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Farewell to Findlay Dunachie

A few days ago, Findlay Dunachie died.

His widow Lyn asked us to send her a few words of appeciation concerning his contributions to Samizdata, and we sent her the following, some of which will be read out at Findlay’s funeral, which is to be held this coming Tuesday. These few hastily composed reflections were not written with a view to publication on Samizdata, but when we asked Lyn if she would object to them being used for this purpose also, she very kindly agreed.

Last night we at Samizdata received the sad news of the death of Findlay Dunachie. He had recently told us that he was, he believed, dying, so this was not a complete surprise. But we were still greatly saddened. Only one of our number ever actually met Findlay, and we know him best through many phone conversations, but above all through his writings for Samizdata. Selfishly, we regret that there will be no more such writings.

Samizdata is a weblog – “blog” for short – devoted to spreading news and comment, profundity and triviality, concerning human freedom, human progress, and about the many and various enemies of these things. We seek to celebrate and to spread the ideas of, approximately speaking, classical liberalism and libertarianism which Findlay Dunachie held dear.

For a number of years, Findlay had been writing review articles about some of the many books he had been reading, and in October 2003, having received a great trove of these writings, we at Samizdata began to publish them.

Almost all of Findlay’s writings for Samizdata were book reviews of one kind or another. In total we published just under fifty such articles, the most recent one being a timely tour de force about Nelson, the Battle of Trafalgar, about the man Nelson’s death left in command of his fleet, Admiral Collingwood, and about the aftermath and consequences of the battle.

Looking down the long list of topics covered, a few things stand out. Findlay wrote about the whole world and about the world’s long varied history. He did not confine himself to his own country or culture, or to his own time. However, a deep love of Britain, its language, its institutions, and of Britain’s on-the-whole beneficial and liberal effects upon the world is also strongly evident in Findlay’s writings, as is an interest in the various forces arrayed against such influences – continental European despotism, such as that against which Nelson fought, such as communism in it various forms, and such as the more repellent aspects of Islam throughout its long history.

Findlay’s professional background as a scientist was also reflected in his interest in the claims of, and the most scrupulous and eloquent critics of, the environmental movement, so much of which involves making misleading or false claims about science and about technology, and about the largely beneficial effects of technological progress.

From the start Findlay’s writings were hugely appreciated, by a readership concentrated in but by no means confined to Britain and the USA. We know this, because at Samizdata our readers are able to comment. And concerning Findlay’s many writings, comment they did, gratefully, effusively, and continuously. It was regularly said and never contested that Findlay’s reviews were among the best things if not the best things to be found on Samizdata. Since, on the whole, Findlay tried to read books that he himself would end up liking and mostly succeeded, he surely made a not insignificant contribution to their sales figures.

His widow Lyn tells us that it gave Findlay enormous pleasure to find readers for his writings at this late and presumably rather painful time in his life. The feeling, but not the pain, is entirely mutual. It gave us huge pleasure to have published Findlay’s writings.

Those of us who had direct dealings with Findlay, by phone or in person, formed the impression that he was, quite aside from being an attractive and formidable intellect, also a thoroughly nice man whom it would have been a great pleasure to have known a lot better than we did, and to learn a lot more of what else he did in his life besides write things for Samizdata. Geography made that difficult. But modern electronic communication, in the form of the internet, made it possible for Findlay to find readers who would otherwise never have encountered his mind and writings.

To all his closer and closest friends and loved ones we at Samizdata say: we hope and believe that we helped to make the last two years, for Findlay, that little bit better than they would otherwise have been. If so, this is only fair, because he did exactly the same, and more, for us and for many readers the world over.

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34 comments to Farewell to Findlay Dunachie

  • This is awful. Sad news indeed. We have lost one of our best.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am very sorry to hear this. He was a wonderful writer. May he rest in peace. My sympathies to his family and friends.

  • Veerity

    What a loss! I loved his reviews which were not only beautifully written, but were full of background which he shared with such elegance and lack of pretension.

    The piece you wrote is very touching, Brian. Tears came to my eyes.


  • anonymous coward

    How very sad! His articles were always a surprise treat and an intellectual feast, and I am glad he and Samizdata shared them with the world. No doubt many of us would appreciate a link to the collection.

    May his widow receive some comfort from knowing that so many people unknown to her around the globe admired and thanked her late husband in their hearts for having such a roving and generous intellect. His death is truly a loss.

    Ave atque vale!

  • David H

    Very sad news indeed – it was always a pleasure to load up Samizdata.net and find another of Findlay’s reviews posted up.

    My commiserations to his family.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    I loved his reviews. I will miss him.

  • ernest young


    What sad news.

    Thank you for sharing your eulogy with us, it is part of all that makes us regular readers of Samizdata feel that we are among friends when we drop by.

    What are friends if they are not around when sadness touches our lives?

    Please add my name to the long list of those offering sympathy and condolences to the bereaved.

    May he Rest in Peace!

  • I’m stunned, this is out of the blue. He’ll be missed, he had wonderful insights, and I wish I’d known him better.

  • Euan Gray

    Very sad. Always enjoyed his comprehensive and intelligent reviews.

    Requiescat in pace.


  • GCooper

    This is both shocking and sad news. Shocking because one of Mr Dunachie’s strengths was that it was impossible to guess how old he was, or much at all about his background other than that, as others have, he had a fine, informed mind.

    I had often wondered, and in the end assumed he must be young. In the light of this sad news, possibly he was not.

    Thank you for conveying the sad news with such sensitivity, Mr Micklethwait.

