Homer’s Iliad—a 3,000-year-old epic poem—continues to shape how we think about war. “Every adjective evokes the destruction and tragedy of war,” says Caroline Alexander, author of The Iliad: A New Translation. Alexander, a frequent contributor to National Geographic, has made her name writing about modern-day epics like the Mutiny on the Bounty and Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. But Homer has been what the trained classicist calls “the abiding passion of my heart.”
As I was sorting through my mother’s possessions after her death in 2005, I found a battered, cardboard chocolate box at the bottom of her wardrobe. It was decorated with red roses and tied with a piece of red ribbon. Inside, I found bundles of faded love letters, tightly bound with string and fastened with tiny knots.
The letters were from my mother’s fiancé, Martin Preston, the nephew of the poet, Robert Graves. They had met at Oxford in 1937 – she was a schoolgirl, Martin was at St. Edmund’s College – and had fallen madly in love. At the outbreak of World War II, Martin enlisted with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, travelling to northern France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force. Shortly before he left, they got engaged.
I had always known of Martin’s existence. Right up to her death, under the glass on her dressing table, next to pictures of my father and her three children, she kept a faded photograph of Martin, sitting on a bench in Oxford, in a cricket blazer, his thick, brown hair swept back off his forehead.
Yet she had never spoken about the story of her love affair. Who was this dreamy-looking, young man, who looked up at us from under the glass? What happened to him? What was their story? The more I read his letters to my mother, the more I wanted to find out.
The box of letters propelled me on a journey of discovery that took me from Oxford to the battlefields of northern Europe, from historical archives to abandoned blockhouses on the Maginot Line. Each letter unpacked a bit more of the story. Each letter threw up new questions. Piecing together the narrative, I discovered the story my mother never knew; the truth about Martin’s disappearance.
Their letters were their gift to me. This book is my gift to them.
Their story provides the basis for I Claudius, which in turn influenced Dynasty in the ‘80’s; The Sopranos in the ‘90’s; and Game of Thrones now. Whenever there’s that idea of a family feuding, stabbing, poisoning, marrying each other, it’s the Julian-Claudians that tend to lurk behind our understanding of what is going on there. Just as significantly, they serve us in the West as the primal example of tyranny, because Rome, before Augustus comes to power, is a republican system, in which freedom of speech is guaranteed, and supposedly people’s votes matter and count. By the end of it, it is a blood-steeped tyranny in which people are being murdered in increasingly grotesque and baroque ways. It fascinates and appals, both as a family drama and as a story of political power. In those terms, they are incomparable. There is no dynasty in history that can rival them.
More than five million people were arrested between 2000 and 2013 while trying to cross the border from Mexico into Arizona. A further 6.4 million were apprehended in Texas, California, and New Mexico. Thousands more perished in the furnace-like heat of the Sonoran Desert, their bodies rarely recovered. Yet despite the arduousness of the crossing and the high-tech surveillance systems arrayed against them, most of the survivors will attempt to cross again.
Bill Nye brought science into kids’ lives and made us laugh. He inspires memes, has his own bow tie line and has appeared on numerous television shows, including, earlier this month, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, National Geographic Channel’s Explorer series. He’s even been a guest on Dancing With the Stars. But under the stardust is a serious scientist who started life as a humble mechanical engineer at Boeing and is now on a mission to combat scientific ignorance and fight against climate change. His new book, Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World, mixes science and his trademark humor to rally a new “Greatest Generation”—ours—to solve a global climate change crisis that he believes is more threatening to our survival than World War Two.
In these dark days I want to express my affection for and solidarity with the people of Paris, and France. I have had a lifelong association with Paris. I lived there as a child and spent many months there on holiday with my parents and later on my own. Paris will not be defeated. But […]
China’s one-child policy was aimed at slashing the nation’s population to boost economic growth. It resulted in millions of forced sterilizations, abortions, infanticide, and marital misery.
After more than 30 years, the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party announced Thursday that it would end the rule, easily the country’s most unpopular.
Speaking from a café in Melbourne, Tim Flannery talks about climate change in the run-up to the Paris summit; why geo-engineering is a disastrous idea; and how he is inspired by the desire to leave a better world for his three children.
A Doctor Explores the Surprising Geography of The Human Body.
ISIS saturates the news. But few of us know much about its origins or its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In his new book, Black Flags: The Rise of Isis, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick takes us inside the twisted mind of Zarqawi and his followers, reconstructs the hunt for Zarqawi by a female CIA agent who could have stepped right out of the movie Zero Dark Thirty, and traces the U.S. response to ISIS across several administrations, laying bare our mistakes.