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Rio 2016: Dressed to Win










Sharing great histories

Almost all historians hope to offer their readers a different view but few historians could, and perhaps fewer still would, dare to write a new history of the world.


Although Peter Frankopan’s latest book is written as popular history, such was its scope that I approached the preface expecting an academic explanation of methodology, intention, and, very likely, an assertion of authority over the subject. Instead, Frankopan begins with the story of a boy and a map, ‘thrilled with adventure and danger’. The same boy learned the myth of Zeus releasing an eagle at each end of the Earth and calculated that the sacred point at which they met was somewhere between the Black Sea and the Himalayas: the heart of the world.

The book also offers a look at the complicated backstory between modern Iran and the US, Israel and Palestine, as well as the Gulf conflicts. Stories of the oil-rich, names we now associate with art and philanthropy, such as Getty and Gulbenkian, echo those of the Silk Road merchants. Throughout, there is the constant theme of commerce; the long history of slavery is frequently mentioned, detailing how people have served as international commodities for millennia. The text is painstakingly footnoted, from wide-ranging and often recently discovered sources.

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Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward

The Desert War by George Forty

The World in 2018


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Go Set a Watchman to Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee


If you want to be a better person, go and read To Kill a Mockingbird if you haven't, and read it again if you have.

Whatever its literary merits, Harper Lee’s second novel sheds more light on our world than its predecessor did, note the Time magazine. The book is relevant to our times and our stakes even in Pakistan. Neo-apartheid, we are living in driven by ambition and guised in the faith that we are stuck so dearly.   

Go Set a Watchman was actually Lee's debut novel. But her editor told her to write another one with a younger Scout. Watchman features an adult Scout, while older brother Jem, we find out, has died. Many fans have been upset to find Atticus depicted as more of a racist than was evident in To Kill a Mockingbird: he regarded his non-white neighbours with suspicion and grating condescension.

Sometimes, novels have afterlives that no author could anticipate. To Kill a Mockingbird owed some of its success to extra-literary circumstances: it was published in 1960, just before JFK went to the White House, caught the mood of the civil rights movement, achieved sales of more than 30 million copies and inspired a movie classic, starring Gregory Peck.


Teachers of American literature have been handed a fascinating potential course comparing and contrasting the pair, while there is clearly opportunity for a new movie of To Kill a Mockingbird combining the two genres most beloved by modern Hollywood – remake and sequel – within a structure of interlocking flashbacks that are the most fashionable form of movie narrative.


So, if nothing else, if you want to be a better person, go and read To Kill a Mockingbird if you haven't, and read it again if you have. You will find new truths in it. If you want to hold up a mirror about the problems of race and difference, go and read Go Set a Watchman. Such works of imagination help prod us to step out of our own cloistered worlds every now and then.




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