Henry “Chips” Channon (1897–1958) spent his life inventing himself as an aristocrat. He made no bones about it. More than mere social climbing, this can only have been a personality disorder of a harmless kind. A genial character when all was said and done, he added to the gaiety of the British nation. Some of the world’s most revealing works of literature are first-person accounts of self-discovery, and this diary belongs on the same shelf.

The indispensable first step was to renounce the Chicago into which he was born in 1897; it was a “cauldron of horror.” Life in America, he shuddered, is “unmeaning and void.” Some 231 Americans had been killed at a 1936 Independence Day celebration, and this prompts him to the reflection “what a pity that there were not more.” If America were to triumph, he says in one sweeping statement,...


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