‘The terrible things that happen when you put writers in charge’

Dictator Literature by Daniel Kalder. OneWorld Publishing, £10.99 Daniel Kalder is a very funny writer who specialises in Russian history and literature and has an eye for dark humour, the latter probably a necessity for the former. His latest book is a work of literary criticism with an unusual twist: studying the output of Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao, as well as some of the lesser tyrants of the 20th century. All were awful people; most were also awful… Read on

Hail, Emmanuel Macron, crowned of God, great and peaceful Emperor of the Romans!

From the Catholic Herald print edition, July 5, 2018 Last week France’s maddeningly young president Emmanuel Macron became the “first and only honorary canon” of the Basilica of St John Lateran while on a trip to meet the Holy Father in Rome. The title dates back to the 15th century but many French presidents, including François Mitterrand and François Hollande, have declined the honour, in consideration of the Republic’s often difficult relationship with Catholicism. Macron, however, seemed to be revelling… Read on

The Mistake that America keeps on making

Political Tribes by Amy Chua, Bloomsbury, 304pp, £14 Amy Chua, a lawyer and academic at Yale, is perhaps best known for her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, about the joys of traditional Chinese parenting. The bestseller popularised the term “tiger mom” and inspired three separate television series. Married to a novelist and fellow academic, Chua could almost epitomise America’s liberal elite, and yet her ability to see both sides of identity conflict makes her an excellent popular narrator of… Read on

How the Irish civilized England

From the Catholic Herald Christmas edition Monasticism had begun in the deserts of Egypt under St Anthony, but after the practice spread west and was popularised by Benedict of Nursia it was keenly taken up by the Irish. Like the Egyptians, they found plenty of harsh, unforgiving places where they could get closer to God. Nowhere was more unforgiving than Skellig Michael. The monastery there was founded before the 8th century and at some time became associated with… Read on

No, Dunkirk isn’t about Brexit

A great war film, but what does it mean?

On St Patrick and St Gildas, patron saint of immigration restriction

Ireland’s rapid and enthusiastic embrace of the new faith is impressive, in particular their attraction to the originally Egyptian and eastern Mediterranean idea of monasticism. Irish monks loved the austerity and self-inflected misery associated with the religious life, and the country’s harsh environment provided the perfect backdrop; the most extreme was Skelling Michael, off the coast of Kerry, an isolated mountain island that can only be reached on calm days (to a younger generation made famous in the closing scene… Read on

The Iraqi Christians fighting ISIS

From the Catholic Herald. Earlier this month allied forces in Iraq scored a spectacular victory when they drove the Islamic State out of the village of Badanah in the north of the country. Good news, one might think, except that what made this noteworthy was that for the first time in many years it was a Christian army fighting. As is fitting for a war often battled out on social media, the Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU) announced their… Read on

Why Catholics got blamed for The Great Fire of London

From the Catholic Herald print edition, September 9, 2016 At around 9pm on Saturday September 1, 1666 London baker Thomas Farriner went to bed after a day making dry biscuits for the Royal Navy. Farriner, who lived with his daughter, maid and manservant in Pudding Lane, had something of a chequered history. As a 10 year old he had spent time at Bridewell, a sort of borstal where youngsters might get an education, until eventually he was apprenticed and turned… Read on

Watch John Calvin deſtroy ye papiſts in one utterance

From this week’s Catholic Herald.  I ticked off another “thing to do before I die” last month when I attended the annual wine-tasting day in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which was the very image of la belle vie of rural France, apart from the four soldiers with machine guns (plus three policemen with handguns). France is swarming with heavily armed guys looking effortlessly cool as they defend us from the country’s endless supply of Islamist crazies, but the national emergency hasn’t affected… Read on

England’s forgotten founding father

From the Catholic Herald Athelstan: The Making of England Tom Holland £9.99/£3.09 on Kindle Of all the kings and queens covered in Penguin’s new Monarchs of England series, perhaps the least known is also one of the most important. The grandson of Alfred the Great, Athelstan was raised by his aunt Ethelfleda after his father Edward the Elder discarded his mother Ecgwynn to a convent to make a dynastic marriage… Read on