The week in books

October 23, 2008

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon, fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. Vintage Press, £9.99, ISBN 9780712668460

"The true symbol of the British Empire is the moustache, says Brendon in this lively history, reaching its 'apotheosis in the crossed scimitars of Lord Kitchener'. The last British Prime Minister to sport a tache was Macmillan. But the moustache vanished as rapidly as the empire itself, becoming at best a joke (Chaplin), at worst a symbol of villainy (Hitler/Stalin). This extended riff on facial hair is a good example of Brendon's irreverence, but if his default mode is to debunk, there is serious scholarship behind the jokes."

Ian Pindar, The Guardian

Passion's Triumph Over Reason: A History of the Moral Imagination from Spenser to Rochester by Christopher Tilmouth, fellow and director of studies in English, Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Oxford University Press, £65.00, ISBN 9780199212378

"Tilmouth charts the influence Hobbes had on the libertines of the Restoration court. But there is a twist to what might seem to be a familiar tale, one of many in this excellent study. Rochester, often regarded as the most libertine, emerges as a strange moral hero. For Tilmouth, his satires reveal an uneasiness towards the savage social implications of Hobbism and a desire for a more generous and responsible social ideal that recognised the integrity of the other."

Andrew Hadfield, The Times Literary Supplement.

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