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Letting Go

This week is especially heavy on travelling, which is terrible for doing all the writing I imagined I’d get done once marking was out of the way, pretty terrible for my waistline as I resort too often to coffee and cake to keep going, moderately good for starting to work through the long list of overdue book reviews, and very good for blog posts. I’m currently, in theory, on my way to Zagreb for a doctoral workshop on pre-modern economics [update, three hours later: finally on the move…] On Tuesday I was in Manchester, and on Wednesday in London, for teacher-training sessions for the ‘Understanding Power’ project – aka ‘Thinking Through Thucydides’, but that name isn’t going to pull in the punters – that Lynette Mitchell and I have been developing with the Politics Project.

This was tiring, a little stressful – and finally a joy. Continue Reading »

I’ve just had a review published on War On The Rocks (a reliably interesting website for analysis of foreign policy and strategy, from a viewpoint that is predominantly US-focused and frequently Realist), on the new book by Hal Brands and Charles Edel, The Lessons of Tragedy: statecraft and world order (Yale UP, 2019). As you can probably gather from the review, I found this rather an odd experience; indeed, half-way through the book I became increasingly convinced that I was a completely unsuitable reviewer, as after the first couple of chapters the ‘tragedy’ element largely disappeared, and B & E’s conclusion is not that US strategy people all need to start reading tragedy (that might be fun…), but that they need to review more recent history in the alleged spirit of tragic sensibility, which largely boils down to an assumption that bad things will continue to happen. Continue Reading »

I’m in two minds about scribbling this, and may change my mind about publishing it by the time I’ve finished; something that has always, quite irrationally, infuriated me about academics on social media is the way that some of them just use it to celebrate their successes and forthcoming media appearances. Non-specific sighs and laments in search of sympathetic responses are entirely forgivable in comparison… Continue Reading »

Nouvelle Vague

“Knowledge without understanding is useless.” Duh. It’s exactly the sort of banal truism that excites my paranoia; the idea isn’t important, but rather what someone making such a statement then wants to do about it. You could deploy it in opposition to rote learning, and the idea that there’s a list of Essential Facts and Dates that every child ought to know by heart, to argue for a focus on analysis and interpretation. But you could also – and this comes to mind with the publication this week of a new report on post-18 education in the UK, with implications for the health of the whole university system – deploy it in an attack on high-falutin’ book learning in general, or on studies that aren’t directly engaged with the Real World – it depends on whether you imagine that understanding comes through the acquisition of knowledge, or derives from a separate source (practical experience, ideology, religion…) which is independent of actually knowing things. Continue Reading »

No Thucydides

Obviously my ongoing survey of modern literary receptions can’t just stick to works I like and admire. The recent death of novelist Herman Wouk, none of whose books I’ve ever read (but I have seen most of The Caine Mutiny), has naturally prompted a burst of quotations, including the revelation that Thucydides is referenced several times in his late novels about the Second World War, Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978) – which were unironically compared by the Christian Science Monitor to Thucydides at the time (link). Continue Reading »

Get Real

It’s always going to be the case, I reassure myself, that when exploring the reception of a particular classical author or theme across the whole range of scholarship and other writing in a given period, you’re bound to miss loads of examples – at least until everything gets digitised and is easily searchable. All you can do is hope that new things coming to light don’t radically undermine what you’ve claimed, or, if they do, at least do it in an interesting way – and that it’s not utterly embarrassing that you didn’t find the reference in the first place. Beyond that, well, it’s one of the great advantages of having a blog that I can simply post an update to a previously published article (it would of course be even better if I could post a link on that article to the update), so I don’t have to feel too regretful that I wasn’t able to discuss this at the time… Continue Reading »

I’m doing the final polish of this piece while wondering why watching Meet Me In St Louis seemed like a good idea – THIS is one of the classic movie musicals?!? – and ignoring the cats, who are NOT getting fed until half eight. It was sketched out last week, between rewatching Independence Day (far superior to Meet Me In St Louis despite lack of songs and some common themes), then drafted in between cooking vindaloo and chana masala, sitting on the train into work, and eating homemade muffin (proper English muffin) while being yelled at by cats who want to be let outside to intimidate the local wildlife. Continue Reading »