History Books

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

October 2021 Featured Books

Fall

Fall

Author: John Preston Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/10/2021

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2021 A dramatic, gripping account of the rise and fall of the notorious business tycoon Robert Maxwell from the acclaimed author of A Very English Scandal Robert Maxwell was a very British success. Born an Orthodox Jew, he escaped the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, fought in the Second World War, and was decorated for his heroism with the Military Cross. He went on to become a Labour MP and an astonishingly successful businessman, owning a number of newspapers and publishing companies. But after his dead body was discovered floating in waters around his superyacht, his empire fell apart as long-hidden debts and unscrupulous dealings came to light. Within a few days, Maxwell was being reviled as the embodiment of greed and corruption. What went so wrong? How did a man who had once laid such store on the importance of ethics and good behaviour become reduced to a bloated, amoral wreck? In this gripping book, John Preston delivers the definitive account of Maxwell's extraordinary rise and scandalous fall. 'I have a shelf full of books about frauds, but this one is by far the most enjoyable' Craig Brown, author of Ma'am Darling

Free

Free

Author: Lea Ypi Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/10/2021

'I never asked myself about the meaning of freedom until the day I hugged Stalin. From close up, he was much taller than I expected.' Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was almost impossible to visit, almost impossible to leave. It was a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. To Lea, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope. Then, in December 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. The statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote freely, wear what they liked and worship as they wished. There was no longer anything to fear from prying ears. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy on crowded ships, only to be sent back. Predatory pyramid schemes eventually bankrupted the country, leading to violent conflict. As one generation's aspirations became another's disillusionment, and as her own family's secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what freedom really meant. Free is an engrossing memoir of coming of age amid political upheaval. With acute insight and wit, Lea Ypi traces the limits of progress and the burden of the past, illuminating the spaces between ideals and reality, and the hopes and fears of people pulled up by the sweep of history.

Renegades

Renegades

Author: Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen Format: Hardback Release Date: 26/10/2021

Two long-time friends share an intimate and urgent conversation about life, music and their enduring love of America, with all its challenges and contradictions, in this stunningly-produced expansion of their ground-breaking Higher Ground podcast, featuring more than 350 photographs, exclusive bonus content, and never-before-seen archival material. Renegades: Born in the USA is a candid, revealing, and entertaining dialogue between President Barack Obama and legendary musician Bruce Springsteen that explores everything from their origin stories and career-defining moments to their country's polarized politics and the growing distance between the American Dream and the American reality. Filled with full-colour photographs and rare archival material, it is a compelling and beautifully illustrated portrait of two outsiders-one Black and one white-looking for a way to connect their unconventional searches for meaning, identity, and community with the American story itself. It includes: · Original introductions by President Obama and Bruce Springsteen · Exclusive new material from the Renegades podcast recording sessions · Obama's never-before-seen annotated speeches, including his "Remarks at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches · Springsteen's handwritten lyrics for songs spanning his 50-year-long career · Rare and exclusive photographs from the authors' personal archives · Historical photographs and documents that provide rich visual context for their conversation. In a recording studio stocked with dozens of guitars, and on at least one Corvette ride, Obama and Springsteen discuss marriage and fatherhood, race and masculinity, the lure of the open road and the call back to home. They also compare notes on their favourite protest songs, the most inspiring American heroes of all time, and more. Along the way, they reveal their passion for-and the occasional toll of-telling a bigger, truer story about America throughout their careers, and explore how their fractured country might begin to find its way back toward unity.

The Library

The Library

Author: Arthur der Weduwen, Andrew Pettegree Format: Hardback Release Date: 14/10/2021

A fascinating in-depth history of the library, this book weaves its way through time and is overflowing with tidbits and facts. The Library calls itself a: “fragile history”, and as beleaguered as our public libraries are today, you can see their past suffering too. This isn’t a light and breezy offering, it is serious, and seriously epic in its scope. I took my time, and soaked up the information, from learning about the gathering of baked clay tablets in Mesopotamia, how Popes, Kings, and Monasteries affected Libraries, the arrival of vertical shelving rather than trunks, all the way through and past the Second World War. I have always supported the idea of the library, but never before really thought about how they came into being, how books are selected, the discrimination and censorship that has taken place. Libraries should be a safe welcoming place for everyone, but that of course depends on a huge range of factors, all of which are detailed here. Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree have spent time in over 300 libraries and archives, their acknowledgements and research material is listed. If you are interested in a detailed thought-provoking look into the history of the library, then The Library will answer your call. Chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
Empireland

Empireland

Author: Sathnam Sanghera Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/10/2021

EMPIRE explains why there are millions of Britons living worldwide. EMPIRE explains Brexit and the feeling that we are exceptional. EMPIRE explains our distrust of cleverness. EMPIRE explains Britain's particular brand of racism. Strangely hidden from view, the British Empire remains a subject of both shame and glorification. In his bestselling book, Sathnam Sanghera shows how our imperial past is everywhere: from how we live and think to the foundation of the NHS and even our response to the COVID-19 crisis. At a time of great division, when we are arguing about what it means to be British, Empireland is a groundbreaking revelation - a much-needed and enlightening portrait of contemporary British society, shining a light on everything that usually gets left unsaid. 

