David Gilmour’s books include The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and The Pursuit of Italy: A 
History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples.
 (March 2014)


He Dared the Undarable

Gabriele D'Annunzio; drawing by Tullio Pericoli

Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War

by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
On a summer afternoon in Tuscany in the years of the belle epoque, a celebrated French courtesan alighted from a carriage to greet her host, the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, and was astonished to behold “a frightful gnome with red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair, greenish teeth, bad breath, [and] …

The Curse of Afghanistan

Maharaja Ranjit Singh in a Bazaar (detail), circa 1840–1845. Singh was the founder of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab in the early nineteenth century and the enemy of Dost Mohammad, whom the British hoped to replace as ruler of Afghanistan with their ally Shah Shuja.

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42

by William Dalrymple
After a journey through Central Asia in 1888, the young George Curzon concluded that British policy on Afghanistan was a farrago of inexplicable waywardness. For fifty years, wrote the future viceroy of India, there has not been an Afghan Amir whom we have not alternately fought against and caressed, now …

Garibaldi’s Gift

Garibaldi: Citizen of the World

by Alfonso Scirocco, translated from the Italian by Allan Cameron
Take down the Michelin guide to Italy and look at the maps of the towns. Start with the As (Alassio, Alessandria, Ancona, Aosta), go on to the Bs (Bari, Barletta, Belluno, Bergamo), and carry on to V, the last letter to have proper towns in Italy (Venezia, Vercelli, Verona, Viterbo).

The Restless Conqueror

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer

by Tim Jeal
Adult readers of history have to unlearn many of the things they remember from their schooldays. This is especially true of quotations of famous people because before the invention of tape recording virtually anything they said from the Old Testament onward was almost certain to be misquoted unless they wrote …

Surprises of the Empire

Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750–1850

by Maya Jasanoff
One of the eccentricities of the historical profession is its tradition of explaining very complicated events by means of very simple formulas. For decades historians tried to explain the French Revolution through the actions of monolithic classes—the “aristocracy,” the “bourgeoisie”—until Richard Cobb and a few other scholars suggested the events …

The Great Victorian Abroad

David Livingstone: Mission and Empire

by Andrew Ross
In the days when British schools taught their pupils about kings and queens and Great Men, every child knew who David Livingstone was. His status may have been a little nebulous—and his achievements even cloudier—but we were taught to acknowledge that he had been a great hero, a missionary and …

Eastward Ho!

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan

by Ben Macintyre
Americans were supposed to go west, at least if they were young. West, wrote Arthur Chapman, was where the handclasp was “a little stronger” and the smile dwelt “a little longer.” In “The Long Trail” Rudyard Kipling suggested one could run “East all the way into Mississippi Bay,/Or West to …

Nobs & Nabobs

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire

by David Cannadine
At one of Lady Spencer’s parties in 1881, King Kalakaua of Hawaii was given precedence over the crown prince of Germany. When the prince (the future Kaiser Friedrich III) objected, his brother-in-law (the future King Edward VII) told him that Kalakaua was either “a common or garden nigger,” in which …