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When Kapka Kassabova was a child, the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall, so it swarmed with soldiers, spies and fugitives. Today she sets out on a journey to meet the people of this triple border – Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and the latest wave of refugees fleeing conflict further afield. She discovers a region that has been shaped by the successive forces of history: by its own past migration crises, by communism, by two world wars, by the Ottoman Empire, and – older still – by the ancient legacy of myths and legends. Border has won multiple awards including the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018.
For more than twenty-five years, David Nott has taken unpaid leave from his job as a general and vascular surgeon with the NHS to volunteer in some of the world’s most dangerous war zones: Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur, Congo, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Gaza and Syria. He has also volunteered in areas blighted by natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal. Driven by both the desire to help others and the thrill of extreme personal danger, he is now widely acknowledged to be the most experienced trauma surgeon in the world. Since 2015, the foundation he set up with his wife, Elly, has disseminated the knowledge he has gained, training other doctors in the art of saving lives threatened by bombs and bullets.
The historian tells the story of extraordinary, transformative projects helping refugee stonemasons to begin to rebuild the shattered treasures of Syria. The new, trainee masons, artisans and artists are both women and young men. The lecture is illustrated with film footage from Hughes’ documentaries about the project. Chaired by Peter Florence.
The polarised intensity of Brexit can seem like a very British civil war. What might healing and reconciliation look like? What can we learn from the past, and from present examples? Classicist Bettany Hughes reflects on her 2014 documentary series What’s The Point of Forgiveness? and takes a long view of ancient historical paths to peace. War correspondent Jon Lee Anderson discusses the political wrangling of peace terms and treaties he’s witnessed, the amnesties and the long recovery from totalitarian oppressions. Olusoga is an historian and author of Black and British: A Forgotten History. Paul Dolan is Professor in Behavioural Science at the LSE, where he works on measures of happiness and subjective wellbeing that can be used in policy and by individuals looking to be happier.
Vuillard’s gripping The Order of the Day, a mesmerising work of black comedy, won the Prix Goncourt in 2017 and is regarded as one of the great contemporary novels. It tells the story of the pivotal meetings that took place between the European powers in the run-up to World War Two. What emerges is a fascinating and incredibly moving account of failed diplomacy, broken relationships and the catastrophic momentum that led to conflict.
D-Day and the 76 days of bitter fighting in Normandy that followed have come to be seen as a defining episode in the Second World War. Its story has been endlessly retold, and yet it remains a narrative burdened by both myth and assumed knowledge. Drawing on unseen archives and testimonies from around the world, the war historian challenges much of what we think we know. He reveals how the sheer size and scale of the Allies’ war machine ultimately dominated the strategic, operational and tactical limitations of the German forces.
A conversation about the extraordinary biography that won the 2018 Costa Award. Little Lien wasn’t taken from her Jewish parents – she was given away in the hope that she might be saved. Hidden and raised by a foster family in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, she survived the war only to find that her real parents had not. Much later, she fell out with her foster family, and Bart van Es, the grandson of Lien’s foster parents, knew he needed to find out why. His account of tracing Lien and telling her story is a searing exploration of two lives and two families. It is a story about love and misunderstanding and about the ways that our most painful experiences, so crucial in defining us, can also be redefined. Philippe Sands’ East West Street won the 2017 Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction.
The horrors of two world wars and the Holocaust spurred the creation of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, decolonisation and the creation of what is now the EU. The era established principles and institutions of tolerance, equality, humanity and democracy that have guided successive generations since. Today those values are threatened by a rising tide of hostility, racism, nationalism and religious intolerance. How can we stem this tide and, through education, take action to promote inclusion, understanding and community cohesion? Barbara Winton, daughter and biographer of Sir Nicholas Winton, Auschwitz survivor Mindu Hornick and Jabba Riaz, the Mayor of Worcester, talk to University of Worcester Vice Chancellor David Green.
A former SAS corporal and the only man to escape death or capture during the Bravo Two Zero operation during the 1991 Gulf War, Ryan turned to writing thrillers to tell the stories the Official Secrets Act stops him putting in his non-fiction. His novels have gone on to inspire the Sky One series Strike Back. Red Strike sees Ryan’s two heroes go undercover into the circle of a British populist demagogue with links to the Kremlin.
Almost seventy-five years have passed since D-Day, the day of the greatest seaborne invasion in history. The outcome of the Second World War hung in the balance on that chill June morning. If Allied forces succeeded in gaining a foothold in northern France, the road to victory would be open. But if the Allies could be driven back into the sea, the invasion would be stalled for years, perhaps forever. An epic battle involved 156,000 men, 7,000 ships and 20,000 armoured vehicles. The desperate struggle that unfolded on 6 June 1944 was, above all, a story of individual heroics – of men who were driven to keep fighting until the German defences were smashed and the precarious beachheads secured. Their authentic human story – Allied, German, French – has never fully been told until now.
