perspective to her life and times. Filled with images of the people and places she actually knew, a series of special features explore such aspects of 18th-century life as aristocracy.

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