My end of the year reading is, among others, The Secret World by Hugh Trevor-Roper, a collection of his writings on Intelligence, counter-Intelligence, various ideas behind both as well as personalities involved in wartime secret work. There are articles, letters and the full text of his book on Philby and Admiral Canaris. a good deal of it will have to be written about another time.
In this posting I should like to quote from the Foreword by another brilliant historian, Sir Michael Howard, who touches on Trevor-Roper's post war activity or lack of in the field though, fortunately, he wrote about such matters.
If Hugh did any work for the Intelligence Services after the war he left no trace, but it is not likely. His professional colleagues had always resented the wartime intrusion of interlopers and were glad to see the last of them - with the exception, of course, of the deferential and reliable Kim Philby, the only one they really trusted.Thereby, as we all know, hangs a very painful tale about which Trevor-Roper had much to say. I shall return to this book and to the great historian's letter published last year in the very near future.
In the meantime, a very happy and prosperous 2015 to all readers of this blog and let us not forget all the many important anniversaries that are coming up.
A very merry Christmas to all the blog's readers and to ensure that it is that, here is a version of the mediaeval carol Gaudete, performed by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge:
The BBC History Magazine asked several historians which history books of 2014 would they rate most highly. The replies made me realize that I had better get reading those books before the 2015 ones start coming out. (As it happens I already noticed a book that will not be published till next year but is in London Library: Boris Volodarsky's Stalin's Agent, a biography of the famous and infamous Alexander Orlov.) But I digress.
Back to 2014:
Nigel Jones nominates Roger Moorhouse's The Devils' Alliance, a detailed study of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from the moment it was signed to the moment it was broken.
Helen Castor, author of the highly praised recent biography of Joan of Arc, lists three books on the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century. In that order they are Dan Jones's The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, Jessie Childs's God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England and Charles Spencer's Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I. The last title is particularly fascinating to me as I have long found it fascinating to imagine the minds of people who dared to do the unthinkable: not to kill a king as a good many kings had been killed in England and other countries but to try and execute him. Surely that is the event that can be seriously called the beginning of the modern era.
Finally, Simon Sebag Montefiore picks Jessie Childs's book, as well as Serhii Plokhi's The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union and Victor Sebestyen's 1946: The Making of the Modern World. Clearly Mr Sebestyen and I (we are acquainted) would disagree on that assumption as on a number of other issues as always, I hope, in a friendly fashion.
This morning I heard the news that my good friend and well known political scientist Dennis O'Keeffe has passed away. He is, I was rightly told, at peace after his appalling suffering.
About three and a half years ago Dennis had a very nasty accident and his life since then has been very difficult and constrained, the last couple of weeks particularly so. It would be far too easy to remember that and not the Dennis O'Keeffe of many social and political meetings, the man who would manage to crack jokes about the most unlikely subjects.
My other friend John O'Sullivan described him as a brave and strong fighter for the right cause and that could be described as the cause of the right. Dennis wrote extensively about social and educational problems, arguing on the basis of much evidence that intervention by the state and control by the state made those problems far worse. (Here is a list of some of his publications.)
Nor must we forget Dennis's work in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, which he visited several times in the eighties as part of the Jagiellonian group, giving various talks to the underground university. It is fair to say that he and his colleagues were at some risk but continued the work because they thought it was necessary. Dennis learned some Polish and had a decent accent though his vocabulary, as he admitted himself, was limited. Nor did he forget it. I heard him speak Polish to at least one nurse in the care home where he, unfortunately, spent the last few years.
From the conservative point of view, Dennis's achievements are great. He wrote the best introduction to Edmund Burke anyone would need, as this blog has pointed out before, better really, for someone who does not know much about the subject than Jesse Norman's study.
He also translated into English Benjamin Constant's Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, first published in 1815. For anyone who is interested in an interview Dennis gave about Constant, they can listen to it here.
At the time of that terrible accident Dennis O'Keeffe was working on a six volume edition of Frédéric Bastiat's work, editing and translating it. Several of the volumes were completed and published and are available on the Liberty Fund website, an outstanding source for all who want to read the conservative and liberal (in the old, true sense of the word) classics.
One can only rejoice that the work Dennis did has been done and will be of use to many of us and many to come while feeling sad that there will be no more as there will be no more jokes and laughter, talks and arguments. Rest in Peace Dennis. We shall miss you.
A day much celebrated in countries where children cleaned their shoes yesterday and placed them in the window for St Nicholas (in his many names) to fill either with sweets or a small birch, depending on their behaviour. He is also the patron saint of of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe as well as of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.