Derek Turner

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Bibliotheca of the Bizarre
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Bibliotheca of the Bizarre

The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History by Edward Brooke-Hitching Chronicle Books 256 pp., $29.95 Books are the “emblem of civilization,” Edward Brooke-Hitching writes in a new book that explores the strange history of the medium. The earliest books were used to establish and uphold administrative, legal, and taxation...

From Hobbits to H-bombs
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From Hobbits to H-bombs

Britain at Bay: The Epic Story of the Second World War, 1938–1941 by Alan Allport Knopf 608 pp., $35.00 “The Second World War,” says  Britain at Bay’s flyleaf, “was the defining experience of modern British history. It is our founding myth, our Iliad.” It is also the inspiration for a continued outpouring of national self-congratulation,...

Monumental Follies
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Monumental Follies

Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History by Alexander Adams Societas 180 pp., $29.90 The ill-starred year of COVID saw another, more localized, virus—an outbreak of attacks on public monuments in several countries, particularly in the United States and Britain. While this sickness presents itself as a skin-disease, only scarring symbols, its virulency attests...

Haunts of Hobbits
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Haunts of Hobbits

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth; by John Garth; Princeton University Press; 208 pp., $29.95 Authors have always imagined alternate universes, but in the bulging gazetteer of authorial Erewhons—from the transient town of Abaton via Atlantis, Earthsea, and Hogwarts, to Zyundal in the Isles of Wisdom—none attract such obsessive attention as Tolkien’s...

Books in Brief
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Books in Brief

The Shortest Way With Defoe—Robinson Crusoe, Deism, and the Novel, by Michael B. Prince (University of Virginia Press; 350 pp., $69.50). Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel A Journal of the Plague Year has been much-read recently, for obvious reasons. But of course we remember him chiefly for 1719’s Robinson Crusoe, which was immediately popular for its new, realistic style, and...

Traditionalism Redux
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Traditionalism Redux

Many intemperate critics have attacked President Trump and his intellectual influences. Benjamin Teitelbaum is not one of them. Cleverer and more fair-minded than most critiques, War for Eternity strives to show that many modern national conservative and populist movements are paradoxically informed by the arcane intellectual current known as traditionalism. At the book’s heart are...

Unending Journeys
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Unending Journeys

Few subjects arouse such atavistic emotions as migration—whether the arrivals come as conquerors or as kin, fleeing ordeals or seeking opportunities. For incomers, migration can represent a dream, a rational choice, an urgent necessity, or a last hope. For recipient countries, it can be an infusion of energy, a reunion, a social challenge, or an...

Can the Greens Change Their Colors?
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Can the Greens Change Their Colors?

Greens often make conservatives and populists see red—or Reds. In 2004, Australian politician John Anderson called his country’s Greens “watermelons…green on the outside, and very, very, very red on the inside.” His fruity metaphor has become something of a conservative cliché. It is easy to see why. Green policies are frequently further to the left...

Emperor of Imagination
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Emperor of Imagination

Charles the Great looms out of the swirling obscurity of post-Roman Europe like the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, signaling simultaneously radical renewal and an alteration of everything that came before. As Janet Nelson illuminates in her new book, it is impossible to imagine the West without Charlemagne as figurative and literal progenitor. The King of...

Replacement Theories
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Replacement Theories

In 2004, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde published The Populist Zeitgeist, an attempt to define the growingly important but haphazardly applied concept of “populism.”  He had an emotional as well as an academic interest, because “far-right” nationalism had enmeshed his own brother.  His influential conclusion was that populism was an unlikable “thin ideology,” almost infinitely...

The Anatomy of Color
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The Anatomy of Color

History can be refracted through countless prisms—cultural, economic, environmental, ideological, moral, national, racial, religious—but one has been oddly unexplored, despite being not just obvious but ubiquitous.  That prism is color, an element that suffuses every instinct and thought, hues our whole universe.  Since hominids evolved opsin genes, we have been able to distinguish between colors...

Unnumbered Years
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Unnumbered Years

Ravens over North Berwick Law—could any phrase be more hyperborean?  I turned the words over lazily as I watched them 50 feet above, circling and diving on one another, flicking expert wings, commenting incessantly on their sport as they alternately dropped or upheld the thin blue vault.  Below the volcanic cone of its Law, the...

