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Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother
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Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother

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by Simon Schama

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The New York Times has hailed renowned historian and social commentator Simon Schama as a writer who "entwine[s] past and present into a meaningful, continuous whole." His deeply thoughtful and vastly knowledgeable books such as The Power of Art, The American Future, and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Rough Crossings


The New York Times has hailed renowned historian and social commentator Simon Schama as a writer who "entwine[s] past and present into a meaningful, continuous whole." His deeply thoughtful and vastly knowledgeable books such as The Power of Art, The American Future, and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Rough Crossings have won acclaim for their intellectually rich and entertaining studies of the individuals and influences that have shaped the human condition, from the French Revolution to the political past and future of America, from the power of art to the role of nature in Western civilization.

Now, in this passionate and provocative collection, this brilliant observer brings his keen critical sensibility to a wide range of topics, both broad and intimate. Captivating and informative, Scribble, Scribble, Scribble offers a lighter, playful Simon Schama on a diverse range of subjects, from food and family to Winston Churchill, from Martin Scorsese and Richard Avedon to Rubens and Rembrandt, from his travels in Brazil and Amsterdam to New Orleans and Katrina. This selection of essays—originally published in magazines and newspapers including the New Yorker, Vogue, the New York Review of Books, and the Guardian—is a treasure trove of surprises that highlight Schama's sense of humor, curiosity, and idiosyncrasies. Never predictable, always stimulating, Scribble, Scribble, Scribble allows us to view the world, in all its diversity, through the eyes of one of its most intelligent, witty, and original inhabitants.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In these lively essays and reportage, Columbia historian Schama (The American Future: A History) turns his omnivorous erudition and warm prose to a vast array of topics. There are incisive historical essays on everything from Europeans' evolving image of the "Unloved American" to Churchill's oratory and, in a deliciously cruel book review, the "pigmification of historical scale" in micromonographs. There are meditations on the art of Rembrandt and Richard Avedon; reportage from British and American election campaigns; disdainful commentary on the Bush administration, and a stew to ice cream smorgasbord of foodie articles, recipes included. Schama is essentially the reporter-pundit with a chair in history, illuminating the most contemporary of topics in the buttery glow of historical context. One occasionally wonders whether that licenses him to write about absolutely everything: some pieces misfire—profiles of Martin Scorsese and Charlotte Rampling feel like generic celebrity puffery—and he lacks the distinctive style and outlook that would make you want to follow him all over the map. Still, he approaches every subject with gusto and amusement and, like your favorite professor, always has smart things to say. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
One expects ups and downs in a collection of occasional pieces such as this, with topics as diverse as current politics, a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2, art, cooking, and even one on why an English historian belatedly fell in love with the Boston Red Sox. But Schama (University Professor of Art History & History, Columbia Univ.; The American Future: A History) is such a brilliant writer knowledgeable in so many fields that the downs in this collection are still worth reading and the ups are really up. There is a killer appreciation of philosopher Isaiah Berlin and ferocious essays, that now seem dated, alas, on the manifold failings of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The best offerings are appreciations of the Dutch masters, one on those now somewhat ignored 19th-century prophets John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, and a perceptive and amusing essay about the quirky modernist James Ensor, whose work is "one long carnival guffaw at the higher seriousness of modernism." VERDICT Though not all of these pieces are of equal merit, collections of essays don't come any better than this. All readers who like lively writing and good thinking, especially relating to art criticism and history, will enjoy this book. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/10.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Phillip Lopate
More than half the book consists of pieces about historiography and art history, and when Schama's professional mind is most fully engaged, he is at his best…All in all, we should be grateful Schama has chosen to be so inclusive. Readers whose tastes differ from this reviewer's may find the food and travel essays delicious, while others will gobble up the political commentary and skim the writings on history and art. The point is, this robust, generous smorgasbord has pretty much something for every palate.
—The New York Times
New York Times
“[T]his robust, generous smorgasbord has pretty much something for every palate.”
Financial Times
“Willfully miscellaneaous... addictively readable... [Schama] is clever, versatile, and extremely likable.”
The Independent on Sunday
“His eloquence is on magnificent display in this new book: a delightful collection of journalistic essays.”
The Observer
“An enticing collection of pieces old and new, a bedside book of rich insights.”
Evening Standard (London)
“It really is very good... Witty, learned, informative, and clarifying.”
The Spectator
This sparkling, effervescent collection bridges the gap between scholarly and popular writing... It is excellent holiday reading.”
The Telegraph
“The most stimulating and surprising writing here is on cooking and eating... A diverting personal history.”
The Independenton Sunday
"His eloquence is on magnificent display in this new book: a delightful collection of journalistic essays."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother
By Simon Schama


Copyright © 2011 Simon Schama
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-200986-9

