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Life ’n’ Arts Podcast: History and ‘isms’ with David Pryce-Jones

‘I think the common theme in everything that I’ve done, really, is: what makes people believe the extraordinary things they do believe?’

October 22, 2018

6:00 AM

22 October 2018

6:00 AM

In this week’s Spectator USA Life ’n’ Arts podcast, I’m casting the pod with David Pryce-Jones. Novelist, correspondent, historian, editor at National Review and, most recently, author of the autobiography and family history Fault Lines, Pryce-Jones has the longest association with the Spectator of any Life ’n’ Arts podcaster yet. In 1963, Pryce-Jones began his literary journey to the status of national treasure on both sides of the Pond by becoming books’ editor of our London mothership.

‘My past seems unbelievable. I can’t explain it to myself, let alone anyone else,’ Pryce-Jones says. Now into his ninth decade, he is a living history of modern letters, and a key witness to the events of the 20th-century. How many other people can recall escaping from France after the German invasion of 1940, visiting Evelyn Waugh at Combe Florey and Naguib Mahfouz in Cairo, preparing his desert kit for landing at Suez, hearing whispers of nostalgia for the Habsburgs behind the Iron Curtain, watching Israeli troops capturing the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War, hearing Ronald Reagan charm the faculty of the University of Berkeley, California, and being accused of ‘betraying his class’ for writing about the pro-Nazi sympathies of Unity Mitford and other Thirties’ aristocrats?

‘I think the common theme in everything that I’ve done, really, is: what makes people believe the extraordinary things they do believe?’ Pryce-Jones told me. ‘How is it possible to be a Nazi, a communist, a jihadi? How is it possible to kill people in the name of something? I think, really, that the examination of belief is my subject. I’ve been interested in all the “isms” as a result of that. And I think probably that, beyond that, I’m asking, “Are they going to get me?” The Nazis took everything from my family, and what was left the Communists took in Hungary and Czechoslovakia from my grandmother. And lo and behold, there are Muslims who want to come and get me for my Jewish blood.’

This podcast was a delight to record, and my only regret is that we couldn’t give David Pryce-Jones the multi-episode series that his life and writings deserve. It was typically kind of him that when I asked if he minded compressing himself into a single episode, he didn’t show me the door, but obliged with great courtesy and wit. Enjoy!


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