A glimpse at Larry McMurtry’s prodigious, resonant output

A glimpse at Larry McMurtry’s prodigious, resonant outputLarry McMurtry, who died recently aged 84, was an American writer and a prodigious worker. Beginning in 1961, he produced dozens of books, plus various screenplays for movies and television. Sometimes the screenplays were adaptations of his own literary output and sometimes they weren’t. McMurtry was born in rural Texas in 1936. And while it…

Taking the temperature of U.S. Republicans

2024 Republican nomination will be a prize worth winning. Not an automatic ticket to the White House but more than a consolation prize

Taking the temperature of U.S. RepublicansAn interesting new American poll, conducted by the firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, surveyed Republican voters to ascertain what they want from their party going forward. Bottom line: They still like Donald Trump – a lot. The poll’s analysis sees the Republicans as consisting of five separate tribes, four of which are well disposed towards…

An Irish hero for St. Patrick’s Day

Sarsfield was the de facto commander of James’s forces in Ireland. The mission failed but his reputation for gallantry was assured

An Irish hero for St. Patrick’s DayThis being the season of St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish-themed column seems appropriate. And a recent news story provides a suitable prompt. Born between 1655 and 1658, Patrick Sarsfield was a dashing Irish hero. He was brave, patriotic and charismatic. And the fact that he was mortally wounded leading a cavalry charge at the 1693…

The cultural ripples of the fight of the century

First Ali-Frazier fight was surrounded by name calling and racial strife, with political overtones

The cultural ripples of the fight of the centuryIt was 50 years ago this month – March 8, 1971 – that Madison Square Garden, in New York, hosted what was billed as the fight of the century. Or as it’s otherwise known, Ali-Frazier I. Previous generations might’ve begged to differ. Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney in the 1920s or Joe Louis-Max Schmeling in the 1930s…

Digging deep into John Wayne’s western films to find gems

Digging deep into John Wayne’s western films to find gemsJohn Wayne (1907-1979) is best remembered for his western movies. And he made scads of them, ranging from mediocre to excellent. Indeed, three Wayne vehicles appear on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 westerns of all time. No other star has more than a single entry. So if any actor can be…

Understated George Shultz left a lasting legacy

As Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, he played a key role in bringing about the end of the Cold War

Understated George Shultz left a lasting legacyGeorge Shultz, who died on Feb. 6 at the age of 100, was an important 20th-century figure. He was one of the good guys. An economist by profession, Shultz was born in New York in 1920. He graduated from Princeton in 1942, served in the Marine Corps during the Second World War and subsequently earned…

If you like medieval drama, The Last Kingdom fits the bill

While not scrupulously accurate, it is still quite engrossing

If you like medieval drama, The Last Kingdom fits the billAn electrician in to do some wiring work a couple of months ago ran his eye over the media shelf, noticed the Vikings DVD set and announced that The Last Kingdom was better. So in the midst of a pandemic winter, we tracked down the extant four seasons and gave it a whirl. The series…

Boris Johnson: the man who got Brexit done

Boris Johnson: the man who got Brexit doneIn December 2019, I wrote a column arguing that United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was shaping up as a genuinely consequential politician. And the recent announcement of a new trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union bears that out. First, though, a clarification of terms. Declaring someone as consequential isn’t necessarily an…

Eisenhower was cagey but Kennedy rushed in

In 1961, as a young president prepared to take over from an aging one, their perspectives on military responsibility were starkly different

Eisenhower was cagey but Kennedy rushed inIn the third week of January 1961, two American political figures made important speeches. One was the outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. And the other was the new guy, John F. Kennedy. Eisenhower was first up with his Jan. 17 farewell address. Aged 70, he was at that time the oldest president in United States…

Cary Grant was a complicated, brilliant creation

Cary Grant was a complicated, brilliant creationScott Eyman’s new biography of Cary Grant starts at the end. On Nov. 29, 1986, Grant – the personification of Hollywood’s Golden Age – died in Davenport, Iowa, just over seven weeks shy of his 83rd birthday. The death certificate ascribed his passing to a “massive intracerebral hemorrhage.” If Davenport seemed like an unusual place…

Ruth Ellis the last hanged woman in Britain

Ruth Ellis' beauty and glamour couldn't save her from the gallows for the murder of her boyfriend

