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History Books

Intensively researched, lovingly compiled, more accessible than ever, whatever your subject of interest - this is where you’ll find it.

July 2021 Featured Books

The Pathfinders

The Pathfinders

Author: Will Iredale Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/07/2021

From the opening pages describing the BBC outside broadcast recording of a nightingale singing in cellist Beatrice Harrison’s garden in Surrey as bombers pass overhead en route to Germany, Iredale makes it clear that he has done the work and is truly engaged with and passionate about his subject. From every small detail that he includes - the bombers mentioned above were heading for Mannheim and the BBC broadcast was cancelled for fear that it would warn the Nazis of their arrival – it is clear that Iredales’s aim is to honour and record the bravery of the Pathfinders as much as to give a clear account of their formation, training, equipment and role in making Bomber Command an effective force in restricting Nazi Germany’s industrial war output. Any book on the subject of wartime bombing runs the risk of glorifying destruction and disrespecting the dead. Iredale avoids this by taking great pains to treat the subject with compassion and objectivity. He features accounts of those who were on the ground on both sides as bombs landed, treating the stories of both with empathy and without judgment, while not shying away from hard truths. The stories of those who formed the units, and those who supported them, together with excellent attention to detail regarding military, technical and aviation facts and history, are drawn together through Iredale’s gift for compelling narrative which weaves tales of love and fear, bravery and failure through every chapter. With great intelligence, dignity and grace, The Pathfinders, gives voices to the voiceless. It is a worthy and admirable testament to the 20,000 from across the Commonwealth who signed up to carry out duties that many of us today would consider utterly unimaginable. Click here to find a short 'Taster' video clip taken from the exclusive LoveReading LitFest interview with Will Iredale, author of The Pathfinders.

Dutch Girl

Dutch Girl

Author: Robert Matzen Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Thoughtfully, in fact beautifully handled, this is an absolutely fascinating look at the early life of Audrey Hepburn as she lived through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Ask me to name my favourite Movie Stars and Audrey Hepburn would appear. I have watched her films and read biographies detailing her life, she made a difference both with her art and her humanitarian work. This book takes you to the time before she became a movie star, a time that has previously been invented and misinterpreted in accounts. In Dutch Girl, the detailed historical explanation of the Second World War flows over and around Audrey, allowing you to see just why and how she became the woman so much admired around the world. The foreword by Audrey’s son Luca Dotti actually tells you everything you need to know about this biography, he thanks author Robert Matzen, calling the book a true gift. The preface tells you a little about the meticulous research carried out for Dutch Girl, Robert Matzen says that his investigation took many twists and turns and also provided surprising answers. He has located quotes from Audrey about the Second World War, has included new interviews, and used archives to form a detailed, compelling account. The photos are fascinating and act as a visual support to what is already a vivid biography. Entering this book enables you to touch history, to feel the effects of the war as it would have affected Audrey. If you’re just looking for glitz and glamour you most certainly won’t find it here. Dutch Girl is the most compassionate and wise book, it takes you beyond and behind the image of the Hollywood star, to what lay beneath.   

Star Books
Black Teacher

Black Teacher

Author: Beryl Gilroy Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/07/2021

What a voice, what a story, what experiences, and what a vital record of the Windrush Generation experience, as told by a skilled teacher who came to Britain to be confronted with racist colour bars in place of the anticipated welcoming arms of the colonial Motherland. Black Teacher is an important, engaging and eye-opening piece of social history, and its author, Beryl Gilroy, has outstanding literary flair - her dialogue and evocation of character is first-class. Born in British Guyana in 1924, Beryl Gilroy arrived in Britain as an experienced, respected teacher and yet, “Here I was, over twenty years later, feeling and acting like a novice. I was afraid to go to school.” So Beryl said to her husband ahead of beginning her second term as the Headmistress of a North London infants school (in 1969, she was Camden’s first black headteacher). And the reason for her trepidation? The school was “full of tense, fighting people,” its pupils disruptive due to boredom and a lack of purpose, with parents who mutter that there’s “nothing but blacks everywhere.” And all this followed years of battling to secure a teaching position - Beryl moved to Britain in 1958 to study Child Development, but found herself continually overlooked for teaching positions. As a result, she took work as in an office, then as a lady’s maid, while never giving up on her vocation. Throughout the author is an inspiration - a loveable, valiant pioneer whose story, resilience and dedication had me enthralled from start to finish.

