History Books

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

Romans at War

Romans at War

Author: Simon Elliott Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/10/2020

Setting out to show “how the Roman military changed from one always on the front foot, driving the borders of the Republic and early Empire ever forward … to one acting as the bulwark on the Roman limes as offence turned to defence”, Dr Simon Elliott’s Romans at War draws on the huge canon of existing literature on the Roman military, while also being informed by the author’s pioneering primary research. Elliott’s scholarly lucidity is shot-through with an engaging, entertaining style, which means the keen layperson will find his exhaustive assessment of the Roman military’s key chronological phases (the Republic, the Principate Empire and the Dominate Empire) eminently accessible. Readers already familiar with literature on this subject will be especially interested in the author’s assertion that late Roman military leaders were effectively independent warlords. Elliott also shares new research into the Severan campaign in 3rd century Scotland, and offers a fresh evaluation of late Roman troops. Accompanied by a wealth of colour photography, and supported by a detailed timeline, thorough glossary and maps, this is a mightily impressive - and edifying - feat. 

Cross-dressed to Kill

Cross-dressed to Kill

Author: Vivien Morgan Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/10/2020

Crossed-Dressed to Kill is an incredibly interesting book filled with instances from the 17th century onwards of women who dressed as men in order to go to war. Some of the names of these women were known to me, Anne Bonny the 18th century Pirate for one, however this book gave me more insight into their history, and there were many other women who I was introduced to for the first time. This is a fascinating side of history with the author’s detailed research shining a spotlight on the women who defied their gender roles in order to participate in military action.  The account of each woman is detailed, although brief, this means you could happily flick through the pages, reading about a couple of brave women at a time, or read cover to cover. At the end of each account there is a concluding summary, which not only rounds our each story but highlights some of the patriarchal views of the time. Some of these stories are more sad than others, but all are incredibly interesting with plenty of references included at the end of the book to allow for personal research and further reading. I never enjoyed History at school, but as an adult I love learning about the past and I think that stories like these should be shared in schools, at the very least to demonstrate that the old-fashioned notion of the “traditional” role of women, didn’t work even at the height of it’s popularity.

Indie Books We Love
The Haunting of Alma Fielding

The Haunting of Alma Fielding

Author: Kate Summerscale Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/10/2020

A truly fascinating investigative piece focusing on journalist and ghost hunter Nandor Fodor who researched Alma Fielding in 1938 after a poltergeist attack. Described as historical narrative non fiction, Kate Summerscale opens a door into the world of spiritualism just as the Second World War was starting. Her prologue explains that she visited the Society for Psychical Research to look up Nandor Fodor and found his original papers including the dossier on Alma. It contained transcripts of her seances, interviews, lab reports, x-rays copies of her contracts, notes, sketches and photographs. The author sets out to explore the link between suffering and the supernatural. This is as much about Fodor as it is Fielding, their link at times almost disturbing. The story is laid out before you, Kate Summerscale thoughtfully relays the information without prejudice, and doesn’t judge, allowing the reader to form their own thoughts. The Haunting of Alma Fielding is a riveting read encouraging thorough yet reflective reasoning that is likely to continue long after the tale is told.  

Pandora's Jar

Pandora's Jar

Author: Natalie Haynes Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/10/2020

You are encouraged to view the Greek myths in a completely new way with this fascinating book that focuses rather wonderfully on the women from the tales. Natalie Haynes “redresses the imbalance… she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk”. She has chosen ten women and here we see how they were actually viewed in the ancient world. These are stories that include Hera, Athena, Artemis, Eurydice, and Penelope. As the author explains, of the eight tragedies written by Eurpides that survive today, seven were titled by women, only one included a man. Yet over the years the stories have altered, the women have been overshadowed, made into monsters,  or they even brought about the downfall of men. “Which version of a story we choose to tell... reflect both the teller and the reader. They are not villains, victims, wives and monsters: they are people”. Pandora’s Jar really is the most interesting and readable book, it sits on the Liz Picks of the Month and comes as highly recommended by me.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
Secret Britain