Chapter One

Sail Away: Six Days to New York on the Queen Mary 2

New Yorker, 31 May 2004

Overlooked – literally – by the seventeen-deck Queen Mary 2, as she
slid into her berth at Pier 92 on 22 April 2004, was the dead white
bird. Laid out on its funeral barge beside the USS Intrepid, as flight-
less and obsolete as the dodo, Concorde wasn't going anywhere. The
sleek dream of supersonic speed, the princess of whoosh, which got
you there before you'd started, was now, officially, a museum piece.
The future – as the mayoral bloviations greeting the ship's midtown
docking affirmed – belonged to 150,000 tons of steel capable of grind-
ing through the ocean at all of thirty knots (that's around thirty-five
m.p.h. to you landlubbers). The latest and most massive of the
transatlantic liners takes twenty times as long to carry you from New
York to England as a Boeing or an Airbus. And that's the good news
– the reason, in fact, for Commodore Ronald Warwick, the master of
the Queen Mary 2, to brag, at the quayside ceremonies, that Cunard
was poised to compete with the airlines for a serious share of the
transatlantic business.

Like those of us who had sailed with him through Force 10 gales and
thirty-foot swells, the Commodore may have been pardonably giddy
at coming through the worst that the feisty ocean could throw his way
on a maiden North Atlantic voyage and still getting to the Statue of
Liberty on schedule. But could this be the start of something really
big and really slow? We take for granted the appeal of velocity, that
there is money to be made and pleasure to be had from the gratification
of the instantaneous: the three-gulp Happy Meal, the lightning
download, the vital mobile phone message that I am here and are you
there? And where has this culture of haste got us? Baghdad, apparently,
where the delusions of the get-it-over-with war are being compounded
by the unseemly rush to exit, leaving the whole gory mess for some
other loser to sort out.

It has been thus, as Stephen Kern, in The Culture of Time and
Space 1880–1918, points out, ever since the orgiasts of speed at the turn
of the twentieth century made acceleration the necessary modern
ecstasy. In 1909, the Italian writer and artist Filippo Marinetti
declared, in his Futurist Manifesto, that 'the world's magnificence has
been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed'. On an after-
noon two years later, a sixteen-frames-a-second movie of the
investiture of the Prince of Wales was developed in a darkroom on
a British express train and taken to London, where it was shown the
same night. Translated into military strategy by the overarmed Great
Powers, as the historian A. J. P. Taylor liked to note, the imperatives
of railway timetables drove the logistics of pre-emptive mobilisation.
A pause to ponder was already a defeat. So modernity bolted out of
the starting gate in 1914: Archduke shot, millions of men in grey and
khaki precipitately herded into railway carriages, carnage begun right
on cue – before the Flemish mire slowed everything down and
millions plodded to their doom.

For much of its history, Cunard has been part of this feverish hurry-
up. In 1907 its flagship, the Mauretania, captured the Blue Riband for
fastest transatlantic crossing, and kept it for twenty-two years, spurring
jealous – and fatal – competition. A novel by Morgan Robertson, The
Wreck of the Titan; or, Futility, appearing in 1898, had featured a liner
named Titan that cuts another ship in two simply 'for the sake of speed'.
And the captain of the Titanic was blamed for sailing full steam, even
in an area notorious for ice floes, in deference to the White Star Line's
determination to wrest the Blue Riband from Cunard.

Abraham Cunard, a Philadelphia shipwright, had settled in Nova
Scotia, in the loyalist diaspora, after the American Revolution. The
loyalists, severed from not only their homes but the mother country,
had good reason to want their mail delivery to take less than six
weeks, the time often needed for sailing ships to cross from Britain
to Canada or the West Indies. Abraham and his son Samuel prospered
with a small mail fleet, and in the 1830s Samuel, watching George
Stephenson's locomotive the Rocket hurtle along the tracks at thirty
m.p.h., became convinced that on the oceans, too, steam propulsion
was about to replace sail.

Paddle-driven steamers had been in common use in both American
and British coastal waters and rivers since the early nineteenth century,
and steam-assisted masted ships had crossed the Atlantic since 1819. But
it was only in 1838 that the first full steam crossing was made, by the
St George Steam Packet Company's ship Sirius. Immediately the jour-
ney was cut to two weeks (twelve days to Halifax, fourteen to Boston).
The Siriuswas followed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel's GreatWestern,
which added style to speed. It boasted 128 staterooms, bell ropes to
summon stewards, a ladies' stewardess and a seventy-five-foot saloon,
decorated with panels celebrating 'the arts and sciences'.
Disdaining both opulence and reckless speed, Samuel Cunard
offered something else when, in 1839, he made a tender to the Admi-
ralty for the conveyance of Her Majesty's Mail: dependability,
guaranteed by the novel presence of an on-board engineer. In July
1840 the Britannia, the first of Cunard's packets, docked at Boston after
a two-week crossing. A wooden-hulled ship with two masts and a
central funnel, it was a footling 1,150 tons and about 200 feet long
(compared with the QM 2's 150,000 tons and quarter-mile length).
In the port where the American Revolution began, Britannia was
greeted with gun salutes, a performance of 'God Save the Queen' and
the declaration of Cunard Festival Day.