  • It is worth me adding that this afternoon, I received – and answered as best I could – an email from Lyn Dunachie about whether it was possible to print out Samizdata comments. (I said copy and paste them into Word for Windows. That seems to work.)

    The point being that Lyn will definitely appreciate all these comments, and any more that Samizdata readers feel inclined to add.

    She also mentioned the complexities of guiding people unfamiliar with its workings around Samizdata, and towards Findlay’s writings in particular.

    Especially the final one about Trafalgar, of course, which Findlay wrote knowing that it would be his last piece here.

  • nobody important

    This is a wretched shock, totally out of the blue. Please make an index of his writings here, so that they can all be found at one link. Deepest sympathies to his widow.


  • I only recently came here, and his Trafalgar review was the first thing I read. Made me subscribe to the feed immediately. Didn’t know him at all, but a fine writer is always to be missed.

  • Dale Amon

    I too took it for granted that we would be honoured by the presence of his articles in our publication for many years to come. That we will not is a shock.

    I will deeply miss his tour de force reviews and I regret that I did not get to meet and know the man behind the words.

  • RAB

    Damn! That’s two of the good guys gone within a week.
    Warspite, a much loved contributor to the Rottweiler site has also died.
    Ladies & Gentlemen, we must renew our scholarship, sharpen our wits and polish our prose to be worthy of those two good men.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Goodbye, Mr. Dunachie. To his wife, I can only say: I know your loss. It will take a long, long time to diminish, and there is really nothing positive or encouranging to say. Horrible though that is, you should know it. It does not pass easily. I am over a year into the loss of my wife, and as far as I can see it, it could have been a month ago. But it does get better. Very, very slowly–but it does get better. Good luck, and though I am not religious, if you are, then God bless.

  • mike

    I am very saddened to hear of Findlay Dunachie’s passing on. His reviews were the first thing I would read on visiting a fresh Samizdata page.

    Those reviews were always wonderfully informative not merely for the accuracy of reported facts about the books and authors, but also for the presence of Findlay’s own supplementary (and often superior) knowledge on their subjects; being made aware of one’s own ignorance by Findlay Dunachie was always a charming experience and one I hope will be shared by many more readers to come.

  • David B. Wildgoose

    That’s a shame. I particularly enjoyed his Trafalgar Review and I’m glad he was able to finish it before the end.

    Heartfelt commiserations.

  • I’m shocked – who would have guessed that Mr Dunachie was fading judging by the literary triumph that was his recent Nelson/Trafalgar review; a more erudite example of the art I have yet to read. I hasten to add that all his work here has been both greatly enjoyable and informative. Samizdata has lost one of its very finest minds.

    I am saddened, yet my link with Mr Dunachie was tenuous and indirect, so it’s obvious such sadness pales into insignificance compared to that felt by Mr Dunachie’s loved ones. My deepest condolences to Mrs Dunachie and family.


  • John R

    Please relay my condolences to his family. I have much enjoyed his writings (which have pointed me to books I may never have otherwise discovered) and will miss his insights.

  • He was a true scholar, not just in the prodigous amount he knew but also in the assured way he brought that information together. May he rest in peace.

  • Tatyana

    I am saddened reading this news. Please add my condolences to the widow and the family.

    I will miss his writings here, his was precious ability to bring ideas of liberty into wide historical and cultural perspective.

    What a sad day.

  • sesquipedalian

    Findlay Dunachie’s detailed pieces were uniquely substantial, well researched and well presented. His Trafalgar piece was outstanding!

  • Anthony

    I’ll miss his book reviews.

    Hail and farewell.

  • Commiserations to his family and to all you here at Samizdata. His reviews will be sorely missed by your regular readers.

  • Lexington Green

    His review posts were superb, and added a lot to the blog.

    Rest in peace.

  • A request: Could you make a button off to the side that brought you to a list of links to all his review posts? I am sure I read far fewer than 50 of them, and it would be good to have them all in one place to look through them. Others may also wish to do so.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I’d like to second Lexinton Green’s suggestion. I would also like to repeat a point I made after reading the wonderful reviews about events surrounding and following Trafalgar: that the writings should be published in hard form, perhaps by the Libertarian Alliance, or the Social Affairs Unit. It would be a shame to let this material go.

  • Verity

    I’d like to third it.

  • Due to the fact Samizdata is gagging Moveable Type, we have had to remove the author archives for now (you may recall how slow the site was getting a few months back).

    Eventually, we will be moving to Expression Engine, which is much more industrial grade, and the author archives will return in some form.

    In the meantime, simply going to the category archive for Book Reviews will overwhelmingly yield Findlay’s articles.

  • Perry

    Good news about moving to Expression Engine, and I am very glad you have shared with the readers what you told me when I was concocting the piece and asking you the same thing.

    And yes, you are right, if you just click on Book reviews, you basically get, with a few interruptions, Findlay’s entire Samizdata output.

    Did he ever write anything for Samizdata that was NOT a book review? I don’t recall anything.

  • mac

    This is a sad thing. It was always such a pleasure to read his thoughtful and perceptive views on books. He must have been a wonderful and delightful man to be around. My deepest sympathies to Mrs. Dunachie as well as my grateful thanks for sparing him long enough to write the articles he did for us. May he rest in peace.

  • Kim du Toit

    Oh, hell. I LOVED Findlay’s writing. I can only imagine what his conversation was like.

    My deepest condolences to his Mrs.

    A black day, all around.

  • Well written, Brian. And thank you (too late) Findlay for pointing us all at some wonderful and fascinating things – I just finished reading and hugely enjoying Charles Allen’s excellent The Search for the Buddha, which I would never otherwise have heard of.