Secret Britain

Author: Mary-Ann Ochota Format: Hardback Release Date: 29/09/2020

Secret Britain is a fascinating collection of ancient wonders curated for print by TV presenter and anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota. An Anglo-Saxon mystic princess.. A wild circle of thorns.. A naked pagan.. A queen’s lost ring.. A cure for witchcraft.. Secrets such as these are unearthed from page to page. Everything from tiny artefacts to large structures are included, representing the entire land from Orkney to Cornwall. The book is packed with excellent photography and will improve the look of any coffee table, but you may also want to find space for it under your passenger seat because if you like a staycation there is a strong chance that you will find yourself near at least one of these mysterious sites. Not only is the book geographically diverse and full of unexpected treasures, but the timeline they span is extraordinary, starting 33,000 years ago and ending up in 1916; simply layer upon layer of heritage. The author’s descriptions are both tantalising and informative, posing many unanswered questions as well as intriguing answers, or at least alternative explanations. Mary-Ann Ochota tells these stories with great flourish and a passion for her subject, opening doors to the past which the most inquisitive of us will want to pass through. ~ Greg Hackett Greg Hackett is the Founder & Director of the London Mountain Film Festival  

On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service

On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service

Author: Eric Thompson Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/09/2020

A well-written book offering readers a fascinating glimpse into the little-known world of the modern Navy and its submarine service.  Littered with amusing stories and anecdotes, Thompson’s writing entertains as well as informs.  I was a little surprised some of the content isn’t covered by the Official Secrets Act but we must be grateful that its time constraints allow us to now read what was actually going on beneath the waves and how these dedicated people helped prevent the Cold War becoming more.

How to Cook: The Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe

How to Cook: The Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe

Author: Annie Gray, Andrew Hann Format: Hardback Release Date: 24/09/2020

Sparked by the gargantuan global popularity of English Heritage’s The Victorian Way YouTube series, How to Cook the Victorian Way presents the life and recipes of the real Mrs Crocombe. Head cook at Audley End House from 1878 to 1884, her handwritten cookery book was passed down through her family and uniquely reveals the tastes and dining habits of Victorian Britons. With context on Audley End House, “one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England”, and absorbing detail on the kitchens of Mrs Crocombe’s era (the book is co-authored by Andrew Hann, head of the historians’ team at English Heritage), her recipes have been modernized by food historian Annie Gray, yet retain their authenticity. Some of them are familiar - pancakes, ginger beer, macaroni cheese, trifle and spotted dick - then there are more outlandish dishes too (to modern tastes, at least), such as mock turtle soup, larded sweetbreads and squab pie. This beautifully presented, meticulously researched compendium is a true treat for gourmands looking to expand their culinary repertoire - perfect for inspiring flamboyant Victorian ‘Come Dine with Me’ dinner parties.

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
New Daughters of Africa

New Daughters of Africa

Author: Margaret Busby Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/09/2020

Edited by trailblazing broadcaster, editor and critic Margaret Busby OBE - Britain’s first black woman publisher when she co-founded Allison and Busby in the 1960s - New Daughters of Africa is an extraordinary feat of publishing, presenting as it does the diverse work of 200+ women of African heritage across more than 900 pages. In 1992, Busby published Daughters of Africa, and this epically-proportioned - and realised - re-visitation duplicates none of the writers featured in the first incarnation. Busby hopes in her introduction, “may all who find their way to this anthology, regardless of gender, class or race, feast well on its banquet of words.” And I defy any reader not to do just that. This rich feast presents all kinds of writers – academics and activists; critics and curators; fiction writers and filmmakers; poets and politicians, to name but a few - from all parts of the world. There are wise words to chew on from familiar figures, among them Diane Abbott, Angela Levy, Bernardine Evaristo, Malorie Blackman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Afua Hirsch. And there are individuals and pieces I was grateful to discover for the first time, such as Bermudian Angela Barry’s Without Prejudice story, and Yvette Edwards, a London writer of Montserratian origin. The collection’s historical entries are engrossing too, among them Sarah Parker Remond’s (1815-1894) “Why Slavery is Still Rampant” piece, and Meta Davis Cumberbatch’s (1900-1978) powerfully rousing poem, “A Child of Nature (Negro of the Caribbean)”.  This is an exceptional anthology to savour - a uniquely nourishing banquet for mind and heart. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Star Books
The Museum Makers

