One of the most difficult, and under-rated, jobs undertaken by the historian is that of the synthesis. Text books covering long periods of historical time demand the exclusion of vast quantities of material.
Cardinal Richelieu famously claimed in his Testament Politique that 'There is no nation on earth so little suited to war than our own', accusing the French of fickleness and impatience in even the least of tasks.
Weighing in at over five hundred pages, this formidable work of scholarship investigates the fifteen-year evolution of the Soviet Union's strategy towards its multi-ethnic jurisdiction from the 'Lenin Constitution' of 1923 through to the consolidation of the 'Stalin Constitution' of 1936.
This book is a fascinating collection of chapters which partly analyse and partly evoke different periods, spaces and above all images of Milan since the 1950s. It does not fit into a neat academic category or discipline, beyond its being loosely a historical overview of the city. History, in this case, is neither social nor economic or political - nor is it a combinations of these.
Gender in History is a timely publication. The field of gender history is reaching maturity in two senses. Firstly, numerous studies have been published about the impact of gender at various times and places. Professor Merry Wiesner-Hanks draws on this wealth of scholarship and her own research to provide a welcome overview of gender in global history from prehistory to date.
That grand old patron saint of London historians, John Stow, currently seems to be inspiring a new wave of historical and literary studies.
'Gosh, I miss the Cold War', Bill Clinton reputedly claimed. Clearly for reasons other than historical scholarship as the demise of the Cold War has certainly not stemmed the ever-increasing proliferation of books about a subject that has been exhaustively analysed and passionately debated.
History on this scale is a daunting task, not just for the breadth of scholarship it requires but also because it lays before the author the powerful temptations of platitude and over-generalization. Geoffrey Hosking, as he has amply shown elsewhere, is a historian who can draw a big picture without losing his curiosity, his feel for detail, or his capacity for concise but penetrating summary.
In spite of its intellectual, literary and comic brilliance, this book contains a dark and disturbing, but revealing, message. In some ways, my melancholy reading of Bodies Politic has inevitably been shaped by Roy's recent untimely death. Roy Porter was without doubt the finest social historian of medicine this country, or indeed the world, has produced.
The cover is a view from Stirling Castle: in the foreground a carved lion rampant, in the background the Wallace Tower, the Scottish national monument, raised by public subscription in 1859; in the valley below, Stirling Bridge somewhere near the site of William Wallace's victory over the forces of Edward I in 1297; just out of the picture, the field of Bannockburn.