New and noteworthy – 1 November 2018

Displays, debates, delights; Allied leaders’ letters; big questions answered; and a groundbreaking trial that never was

November 1, 2018
Source: iStock

Rare & Wonderful: Treasures from Oxford University Museum 
of Natural History
Kate Diston and Zoë Simmons
Bodleian Library

When it opened in 1860, what was then called the Oxford Museum was one of the world’s first purpose-built science museums. In the same year, it was the scene of the great debate about evolution between the Bishop of Oxford and Thomas Huxley, one of Darwin’s fiercest champions. It now houses more than 7 million specimens, including 5 million insects, about half a million fossils, crabs collected by Darwin, a celebrated dodo and meteorites from Mars. This lavishly illustrated celebration of its treasures, beautiful, haunting and bizarre, includes everything from inflated caterpillars to the fossilised food once consumed by an ichthyosaur. 

The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence 
with Churchill and Roosevelt
Edited by David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov
Yale University Press

Between Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the unexpected death of Roosevelt in April 1945, FDR, Churchill and Stalin exchanged 682 messages. These shaped the Allied conduct of the war and laid the foundations for much of the post-war world. Notwithstanding some tensions and deceptions, the three men formed what the editors of this book call “one of the closest working alliances in history”. The Kremlin Letters brings together about 75 per cent of the total material, hitherto available only in “raw” form but now put in its full international context and linked together with a detailed editorial commentary.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions
Stephen Hawking
John Murray

His lifetime, writes Stephen Hawking, was “a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics”. Yet along with his cutting-edge contributions to cosmology, Hawking was always keen to popularise our latest understanding of the universe, convinced that “most people can understand the basic ideas if they are presented in a clear way without equations”. In his final book, he offers beautifully lucid and often witty responses to the 10 fundamental questions that he was constantly being asked, from “Is there a God?” to “What is inside a black hole?” and “Is time travel possible?”

Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance
Amy Kaplan
Harvard University Press

Barack Obama had a tense relationship with the state of Israel, yet nonetheless reaffirmed his country’s “unbreakable” bond with it. What explains this deep affiliation? It was far from inevitable, argues Amy Kaplan, that the US after the Second World War “would come to identify with a small state for Jewish refugees, refugees who at that time were still being turned away from the United States”. Exploring mythology and fantasy as well as genuine joint interests, Our American Israel unpacks a unique “special relationship” and claims about “a common biblical heritage” and “shared political values”, moral obligations raised by the Holocaust, and the notion that “the two countries face threats from common enemies”.

The Trial of the Kaiser
William A. Schabas
Oxford University Press

At the end of the First World War, in what would have been the first international criminal tribunal, the British, French and Italians agreed to put the defeated German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, on trial. David Lloyd George even campaigned for re-election on the slogan “Hang the Kaiser”. Yet although the issue was intensely debated during the peace conference, the Allies were far from unanimous, and the Kaiser himself eventually found refuge in the Netherlands. The strange story of a crucial trial that never was (but that nonetheless influenced subsequent thinking on international justice) is here reconstructed in detail for the first time.

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