The word 'historic' was much repeated over the public-address system
last 16 April, as the Queen Mary 2 moved out into the Solent from its
Southampton berth under a classically grey English spring sky. The
maiden North Atlantic crossing was hugely subscribed, and, despite
the famous superstitiousness of sailors, no one aboard seemed to have
been deterred by, or even to have spoken of, the tragedy that cast a
shadow over the ship's prospects even before she had been formally
launched. On 15 November 2003, while theQM2was still in the ship-
yard at Saint-Nazaire, in Brittany, where it was being built, a gangway,
bearing fifty people, collapsed, throwing some of them fifty feet to
the concrete bed of the dry dock. Fiftee nwere killed and twenty-eight
injured. Many of the dead and injured were shipyard workers and
family members and friends, who were visiting the liner before its sail
to Southampton.

In defiance of ill omens, the transatlantic send-off was exuberant;
for those braving the raw breezes there was sparkling wine on the
upper-deck terrace. But anxieties about the target of opportunity
presented by a mass of slowly moving Anglo-American steel precluded
all but a vigilantly screened handful from the dockside 'sailaway'. A
spirited band did what it could with 'Rule Britannia' and 'Life on the
Ocean Wave', but neither was able to compete with a phantom soprano
hooting from the loudspeakers. Then the ship's whistle drowned out
everything else, and streamers were tossed from the decks, landing
beside flocks of indifferently bobbing seagulls.Waving hankies were
to be seen only in blown-up photographs of Cunard's past glory days
mounted on walls in the ship's interior.

And where were the cows? Samuel Cunard had made sure that each
of his packets was equipped with at least one ship's cow, to provide a
steady supply of fresh milk, which, to anyone faced with trays of small
plastic miniatures of 'dairy-taste' creamer, seems like an idea whose
time should come again. There would be risks, of course. During the
fourth crossing of Brunel's immense Great Eastern, in 1861, the seas
were so high that, according to one report, they not only tore off the
paddles, but knocked over the deck-mounted cowshed, sending one of
the animals through the skylight of the saloon, where it landed on an
understandably surprised barfly. This might have happened early in
the morning, for in the halcyon days of the packets saloons opened
for business at 6 a.m. and closed at eleven at night. A decent breakfast
on the Britannia in the 1840swas steak and Hock, which Cunard might
think of adding to room service, as a more cheering way to start a day
on the tossing waves than weak tea, overstewed coffee and dried-out
croissants. And anyone who has waited all his life for the moment
when, from a blanket-wrapped steamer chair, he could interrupt his
reading of Anita Loos or Evelyn Waugh to summon a steward for a
cup of piping-hot bouillon will have to wait a bit longer, for on the
QM 2, I regret to report, bouillon was there none.

What there is on the QM 2 is grandeur: lashings of it, Bel-Air
baroque, heavy on the upholstery. The dominant style is officially
described as 'Art Deco', but it is more le grand style Ginger et Fred:
sweeping staircases (especially in the triple-decker main restaurant);
long, curved bars (very handsome in the Chart Room); leopard-
patterned carpets; and, in one theatre, bronze bas-reliefs that feature
disporting deities, as in the pre-multiplex yesteryear, though the
athletic statuary posted at the doors summons up Albert Speer and
'Honour the Komsomol', rather than Garbo and Groucho. Over the
shipboard 'art' a tactful veil should be drawn, but there is great art on
the Queen Mary 2: namely, the exterior of the ship itself – a thrilling
scarlet-and-black tower of a funnel and four heroically scaled brushed-
steel propeller screws mounted on deck seven, as mightily torqued as
anything from the hand of Richard Serra.

