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Sunday, 13 March 2011


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"even dafter and madder than that of Kaiser Wilhelm II": now then, I've started Massie's book, on your say so. Good stuff, but it does make me wonder how much nuance an outsider to any society is bound to miss. I set aside his remark about the "Cameroon Highlanders". I don't make much of his jolly glee at the Prince of Wales inventing the name "Baron Renfrew" for himself; how's a poor Yank to know that the heir to the throne is always Baron Renfrew, not to mention Duke of Rothesay, Lord of the Isles, etc, etc? But I draw the bloody line at his notion that the adult Balfour had taken up "the then new sport" of golf. He's already told us that Balfour was a Scot and that he grew up in East Lothian. The chance that golf was new to Balfour is nil. If I can't trust him on golf, what can I trust him on?

DM On our hosts reccommendation ialso bout the book and read the chapters on "dreadnoughts" which is consitant with what I know and added much information. But then those are "techncalties not "personalities"

Honestly, DM, are you really a secret lawyer? I haven't seen such nit-picking since last I exchanged contracts on a house! Who cares what 'Prinnie' was entitled to call himself? And no-one, well, apart from the several million idiots who play 'hockey-at-the-halt', cares when it was invented which, along with tartan and haggis, is lost in the mists and myths of Jockish history. Just enjoy the book, it's worth it for the opening chapter alone!

Hank, if it's "techicalities" you enjoy then do try "The Rules of the Game" by Andrew Gordon, the best and most closely analysed account of Jutland - but don't tell DM, being a lawyer he'll only sue me for the cost of the book if there is some minor error concerning the geography of Scapa Flow!

I can't trust anyone if I can't trust them on golf. Consider Slick Willie Clinton. I rest my case.

Damn! You are a lawyer because I can't argue with that one!

I'm with DM here. If a historian misses the obvious nuances in explaining - or dismissiing - parts of British life why should you trust him not to miss (or misinterpret) nuances and more significant parts of the history he is supposed to analyse? I'm sure many have had experience of journalists missing the obvious: certainly in the very rare times when I've been on the inside of a "big" story, the relationship between actual events/personalities and the narrative which appeared in the press (and much later in the history books) is distant, to say the least.

BTW, DD, your condemnation of DM as being too lawyerly is, IMHO, rather unfair. After all, don't our courts require "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" in evidence. Shouldn't this standard be expected of the historian also.

Thanks, umbongo. The problem for historians is particularly acute, because "the past is a foreign country", as a novelist so wisely observed.

Oh stop it, the pair of you! No single history book provides 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth'. Churchill's magnificent history of WWII is jam-packed with errors of both omission and commission but a shrewd reader swallows a certain amount of salt and goes on to be enthralled. Massie's book uses the great naval race to draw a picture of Edwardian Europe heading towards the precipice, some marching eagerly, some dragging along behind. And what a cast of extraordinary characters he introduces to us - the rumbustious Jacky Fisher; the German éminence grise, Holstein; von Tirpitz with his daughters attending Cheltenham 'Gels' School whilst he plotted our defeat; The Kaiser trying far too hard at ocean racing; and so on and on. Just enjoy it, gentlemen, and please don't worry about the date golf was invented, it really doesn't matter either a jot or a tittle!

Also, DM, I would remind you of that recent article I pointed you to on the importance, but these days the lack of, good editors. Correcting tiny errors of fact is precisely what they are for and for which the contemporary publishing houses refuse to pay.

Yeah guys, actually I'm of the opinion golf didn't get "actually invented" until Tiger started stroking hookers.

Well done, JK, straight from the 19th hole!


In my defence of DM from accusations of being over-lawyerly, I - unusually - defended the practice of law rather than history. As to history, I don't expect historians to provide the "whole truth", otherwise every book would be 100,000 pages long. However, I do expect "nothing but the truth" and clever, clever remarks by Massie about the invention of golf (attempting, it appears, to give some kind of unwarranted immediacy to his narrative and an impression of some esoteric knowledge about the characters he describes) are not only unnecessary but are, worse, not true.

Of course, you're right about Churchill who, I think, never claimed to be a professional historian and whose work - especially when it closely involved him or his family - tended to sacrifice truth to propaganda. BTW, professional historians are not above riding hobby-horses (eg A J P Taylor's assertion that the cause of WW1 was the rigidity of train timetables: an ingenious aperçu but not, I think, wholly true). But, and sorry to go on at length, professional historians (and their editors) should avoid small mistakes because it's the small mistakes which undermine the whole edifice. Massie might be a damn good read - and a good historian - however, I suspect for DM, his work is less attractive and authoritative than it might have been.

Ah, those dreaded train time-tables! Of course, as you intimate, Bongers, they did actually play a large part but were not, I grant you, a primary cause.

I'm sorry but we shall have to differ on this. In the great scheme of things the exact date for the invention of golf does not loom large with me. However, that is not to excuse error in small but essential details. DM, I suspect, is acting his role (again?) as an agent-provocateur and is even now chuckling into his whisky!

" . . . and is even now chuckling into his whisky"

Aaah whisky - a drink for grown-ups: DM gains new respect from me every day!

Fella' drinks it by the cask; I have it on very good authority . . . !

That was a great book, highly recommended. you always get the benefit the doubt from me David :)

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