The Infiltrators

The Infiltrators

Author: Norman Ohler Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/07/2021

Summertime, 1935. On a lake near Berlin, a young man is out sailing when he glimpses a woman reclining in the prow of a passing boat. Their eyes meet - and one of history's greatest conspiracies is born. Harro Schulze-Boysen had already shed blood in the fight against Nazism by the time he and Libertas Haas-Heye began their whirlwind romance. She joined the cause, and soon the two lovers were leading a network of antifascists that stretched across Berlin's bohemian underworld. Harro himself infiltrated German intelligence and began funnelling Nazi battle plans to the Allies, including the details of Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union. But nothing could prepare Harro and Libertas for the betrayals they would suffer in this war of secrets - a struggle in which friend could be indistinguishable from foe. Drawing on unpublished diaries, letters and Gestapo files, Norman Ohler spins an unforgettable tale of love, heroism and sacrifice.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Greatest Beer Run Ever

The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Author: John Donohue Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/06/2021

At once personal, politically-charged, moving and witty, John Chick Donohue’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever is an engaging account of a Vietnam vet’s tracking down of his former comrades-in-arms to bring them a beer from home. Living up to its title, it really does read like the greatest beer run ever, and will have readers interested in the human side of history laughing, crying and thinking in equal measure. Like so many of life’s momentous ideas, a night in a bar prompts ex-Marine and merchant seaman Chick Donohue to hatch his plan to return to Vietnam. But unlike most bar-based ideas, Chick actually goes through with his. Armed with a list of names, a rucksack of beer, and hoping for a sprinkling of Irish luck, he sets off, though he admits that “I still had my doubts that I could pull it off.” This fascinating, enthralling account sees the author having to use his gift of the gab to press on past check-points before tackling multiple dangers and coming face to face with unexpected realities when he reaches Vietnam - realities that bring him to a big realisation: “I began to see that the protesters, however disrespectfully, were at least trying to stop this madness…If there is one thing that I learned as a result of my Vietnam experience it’s that government - all governments for that matter - are not to be trusted. Many politicians lie when it serves their interests.” This is tasty food for thought with universal resonance.

eBooks of the Month
No Moon as Witness

No Moon as Witness

Author: James Stejskal Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/05/2021

Winston Churchill famously instructed the head of the Special Operations Executive to Set Europe ablaze! Agents of both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services underwent rigorous training before making their way, undetected, into Occupied Europe. Working alone or in small cells, often cooperating with local resistance groups, agents undertook missions behind enemy lines involving sabotage, subversion, organizing resistance groups and intelligence-gathering. The SOE's notable successes included the destruction of a power station in France, the assassination of Himmler's deputy Reinhard Heyrich, and ending the Nazi atomic bomb program by destroying the heavy water plant at Vemork, Norway. OSS operatives established anti-Nazi resistance groups across Europe, and managed to smuggle operatives into Nazi Germany, including running one of the war's most important spies, German diplomat Fritz Kolbe. All of their missions were incredibly dangerous and many agents were captured, tortured, and ultimately killed - the life expectancy of an SOE wireless operator in occupied France was just six weeks. In No Moon as Witness, historian James Stejskal examines why these agencies were established, the training regimen and ingenious tools developed to enable agents to undertake their missions, their operational successes, and their legacy.

After the Wall Came Down

After the Wall Came Down

Author: Andrew Richards Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/03/2021

‘After the Wall Came Down’ is a well-researched account of how the British Army has changed, developed and adapted to the highly variable demands placed on it during the last 30 years. From regular deployment on the peace-keeping role in Northern Ireland to dealing with genocide in the Balkans, from rescue missions such as Sierra Leone through to wholesale war in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Never before has so much been asked of these young men and women. When our civil support services struggle, such as during flood, Fire Brigade strikes or the Foot and Mouth outbreak, it is the military our political leaders turn to in times of crisis. This book explains why we, the public, sleep soundly at night in the knowledge there are people out there who keep us safe. Andrew Richards provides a thoroughly absorbing account made all the more interesting due to the wide ranging contributions of men and women who were there, did the jobs, experienced the changes and often have the scars to prove it. An excellent read.

June 2021 Featured Books

The Sweetness of Water

The Sweetness of Water

Author: Nathan Harris Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/06/2021

In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they're soon discovered by the land's owner, George Walker, a man still reeling from the loss of his son in the war. When the brothers begin to live and work on George's farm, the tentative bonds of trust and union begin to blossom between the strangers. But this sanctuary survives on a knife's edge, and it isn't long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away . . .