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Author: Jeff Young Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/10/2021

Liverpool is a city of ghosts. Through the centuries, millions have lived here or come to find a new life, and found safe harbour. More than any other city in Britain its history resonates in the buildings, landscapes and stories that have seeped into the lives of its inhabitants. n Ghost Town, Jeff Young takes us on a journey through the Liverpool of his childhood - down back alleys and through arcades, into vanished tenements and oyster bars, strip tease pubs and theatres. We watch as he turns from schoolboy truant into an artist obsessed with Kafka, Terence Davies and The Fall. Along the way he conjures ghosts and puts hexes on the developers who've ruined the city of his dreams. Layering memoir, history, photography and more this is a highly original approach to this great city.

Atlas of Imagined Places from Lilliput to Gotham City

Atlas of Imagined Places from Lilliput to Gotham City

Author: Matt Brown, Rhys B. Davies Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/09/2021

From Stephen King's Salem's Lot to superhero Wakanda, from Lilliput of Gulliver's Travels to Springfield in The Simpsons, a wondrous atlas of imagined places around the world. Locations from film, tv, literature, myths, comics and video games are plotted in a series of beautiful vintage-looking maps. The maps feature fictional buildings, towns, cities and countries plus mountains and rivers, oceans and seas. Ever wondered where the Bates Motel was based? Or Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life? The authors have taken years to research the likely geography of thousands of popular culture locations that have become almost real to us. Sometimes these are easy to work out but other times a bit of detective work is needed and the authors have been those detectives. By looking at the maps, you'll find that the revolution at Animal Farm happened next to Winnie the Pooh's home. Each location has an an extended index entry plus coordinates so you can find it on the maps. Illuminating essays accompanying the maps give a great insight into the stories behind the imaginary places, from Harry Potter's wizardry to Stone Age Bedrock in the Flintstones. A stunning map collection of invented geography and topography drawn from the world's imagination. Fascinating, beautiful and an essential book for any popular culture fan and map enthusiast.

September 2021 Featured Books

Blood Legacy

Blood Legacy

Author: Alex Renton Format: Hardback Release Date: 20/09/2021

LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE Through the story of his own family's history as slave and plantation owners, Alex Renton looks at how we owe it to the present to understand the legacy of the past. When British Caribbean slavery was abolished across most of the British Empire in 1833, it was not the newly liberated who received compensation, but the tens of thousands of enslavers who were paid millions of pounds in government money. The descendants of some of those slave owners are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain today. A group of Caribbean countries is calling on ten European nations to discuss the payment of trillions of dollars for the damage done by transatlantic slavery and its continuing legacy. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are causing increasing numbers of white people to reflect on how this history of abuse and exploitation has benefited them. Blood Legacy explores what inheritance - political, economic, moral and spiritual - has been passed to the descendants of the slave owners and the descendants of the enslaved. He also asks, crucially, how the former - himself among them - can begin to make reparations for the past.

Park Life Around the World in 50 Parks

Park Life Around the World in 50 Parks

Author: Tom Chesshyre Format: Ebook Release Date: 09/09/2021

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that people love parks As horizons shrank, we took stock. At first, a sense of panic set in: nowhere to go, nothing to do... Then we all went to the park, and we realized something: we need greenery - we crave it. Whether we're in Colombia or Korea, America or Australia, urban parks are places where we can find calm amid the chaos. They can also (more often than we may realize) conceal intriguing hidden histories, and can tell us something about modern life in our frenzied world, too. With fondness and humour, travel writer Tom Chesshyre recalls 50 of his favourite urban parks from across the world, in a love letter to the green escapes that bring us joy in our cities.