“Never before has such a terror appeared in Britain as we have suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made,” wrote the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin, in response to the first major Viking raid on Lindisfarne. From these notorious early attacks at the end of the 8th century to all-out war in the time of Alfred; from the extortion of ‘Danegeld’ in the reign of Æthelstan to two decades of rule under Cnut, the Scandinavian impact on Anglo-Saxon culture and politics was enormous. In a wide-ranging overview, Eleanor Barraclough explores some of the truths behind the Vikings’ lurid reputation, and shows the evidence to be found in the rare documents on display in the British Library.
Vietnam became the Western world’s most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the United States in 1975. The historian and journalist takes testimony from Viet Cong guerrillas, Southern paratroopers, Saigon bar-girls and Hanoi students alongside that of infantrymen from South Dakota, Marines from North Carolina and Huey pilots from Arkansas to create an epic narrative of an epic tragedy. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people, informed with deep understanding and a sweeping narrative.
Is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate progress and the ideals that make it possible? If you follow the headlines, the world in the 21st century appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred and irrationality. Yet Pinker argues that this is an illusion – a symptom of historical amnesia and statistical fallacies. If you follow the trendlines rather than the headlines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer, happier, more peaceful, more stimulating and more prosperous – not just in the West, but worldwide. Such progress is no accident: it’s the gift of a coherent and inspiring value system that many of us embrace without even realising it. These are the values of the Enlightenment: of reason, science, humanism and progress. The leading thinker shows how we can use our faculties of reason and sympathy to solve the problems that inevitably come with being products of evolution in an indifferent universe. We will never have a perfect world, but – defying the chorus of fatalism and reaction – we can continue to make it a better one.
An interview with the author of the international bestselling memoir. Petrowskaja’s family story is inextricably entangled with the history of 20th-century Europe. There is her great-uncle, who shot a German diplomat in Moscow in 1932 and was sentenced to death. There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during WWII and reappeared forty years later. And there is her great-grandmother – whose name may or may not have been Esther – who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was killed by a Nazi outside her house. Philippe Sands is author of the Baillie Gifford Prize-winning East West Street.
From the birth of Islam in the 7th century to the voyages of European exploration in the 15th, Africa was at the centre of a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas. It was an African golden age in which places like Mali, Ghana, Nubia and Zimbabwe became the crossroads of civilisations, and where African royals, thinkers and artists played celebrated roles in the globalised world of the Middle Ages.
The historian shows how liberal democracy, and Western history with it, was profoundly reimagined when the post-war Golden Age ended. As the institutions of liberal rule were reinvented, a new generation of politicians emerged: Thatcher, Reagan, Mitterrand, Kohl. The late 20th-century heyday they oversaw carried the Western democracies triumphantly to victory in the Cold War and into the economic boom of the 1990s. But equally it led them into the fiasco of Iraq, to the high drama of the financial crisis in 2007/8, and ultimately to the anti-liberal surge of our own times. The present crisis of liberalism enjoins us to revisit these times with close attention. The era we have all been living through is closing out; democracy is turning on its axis once again. Chaired by Katya Adler.
Soldiers of Salamis cemented Cercas’ reputation as one of the world’s greatest novelists. His new book is a courageous journey into his own family history and that of a country collapsing from a fratricidal war. The author revisits Ibahernando, his parents’ village in southern Spain, to research the life of Manuel Mena. This ancestor, dearly loved by Cercas’ mother, died in combat at the age of nineteen during the battle of the Ebro, the bloodiest episode in Spain’s history. Who was Manuel Mena? A fascist hero whose memory is an embarrassment to the author, or a young idealist who happened to fight on the wrong side? And how should we judge him, as grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that generation, interpreting history from our supposed omniscience and the misleading perspective of a present full of automatic answers, which fails to consider the particularities of each personal and family drama?
Marie Colvin was glamorous, hard-drinking, braver than the boys, with a troubled and rackety personal life. She reported from the most dangerous places in the world, going in further and staying longer than anyone else. Marie covered the major conflicts of our time: Israel and Palestine, Chechnya, East Timor, Sri Lanka (where she was hit by a grenade and lost sight in her left eye, resulting in her trademark eye-patch), Iraq and Afghanistan. Her anecdotes about encounters with dictators and presidents – including Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat, whom she knew well – were incomparable. She was much admired, and as famous for her wild parties as for the extraordinary lengths to which she went to tell the story, including being smuggled into Syria where she was killed in 2012.
The author of Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky – described by John le Carré as “the best true spy story I have ever read”. On a warm July evening in 1985, a middle-aged man stood on the pavement of a busy avenue in the heart of Moscow, holding a plastic carrier bag. In his grey suit and tie, he looked like any other Soviet citizen. The bag alone was mildly conspicuous, printed with the red logo of Safeway, the British supermarket. The man was a spy for MI6. A senior KGB officer, for more than a decade he had supplied his British spymasters with a stream of priceless secrets from deep within the Soviet intelligence machine. No spy had done more to damage the KGB. The Safeway bag was a signal: to activate his escape plan to be smuggled out of Soviet Russia.