Ruth Ellis the last hanged woman in BritainWhen I was growing-up in Ireland, the Dublin newspapers were very fond of British murder trials. By their nature, the stories were luridly dramatic, particularly those that ended with the perpetrator going to the gallows. And perhaps the most dramatic was the case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman executed in Britain. Ellis was 28…

Christmas pantomime a charming holiday tradition

There’s no requirement to stick to the details of the original story. The entertainment imperative trumps ‘authenticity’ every time

Christmas pantomime a charming holiday traditionPeople raised in North America aren’t usually exposed to the phenomenon of the Christmas pantomime. Some might even think it has something to do with mime, which it most assuredly doesn’t. But those who grew up in Britain or Ireland will have an entirely different perspective. Pantomime – panto for short – is an integral…

Father Brown is G.K. Chesterton’s most durable creation

He was an early and vocal critic of Nazism., an unapologetic opponent of eugenics and derisive towards the concept of racial purity

Father Brown is G.K. Chesterton’s most durable creationG.K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton was born in 1874 and died in 1936, just two weeks into his 63rd year. During his lifetime, he was one of England’s most notable writers. His output was truly prodigious, including novels, poems, short stories, newspaper columns and such. Today, it’s probably fair to say that he’s best remembered for…

Three political dramas worth watching

Think of them as a form of therapy, a way of easing back to everyday life while still experiencing the atmospherics of the political arena

Three political dramas worth watchingIf you’re suffering withdrawal pangs from the wind down of the American election, here are three political dramas to assist your transition. Think of them as a form of therapy, a way of easing back to everyday life while still experiencing the atmospherics of the political arena. Subject matter aside, the films have two things…

What did Germans really think of Hitler?

The Nazi approach rested on three pillars: popularity, tradition and coercion

What did Germans really think of Hitler?The question of what Germans really thought of Adolf Hitler has been kicking around for as long as I can remember. Were Germans hoodwinked, intimidated or broadly supportive? Or was it perhaps some combination of all three? Robert Gellately is a Canadian historian who has written extensively on Nazi Germany. And his latest book, Hitler’s…

Margaret Thatcher and the end of apartheid

The Thatcher-Nelson Mandela relationship is a reflection of how very different people can evolve a respectful, albeit wary, understanding

Margaret Thatcher and the end of apartheidMargaret Thatcher isn’t a name most people associate with the end of South African apartheid. But Thatcher biographer Charles Moore begs to differ. And he devotes a lengthy chapter in his third volume about the former British prime minister to making his case. As Moore tells it, Thatcher’s goal was to convince the white South…

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistake

If Hitler had declared war on Japan in support of the U.S., he might have kept the U.S. out of the European war. And that would have changed history

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistakeAdolf Hitler began 1941 in a commanding position. He had 10 European conquests under his belt and just one active foe – beleaguered Britain and the members of the Commonwealth, like Canada. But by year-end, he’d added the Soviet Union and the United States to his slate of antagonists. And the declaration of war against…

Diving into man’s complicated relationship with war

Diving into man’s complicated relationship with warOn Remembrance Day, as chance would have it, I was reading Margaret MacMillan’s latest book, War: How Conflict Shaped Us. MacMillan is a Canadian historian most famous for two works connected to the First World War – Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace. Her new book builds on a series of lectures she…

Early takeaways from the U.S. election

Early takeaways from the U.S. electionLet’s begin with a caveat: As of writing – Friday – the vote counting still isn’t finished in the U.S. So these observations are a tad provisional. That said, here are my takeaways of Tuesday’s United States election: The Democratic wave didn’t happen The anticipation was for a sweeping Democratic win on all three levels.…

The “smart money” is on a Donald Trump exit. But …

The only polling company to call the 2016 election right is calling for another Trump victory

The “smart money” is on a Donald Trump exit. But …Let’s start by noting my track record regarding Donald Trump. I got it wrong in 2016. I initially gave him little chance of winning the Republican nomination. I even speculated about his dropping out before voting began. Then I was astonished to see him win the general election. It wasn’t a matter of believing the…

Was Oliver Cromwell the Great Satan?