eBooks of the Month
Then a Wind Blew

Then a Wind Blew

Author: Kay Powell Format: Paperback Release Date: 11/01/2021

Kay Powell’s Then a Wind Blew is at once atmospheric, lyrical, poignant and enlightening, made all the more engaging by the distinct and captivating voices of the three woman whose lives and experiences it lays bare, during the final months of brutal war in Rhodesia, ahead of it becoming Zimbabwe. Throughout, personal details and circumstances are finely enmeshed with historic and political contexts, with the gripping, smoothly-paced story suffused in the author’s clear love for the country. The three women we meet in these pages could hardly be more different, yet the war entwines their lives, and through them we encounter a rich, rounded range of experiences. White Rhodesian settler Susan has lost a son in the war, while Beth is a missionary nun on an African Reserve. Then there’s Nyanye, a freedom fighter who’s fled to a guerrilla camp in Mozambique in the wake of her village being destroyed. Offering lesser-seen insights into women’s direct experiences of war, this book is both deeply personal and universal, showing - ultimately - how we are linked by common bonds in the most horrific, divisive of circumstances. If you read and enjoy this, you’d do well to check out other works published by Weaver Press, an independent Zimbabwean publisher that works closely with NGOs in the fields of arts, culture, development and human rights.

August 2021 Featured Books

Waves Across the South

Waves Across the South

Author: Sujit Sivasundaram Format: Paperback Release Date: 19/08/2021

British Academy Book Prize shortlist Starting from the ocean and from the forgotten histories of ocean-facing communities, this is a new history of the making of our world. After revolutions in America and France, a wave of tumult coursed the globe from 1790 to 1850. It was a moment of unprecedented change and violence especially for indigenous peoples. By 1850 vibrant public debate between colonised communities had exploded in port cities. Yet in the midst of all of this, Britain struck out by sea and established its supremacy over the Indian and Pacific Oceans, overtaking the French and Dutch as well as other rivals. Cambridge historian Sujit Sivasundaram brings together his work in far-flung archives across the world and the best new academic research in this remarkably creative book. Too often, history is told from the northern hemisphere, with modernity, knowledge, selfhood and politics moving from Europe to influence the rest of the world. This book traces the origins of our times from the perspective of indigenous and non-European people in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. From Aboriginal Australians to Parsis and from Mauritians to Malays, people asserted their place and their future as the British empire drove unexpected change. The tragedy of colonisation was that it reversed the immense possibilities for liberty, humanity and equality in this period. Waves Across the South insists on the significance of the environment; the waves of the Bay of Bengal or the Tasman Sea were the context for this story. Sivasundaram tells how revolution, empire and counter-revolt crashed in the global South. Naval war, imperial rivalry and oceanic trade had their parts to play, but so did hope, false promise, rebellion, knowledge and the pursuit of being modern. This is a compulsive story full of cultural depth and range, a world history that speaks to urgent concerns today. The book weaves a bracingly fresh account of the origins of the British empire. Only when looking from the water can we understand where we are now.

Diamonds In The Mud

Diamonds In The Mud

Author: Brian Reade Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/08/2021

If you don’t read the Daily Mirror, or have much interest in football, you may not know of columnist and commentator Brian Reade. In which case you have a real treat in store and should pick up a copy of this book and immerse yourself in it immediately. No really, stop reading this review and do it now.  From its title, drawn from a kerbside conversation in Garston before a mural of Spanish Civil War veteran and trade union leader, Jack Jones, and its subtly adapted John Lennon lyric subtitle, Reade launches into a powerful and principled analysis of why, as a nation, we have been duped into the reverence and recognition of the supposedly great and the good, when all too often it is those of more humble backgrounds who are the true heroes.  To crassly paraphrase Mr Reade, have you ever thought for a moment why the NHS staff who risked their lives and worked obscene hours in the toughest of conditions got a national clap and yet still fight for a modest pay rise, while many of those who sold dodgy PPE goods ended up with millions in the bank and big slaps on the back from our political classes? In drawing on his deep knowledge, superb research and award winning articles, and ranging across illustrative chapters on Dennis Skinner, Barbara Castle, Doreen Lawrence, the Hillsborough Mothers, Muhammed Ali and many more, Reade paints a picture of the corrupt, unspoken and all too often hidden systems that suppress real social mobility, hinder justice and prevent true heroes from receiving the credit they so richly deserve. As Ali put it to Reade in a 2001 interview at his Berrien Springs, Michigan home, “Service for others is the rent we pay on earth.” Reade has done us all a great service with this heart-wrenching, anger-inducing, truth-telling book that will make you weep with frustration while making you profoundly aware of the true nature of heroism and those who really deserve the statues, medals and infinite praise of grateful nations. It is the most affecting and truest hymn to stalwart, silent  - and too often silenced - heroism that you will read this year, and for many years to come.

