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War on all the World: Starz’s Black Sails

The end of March brought with it the finale of the Starz series Black Sails. I’m a sucker for anything involving wooden ships and broadsides, so it was natural that I would eventually try the show out. As I began watching, all I knew was that it was a gritty pirate drama in the style of so many recent offerings from similar premium services. Imagine my delight when I discovered not a pulpy sensationalist naval warfare fix but a masterfully crafted historical drama.... Read More

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

Crucible of the World: Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads

From its main title, one could be forgiven for assuming this book to be simply a regional study of Central Asia. Yet Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads: A New History of the World begins with much loftier goals. Having been fascinated with the history of the broadly-defined Middle East in his youth, Frankopan asserts that he is here to posit a new method of understanding history: one that challenges European narratives of inevitable triumph and restores Central Asia to its place as the fulcrum of world history. In the process, however, The Silk Roads delivers simultaneously more and much, much less than Frankopan promises.... Read More
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Mud, Blood, and Grunting: FX’s Taboo, Season 1

When I first got wind that Tom Hardy was working with FX and the BBC to produce a gritty television series involving the East India Company and the African slave trade, I was ecstatic. That show, named Taboo, concluded its first season in February after eight episodes, and despite it not being quite what I expected, I certainly enjoyed watching it.... Read More