Paul Johnson, the British historian, has written many big, magisterial books: A History of Christianity, A History of the Jews, Art: A New History, and so on. Modern Times, his history of the 20th century, has shaped the thinking of countless readers. I was pleased to learn, last summer, that a young friend of mine was required to read Modern Times before beginning an internship at the Wall Street Journal.
In recent years, however, Johnson has been writing slender books, brief biographies, and gems they are: Johnson can paint on canvases large and small; he can compose Brucknerian symphonies and graceful minuets. Those “minuets,” the recent biographies, have been on Churchill, Jesus, Socrates, Darwin, and now Mozart.