Three Days In June

Three Days In June

Author: James O'Connell, Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike Format: Hardback Release Date: 03/06/2021

James (Scouse) O’Connell was a 22-year old Private in the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment when, along with his fellow soldiers, he was deployed to the Falklands to engage the Argentinian invaders. Three days in June describes the last few days of the war when 3 Para fought the battle of Mount Longdon. By the time the battle was over, 23 of their number were dead and 48, wounded. Sergeant Ian McKay was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. James O’Connell was left with life-changing injuries, the result of a bullet that entered his face through his nose and removed his cheek-bone and right eye. Candid, gritty and, at times, gruesome, this is a warts ‘n’ all account by the young men who were there, and told in their words. This makes the book all the more readable as it’s the perceptions, the humour, the fears, the honesty and the sheer heroism of these men that shines through.  From the moment I opened the first page of the hardback, I suspected I was going to be in for a treat. The book looks and feels of very high quality and the content certainly delivered.  A book for anyone with even the remotest interest in military history, this is a book to savour, enjoy and then have pride of place on any bookshelf. 

Star Books
An Extra Pair of Hands

An Extra Pair of Hands

Author: Kate Mosse Format: Hardback Release Date: 03/06/2021

An Extra Pair of Hands is an emotional journey, following Kate Mosse as she became a carer for her father, mother and then mother-in-law in a short space of time. This is a book about what it’s like to be a carer, not as a paid employee but to be there for your family at times of illness, crisis and increasing fragility – because you want to be, not because it’s just part of a job. I felt like I was there in her memories, not only during her practical day-to-day activities and dealing with their essential needs, but also the impact on her own mental health. Carers silently, stoically and heroically do what they do out of love and for little or no reward. It can be hard, both physically and emotionally – always thinking of, and dealing with, loved ones’ needs other than their own. In her book, Kate Mosse also touches on the impact of pandemic and lockdowns and the shielding of older & vulnerable people. An Extra Pair of Hands is a celebration of family and love and an exploration of grief and ageing – it’s raw, witty, heartbreaking and honest.

The Bomber Mafia

The Bomber Mafia

Author: Malcolm Gladwell Format: Audiobook Release Date: 27/04/2021

In The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, Malcolm Gladwell, author of New York Times bestsellers including Talking to Strangers and host of the podcast Revisionist History, uses original interviews, archival footage and his trademark insight to weave together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard. As listeners hear these stories unfurl, Gladwell examines one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history. Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists had a different view. This “Bomber Mafia” asked: What if precision bombing could, just by taking out critical choke points—industrial or transportation hubs—cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal? In Revisionist History, Gladwell re-examines moments from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. In The Bomber Mafia, he employs all the production techniques that make Revisionist History so engaging, stepping back from the bombing of Tokyo, the deadliest night of the war, and asking, “Was it worth it?” The attack was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics in Japan cost thousands of civilian lives but may have spared more by averting a planned US invasion. Things might have gone differently had LeMay’s predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. As a key member of the Bomber Mafia, Hansell’s theories of precision bombing had been foiled by bad weather and human error. When he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the darkest night of World War II. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.

Audiobooks of the Month
The Power of Geography

The Power of Geography

Author: Tim Marshall Format: Audiobook Release Date: 22/04/2021

Tim Marshall's global bestseller Prisoners of Geography showed how every nation’s choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Since then, the geography hasn’t changed. But the world has.** In this revelatory new book, Marshall explores ten regions that are set to shape global politics in a new age of great-power rivalry: Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Greece, Turkey, the Sahel, Ethiopia, Spain and Space. Find out why Europe’s next refugee crisis is closer than it thinks as trouble brews in the Sahel; why the Middle East must look beyond oil and sand to secure its future; why the eastern Mediterranean is one of the most volatile flashpoints of the twenty-first century; and why the Earth’s atmosphere is set to become the world’s next battleground. Delivered with Marshall’s trademark wit and insight, this is a lucid and gripping exploration of the power of geography to shape humanity’s past, present – and future. ‘Another outstanding guide to the modern world. Marshall is a master at explaining what you need to know and why.’ Peter Frankopan AS READ BY THE AUTHOR Includes pdf with maps.

Audiobooks of the Month

May 2021 Featured Books

Smoke Hole

Smoke Hole

Author: Martin Shaw Format: Hardback Release Date: 20/05/2021

A small thought-provoking book that holds huge impact, I recommend opening your heart and mind and letting the stories in. Martin Shaw, author, mythologist, and wilderness guide, describes himself as a teacher of old stories and a guide into deep places, which resonates profoundly with the contents of this book. He invites us to step into three stories and register, in fact, properly absorb their meaning. If you have an interest in stories, if you currently look around you and feel that there is something missing in your world, then allow yourself to fall through the layers of the story and explore. He mentions that he’s always written for those at a crossroads, and that now he finds we’re all at one, Smoke Hole is his attempt to meet one infection with another: beauty. I found myself nodding in agreement, his words make sense as does the way he sees the world. I enjoyed the way he brought meaning to the stories, he encourages you burrow and hunt and search before then letting the stories sit in their own glory and be truly themselves. Smoke Hole is a wonder of a book, beautiful in itself, and in what it encourages you to find, to be. I absolutely adored it. 

