Herman the German – A long forgotten English Hero


One of the fifteen decisive battles of history identified by Edward Creasy was the battle in the Teutoburg Forest where the Roman General Varus lost three legions almost to a man to a huge ambush by the German tribesmen.  We have a pretty good account of the engagement from Tacitus and Creasy writes it up superbly to make it into a great piece of writing.  It is hard to dispute that this is indeed a decisive battle since it prevented the Romans from establishing a frontier much further east which would have made the empire much deeper and would have reduced the length of the frontier that needed to be defended considerably.  Had they succeeded the empire might well have lasted a lot longer. Continue reading

Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by David Aaronovitch


The biggest problem with studying history is remembering that the people taking part in it didn’t know what was going to happen next.  And there is another problem as well – they often didn’t know accurately what had happened before either.  People’s motivations are often therefore hard to fathom.  And the existence of conspiracy theories makes it even harder.  It is in the nature of conspiracy theories that they tend to be very specific to particular times and are often completely forgotten about later.  Take for example the Protocols of the Elders of  Zion. Continue reading

The Parable of Galileo

I have become a bit embarrassed by the amount of interest my post about the trial of Galileo has generated.  It was a very quick and not particularly thought out piece that I just knocked out in half an hour or so in response to a Pious Fabrication’s video.   But it has been the most read post on my blog all week.  Comments made on it were rather better written and much more informed than my actual post.  That was humbling. But it has got me thinking about why the story of Galileo continues to resonate, especially given that the event itself was a bit confused to say the least.   I think it’s because it has gone beyond an historical event and has turned into a parable. Continue reading

The Trial of Galileo – My Response to Pious Fabrications

I always enjoy the stuff Dave Withun puts up on his blog Pious Fabrications and particularly the almost daily videos he puts on Youtube. They are well put together and thought provoking, and it’s good to hear a point of view a long way from my own. I’m generally happy just to read or listen and sometimes make the odd comment, but I really can’t let his video on the Trial of Galileo past without question. Continue reading

Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory by Lisa Jardine


The events of 1688 have been remembered in British history as the Glorious Revolution. A tyrannical Catholic king was out of control and was destroying the country’s constitution, its liberties and its religion. In desperation William the Third was invited across to rescue the British and replace the unacceptable James the Second. William of Orange landed unopposed. He drew support to himself from the disaffected subjects of James and advanced slowly on London, carefully giving the British plenty of time to come round to his side and so to avoid any bloodshed. Continue reading

Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

It is a good sign when a book doesn’t fit into an obvious category.  It is probably a nightmare for a librarian or a bookseller, but it is good news for the reader.  There is less risk that you are going to read the same old stuff you have read before – we all enjoy the unexpected.  Black Swan is one of those books defies classification.  Is it philosophy, business, mathematics or history? What it is about unexpected events which unsettle prior conceptions.  So that is promising, an unpredictable book that deals with the unexpected.  Lets read on. Continue reading

Red Nails, an early Conan story by Robert.E.Howard

Conan the Barbarian (Thanks to Wikipedia)

With the financial crisis back on the agenda I decided I had better get planning for a worldwide economic meltdown.  There won’t be much call for development chemists in any financial armageddon so I’ll be needing an alternative career path.  I have decided to become a barbarian.  Steel is the currency of the warrior, and even Goldman Sachs can’t do anything to get a rake off from that so it seems like a good choice. Continue reading

What did Hypatia really know? The Science of Agora

With almost no cinema distribution and with the sales of the DVD virtually non-existent, Agora will probably vanish almost without a trace, not unlike its main character. The life of an historical figure few have heard of seems not to be a commercial proposition even when it gets generally good reviews on film buff blogs.  But there have been some heated debates online. Although any film where religion is a key part of the plot could upset someone somewhere, most of the discussion I have seen has been about how accurate a portrayal it was.  The historical background is one thing, but the question I find most interesting is what Hypatia actually did or didn’t do.  Where does Hypatia fit in the history of science? Continue reading