The Black Death and its aftermath

Surprisingly, post-Black Death populations tended to live longer and enjoy better health and standards of living

The Black Death and its aftermathBubonic plague came to England in the summer of 1348. Popularly known as the Black Death, the disease arrived via a French ship that docked in what is now Weymouth on the south coast. From there, it spread rapidly inland and westwards over the water to Ireland. It was also transmitted across the North Sea…

Calling Elvis: When the King came home from the army

Calling Elvis: When the King came home from the armyElvis Presley was no more immune to the draft than other young American men of his era. Having reached eligible age, he was medically examined, declared physically fit and duly called up. Apart from his training period, his entire two-year army stint was spent in what was then West Germany. And the lead up to…

In praise of trashy paperbacks

What could be bad about stories that are pacey, and replete with nefarious dealings, treachery, passion and lust? They're great fun and you won't nod off reading them

In praise of trashy paperbacksApart from childhood forays into the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, most of my fiction reading was done in the 1960s and 1970s. And the ubiquity of reasonably-priced paperback novels was a huge facilitator. A goodly portion of what I consumed can be described as respectable. Somerset Maugham, John O’Hara and…

The American melodrama after Super Tuesday

Many smart and highly educated people live in a bubble, and are shocked, shocked when the hoi polloi don't agree with them

The American melodrama after Super TuesdayYou’ve got to admit that the ongoing melodrama south of the border is gripping stuff. Aficionados of American politics are like kids in a candy store. From the Democratic caucus fiasco in Iowa to the turnaround of Super Tuesday, it’s been all drama all the way. If you wrote a fictional script along these lines,…

Justin Trudeau’s leadership failure

Leadership is complicated. Character counts, as do vision, competence, judgment and the ability to persuade or inspire. The PM misses the mark

Justin Trudeau’s leadership failureLooking at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the ongoing blockade fiasco, it’s difficult to avoid comparison with how his father, Pierre Trudeau, dealt with the 1970 October Crisis. Faced with the revolutionary FLQ’s kidnappings of British trade commissioner James Cross and Quebec provincial cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, the senior Trudeau moved decisively as prime…

Ireland on the cusp of political upheaval

Should Sinn Fein come to power, it’ll be interesting to see how they deliver results. Making promises is easy. Getting a job done is different

Ireland on the cusp of political upheavalIreland’s recent election produced an unusual result. You might call it downright peculiar. Or maybe just momentous. Irish politics has been dominated for the past century by two parties whose origins derive from the civil war that followed the establishment of an independent Irish state. In many cases, family voting patterns were faithfully handed down…

The making of an unlikely U.S. president

The new book Becoming Ronald Reagan details the unlikely emergence of the most consequential Republican conservative of the 20th century

The making of an unlikely U.S. presidentAmerican liberals always had a problem with Ronald Reagan. He was, they thought, no more than an “amiable dunce,” a mouthpiece for someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. Yet through the hurly-burly of political contests over the span of a quarter-century, the dunce cleaned up on a regular basis. He was elected California governor…

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stands the test of time

The classic film takes an unusually nuanced look at the Old West. Heroes aren’t necessarily who you think they are

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stands the test of timeJohn Ford was an Irish-American film director whose active career began in the silent era and extended into the 1960s. Along the way, he picked up four Academy Awards for best director. Immense talent notwithstanding, Ford had a dark side. He was, to put it mildly, a bully. You might call him a tyrant. Belittling…

The return of the Red Tories

The return of the Red ToriesBack in September 2012, I wrote a column suggesting that Jean Charest’s recent political retirement wasn’t the end of the story. A man in his mid-50s who’d spent almost his entire adult life in politics would find it difficult to irrevocably wash his hands of the whole business. Now, on the brink of his apparently…

The Stuarts, a dynasty brought down by religion

In addition to displaying the Stuart propensity for absolutism, James II publicly converted to Catholicism. The die was cast

The Stuarts, a dynasty brought down by religionOf the world’s failed causes, one of the most enduring is the romantic tale of the House of Stuart. Who hasn’t heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his tragic-heroic attempt to recover the three crowns lost by his grandfather? Let’s back up a bit. The Stuarts were originally French, having crossed over from Brittany in…