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time

Author: Craig Brown Format: Audiobook Release Date: 07/05/2021

From the award-winning author of Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret comes a fascinating, hilarious, kaleidoscopic biography of the Fab Four. John Updike compared them to ‘the sun coming out on an Easter morning’. Bob Dylan introduced them to drugs. The Duchess of Windsor adored them. Noel Coward despised them. JRR Tolkien snubbed them. The Rolling Stones copied them. Loenard Bernstein admired them. Muhammad Ali called them ‘little sissies’. Successive Prime Ministers sucked up to them. No one has remained unaffected by the music of The Beatles. As Queen Elizabeth II observed on her golden wedding anniversary, ‘Think what we would have missed if we had never heard The Beatles.’ One Two Three Four traces the chance fusion of the four key elements that made up The Beatles: fire (John), water (Paul), air (George) and earth (Ringo). It also tells the bizarre and often unfortunate tales of the disparate and colourful people within their orbit, among them Fred Lennon, Yoko Ono, the Maharishi, Aunt Mimi, Helen Shapiro, the con artist Magic Alex, Phil Spector, their psychedelic dentist John Riley and their failed nemesis, Det Sgt Norman Pilcher. From the bestselling author of Ma’am Darling comes a kaleidoscopic mixture of history, etymology, diaries, autobiography, fan letters, essays, parallel lives, party lists, charts, interviews, announcements and stories. One Two Three Four joyfully echoes the frenetic hurly-burly of an era.

Audiobooks of the Month
Beauty in Letters

Beauty in Letters

Author: John Wilson Format: Hardback Release Date: 29/04/2021

A truly beautiful and stimulating book that can be devoured in one heady go or dipped into and adored. Meet and wonder over illuminated addresses, books, scrolls or certificates in celebration of events. Covering a hundred years, sitting mainly in Victorian times, each is its own masterpiece, the designs so colourful and intricate, they shine from the page. On display are 50 letters with a particular theme, from royalty, to civic duty, to clubs and societies. John P Wilson explains that the recipient could be wealthy or famous, or an ordinary person who had provided special service. He states these letters: “provide an opportunity to obtain an insight into someone’s life and achievements, and allow a brief historical opening into social history”. Each letter sits with an explanation, but the focus here is the beauty of the letter. In our current times, the art of the letter is all but forgotten, and these treasures appear to be almost jewell-like in their wonder and intensity. I have quite fallen in love with this book, it really speaks to me. Beauty in Letters is a wonderful insight into the past, and a stunning display of true creativity and artwork.

Star Books
White Blood

White Blood

Author: Lawrence Trevelyan Weaver Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/04/2021

White Blood explores the history and benefits of human milk, a natural food source that most people take for granted. Human milk nourishes babies from the moment they are born, providing them with all the nutrients they need for growth and development in their early months. Yet the debate on ‘breast versus bottle’ continues, especially in countries where breastfeeding rates continue to decline. Written by a paediatrician, nutritional scientist and gastroenterologist with an interest in history, White Blood is far more than just a reference book looking at how milk is made in the human body. Using research and quotes from leading physicians, historians and social historians, this fascinating book shows how human milk has been crucial to infant health, growth and survival over the centuries. It’s beautifully illustrated with pictures – colour artifacts, paintings and photographs – from ancient civilisations to the present day. This book explores the vital question of ‘why breastfeeding matters?’ and taught me a lot!

History is such a broad and universal subject. After all, we’re all living through it and we all have our own. Here’s where you can get new perspectives on past events, discover a subject you’ve never explored or broaden your existing knowledge.

Our resident expert, Sue Baker, has compiled a wide range of great books covering everything from the major wars, or the creation of nations to the life-journeys of world-changing individuals. From social history (Family Britain by David Kynaston) and the World Wars (Swansong 1945 by Walter Kempowski) to the much loved periods of popular fiction authors (The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones; The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed Britain by Chris Skidmore): From the realities of often romanticised times (The Knight who saved England by Richard Brooks) to the lives of history’s extraordinary people (Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence). You’ll find a resource here to fascinate on many levels. History without histrionics.