Churchill’s Home Front
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Churchill’s Home Front

Winston Churchill is one of the most closely examined (and lionized) of all politicians, and it is accordingly difficult to think of new angles from which to view him and his legacy.  But now here are two original and complementary studies coming at once, one profiling his wife, Clementine, the other examining the impressive public...

The Fun of Brexit
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The Fun of Brexit

Arron Banks looks out proudly and pugnaciously from the cover of Bad Boys of Brexit like a character in a Hogarth engraving, flanking the equally Hogarthian Nigel Farage in a photo taken as Farage faced the globe’s agog media on the auspicious morning of June 24, 2016.  The four men pictured—Banks, Farage, Richard Tice, and...

Bizarre Baroque
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Bizarre Baroque

Like most Western children, I was reared partly on fairy tales.  Presented in beautifully illustrated Ladybird books, these were as much a part of my early childhood as the house decor, encouraging me to read and arousing inchoate ideas of an ur-Europe of forlorn beauties, wandering princes, vindictive stepmothers, dangerous fruits, fabulous treasures, ravening beasts,...

An Englishman in His Near Abroad
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An Englishman in His Near Abroad

Samuel Johnson was nearly 64 when he made an unexpected journey.  One day in 1773, the internationally renowned lexicographer, essayist, poet, and novelist, who somehow combined being one of the great thinkers of Europe with being a personification of bluff Englishness, suddenly switched his great gaze north, in search of a dream of youth.  His...

Iron Lady on Her Mettle
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Iron Lady on Her Mettle

At the end of the first volume of Charles Moore’s lapidary trilogy, we left Mrs. Thatcher standing in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1982, surrounded by the shades of past national leaders, bathed in public approval and growing global respect as the victor of the Falklands War and standard-bearer for a new and dynamic kind of...

“Pity Poor Bradford”
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“Pity Poor Bradford”

Bolling Hall has squatted on its plot since the 14th century, hunched against the wind and rain of the West Riding—a North Country architectural essay in dark yellow sandstone looking warily down a steep hillside onto Bradford’s Vale.  Old though the building is, the estate’s foundations go deeper than Domesday, when Conqueror companion-in-arms Ilbert de...

Identity and Appearances
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Identity and Appearances

Seen from certain angles, Dover Castle looks like the most formidable fortress in the world.  Far below, the English Channel is a vision in ozone and aquamarine—the deeps dotted with shipping, the Pas-de-Calais shimmering with memories, the chalky cliffs ant-tunneled with ancient emplacements, a pristine Cross of St. George snapping in the breeze from the...

A Watch in the Marches
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A Watch in the Marches

“Oh, the wild hills of Wales, the land of old renown, and of wonder . . . ”         —George Borrow, Wild Wales I step silent across the flagged floor below weathered slates and beams, sleep-held family breathing behind, the only other sounds the scratching of terriers’ claws as they push past...

Idealists Without Illusions
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Idealists Without Illusions

Like all relationships, the special transatlantic one is in a state of constant flux—warmer or cooler at different times, enhanced by empathy, marred by misunderstandings, riven by reality—but always affected by the personal qualities of the incumbents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing Street. For a short but eventful span between January 1961 and...

An Interwar Odyssey
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An Interwar Odyssey

In 2011, Patrick Leigh Fermor became Patrick Leigh Former, and hundreds of thousands of devotees were doubly bereft.  The first loss was the man himself, at 96 an antique in his own right, one of the last links to what feels increasingly like an antediluvian Europe, in which advanced civilization could coexist with medieval color...

Too Quiet Flows the Don
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Too Quiet Flows the Don

The stone head from the Iron Age glowers out of its glass case as if outraged by the indignity of imprisonment, its relegation from totem to tourist attraction.  Not that there are ever many tourists in Doncaster Museum, especially on a unseasonably warm day when the sun-punished town seems full of the grit and stink...

The Most Truly Conservative Person . . .
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The Most Truly Conservative Person . . .

When Margaret Thatcher died last April, the obsequies were at times almost drowned by vitriolic voices celebrating her demise.  There were howls of joy from old enemies, street parties, and a puer­ile campaign to make the Wizard of Oz song “Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead!” the top-selling pop single.  (It failed, narrowly.)  The extravagant...

