Picks and Pans Review: A Personal History

updated 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by A. J.P. Taylor

The author, a noted British historian, says in his preface that his publisher's legal counsel made him remove 76 libelous references—because the people referred to weren't dead. Despite this frustration, Taylor's book is plenty salty, because he's 77 and most of his acquaintances have indeed died. Taylor grew up an only child in a large and successful family of cotton merchants in Lancashire. His parents were active in leftist politics, and he, until a visit to Russia, admired Communism. After college, he became a teacher and spent most of his years at Oxford, lecturing and writing his 27 volumes of history and biography. (Origins of the Second World War is his most famous work.) He is wonderfully candid and entertaining about his shortcomings with women. Of an evening with his first wife, Margaret Adams, he writes: "We went to Melk and spent the night in bed together. With total inexperience on both sides, nothing was achieved, as often happened with me." Usually, though, he is not modest. Of his history Germany's Bid for Colonies: A Move in Bismarck's European Policy, he writes, "It is a sound scholarly history and at the same time very funny, a speciality of mine." A Personal History is at its best when Taylor discusses people he has known. One of these was the poet Dylan Thomas, who once stayed with Taylor for a month. Thomas "wrote a straightforward line that I could understand. Then he crossed out the principal words and substituted others...I asked him why. He answered with a cruel giggle, 'He, he, it makes things more difficult for the readers.' " This book is rich in such anecdotes, and readers who admire British eccentricity will find plenty of it here. (Atheneum, $14.95)

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