Newest History Reviews

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The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 by G A Jones

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There's brave, and there is brave. I may well have been born in a coastal county but certainly would baulk at the idea of setting out to sea with four colleagues in a 37'-long boat. Boats to me are like planes – the bigger the better, and the safer I feel as a result. But luckily for the purpose of this book, George Jones was born with a much different pair of sea-legs to mine, and took to the waters of the English Channel, the North Sea and beyond in Naromis with brio. But – and this is where the further definition of bravery comes in – he did it in August 1939, knowing full well that he would be sailing full tilt into the teeth of war. Full review...

The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

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Edward IV is currently a popular subject for biographers. All credit is therefore due to Dr Ashdown-Hill, one of the foremost of current Yorkist-era historians, for looking at the King from a fresh angle – that of his romantic involvements. Full review...

The Servants' Story: Managing a Great Country House by Pamela Sambrook

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With so many recent books on aristocratic families and their homes, one which looks at the lives of their servants is to be welcomed. Written with the help of a vast archive, this presents a vivid picture of those in service at Trentham, the Staffordshire home of the Leveson-Gower family, the Dukes of Sutherland, at one stage said to be the richest non-royal family in Britain. Its insights into the ups and downs of life below stairs, and the mini-family histories involved, make for an excellent read. Full review...

Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn by Stephen Porter

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The Tudor period in England marked a transition in so many ways from the medieval period to a new era, and so it is only right that somebody should at last have examined what effect that should have had on our capital city. After the instability of the Wars of the Roses, a period of consolidation set in and London was at last established as the seat of royalty and government, as well as the centre of cultural life and commercial activity. Full review...

The Wreck of the SS London by Simon Wills

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The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was the ocean disaster against which all subsequent shipwrecks have come to be compared. Yet some forty years earlier, the people of mid-Victorian Britain and overseas were horrified by another loss at sea which at the time had a similar impact. In January 1866 SS London, a large new luxury liner en route to Australia, went down shortly after leaving England, with around 250 people dead, maybe more (the exact figure will never be known), and only three survivors. Full review...

Queen Victoria and the European Empires by John Van der Kiste

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Queen Victoria and the European Empires is a very readable history of Queen Victoria's relationships, both personal and political with the royalty of France, Germany, Austria and Russia. Many of these associations were based on family ties, but - as in all families - not all connections brought joy in their wake. John Van der Kiste - an expert in all things Victorian - produces an elegant picture of the changing relationships between the eighteen thirties and the early nineteen hundreds in a book which is deceptively slim, but packed with fascinating information and insights. Full review...

Capital Punishment: London's Places of Execution by Robert Bard

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The majority of books on true crime and murder focus first and foremost on specific incidents. This concise volume takes a different approach, in dealing with them according to where the executioner completed his task. Full review...

Operation Big: The Race to Stop Hitler's A-Bomb by Colin Brown

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What, do you think, was more feared in 1941 and 1942 than the Nazi Party? Well, a Nazi Party with nuclear arms would be pretty high on the list. It seems the stuff of pure fantasy, but I'm not so sure. A lot of the people to be at the forefront of the nuclear physics of the age were German, and the first nuclear fission was on their soil. Two things seemed to be needed for nuclear arms – uranium, which they procured by capturing Czechoslovakia, the location of one its greatest source mines; and heavy water. That so nearly fell into Nazi hands when they invaded Norway, but what seems to have been the great majority of the world's supply had only just been smuggled out. Some fiction takes great strides to suggest in a fantasy way that if Hitler hadn't concentrated on exterminating Jews, he would have had the energy to win the war – and it must only be a short step to see his imperial expansionism as having an ulterior motive in nuclear materiel. But make no mistake, this is not fiction – these are the pure facts behind the issue. Full review...

An Empire on the Edge by Nick Bunker

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The history that we are taught is centred on events. Often we know the dates, the central characters and the outcome. We seldom identify and study the causes. 'An Empire on the Edge' is history writ large and looks at the chain of events leading to the Boston Tea Party, and subsequent American War of Independence. What emerges is a catalogue of human failings and frailties that shaped the destiny of America and Britain in the eighteenth century. Many of the failings were avoidable but the accumulation and chain reaction they caused had a catastrophic effect on thousands of lives and has shaped the character of two nations ever since. Full review...

