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The Writer’s Life

by Mark Falcoff

But What Do You Actually Do?: A Literary Vagabondage, by Alistair Horne (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 416 pp., ₤25)

Sir Alistair Horne is a British journalist and historian who will be familiar to longtime NR readers, since he has contributed to this magazine almost from its inception. He is known mainly as a historian of France (The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, Seven Ages of Paris, The Age of Napoleon, The French Army and Politics), but he has also produced compellingly readable, superbly informed books on several other countries. He has also written the official biography of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and a recent semi-official biography of Henry Kissinger. As he remarks at one point in this memoir, “You name it, I’ve been there and written about it.”

Horne was born some 80 years ago, and his first great experience — like that of a number of British children — was being shipped to the United States for safety during the Blitz, a story he later told in A Bundle from Britain (1992). He was enrolled at Millbrook School in New York, where (providentially) his classmate and best friend was William F. Buckley Jr. By the time he graduated in 1943, he was old enough to enlist in the British forces, so he made his way home determined to become a Spitfire pilot in the RAF. Instead, he ended up in the Coldstream Guards, and from there went to Sandhurst. Upon commissioning he was assigned to intelligence at British General Headquarters in Cairo, with frequent secondments to the Palestine Mandate, where the Zionist underground was already making things hot for the occupying authority.

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