Star Books
Splinter on the Tide

Splinter on the Tide

Author: Phillip Parotti Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/07/2021

There is a great deal to commend this engaging account of a WWII sailor’s life. For those who are fans of punctilious attention to naval and nautical detail, there is plenty here. For anyone who enjoys a sense of the era, the use of language in the dialogue and prose, and the descriptions of the food and clothing of 1940’s East Coast USA are spot on.  Fitting somewhere between a ‘how to’ guide and personal log, Splinter on the Tide gives an enlightening overview of the personal, personnel and service politics that determine a small vessel’s safety and success. Through the particularly well drawn character of Lt. (j.g.) Ashford Miller, USNR, the responsibilities, morality and attention to detail required for command are illustrated with both an endearing lightness and depth of understanding. While the tension is delivered in calm, understated measures, partially due to Parotti’s multi-conditional prose style and emphasis on small-business scene settings, the narrative zips along and truly engages, in the manner of a light, less “clipped accent” version of the 1942 British patriotic war film In Which We Serve. What prevents this from being a humdrum military tale is the crisp sense of verisimilitude, coupled with a delightfully tender, wistful timbre. It is at heart a respectful and honourable rendering of the countless heroes, whose brave and diligent duty protected the convoys of merchant shipping that were the traffic of much needed supplies during those bleak and dangerous years.  Many publications in this area glamorise the dynamic and the duty. Splinter on the Tide has no need to do so, its quiet, unpretentious tone does trick very nicely indeed.

The Commandos: Set Europe Ablaze

The Commandos: Set Europe Ablaze

Author: Dick Camp Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/07/2021

Richard Camp served as a US Marine officer for 26 years before retiring in 1988. After retiring, he became the Deputy Director of the Marine Corps' History Division and then Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's VP for Museum Operations at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. He is an accomplished historian with over 150 published articles and 14 books to his name covering military subjects from WWII through to more recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Commandos is Camp’s first venture into fiction. The author’s detailed knowledge of US Marine Corps history, procedure and language combined with meticulous research combine to create a highly authentic story set in the early part of WWII where a small group of Marines are posted to train with the newly created British commando forces. As their training draws near to completion, the team is notified of an urgent mission to test their newly acquired skills. They must destroy a radar facility on the German-held of Alderney off the coast of France. This is a novel for all enthusiasts of military fiction. As with all such books, if they are a good enough read, the reader is drawn into the story through the medium of fiction and then, as the story progresses you find yourself learning about the people, their training methods, the procedures and all manner of other fascinating aspects pertinent to the time. A really excellent book. Good characters, a great story and a fascinating insight into the lives of our first special-forces soldiers.

Old Testament Warriors

Old Testament Warriors

Author: Simon Elliott Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/05/2021

Dr. Elliott states in his introduction to this fascinating volume that his ambition is bold; “…to detail conflict from the beginning of warfare itself in the Near East and Middle East from around 9000 BC through to the onset of the Classical period around 500 BC.” Bold indeed, and delivered in such crisp and well ordered chapters that Old Testament Warriors is as much master class in concision as it is admirable in its comprehensiveness. Starting out with clear definitions for how humanity has organised settlements and communities, to what warfare is, “the extreme end of organised aggression… involving a stratified polity”, Elliott treats us to a whistle-stop tour of every major civilisation that grew or protected itself through armed conflict across nigh on nine millennia. With an attention to detail that encompasses styles of armour, the game changing effects of the compound bow and various developments in chariot technology, together with brief analyses of who was responsible for them, - in the case of chariots, the Hyksos, the Hurrians and the Mitanni in the 2nd millennium BC – Elliott also presents fascinating facts about the sizes and structures of various armies and how and by whom power over and control of them was handled. For a non- academic reader interested in the history of organised warfare, this is an eye-opening, absorbing book written by an author who knows and loves his subject and who has the means and skill to communicate his knowledge crisply, clearly and with great verve.   Albert Einstein famously said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it” That Elliot is able to cover such huge tracts of geography and chronology in such a compact volume shows that he is the master of his subject. And what an enthralling subject it is.

The White Ship

The White Ship

Author: Charles Spencer Format: Audiobook Release Date: 17/09/2020

PICKED AS A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020 BY THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, THE GUARDIAN, THE DAILY MAIL AND THE DAILY EXPRESS. The sinking of the White Ship in 1120 is one of the greatest disasters England has ever suffered. In one catastrophic night, the king’s heir and the flower of Anglo-Norman society were drowned and the future of the crown was thrown violently off course. In a riveting narrative, Charles Spencer follows the story from the Norman Conquest through to the decades that would become known as the Anarchy: a civil war of untold violence that saw families turn in on each other with English and Norman barons, rebellious Welsh princes and the Scottish king all playing a part in a desperate game of thrones. All because of the loss of one vessel – the White Ship – the medieval Titanic.

Audiobooks of the Month

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.