Tales of Loving and Leaving by Gaby Weiner

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In Tales of Loving and Leaving, author Gaby Weiner tells the story of three of her family members: her grandmother, Amalia Moszkowicz Dinger; her mother, Steffi Dinger; and her father, Uszer Frocht. Full review...

Henry III: The Son of Magna Carta by Matthew Lewis

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For a monarch whose reign over England of fifty-six years was unequalled until the nineteenth century, Henry III remains curiously little-known. Nobody could claim that he was a particularly outstanding or successful ruler, but the fact that he held his throne for so long in an unstable age was no mean achievement in itself. Full review...

Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence

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Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII's six wives and Queens, was arguably the most unhappy figure during the Tudor era who did not meet her end on the scaffold or at the stake. The cliché 'tragic love story' must be a fitting one in her case. Full review...

The American Presidents in 100 Facts by Jem Duducu

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At a time when the US Presidential election is fielding at least one candidate you'd cross the road to avoid (and I'm not saying which one) it's useful to look back over the forty four presidents who have gone before them. It's surprising how many of them have been lawyers, soldiers and career politicians, but there have also been school teachers, journalists, Hollywood actors, professors, postmasters and even a peanut farmer. Gone are the early days when you could almost fall into the presidency accidentally - now you need a massive war chest if you're to get to election day. Full review...

The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

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After a series of individual biographies on the major Tudor women, mostly royal, this book brings a new dimension in touching on the lives of individuals from all walks of life. However it is much more than a collection of lives. While the Queens and princesses naturally dominate some of the chapters, it looks beyond the surface to devote attention to serving maids, businesswomen, activists and martyrs, as well as focus on various aspects of life for women and girls in Tudor England. Full review...

Robin Hood by John Matthews

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The Outlaw of Sherwood Forest has been part of national mythology ever since the twelfth century. Did Mr Hood really exist, or is he a figment of popular imagination who refuses to go quietly? If historians and researchers over the ages are to be believed, the truth seems to lie somewhere in between. Full review...

Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg

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With the scenes from war torn Syria brought to our screens every night, 'Notes from the blockade' is a timely book. It is the remarkable story of Lydia Ginzburg's survival during the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2. With beautiful prose full of Russian melancholy and pragmatism, it details daily life in the besieged city. I have to confess that I found this to be one of the most moving books that it has ever been my pleasure to read. Pleasure may be a strange choice of words to describe a book recounting horrifying events, but it came from the lyrical quality of the writing. Ginzburg's prose is simply beautiful. Her descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life, as it descends into the abyss, are the most human I have encountered. It is this that leaves its mark long after the final page is turned. Full review...

The German War by Nicholas Stargardt

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History can be a dry subject when it focusses only on events and the key people that shaped them. However, when it uses those events as the backdrop to the lives of ordinary people it truly comes to life. ‘The German War' is the story of the second world war through the eyes of a diverse group of Germans. It tells their stories, with great candour and humanity, as it follows the build up to the war, the war itself and its aftermath. Using detailed research, interviews and anecdotal evidence, Nicholas Stargardt has created a narrative that is both a historical record and compelling. Its scope is massive but it is a tremendous achievement. Books from the allies' perspective are many and varied; as a result, this can lead to a distortion of the historical record. This work addresses this imbalance. Full review...

The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole

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Long regarded as the most pivotal date in English history, not least to generations of us familiar with the 1930s Sellar and Yeatman spoof history '1066 And All That', the year of the Norman Conquest has long been seen as a relatively isolated event as well as the start of a new era for our island story. The full picture was inevitably more complex. Full review...

A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

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From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, to a duel obsessed cavalier, author James Sharpe explores the brutal underside of our national life. As it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the shifts that have taken place in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up ducking in the village pond? How could foot ball be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material to paint vivid pictures of the nation's criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in a street brawl in medieval Oxford one minute, and a battle during the English Civil War the next. Looking at a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale, but also the Peasants' Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011, this book asks – are we becoming a gentler nation? Full review...

Strange Victoriana: Tales of the Curious, the Weird and the Uncanny from Our Victorian Ancestors by Jan Bondeson

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The Victorians, not surprisingly, had their own tabloid press. The most successful title of this nature was the 'Illustrated Police News', a weekly journal first published in 1864 and lasting seventy-four years. Not to be confused with the more upmarket 'Illustrated London News', its main stock-in-trade was weird, far-fetched and not always entirely genuine stories from Victorian life, generally in Britain but sometimes in Europe as well. This book is based on a recently-discovered archive of the paper. Prepare to be amazed, enthralled, sometimes horrified – and occasionally disbelieving. Full review...

