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 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…

The tangled tragedy of Mary, Queen of Scots

Over the past four-plus centuries, Mary’s reputation has waxed and waned. A movie due out this year should put a positive spin on it

The tangled tragedy of Mary, Queen of ScotsThis Christmas, cinema patrons will be offered the historical drama Mary, Queen of Scots. With Saoirse Ronan in the title role and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I of England, the movie casts two of today’s prominent actresses in a retelling of the 16th century’s most compelling personal rivalry. As the movie is based on John…

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…

Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposes

History is not about judging the past or the people who lived it. It is about understanding how past events made us who we are today

Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposesEach morning, I peer out the window of my apartment at St. Paul’s Basilica, the centre of the Irish immigrant community that arrived in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood in the mid-1800s. Last year, I taught a course in writing about history. I used the basilica as a test case. If I were to write a history…

Poland’s 20th century tragedy

Stuck between Germany and the Soviet Union didn't stop thousands of Poles from contributing to the war effort in the 1940s

Poland’s 20th century tragedyCanadians who grouse about living next door to the American elephant should consider the situation of Poland, particularly in the mid-20th century. With Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union on one side and Adolf Hitler’s Germany on the other, Poles must have occasionally wondered just what they had done to merit this unfortunate geography. English journalist Max Hastings…

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…

John F. Kennedy: an anglophile for all seasons

The storied president was more English than Irish, despite being seen as the ultimate symbol of Irish-American success and social acceptance

John F. Kennedy: an anglophile for all seasonsJohn F. Kennedy is often seen as the ultimate symbol of Irish-American success and social acceptance. And there’s much truth to that. Irish by ancestry and Roman Catholic by religion, Kennedy’s election to the U.S. presidency represented a breakthrough in status and prestige for an ethnic group that had once been viewed with suspicion. But…
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