Tag Archives: History

I, Claudius – Robert Graves

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves’s brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

Sometimes, reflecting on the literature that you like is disturbing, especially with a novel such as this which is full of violence – although surprisingly less detailed gore than one would imagine for the era – and debauchery .  It is a pleasure to report that I unashamedly loved this book in all its blood soaked storytelling.

This novel and its sequel Claudius the God were written in a hurry and only due to pressing financial needs Graves claimed, which makes it an astonishing feat for the impressive quality of the work on offer.  Whilst it has some gross distortions of history and the featured personalities, it is wonderfully entertaining and highly readable as a fictional autobiography should be.  You don’t need to be familiar with the era, part of the charm of the work is to research as you go and see what is correct, contentious and what is pure propaganda on Claudius’ part.

Claudius is a likeable narrator, his observant nature makes for a considered historian – his chosen profession – largely ignored because of his disabilities and perceived lack of intelligence, this allowed him to avoid the jealousies (and untimely fates) of his power seeking contemporaries.  Watching from the sidelines as our narrator does, the reader is given the impression of happy accidents or small triumphs that are attributed to Claudius yet with what we know from history, this adds another unreliable slant to the narration which is pleasantly and sometimes endearingly human.

The plot is a seething mass of machinations from the off and curiously, for an autobiography, begins before the birth of Claudius.  The sheer volume of scheming and drama put all modern soap operas to shame and the amount of detail – fictitious or otherwise – shows why this is considered to be a modern classic in the historical fiction genre.  Although it seems convoluted, and it is in a good way, everything is made clear and the reader is never swamped with too much information at one time.

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Posted by on 02/03/2018 in Autobiography, Fiction


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The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens goes straight for the Jugular in The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Under his fearsome gaze, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor is accused of being a war criminal whose reckless actions and heinous disregard for international law have led to torture, kidnapping and murder.

This book is a polemical masterpiece by a man who, for over forty years, was the Anglosphere’s pre-eminent man of letters.  In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Hitchens’ verve, style and firebrand wit are on show at the height of their potency. 

The Trial of Henry Kissinger is certainly an eye-opening read and a devastating attack on both his character and many of his actions – which had a significant impact on thousands of lives around the world – showing him (with supporting documents) to be a morally bankrupt man.  As the quote on the back cover of the book from the Literary Review says:

‘This book is so stupidly defamatory that if Kissinger values his reputation, he really must sue’

The silence on this matter, from the Nobel Peace Prize winner himself really does speak volumes.

Chronicling the different events Kissinger was a part of – a litany of manufactured, supported and prolonged wars,  and sabotaged peace talks, all a tale of so many lives ruined and lost needlessly, – it is frightening to see how he moved through successive U.S. governments with his power intact.   Hitchens is clearly no lover of the man but as ever, his arguments are reasoned, razor-sharp and not afraid to court controversy.  There is a term ‘Hitchslap’ that does the rounds that is often used for his most incisive commentary and this is certainly a good example of the term.

One of the most telling pieces of information is that Kissinger’s papers (the ones he classified as personal, when it is suspected many are incriminating) are under lock and key at the Library of Congress and can only be opened after Kissinger dies thanks to the agreement beforehand.  Of course being in the public interest a subpoena would most likely open it up (and a huge can of worms) but there in lies the issue. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/02/2018 in Essays, History, Journalism


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Early Shots

I have returned after a wonderful wedding and honeymoon week.  Photos will be coming soon of course, there have been so many posted on Facebook already and once the official ones are through, there will be a couple of posts coming up with the photos that really encapsulate the day.  Until then here are a few photos – in no particular order –  of my travels so far.

A visit to a beach – especially these beaches – in the company of wonderful people is always good. Added to great food, swimming at night, a thousand stars in the canopy of the sky and a super moon; followed by paddling about in the morning and enjoying the view of the sun glinting off the clear water, it was perfect…except for the grimmest toilet and shower facilities I have encountered in a long time.  Eagle eyed viewers will recognise the beach as being just a stone’s throw away from the beach I went to last year Costa de Oro.