The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont

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Where was your father? Where was your brother, your mother, your uncle? These are the questions Anna Bikont struggles to ask during her investigation into a shocking act of violence committed against the Jewish community in Jedwabne during the summer of 1941. The Crime and the Silence weaves together journals, interviews and pictures to share the story of a community torn apart by hatred and intolerance. It is also a moving testament to the dedication of Bikont, who documents her struggle to find the truth with grace and dignity in the face of silence, rationalisation, and even anger, from members of the Polish community who would rather not stir up the crimes of the past. Full review...

Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower by Susan Higginbotham

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The fate of Margaret Pole, who as the cover says has a good claim to the title of 'the last Plantagenet', was a sorry one. As a close relation of the Yorkists and the Tudors at a time of upheaval, her life was overshadowed by the executions of several of her family – and ultimately leading to her own, largely it seems, for the 'crime' of being who she was. Full review...

Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone - 125 Years of Pop by Peter Doggett

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For many of us, it must be difficult to imagine a life without recorded music. Millions of us must have grown up with, even to, a very varied soundtrack consisting of one genre after another. In this book, Peter Doggett takes a marvellous broad sweep through the history of popular music from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day, from wax cylinders to streaming services. A rather maudlin ditty 'After The Ball', by Charles K. Harris, is regarded as the first modern popular song (well, it was modern in 1891) – the first of millions. Full review...

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

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Few cities have experienced a year more dramatic than Petrograd in 1917. The city, now known as St Petersburg, went through two revolutions: the first a popular uprising that brought down the Romanov dynasty, the second a Bolshevik coup that led to the formation of the Soviet Union. At the time, Petrograd was home to a large expatriate community, including diplomats, journalists, and businessmen. Many kept diaries or wrote letters home, vividly describing the chaos unfolding at their doorstep. In Caught in the Revolution, Helen Rappaport draws on this material to give a gripping first-hand account of the Russian Revolution, as told by those who lived through it. Full review...

Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr

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Holy Sh*t as the name suggests looks at both swearing, in Biblical terms, to swearing, also usually in Biblical terms but with rather more emphasis on the act, rather than the deity. This book takes the reader on a journey from the Old Testament, when swearing your allegiance to the one true God was a prerequisite for staying alive, to the Middle Ages where swearing on the same God was punishable by rather grisly death. That takes care of the Holy, now onto the part you are really interested in, the Sh*t. Full review...

The Beauty of Her Age: A Tale of Sex, Scandal and Money in Victorian England by Jenifer Roberts

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The name of Yolande Stephens (nee Duvernay) is not that well-known in the annals of Victorian England, but behind it lies an enthralling rags-to-riches saga. How did a young girl born into poverty in Paris become one of the most celebrated ballerinas of her time in England, and after that one of the richest women in the country, with a fortune on her death which rivalled that of Queen Victoria? Full review...

The Originals: The Secret History of the Birth of the SAS by Gordon Stevens

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The SAS is a regiment shrouded in secrecy. Since its spectacular rise to fame during the Iranian Embassy siege in 1978, it has become a part of myth and folklore. The paradox is that more words have probably been written about this organisation than any other military unit in the world. Some are well researched, and have a genuine historical perspective on the regiments operations and activities. Others are pure fantasy, which add little, other than further the mystique of a regiment that lives in the shadows. The Originals provides a fresh perspective. It tells the story of the birth of the SAS, by the people who were there. In a series of long forgotten interviews, the regiment is brought to life with fresh insight and wonderful anecdotes. Full review...

Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn

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Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was almost unique in Tudor history in that he was a close friend and companion – in fact the closest – of King Henry VIII throughout the latter's reign, never really fell out of favour, and had the good fortune to die peacefully in his bed, just eighteen months before his notoriously capricious royal patron. Full review...

Somme: Into the Breach by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

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One-hundred years ago this month, on the 1st of July 1916, the most notorious battle in the history of the British army began at 07:20 with the detonation of a huge mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt. The Battle of the Somme had begun, and by the end of the first day the British had suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of whom were killed. Published to mark the centenary of the battle, Somme: Into the Breach by historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore is a comprehensive account of the conflict told primarily by the soldiers who fought in it. Full review...