The Uncertainties of Contingency: What if Franz Ferdinand didn’t die in 1914?

I have stood at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot by Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago. And the impossible “What If” question occurred to me even then. So when I noticed that eminent historian Ned Lebow had published an examination of the issue, I leapt at it. The assassination was such a fluke, so preventable, so absurd that the yearning for a different outcome of that moment is great. As he says at the start (having summarised some of the counterfactual options),

None of these what-ifs strains our understanding of the world because most royal processions do not stray from their intended routes, and most security details would have rushed the archduke and his wife to safety at the first signs of violence. In this instance, the so-called factual, not the counterfactual, is what strikes us as unrealistic and incredible. (p16) (more…)

Continue Reading

Odds and ends: some random book reviews on China, Marriage… and Auschwitz

So, there’s been seriously long radio-silence from Q in recent weeks. But this is not the result of inactivity. Far from it. Regulars will be pleased to hear that my book is seriously under way – with 5 out of 10 chapters now completed in draft. Phew!! There’s going to be lots to blog on when it’s done – but I don’t have the energy or brain to do both at the same time! Nevertheless, I’ve been keeping up reading and stuff. Here are a few reviews of recent freebies I got on the Amazon Vine programme. There might be something of interest to someone… (more…)

Continue Reading

The first time visiting a place I’ve grown up in: Monet’s home at Giverny

Thanks to the generosity of some friends, Rachel & I were able to have a few days in their Paris flat last week (and were even able to cover most of our Eurostar tickets with Nectar points). All in all: a result. But the highlight for both of us was actually 80km north-west of Paris in the little Normandy village of Giverny. Neither of us had ever been before. But I felt was as if I’d been going there all my life. In fact, every nook and cranny felt so familiar it was as if it was a childhood home. For this was the home of Claude Monet, and the subject of decades of paintings. (more…)

Continue Reading

Houellebecq’s ATOMISED: a crude & brutal exposure of the ‘suicide of Europe’

I hated this book. I can’t even remember who suggested  it or exactly why (it must have been something to do with the work I’m doing on our culture of suspicion and alienation) – but that’s probably just as well! Michel Houellebecq’s ATOMISED came out in France in 1999, and then in English translation in 2000: and caused uproar, scorn and derision, as well as some literary plaudits and admirers. (more…)

Continue Reading
  • 1
  • 2
Close Menu