News

Max’s Lecture on State of The Union

A lecture on 'The State of The Union' given in 2006 for the Scottish National Trust. In 1617 an English courtier, Sir Anthony Weldon, reported biliously on his experience in Scotland: 'There is great store of fowl, too, as foul houses, foul sheets, foul linen, foul dishes and pots, foul trenchers and napkins'. Scots have been defending themselves against such horrid neighbourly condescensions for well over 400 years. When that likeable Aberdeenshire lawyer Sir James Craig came south with James VI and I in 1603, he sought to correct the libellous English image of his homeland: 'There is no country in which a man can live more pleasantly and delicately than Scotland. Nowhere else are fish so plentiful; indeed, unless they are freshly caught on the very day we refuse to eat them. There is meat of every kind. Nowhere else will you will find more tender beef and mutton…our servants are content with oatmeal, which makes them hardy’. Read More

Max’s Ruttenberg Lecture

David Cameron and Barack Obama said in a joint statement at the end of the president’s recent state visit to London that the relationship between our two countries is not merely special, but essential. This was a pleasantly emollient assertion, characteristic of the things statesmen say in such circumstances. But this evening I want to discuss how far it seems justified by realities, past and present, with special reference to defence, which is my own field; and what we, the British, as ever the lesser player and often suppliant, might do to strengthen our side of the affiliation. I use the word affiliation, rather than partnership, advisedly, for it seems to me that many of the difficulties and disappointments that landmark our exchanges with the United States result from exaggerated hopes of what Britain may realistically expect from its relationship with the most powerful nation on earth. Read More

CPRE Lecture

Each time CPRE branches get together, many of us find ourselves thinking that there is more to alarm us, and more to fight for, than there was last time. Read More

Cameron Lecture

I am sceptical, as maybe are you, about my claims to give this lecture.  I have committed every known folly in our trade, and invented some of my own. Read More

Max introduces Warriors: Extraordinary Tales From The Battlefield

Warriors is an old-fashioned book, or at least a book about old-fashioned conflicts, because it’s about people rather than ‘platforms’, that unlovely modern phrase for tanks, ships, planes. I’ve written about 15 remarkable characters- some successes and some failures- who made their marks on conflicts of the past two centuries, and tried to explore what we can learn from them about human nature amid the changing face of war. Read More

Max introduces Nemesis: The Battle For Japan 1944-45

Why do people like me go on writing books about the Second World War ? 62 years after it ended, what new can there possibly be to be said, about the most exhaustively chronicled event in human history ? On the odd occasions when a new book is published which claims to have uncovered revelations- that Winston Churchill secretly plotted De Gaulle’s assassination or that allied troops murdered thousands of German prisoners in Europe in 1945, they always turn out to be nonsense. Read More
Did You Really Shoot the Television

Max introduces Did You Really Shoot The Television: A Family Fable

Almost all of us are intrigued by our own heredity. In this book, I’ve recounted the picaresque little saga of mine. The Hastingses weren’t at all important people, but they did some extraordinary and sometimes pretty weird things. And because they were writers for three generations, they wrote them down. When I did BBC’s Desert Island Discs back in 1986, I was pretty discreet about our tumultuous rows and my admittedly pretty awful childhood behaviour. But when my mother, Anne Scott-James, was DID’s guest at the age of 90 in 2003, to the audience’s delight and my toe-curling embarrassment, she regaled Sue Lawley with some horror stories, not least about my doings. For weeks afterwards, people came up to me in petrol stations and other unlikely places, asking: ‘Ere- did you really shoot the television ?’. It’s because people seemed intrigued by that question that I made it the title of this book. I’ll explain it in due course, but I want to make plain immediately that the victim was not a big set. Read More
churchill

Max’s Lecture on Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45

To a remarkable degree, even in 2010 the period of Winston Churchill’s war leadership continues to define many British people’s view of our own country. We have been told more about him than any other human being. Thousands of people of many nations have recorded encounters. The most vivid wartime memory of a British Eighth Army veteran whom I once met derived from a day in August 1942 when he found the prime minister his neighbour in a North African desert latrine. Read More

Max’s Lecture on Armageddon: The Battle For Germany 1944-45

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Forty-something years ago, when I was a teenager, even then avidly preoccupied with the Second World War, the study of its history was still dominated by fiercely nationalistic perceptions. Americans wildly overrated their battlefield contribution to victory, and perhaps underestimated their decisive industrial one. The British, astonishingly enough, still perceived themselves as the inhabitants of middle earth. The Russians barely acknowledged that the western allies had participated in the war at all. Read More

Max reviews The White War by Mark Thompson

The White War by Mark Thompson (Basic Books) Many Anglo-Saxons perceive Italy’s role in modern history as marginal and verging upon absurdity. Few American or British people contrived to hate Mussolini and his nation in the Second World War as they hated Hitler and his, because they did not fear Italians in the same way. There were those ponderous jokes which pleased stupid men with large moustaches in English pubs in the 1950s, about Italian tanks lavishly equipped with reverse gears. The day after Italy entered World War I in May 1915, a Slovene child in the Hapsburg Alpine village of Caporetto contributed something to the same legend by exclaiming as he saw Bersaglieri troops cycling towards him in their exotic plumed hats: ‘Daddy, daddy, look at all the ladies coming here on bikes !’ (p.71). Read More

Max reviews The Crimean War

The Crimean War by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan Books) The Crimean War In The British Imagination by Stefanie Markovits (Cambridge) Considering the depth of mutual suspicion and animosity between Britain and Russia after 1815, it is astonishing that the lion and bear have fought each other only twice. At Winston Churchill’s behest, British forces played a desultory role supporting the White interest in the 1919-21 Civil War. The nations clashed much more fiercely between 1854 and 1856, when the Crimean War made a flagellatory impact on British society: it set a benchmark for political and military bungling, and public recrimination about it, which endures today. Read More