DEDICATION: for Jiřina Šiklová,

scholarly author, dissident,

former political prisoner


In 1938, Neville Chamberlain, deaf to Winston Churchill’s warnings about Hitler’s warlike intentions, adopted a supine policy of appeasement. Fearful of being drawn into involvement with what he dismissively and cravenly regarded as a “quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”, he reneged on Britain’s treaty obligations, as too did Daladier in France, he allowed Hitler to seize the Sudetenland and, the following year, all of Bohemia and Moravia — Slovakia avoided occupation by installing a pro-Nazi puppet regime. …

DEDICATION: for Bruce Kidd,

champion runner,

champion of good causes


It is my belief that athletes, at their best, are moved by the same sense of vocation as are artists and people called to the religious life. If they are professional athletes, they are often well paid. But even the richest of them are not primarily in it for the money: the multi­millionaire hockey-player has exactly the same goal in life as the devoted amateur in a sport that pays nothing; each of them strives towards that always elusive achievement, the perfect performance.

The men and women portrayed…

DEDICATION: for John Howard Griffin

man of profound faith

contemplative, activist


Most books, in the Alphabeticon series, focus on paying tribute to men and women, past and present, who have been important in some particular field of human endeavour. That is true of this volume, but only partly. There are portraits, as usual, of several individuals who have contributed significantly to the life of faith in the various branches of Christendom: Roman Catholics like Thomas a Becket and Anastasz Opasek; Protestants like Billy Graham and John Knox; oddballs like Christopher Smart and Brigham Young. But in addition, many…

DEDICATION: for Sister Veronica O’Reilly, CSJ

historian of the Community of St Joseph


Christina Rossetti (1830–94) was the pre-eminent poet of the Anglo-Catholic revival, which transformed Anglican life in Victorian England. Little read nowadays except by specialists, she is still widely known as author of the Christmas hymn, “In the bleak midwinter. It is a fine poem in its own right, and it was superbly set to music, with a haunting melody by Gustav Hoist. …

DEDICATION: for Robert Weaver

lover of good writing

patron of good writers


This portrait gallery of twenty-six writers is the almost inevitable by-product of a lifelong love of books. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in our family living-room in the late afternoon, aged four, listening to my mother reading to me. No doubt she had always read me bedtime stories in infancy, but I have no memory of that. What I do fondly remember, though, was four-year-old exposure to A.A. Milne’s books about Winnie-the-Pooh and his enchanting children’s-poems. I badgered Mum to teach me to…

DEDICATION: for Harry Freedman

composer of masterpieces

master of the art of friendship


The twenty-six composers portrayed in this book were variously active in serious music, as distinct from folk music or pop music, during most periods of western culture from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, but not in the nineteenth. I make no apology for that omission: choices of listening are limited by taste; and I have little relish for the music of the nineteen-hundreds — indeed, the Romantic Revolution, as a whole, repels me, with its puerile fixation on the journey of the self. …

DEDICATION: To the good memory of Josef Červinka who kept alive the tradition of enlightened radio when all around was brutality and lies


This book pays tribute to the art of radio, which played a major role in my life from an early age. After my family left Canada for England in my childhood, we lived in an isolated Lincolnshire village. There was almost no access to movies of any worth. There was no theatre, except what was organized by my mother, who directed local productions in the village hall. And there was no good music, except what…

The art of making poems is not exclusively a skill of the literate: it occurs orally in pre-literate societies, or in societies with mostly illiterate members. Some of the oral poetry achieves a high level of sophistication, as in the epics of Homer or the works of the Welsh bards. In both cases authorship is either traditionally ascribed or actually identified. But most such poetry is as anonymous as the cave-art of Lascaux. …

Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera”, like any work of genius, has both permanence and universality. But it is also intrinsically the product of a particular time and place, the Weimar Republic: it gave a voice to the cynicism rampant in Germany following upon the defeat of 1918 and a decade of social turmoil; it cocked a snook at establishment values; and it blended a traditional language of compositional technique with accessible but acerbic borrowings from the language of jazz. Small wonder, therefore, that it was proscribed by the Nazis, when they came to power, as degenerate art; for it represented…

Born in Romania of Greek parents in 1922 and raised in Greece, Xenakis was that rare phenomenon, an artist of important capabilities outside his art, and of important moral stature. His first ambition was to be an engineer: that hope was dashed with the closing of the university during the war; but he retained a lifelong interest in the field. Under the German occupation, he became an active member of the Resistance: as such, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and was condemned to death; but he managed to escape, and went underground. These experiences confirmed and hardened in him…

Justin Fiacconi

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