Proper Books
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Proper Books

Way back in prehistory—1991, or thereabouts—a promising Alabaman author started to register on readers’ radars, thanks to lambent reviews from Northern litterateurs surprised to discover that there was at least one Southron who could not only write, but write as though an amphetamined-up James Joyce was simultaneously charioteering Jonathan Swift, Flannery O’Connor, and John Kennedy...

In the Ultra-West
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In the Ultra-West

Drowned drumlins swarmed in the brilliant bay, and ravens like those that plagued Saint Patrick croaked from the chasm below my feet as they rolled lazily half a mile above County Mayo.  The ravens’ harsh call was an onomatopoeic reminder of my present eminence, Croagh Patrick, the 2,510-foot cone that dominates the great inlet of...

Where Color Led
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Where Color Led

Yale University Press promises that Witness to History “will fascinate anyone interested in the great political figures of world history during the twentieth century.”  On this book’s back cover, Alistair Horne hails John Wheeler-Bennett as “a gifted historian . . . one of the outstanding, though unsung, certainly unrepeatable Britons of his age.” It is...

Home Truths on Ecology
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Home Truths on Ecology

The relationship between Greens and Conservatives in England is notoriously fractious.  Many conservatives see Greens as sub-Marxist semibeatniks, and many Greens see conservatives as military-industrial Morlocks.  Yet etymology alone suggests that conservatism and conservationism should shade into each other, just as blue blends into green and back again in the color spectrum.  And even if...

The Leopard at Large
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The Leopard at Large

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was the last prince of his long and languid line, but soon after his death he became one of the first names in 20th-century Italian letters.  The Leopard, his 1958 novel about the last days of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the first days of a (theoretically) united Kingdom...

Homing in on England
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Homing in on England

Michael Wood begins with a quotation from Blake: “To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.”  This line betokens his aim, which is to zero in on one small English place and use its specific saga to tell the wider tale of all England from prehistory to present. The place is Kibworth, an outwardly unremarkable...

An Englishman in New York
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An Englishman in New York

The subway train clanked and screeched out of the darkness at last into stretched autumnal sunshine.  I rattled northward in an emptying carriage gazing down on nameless, nondescript streets, and sometimes straight into ex-offices within which the same endeavors had probably been carried on from when the building had been erected in the early 20th...

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Ferals and Feds

Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man, was shot dead on Thursday, August 4, by police officers in Tottenham, a largely black and impoverished suburb of northeast London.  Duggan was a member of the Star Gang, which has a reputation for carrying guns and dealing in hard drugs, and his apprehension was preplanned.  It was originally...

Bungalow Minds
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Bungalow Minds

They are cutting hay in the Haymarket.  A woman is laying out clothes to dry on the grass of Aldgate, and stags patrol where St. James’s Park will be one day, staring in puzzlement at the vast abbey protruding above the willows of Westminster.  It is London as delineated by Ralph Aggas circa 1590, reproduced...

The Robot’s Focus
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The Robot’s Focus

By the time Tony Blair stood down as prime minister to give his rival Gordon Brown the opportunity to lose office ignominiously, he had become as unpopular on the left as he had always been on the right.  A Journey is his attempt to explain himself, not so much to what he calls, alternately, “the...

The Arrhythmic Heart of England
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The Arrhythmic Heart of England

The city of Leicester is about as far from the sea as one can get in England.  But one sweltering August day, when everyone else was heading down to the beaches, we were driving in the opposite direction so that I could fill in a long-troubling gap on my mental map of England.  I had...

Sustained Magnificence
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Sustained Magnificence

Sixty-five years after the last guns ceased firing on the last Pacific atoll, Britons of all political persuasions are still wallowing in tepid World War II nostalgia. For Atlanticists, neoconservatives, and classical liberals, the war was a great Anglosphere achievement, a landmark en route to social mobility plus mercantilism.  For nationalists and romantics, there is...

Sympathetic Magic
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Sympathetic Magic

Endorsements by Christopher Hitchens and Nora Ephron do not inspire confidence in Bright-Sided.  Nor does Barbara Ehren­reich’s website, with its list of soporific-sounding previous publications, which includes Long March, Short Spring: The Student Uprising at Home and Abroad and Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers.  Her enumerated interests also threaten tedium—healthcare, peace,...

