Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistake

If Hitler had declared war on Japan in support of the U.S., he might have kept the U.S. out of the European war. And that would have changed history

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistakeAdolf Hitler began 1941 in a commanding position. He had 10 European conquests under his belt and just one active foe – beleaguered Britain and the members of the Commonwealth, like Canada. But by year-end, he’d added the Soviet Union and the United States to his slate of antagonists. And the declaration of war against…

Diving into man’s complicated relationship with war

Diving into man’s complicated relationship with warOn Remembrance Day, as chance would have it, I was reading Margaret MacMillan’s latest book, War: How Conflict Shaped Us. MacMillan is a Canadian historian most famous for two works connected to the First World War – Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace. Her new book builds on a series of lectures she…

Julius Caesar’s assassins paid the price

Some died in battle, some by suicide, and at least one after being tortured then beheaded

Julius Caesar’s assassins paid the priceEnglish author Peter Stothard’s latest book is called The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar. I’ve only seen reviews but it looks like a good read. Growing up in 1950s Ireland, Caesar was one of those ancient figures who loomed large. Part of this was no more than the schoolboy’s normal…

The Congo’s great liberation turned into abject failure

How great plans quickly descended into decades of dictatorship, corruption, kleptocracy and violence

The Congo’s great liberation turned into abject failureThe year 1960 was auspicious for European decolonization of Africa. In rapid succession, no fewer than 17 countries became independent. One of them was the Central African territory previously known as the Belgian Congo. June 30 was its magic date. And given its vast natural resources, some people had high hopes. Alas, things quickly turned…

The Habsburgs: Rise and fall of Europe’s premier dynasty

They were canny, enduring and keen on expansion. In the end, however, the empire couldn't survive the First World War

The Habsburgs: Rise and fall of Europe’s premier dynastyThanks to a voluble professor of European history at University College Dublin, the Habsburgs first piqued my curiosity in the early 1960s. Then the interest lay dormant until a chance 2011 visit to the imperial crypt in Vienna’s Capuchin monastery. In operation since 1632, the crypt contains the tombs of more than 140 Habsburg royalty.…

Digging for the bones of a lost Irish hero

Digging for the bones of a lost Irish heroThe Spanish city of Valladolid has an Irish historical connection. It was there that Red Hugh O’Donnell was buried in 1602. Now, thanks to an archaeological dig aimed at finding his long-lost tomb, the connection is back in the news. Known as Red Hugh because of his hair colour, he was the kind of historical…

Hubris, conspiracy and the fall of Margaret Thatcher

The former U.K. prime minister had a radical streak and a thirst for combat that the men she led didn’t share

Hubris, conspiracy and the fall of Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher had her final prime ministerial audience with the Queen on Nov. 28, 1990. Despite having won three consecutive general elections and never losing a parliamentary vote of confidence, she was evicted from office against her will. The dramatic story is comprehensively told in Herself Alone, the third and final instalment of Charles Moore’s…

The Year 1000: a look at globalization’s roots

Author Valerie Hansen demonstrates that the concept of international trading networks and linkages goes back a very long way

The Year 1000: a look at globalization’s rootsValerie Hansen is an American academic who teaches history at Yale. She also writes books, of which 2012’s The Silk Road is perhaps the best known. Hansen’s latest book is The Year 1000. Provocatively subtitled When Explorers Connected the World – and Globalization Began, it’s a recounting of interconnectedness in the five centuries between 1000…

The Black Death and its aftermath

Surprisingly, post-Black Death populations tended to live longer and enjoy better health and standards of living

The Black Death and its aftermathBubonic plague came to England in the summer of 1348. Popularly known as the Black Death, the disease arrived via a French ship that docked in what is now Weymouth on the south coast. From there, it spread rapidly inland and westwards over the water to Ireland. It was also transmitted across the North Sea…

The making of an unlikely U.S. president

The new book Becoming Ronald Reagan details the unlikely emergence of the most consequential Republican conservative of the 20th century

The making of an unlikely U.S. presidentAmerican liberals always had a problem with Ronald Reagan. He was, they thought, no more than an “amiable dunce,” a mouthpiece for someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. Yet through the hurly-burly of political contests over the span of a quarter-century, the dunce cleaned up on a regular basis. He was elected California governor…

Beaverbrook: A Canadian who liked to win

Relentless and focused, Max Aitken wasn’t squeamish about cutting corners to get what he wanted in business and politics

Beaverbrook: A Canadian who liked to winMax Aitken – widely known as Lord Beaverbrook – is the subject of a new biography by English author Charles Williams. Max Beaverbrook is a readable book on an interesting and controversial character, one whose balance of attributes is ambivalently encapsulated in the subtitle Not Quite a Gentleman. Aitken was born in Maple, Ont., in…

Anti-Alberta bigotry clothed in environmental clichés and platitudes

Anti-Alberta bigotry clothed in environmental clichés and platitudesDave Yager has spent nearly half a century in Alberta’s oil and natural gas industry and 40 years in journalism, notably with the oilfield trade magazine, The Roughneck. His first book, From Miracle to Menace: Alberta, A Carbon Story, combines his extensive experience in a well-written and fact-centred analysis of the economics, politics and history…

The unsung heroes of Waterloo

The Longest Afternoon, by historian Brendan Simms, provides depth, nuance and new insight

The unsung heroes of WaterlooAlthough I considered myself reasonably well informed about the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo, the critical role of the King’s German Legion (KGL) and La Haye Sainte slipped below my radar. That’s been rectified by The Longest Afternoon, a slim volume from historian Brendan Simms. Simms, born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, is…

The unsung heroes of Waterloo

The Longest Afternoon, by historian Brendan Simms, provides depth, nuance and new insight

The unsung heroes of WaterlooAlthough I considered myself reasonably well informed about the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo, the critical role of the King’s German Legion (KGL) and La Haye Sainte slipped below my radar. That’s been rectified by The Longest Afternoon, a slim volume from historian Brendan Simms. Simms, born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, is…

The rise and fall of a Native American empire

The Comanches were very adaptable and formidable. But nature, politics, economics and immigration eventually undid them

The rise and fall of a Native American empireIt’s easy to think of the European arrival in North America as an unremitting story of Native American retreat. But as Finnish historian Pekka Hamalainen explains in The Comanche Empire, reality was more complicated. Empowered by the European introduction of the horse and the gun, the Comanches did very well for a long time. In…