Now that I’ve thrown the cult of efficiency out the window, I get to read more deeply rather than faster. I get to hang out with language and not count this as a great achievement. I get to spend time with books rather than to simply collect their titles.
You can learn a lot about a queen from the contents of her coffin. In her frisky, adventurous new biography of Queen Victoria, Julia Baird offers not only an inventory of the items with which the queen wished to be buried but also the exact placement she specified for them. Of course her treasured husband, Prince Albert, would be represented; Victoria had spent much of her life draped in black, showily mourning his death. So Albert’s framed photograph and a cast of his hand were duly buried with her.
The British are the most cosmopolitan people in all history. Forget the empire for a moment; that was just part of it. Aside from that, Britons travelled and traded in the world far more widely than they colonised it, unless you want to count travel and trade as forms of “imperialism”, which some do. They also emigrated, sometimes to their colonies, but more often not. This is why their presence and their legacy are still felt, even after all these years of shrinkage as a nation. In Empire of Booze Henry Jeffreys traces their contribution to the alcoholic drinking habits of the world. His claim is that Britain, rather than, say, France or Germany, “the country with the greatest influence on wine and drink in general”. It’s a bold assertion, but after reading this book one can see what he means.