Some historians argue that the reality is more nuanced than the legend and that he played a significant role in the creation of modern England

Was Oliver Cromwell the Great Satan?When last week’s column referred to Oliver Cromwell as the “Great Satan,” my tongue was in my cheek. But many people do think of him in those terms. So let’s take a look at the man, his works and his historical reputation. Cromwell (1599 to 1658) rose to prominence during the 1640s. Starting as a…

Julius Caesar’s assassins paid the price

Some died in battle, some by suicide, and at least one after being tortured then beheaded

Julius Caesar’s assassins paid the priceEnglish author Peter Stothard’s latest book is called The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar. I’ve only seen reviews but it looks like a good read. Growing up in 1950s Ireland, Caesar was one of those ancient figures who loomed large. Part of this was no more than the schoolboy’s normal…

Presidential health coverup much easier to pull off in 1944

Roosevelt was much sicker than anyone let on during the election campaign. In fact, he died just a few months into his new term

Presidential health coverup much easier to pull off in 1944A few days ago, a Toronto radio newscaster used the word “unprecedented” while describing the drama around U.S. President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. And it’s true. No previous election had such a story just weeks before going to the polls. That’s because 2020 is a more transparent world. In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt – the…

Memories of Walter Reuther, an American labour giant

Reuther had his finger in everything from labour negotiations to legislation to civil rights to election campaigns

Memories of Walter Reuther, an American labour giantAmity Shlaes’ Great Society is a chronicle of the United States in the mid-20th century. And reading it reminded me of Walter Reuther, a once famous name I’d almost forgotten. Reuther was a hugely influential player in organized labour and Democratic politics. With the United Auto Workers (UAW) as his power base, he had his…

A guaranteed annual income is complicated

Richard Nixon and Pat Moynihan had a plan to end poverty. In the end, it was far too complicated, and languished and died

A guaranteed annual income is complicatedWhether it’s called a guaranteed annual income or a universal basic income, this currently fashionable idea isn’t new. And the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a tipoff to the associated complexities. One of the earliest proponents was an American right-winger. In 1962’s Capitalism and Freedom, libertarian economist Milton Friedman proposed what he called…

John Turner’s poisoned chalice

Succeeding Pierre Trudeau came with own baggage. As a result, Turner, a former golden boy of the Liberals who died Saturday, never fulfilled his promise

John Turner’s poisoned chaliceSeveral years ago, I found myself standing beside John Turner outside a Toronto church after a Christmas concert. He was alone and nobody was paying attention to him. It seemed strangely anonymous for a man who’d been prime minister, not to mention a one-time golden boy of Liberal politics. Then again, Turner was a guy…

The perpetual fascination with Robin Hood

The bawdy, brutal outlaw of the original ballads doesn’t fit with the noble figure of popular mid-20th-century presentations

The perpetual fascination with Robin HoodAs historical figures go, Robin Hood is a source of perpetual fascination. Mind you, I use the term “historical figure” very loosely because there’s no convincing evidence that he ever existed. Or at least not in anything resembling the legend we’re familiar with. While the earliest written stories date back to ballads printed in the…

Will the 2020 presidential election be a rerun of 1980?

Like Jimmy Carter in 1980, Donald Trump is an incumbent who needs to raise doubts about his rival

Will the 2020 presidential election be a rerun of 1980?William A. Galston writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal. He’s partisan – a liberal Democrat – but invariably worth reading. Once you know where he’s coming from, you can apply the appropriate filters. And there’s often a significant element of plausibility in his analysis. Galston’s first September column lays out his take…

The power life of a medieval heiress

The combination of Isabel de Clare’s inherited wealth and William Marshal’s earned status made for a fortuitous pairing

The power life of a medieval heiressThe teenage Isabel de Clare was a desirable prize in the late 12th century marriage market. As the heiress to substantial lands in Ireland, Wales, England and Normandy, she had much to offer. Both sides of her pedigree contributed to this inheritance. Isabel’s father was Richard de Clare, popularly known as Strongbow. He came from…

The 1960 Olympics were spectacular in more ways than one

Wilma Rudolph, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Peter Snell and Herb Elliott were the brightest stars in Rome

The 1960 Olympics were spectacular in more ways than oneSixty years ago this week, the Summer Olympics kicked off. From Aug. 25 to Sept. 11, Rome was the centre of international sporting attention as athletes from more than 80 countries competed for glory. And there was more happening than athletic competition. The Second World War had only concluded 15 years previously and the selection…
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