Neal Ascherson is the author of Black Sea, Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland and the novel Death of the Fronsac. He is an Honorary Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
 (December 2019)


A Mess of Tiny Principalities

Louis the Pious (right) blessing the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 into West Francia, Lotharingia, and East Francia; from the Chroniques des rois de France, fifteenth century

Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country

by Simon Winder
Flat on the floor, England lies enlaced in the serpents of its own European nightmares. (I write “England” because Scotland—small but sane—wants no part in the Brexit psychodrama.) So it’s suddenly important, perhaps helpful, to look closely at what English writers are saying about the continent they appear to be …

The Value of Independence

Clara Ponsatí and her lawyer, Aamer Anwar, after her extradition hearing in Edinburgh, Scotland, April 2018; Ponsatí was wanted in Spain on charges related to her involvement in the October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence

Scots and Catalans: Union and Disunion

by J.H. Elliott
A year ago, a small, white-haired woman emerged from an Edinburgh courthouse into a cheering crowd waving Catalan banners and Scottish flags. Clara Ponsatí, a professor of economics and finance at the University of St. Andrews, had just been served with an arrest warrant issued by the Spanish government that …

In Search of Britannia

Scottish knights laying siege to an English castle in the border country; from Jean Froissart’s Chronicles of France and England, fourteenth century

The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England

by Graham Robb
Nearly eight hundred years ago, the kings of England and Scotland decided to work out where their kingdoms began and ended. So they sent six knights from each nation on a “perambulation” from the North Sea to the Solway Firth to demarcate the Anglo-Scottish border. The knights couldn’t agree on …

By the Skin of Our Teeth

Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, Moscow, 1959

The Cold War: A World History

by Odd Arne Westad

The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War

by Benn Steil
Two American academics have written big, serious, and thoroughly intelligent studies of the cold war. In The Cold War: A World History Odd Arne Westad, a professor of US–Asia relations at Harvard, covers the entire period that is conventionally held to have started in about 1947 and ended with the …

Death in Trieste

Claudio Magris at Caffè San Marco, Trieste, 2000


by Claudio Magris, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel
In a museum of war, a fire breaks out—or just possibly is ignited by someone—and kills the museum’s creator. This is not surprising. He sleeps among his exhibits in a wooden coffin, wearing a samurai mask and a Prussian spiked helmet, and he smokes abundantly, flicking the butts out of …


Referendums: Yes or No?

People wave a Catalan separatist flag after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, October 2, 2017

Behind referendums and plebiscites lies the idea of popular sovereignty. The key factor in referendums is who has the right to call them. Formally, the Kurdish and Catalan referendums were both illegal because neither the Iraqi nor the Spanish government licensed them. Some places—California and Switzerland among them—have for many years granted a specified minimum of petitioners the right to hold a referendum. But now, globalized social media are transforming the whole ballot initiative question.