Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A dollop of Trollope: ‘The most dangerous man in the world’

Over the summer, taking a break from military history after three years of reading pretty much nothing but, I read the first of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her? (Short answer: Yes, you can. But it takes him about 800 pages to explain how.) Trollope strikes me as a male version of Jane ...

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Over the summer, taking a break from military history after three years of reading pretty much nothing but, I read the first of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her? (Short answer: Yes, you can. But it takes him about 800 pages to explain how.)

Trollope strikes me as a male version of Jane Austen. He is just as cynical, and still concerned with manners and marriage, and with how people make their way in through the cold world. But he also has a lively interest in the public worlds of finance and politics.

One of the best lines in the book, with some contemporary resonance: "I dare say he's not very bright, but I don't know that we want brightness. A bright financier is the most dangerous man in the world. We've had enough of that already."  (Vol. 1, p. 348)

Over the summer, taking a break from military history after three years of reading pretty much nothing but, I read the first of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her? (Short answer: Yes, you can. But it takes him about 800 pages to explain how.)

Trollope strikes me as a male version of Jane Austen. He is just as cynical, and still concerned with manners and marriage, and with how people make their way in through the cold world. But he also has a lively interest in the public worlds of finance and politics.

One of the best lines in the book, with some contemporary resonance: "I dare say he’s not very bright, but I don’t know that we want brightness. A bright financier is the most dangerous man in the world. We’ve had enough of that already."  (Vol. 1, p. 348)

Another good observation: "in politics, I would a deal sooner trust to instinct than to calculation." (Vol. 2, p. 194)

And this, on one kind of marriage: "She despised her husband because he had no vices." (Vol . 2, p. 297)

And, this being the Best Defense blog, we should mention Trollope’s reference to Iraqi affairs: "I want Plantagenet to take us to see the Kurds, but he won’t." (Vol. 2, p. 273)

Then I started the next of the Palliser novels, Phineas Finn, but gave up because it felt so similar. Almost the same characters but with new names, like the handsome rotter and the noble but plodding good guy. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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