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Churchill Begins: Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire

When I saw that Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, had published yet another book, I was intrigued. When I learned that this time her subject matter dealt with Winston Churchill and a British Imperial war, I became excited. For those not familiar with her work, Millard has made a name for herself by engagingly telling the tales of lesser known incidents in the lives of prominent historical figures, accompanied by a level of historical context that both lends depth to her narrative and helps emphasize the importance of the events she describes. Eager to see what might result when she took this approach to a topic I'm familiar with, I dove right in.... Read More
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A Persistent Fiction: Myths of British Martial Prowess and Their Appeal

A few weeks ago, as I was reading Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire (which shall be reviewed on this very blog in four days), I came across a puzzling statement. In her prologue, Millard described the British army as “one of the most admired and feared fighting forces in the world.” Anyone familiar with the ersatz history of the British army in Europe or Britain’s imperial holdings might look askance at such a dubious claim, but I thought little of it at the time save to raise an intellectual (and physical) eyebrow. As is so often the case, however, this inciting incident opened my eyes to more and more use of this or a similarly-worded error. I have since encountered it in material covering a diverse range of subject matter concerning Britain in the period of its empire, authored by historians spanning a wide array of training and background. Rather than composing a direct rebuttal of these claims of a superlative British army, I instead became preoccupied with determining the reasons one might buy into such an easily-refuted detail. What follows below is an account of my efforts and, incidentally, a fair amount of refutation in its writing.... Read More
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Byzantium Ascendant: Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade

The Crusades have justifiably proven a focus of attention for both academics and the general public for centuries. It can hardly be avoided in Western history curriculums, yet Peter Frankopan's analysis of their instigation is not one commonly encountered. The First Crusade is, above all else, a rehabilitation for the character of Emperor Alexios Komnenos, ruler of the Byzantine Empire and, according to Frankopan, the man responsible for both the existence and the successes of the host of Christendom.... Read More
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Holding the Moral High Ground: Reflections on Just War Then and Now

I recently picked up a copy of D. H. Dilbeck’s 2016 book A More Civil War. Given my interests in the intersection of the morality and consequences of war, it seemed like something worth reading. As I went through it, I found myself not thinking of it just as a work of Civil War scholarship but also as reflection upon the enormous shifts in our understanding of moral warfare since the 19th century.... Read More
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A Valiant Effort: Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004)

Today sees the premier of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the latest in a long line of films focusing on the mythical British king. Though this most recent movie has little to do with the historical record, I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss one that does: 2004’s King Arthur. Starring Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere, King Arthur’s attempt to tell the grounded story of an historical figure who inspired the legends is one that has long been a favorite of mine, despite its numerous flaws and inaccuracies. I had originally planned to discuss it as my guilty pleasure during launch week, but realized I simply had too much to say on the topic for a single paragraph.... Read More
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Just Stop: Brian Kilmeade’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Abandon ambiguity, all ye who enter here. Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates reads like an adventure novel, complete with dashing heroes, daring deeds, and a suitably triumphant conclusion. The events themselves that Kilmeade and Yaeger are concerned with are related competently enough. Its trade threatened by the privateers employed by the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli and unwilling to pay a preventative tribute, the United States under President Jefferson embarked on a series of naval operations designed to enforce a peace more conducive to American commerce and in so doing took the first steps toward increased American prestige and involvement beyond its own shores. In the process, however, Kilmeade and Yaeger produce one of the most unaware and insular works of history I have ever had the misfortune to read.... Read More