Even though the ship is a small floating town – 2,600 passengers
and 1,300 crew – it seldom feels crowded. It helps if you have a cool
$27,000 to spare, for then you get a share of the Balmoral Suite: 2,249
square feet of what the brochure describes as 'sheer extravagance',
including a dining area for eight; two interactive plasma-screen TVs;
your own exercise equipment; and (the least they could do, really) 'a
fully stocked bar'. For $18,000 less, you rate a not so fully stocked bar
and about 250 square feet of elegant, if rather narrow, cabin and
balcony. This would still be nearly 200 square feet bigger than Charles
Dickens's stateroom aboard the Britannia in 1842. For his thirty-five
guineas Dickens got a claustrophobic twelve by six: two stacked
curtained bunks (no room to stow his trunk); two washstands, with
jugs of water brought by stewards; a niggardly porthole, rather apt to
leak; and a single oil lamp. But even this austerity was princely
compared with steerage on such ships, where passengers slept commu-
nally in rows of swinging bunks 'tween decks' and cooked in their own
utensils without much help in the way of lighting or ventilation.
For the cabin-class passengers, the centre of the Britannia, both
socially and physically, was the grand, coal-heated saloon, which
Dickens described, in American Notes, as
a long narrow apartment, not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows
in the sides; having at the upper end a melancholy stove, atwhich three
or four chilly stewardswerewarming their hands;while on either side,
extending down its whole dreary length, was a long, long table, over
each of which a rack, fixed to the low roof and stuck full of drinking-
glasses and cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rolling seas and heavy

Dinner, taken on oilcloth-covered tables –which, predictably, aggra-
vated the roll of crockery in heavy weather – was at one: roasted
potatoes, baked apples and much pork, in the form of pig's head or
cold ham (for some reason, pig was thought to lie easiest on ocean-
going stomachs). At five, a cheerless supper was served, usually of
boiled potatoes and mouldering fruit, washed down with brandy-and-
water o rwine, but then there was always the saloon to repair to. Those
among the crew who could play a tune or two sometimes did, and there
were a few books in the saloon. Only in the second half of the nine-
teenth century,when wooden hulls were replaced by steel and paddles
by screw propellers, did a comprehensively stocked and magnificently
panelled and furnished library become a crucial fixture. The heavily
used library on the QM 2 runs the gamut from Danielle Steel to Tom
Clancy; there is a wall of less intensively visited Everyman classics,
and I found, improbably lurking amid the bodice-rippers and spy
thrillers, Albert Camus's The Plague.

Though the best thing about a week's Atlantic crossing is an eyeful
and a day full of nothing other than the rhythm of the sea and the
silvery curving rim of the world, and although Old Cunarder hands
insisted that was the way that crossings, rather than mere vulgar
cruises, should be, Cunard is now owned by the mother of all cruise
companies, Carnival Corporation. And the job description of its toil-
ing entertainment directors begins with the abhorrence of a vacuum.
So the gym rumbles with massed treadmilling; the Canyon Ranch spa
is packed with heavy massaging; the herbal sauna is crammed with
oversized marine mammals (bipedal). In front of the two huge
theatres, passengers line up by the statuary to hear a glamorous string
trio of Ukrainian musicians dressed in miles of retro-ballgown satin
taffeta give their all to 'Jealousy'; or watch spirited young British actors
throw themselves into greatest hits from Romeo and Juliet and A
Midsummer Night's Dream; or listen to lecturers like me pontificat-
ing about Atlantic history.

In the Queen's Room, a frighteningly accurate bust of the actual
Queen Mary, the present Queen's grandmother – a human galleonwho
seemed to sail fully rigged through state ceremonies as lesser craft
chugged contemptibly about her – surveys Gavin Skinner and Lydia
Lim, the dance teachers, as they steer giggly novices through the samba,
cha-cha or foxtrot, the 'walk-walk, side-together-side' contending with
the unhelpful motion of the waves.On the parquet, middle-aged 'gentle-
men hosts' hired to squire single ladies through the dances glide their
partners around with courtly grace. After being screened for ballroom-
dancing prowess and other credentials of respectability, the gentlemen
hosts sign on for at least two voyages, and pay a token sum for the priv-
ilege. But if Gordon Russell Cave, an impeccably turned-out widower,
is any guide, the hosts see their work more as vocation than as vacation:
the purveying of shipboard happiness. The moments Gordon recalled
with most pleasure were those befitting a preux chevalier. One widow
told him, after he had walked her back to her seat, that it was the first
time she had danced since her husband's death, four years before.


Excerpted from Scribble, Scribble, Scribble by Simon Schama Copyright © 2011 by Simon Schama. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Simon Schama is a professor of art history and history at Columbia University, and is the author of numerous award-winning books; Rough Crossings, his history of the American Revolution, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction. He is a cultural essayist for the New Yorker and has written and presented more than thirty documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and the History Channel, including The Power of Art, which won the 2007 International Emmy for Best Arts Programming, and The American Future: A History, now available on DVD.

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Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and My Mother 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ha wondering the same thing...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didnt read it, just wondering how it got stars if no one but.me wrote a review so far? QBG :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grand prize: Boy of Fire Girl of Ice by Summerstream first prize Broken Dreams and Songs of Sorrow by Silversky second prize: a wizards plea by wizardstaff
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is at thefern(no typo) res2. It is called the boy of fire, the girl of ice: a prophecy. Im sorry if its not very good. -$ummer$now***