A friend on Facebook posted a link to a New Scientist item about late starters, people whose greatest work was achieved long after the rosy flush of youth had faded from their cheek. Getting a bit long in the tooth myself, I find these things very encouraging, something which I cling to. I immediately think of Catherine Cookson, who published her first novel at 47, sold millions, and lived well into her 90s.
But my favourite middle-age achiever must be Charles Arnold-Baker, who published the utterly phenomenal The Companion to British History in 1996 when he was in his late 70s. It was thirty years in the making, so he commenced the project when about 48. What’s more, it was printed by his son’s publishing company, making it virtually self-published in my view. At the time, it caused a sensation. My copy is the 2008 Third Edition, and around 1,400 pages of tight text in two column format. Not only is it a magnificent reference tool, it is beautifully composed, in many places pithy, waspish and very amusing – written, one senses, with a constant twinkle in the author’s eye. At over £70, it’s not cheap, but a worthy investment in any historian’s library. Finding a second-hand copy might be the answer.
But the CBH is only part of the Arnold-Baker story. Born Wolfgang Charles Werner von Blumenthal in Berlin in 1918, the historian changed his name in 1939 and fought for Britain in World War II. He worked for MI6, became a barrister at the Inner Temple and taught with a professorship Law and Architecture for a time at City University. He died in 2009, but what a life!
Surely we can best New Scientist’s excellent selection. Who are your favourite middle-age achievers?