Andrew Roberts: Anglosphere’s greatest modern mythologist, may be perfectly suited to sanitize the Bush presidency

Historians in the News

Connoisseurs of homicidal book reviews have long treasured the virtuosic evisceration that British immunologist Sir Peter Medawar performed in 1950 on Teilhard de Chardin, that once fashionable Gallic mountebank. Of Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man, Medawar remarked, “its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.”

Sir Peter’s slashing verdict inevitably comes to a mind confronted with the work of currently hip British neocon Andrew Roberts. The historian has an influential admirer in George W. Bush, who after meeting Roberts in a London restaurant invited him to a second date in the White House. “To prove how serious he was,” Vanity Fair’s Vicky Ward reported, “Bush wrote down his personal phone number.” Roberts’s website boasts that at their later meeting, “he and his wife spent 40 minutes alone with President Bush in the Oval Office.” Rumors of a presidential biography—or ghosted autobiography—soon took flight.

Roberts’s newfound vogue rests almost entirely upon A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Whether this 754-page blockbuster is the most mendacious tract marketed as nonfiction within the last decade, or whether Roberts genuinely believes the tripe he spouts therein, is among our era’s more conspicuous literary puzzles. Nonetheless, this apparent dichotomy proves to be a distinction without a difference. Looking for candor in Roberts’s agitprop is as absurd as seeking it in presentations from Madison Avenue. That is precisely what Roberts has become: not a historian at all but an advertising agent, whose account happens to be the Anglosphere and whose moralizing is as stridently simpleminded as Brecht’s.

To expect in Roberts’s effusions the smallest nuance or humility makes hunting for four-leaf clovers seem like an intelligent use of one’s time. He is incorrigible. Not only must every good deed of British or American rule be lauded till the skies resound with it, but so must every deed that is morally ambiguous or downright repellent....

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