The Museum Makers

Author: Rachel Morris Format: Hardback Release Date: 27/08/2020

In The Museum Makers Rachel Morris, director of museum company Metaphor, plots an enthralling personal and professional journey from finding a box of family belongings beneath her bed, to the beating heart of Bloomsbury’s bohemian circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This journey is underpinned by the very essence of what museums are and do: “Museum-making is about sorting often quite ordinary objects to make meaningful patterns out of the muddle and confusion of the universe; thoughtful, beautiful patterns that have something to say. Museums are where we go to make sense of the world and the pasts that have gone. And what we do in museums we also do with our own histories.” Which is exactly what Morris does when she digs into the contents of the box and is led to discover secrets about her father, Gran, and great-grandmother Nona, which she curates into her Museum of Me. Illuminated by the power of objects to stir memories, and to make sense of oneself, the journey also delves into women’s involvement with, and relationship to, museums: “Museums have a special appeal for women whether as places to work in or as places to visit.” While men may have curated early museums (as an extension of their curation of the world), women were key collectors, donors and fundraisers from those nascent days. At once an absorbing history of museums, and a profoundly personal memoir of detection and discovery, this has all the delightful universal appeal of a cabinet of curiosity.

eBooks of the Month
Slow Road to San Francisco

Slow Road to San Francisco

Author: David Reynolds Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/08/2020

“Forty-six days, thirteen states, 3000 miles”. Documenting the author’s solo coast-to-coast road-trip across America, David Reynolds’s Slow Road to San Francisco is an absolute joy. An entertaining blend of observation and commentary delivered with a luminous lightness of touch. Buckle up for read that’s radiant with the author’s wit, charm and keen eye for people and place - everything you’d want from an on-the-road companion.  Beginning on the Atlantic Coast and winding up on San Francisco’s Pacific Coast - “because Europeans landed on the east coast of the landmass that they named America, and moved slowly west until they reached the other side” - the author’s journey across Route 50 documents edifying encounters that reveal as much about America and the world as they do about the individuals themselves. Though Route 50 is known as the loneliest road in America (and it’s one of the few remaining two-lane highways in the country), Reynolds is never short of people to talk to. Through conversations with bartenders, gas station attendants and motel staff, and the assorted personalities he meets in bars, cafés and museums along the route (among them war veterans, judges and friendly bikers), it truly feels like you’re on the road with him. Peeling back layers of Native American history, slave history and contemporary politics (everyone the author meets has something to say about Trump, and often Brexit too), usually with a glass of IPA to hand, this is life-affirming, enlightening stuff. Perhaps what stands out above all else is a generosity of spirit, both on the part of the people who freely share their time, opinions and tables with Reynolds, and on the part of the author himself. Like all the best road-trips, I didn’t want this ride to end.

Star Books
Codebreaking Sisters

Codebreaking Sisters

Author: Patricia Owtram, Jean Owtram Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/07/2020

Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, this is an engaging and absolutely riveting read following the memories of two sisters during the Second World War. Pat and Jean Owtram were still teenagers when the war began and signed up as soon as they were old enough, with Pat intercepting German radio and Jean becoming a Code and Cipher Officer. Each sister tells her own story in sequence, with letters to each other and family members adding a real insight into their lives and the times. Having signed the Official Secrets Act, they were unable to divulge their roles even to each other, but nonetheless the actual letters reveal their courage, resilience, and spirit. It is fascinating to discover that both women owed their wartime duties to their fluency in German, a skill that was honed after their family had taken in two Austrian Jewish refugees. I am intrigued by the world of intelligence, so found this a compelling read. It is the little things, such as Jean nearly not passing on a seemingly irrelevant yet vital piece of information that makes this so fascinating. Their wartime work shaped the women they became and I want to hand on heart, salute them both. Codebreaking Sisters is a worthwhile, truly lovely and enthralling read I can highly recommend. 

Star Books