WRB—April 2023 History Supplement
You Are Witnessing History Right Now
How often do you get to say you saw something as it first happened?
We’ve gotten a lot of requests for someone to do more history and classics content here at the WRB, and keeping with the typical model for a Supplement (something Chris may have the inclination but certainly lacks the learning or time to deliver properly), this ought to be reaching you on the second Monday of every month going forward.
Alasdair Gray exhorted the Scots to work as if they live in the early days of a better nation; this quotation was considered so bracing by his countrymen that they put it in big letters on the exterior of the Scottish Parliament Building, which, unfortunately, is the ugliest structure in Europe. Not a very glamorous setting for your best line to be memorialized.
[I’ve always thought that Gray’s dictum had two readings, though. The first is the conventional one—the cheering-on of national development, an expression of the untiring love of work that propels the British traditions of socialism, the belief that the future can be made better. That’s the meaning the Scottish nationalists mean to put on it. But there’s a darker way of seeing it: Pretend things aren’t so bad right now. That seems to be the meaning the Scottish Parliament Building actually puts on it. The Managing Editors have tasked me with covering history and classics; this is my first effort. Read as if you live in the early days of a better supplement. —Jude] [I think this is a pretty good first effort. —Chris]
Oxford has published a bunch of new texts of Proclus, edited by Gerd van Riel. We have seen no reviews of them yet, and, as Jude has lamented elsewhere, there’s not much good criticism on criticism anymore. We’re excited anyway. Here’s a Bryn Mawr review of a collection of essays on Proclus to which van Riel contributed (All from One: A Guide to Proclus, 2017) (and contributed well, by the reviewer’s lights).
For the New Criterion, Mark Alan Hewitt has reviewed a new book on architectural history (The Story of Architecture, 2022) from Witod Rybczynski, whose 1986 Home—a history of domestic architecture—was a surprise hit. Hewitt:
In the end Rybczynski has written an idiosyncratic personal chronicle that presumes his critical persona will generally comport with that of many educated, but non-architect, readers. It will not please academics or avant-garde designers who maintain the positivistic materialist worldview that guides most development today. And it wasn’t produced with the kind of care that could make it a surprise bestseller like Home in 1986. In some ways that is too bad, because the story it tells has a moral the world needs to hear.
James Hankins has a new book out from Harvard University Press on political theory in the Italian Renaissance. His last book, on “virtue politics” in that era (and our own), made quite a splash in the right places. The new tome (Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy, March) has not been widely reviewed yet, but we will keep you apprised.
[As a child, I had an affinity for ships and books about ships; I intended to join the Navy until a quick look at the Academy’s high-dive test put the kibosh on those ambitions. (I was, and remain, a weak swimmer.) Nevertheless, I still like ship books. If you do too, read on. —Jude]
David Grann, of The New Yorker, has written something about eighteenth-century sailing (The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, April)—specifically about a group of alleged mutineers from a British ship, the Wager, who washed up on the South American coast. Per the Times:
Grann … ends The Wager by drawing our attention to the bigger picture, even as the authors of the journals and books he consulted rarely depicted themselves as part of the imperial machine. Their struggle for survival consumed them; reading about their struggle for survival intrigued me—as Grann, the consummate narrative architect, must have known it would.
Hey, look, the Times has an interview with Grann, too! Golly gee! [Books coverage is amazing. —Chris]
Oxford’s new Proclus is part of its encouraging ongoing project of renewing its oldest texts, many of which are in shameful condition—the excellent Cynthia Damon revised Caesar for the series in 2015, the first new edition for the Clarendon Press in over a hundred years. In December, they’re setting their sights on the similarly antiquated Aristotle texts with Christopher Rowe’s new edition of the Eudemian Ethics. Watch this space!
There are several recent books about empire and imperialism, and several more coming out next month. These books have received reviews, and will receive more. I suspect we’ll be steering the good ship Supplement toward Theme Island for its second edition.
We’re also looking forward to Maurizio Isabella’s Southern Europe in the Age of Revolutions (Princeton University Press). The Anglo-American political tradition is largely based on assumptions—social stability and Protestantism—that simply did not (and do not) obtain elsewhere. Isabella appears intent to explain the historical conditions that shaped the Southern European corporatist political traditions. ¡Arriba!