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The End of Strong Government?

The May 6 general election in England was one of the most eagerly contested in recent history.  At stake were 649 parliamentary seats (one vote has been postponed because of the death of a candidate) for which there were almost 4,150 candidates.  Also up for grabs were 4,222 local council seats in 164 English local...

Soulcraft as Leechcraft
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Soulcraft as Leechcraft

The photographs on the jacket of Our Times provide a pointed reminder that the British past is not just another country but another continent. The newly crowned Queen looks self-conscious yet confident in Cecil Beaton’s celebrated photograph of 1953, holding the scepter and orb of state in steady hands, her slender frame enveloped in ermine...

One For the Road
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One For the Road

In the summer of 1956, a junior transport minister activated a green traffic light in the middle of a field in Lancashire.  That was the signal for a bulldozer to flatten a hedge and start shifting soil.  In a suitably Monty Pythonesque twist, the bulldozer ran out of petrol a few seconds later. Such were...

Supernova
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Supernova

“Nobility is the symbol of mind.” —Walter Bagehot In times of texting and sexting, Twittering and wittering, there is something positively antediluvian about epistolary collections—a whiff of fountain pens and headed notepaper, morocco-topped escritoires in long-windowed drawing rooms looking out over lawns studded with cedars and peacocks.  Such fleeting evocations are lent depth and body...

A Tsunami of Towers
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A Tsunami of Towers

Here, you can see almost forever.  It is a great green plain bounded by low wolds to the west and the North Sea to the east, by the River Humber to the north and the shining mudflats of the Wash to the south.  It is a landscape for seven-league boots and ten-league thoughts, as the...

A Living Past
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A Living Past

It is a small town in Bavaria, and it is at least 32 degrees C.  The camera weighs heavy in my hands, and I can feel speckles of sweat accumulating beneath my black rucksack, as it soaks up the sun like a square and sinister sponge.  All around us are people similarly suffering, but good-tempered...

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What Civilization Remains

We once had a book about Eastern Europe at home, in between the encyclopedias and Robinson Crusoe.  I do not remember its title nor the author’s name, but it contained highly atmospheric black and white photographs of Rumanian scenes.  There were baroque chateaux, sturgeons, eagles, wolves, bears, wild boar, bends in the Danube, flowered meads...

The Skeptical Mind
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The Skeptical Mind

“Skepticism is less reprehensible in inquiring years, and no crime in juvenile exercitation.” —Joseph Glanville In an intellectual climate characterized by conformity and wishful thinking, John Gray is among the most interesting and consequential thinkers contemporary Britain has to show.  From his office at the London School of Economics (where he is professor of European...

Epicene Europa
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Epicene Europa

“Roll up the map of Europe; it will not be wanted these ten years.” —William Pitt (1806) “Nothing,” goes the Johnsonian cliché, “concentrates a man’s mind more wonderfully than the prospect of being hanged.”  This very natural reaction may explain why a whole raft of intellectuals, journalists, and even politicians, none of whom was previously...

A Humble Love
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A Humble Love

“Not only England, but every Englishman is an island.” —Friedrich von Hardenberg John Betjeman’s evocative and educative television programs and his uniquely readable poetry have left an indelible image in the British public mind—of a jolly, witty, and eccentric man, ambling around Britain’s cities and countryside, pointing out hitherto unnoticed details of hitherto underappreciated buildings...

The Decivilizing Century
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The Decivilizing Century

When I contacted Transaction to request a review copy of the paperback edition of The Strange Death of Moral Britain (the hardback appeared in 2004), I was told I would have to wait for a few weeks, because they were completely out of stock of the first print run.  Perhaps this book has struck a...

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Le Pen’s Loose Langue

In late February, the presidential candidate of France’s Front National (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen, received widespread press coverage for saying, in an interview with La Croix, that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was merely “an incident,” adding that the 3,000 who died should be seen in the context of...

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A Great Tradition Renewed

Literary feuds, like ideas, have consequences.  After Sir Walter Scott read a disparaging review of his Marmion in the Edinburgh Review, the bard of the Borders decided that what British life needed above all was a journal that would give his works more respectful treatment and would provide a powerful antidote to the Whiggish and...