Intramuros (within the walls) is also known as the Walled City, so being because the Spanish built the wall in the 16th century to protect themselves from attack in those days when it was a remote outpost of the Empire.  The span of this fortifications is impressive and there are still some cannons lining the walls as well as a sign warning about flying golf balls from the local course. There is a fascinating bookshop amongst other things in this part of Manila, which tempted me with lots of local literature.  One day I will be back for handfuls of that, as there seemed to be some enticing and powerful works waiting for my eyes.

Twin Lakes is a picturesque spot overlooking Lake Taal (which contains the second most active volcano in The Philippines, although Mt Mayon is stealing all the headlines at the moment), here we spent some time photographing, the wind was a bit chill and we had other places to go so didn’t enjoy any of the places to eat whilst taking in the view.  We didn’t really explore the resort but it was nice just to take in the clean air and the natural beauty of the area.  The highlands of Tagaytay are considered cold, with the average minimum temperature for January being 18 degrees.  The wind keeps it feeling cool sometimes but is considered pretty cold for Filipinos.
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Posted by on 07/02/2018 in Photography, The Philippines, Travel


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Monumental Reading

Many thanks to Crissy for taking this and the pther Philippines photos

by dint of studying, of analysing myself, of reaching out for higher things, and of a thousand corrections, I was transformed little by little, thanks to the influence of a beneficent professor….cultivating poetry and rhetoric had elevated my feelings, and Virgil, Cicero, and other authors showed me a new path which I could take. – Jose Rizal, spoken shortly before his execution on 30th December 1896

*photo taken near the Rizal monument in Rizal park…I was reading Rizal.


Posted by on 08/12/2017 in History, The Philippines, Travel


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I can think of nothing further to add to this…



When I was praying
For the victims
And for the living
Our enemies
To give in
To anger
& Hate
I saw Death
Pick up its scythe
And go on cutting
All the while
At my sheer naivety

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Posted by on 30/08/2017 in Poetry


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More Bromley House Library

Whilst touring the library’s several floors, it was wonderful to see plenty of cosy reading nooks and comfy chairs (as well as the day’s papers) which had me in mind of one of the old Gentlemen’s clubs frequented by Sherlock Holmes or Bertie Wooster.

Pottering around we were told that Bromley House has one of only four meridian lines in England and for some reason I straddled it as if I was in two different time zones.  Serious amounts of books will make me do odd things, although in the olden days Nottingham would have been 4 minutes and 33 seconds behind Greenwich.

The history section is one of the most fascinating as the books are classified in the order received, so wandering around the piles I found some amusing shelf mates such as Stalin next to Gandhi and Florence Nightingale sat next to…Lucretia Borgia!  It was also great to see the British Sundial Society Library housed here too, which is certainly something I would love to go back to and discover. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/08/2017 in Architecture, History, Travel


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Bromley House Library

After finishing The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, I idly typed into my search engine of choice, ‘secret library Nottingham’ and was surprised by actually finding one. Bromley House Library is smack bang in the centre of town, its unassuming doorway sandwiched between a charity shop and a newsagent.  It was very much like finding the Book Cemetery in Barcelona á la The Shadow of the Wind.

Arriving for my tour – which can be taken every Wednesday at 2:30pm for the excellent price of £2 – this is the scene that first greets the visitor, from there I knew it was going to be a book lovers dream to wander around in.  I later found out that that staircase is only supported at top and bottom so only one person can ascend or descend at a time.

This magnificent old building, built in 1752 has held the library since 1822, the library was in fact established earlier, in 1816 and has now amassed around 40,000 books, including local author (with a truly awesome last name) Alan Sillitoe’s own personal library (not pictured to due to my shaky hands phone camera work that rendered most of my photos a shocking mess) and the oldest book is Dante’s Opera held, dating from 1578.

Due to Bromley House being a grade II listed building, a lot of original features are still to be seen dotted around the place which makes the feeling of history and the real library reading experience feel more real.  I fell in love with this place as soon as I entered and wandering around the building I saw so much, more of which in an upcoming post.




Posted by on 15/08/2017 in Architecture, Classics, History, Travel


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