Newest History Reviews

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The Marches by Rory Stewart

5star.jpg Travel

The Observer quote on the front of the paperback edition of Stewart's latest book observes This is travel writing at its finest. Perhaps, but to call it travel writing is to totally under-sell it. This is erudition at its finest. Stewart has the background to do this: he had an international upbringing and followed his father in both the Army and the Foreign Office, and then (to his father's, bemusement, shall we say) became an MP. Oh, and he walked 6,000 miles across Afghanistan in 2002. A walk along the Scottish borders should be a doddle by comparison. Full review...

The Taking of K-129: The Most Daring Covert Operation in History by Josh Dean

5star.jpg History

In February 1968 the Soviet nuclear missile submarine K-129 left the port of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula with a crew of 98 submariners. The captain and executive officers were experienced: the only factor giving cause for concern was that the crew had only recently returned to base and were expecting a longer break and were only back at sea because two sister ships had experienced mechanical problems and were unfit for combat controls. The Division Commander complained that the decision was cruel and potentially reckless. He would be proved right - but not publicly - as K-129 went down with all hands in March 1968. It was a while before the sSoviet navy realised that it had lost one of its submarines and despite an extensive search they couldn't find it. Full review...

50 Things You Should Know About the Vikings by Philip Parker

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Vikings have got a lot to own up to. A huge DNA study in 2014 was the first thing that proved to the Orkney residents that they had Viking blood in their veins – they had been insisting it was that of the Irish. The Vikings it was that forced our English king's army to march from London to Yorkshire to kill off one invasion, only to spend the next fortnight schlepping back to Hastings to try and fend off another – and the Normans had the same Norse origin as the first lot, hence the name. There is a Thames Valley village just outside Henley – ie pretty damned far from the coast – that has a Viking longship on its signpost. Yes, they got to a lot of places, from Greenland to Kiev, from Murmansk to Turkey and the Med, and their misaligned history is well worth visiting – particularly on these pages. Full review...

Vintage Kitchenalia by Emma Kay

3.5star.jpg History

Over the half century and more that I've been preparing meals on a regular basis I've seen food preparation move from being just something you did, to an obsession akin to a religion. My first kitchen had nothing in the way of luxury - it was there to make meals as nutritiously and economically as possible: my current kitchen is not quite state of the art, but it's equipped to a high standard and is a pleasure to work in. But what of all the equipment which went before, which paved the way to what we have now? Emma Kay is going to give you a quick trip through the history. Full review...

Waterloo Voices 1815: The Battle at First Hand by Martyn Beardsley

4.5star.jpg History

The battle of Waterloo, fought on a midsummer day on a muddy field in Belgium, brought an end to two decades of war in Europe. As one of the pivotal events of the nineteenth century, it has inevitably been the focus of many accounts over the last two hundred years. Full review...

Landscape Gardens by Sarah Rutherford

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My first experience of a big garden was Versailles as a teenager and whilst I was impressed, I didn't really like it. I felt stifled and strangely underwhelmed by the flatness of it all. As luck would have it I then saw Hampton Court and it was official: I was off big gardens. It would be many years before I revised my opinion. On a trip to Harewood House it was too hot a day to be corralled into the house, so I wandered the gardens and found they were delightful. I felt uplifted. Then a cricket match at Stowe gave me the opportunity to walk the grounds for over an hour. I was completely won over and a devotee of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Sarah Rutherford's Landscape Gardens was an opportunity to put him in context. Full review...

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

5star.jpg Travel

I cancelled my Country Walking magazine subscription about a year ago and the only thing I miss is Stuart Maconie's column. His down-to-earth approach and sharp wit belie an equally sharp intellect and a soul more sensitive than he might be willing to admit. Let's be honest, though, I picked this one up because of someone else's review, in which I spotted names like Ferryhill and Newton Aycliffe. Places I grew up in. Like Maconie I have no connection (that I know of) to the Jarrow Crusade but when he talks about it being a whole matrix of events reducible to one word like Aberfan, Hillsborough, or Orgreave then somehow it does become part of my history too. Tangentially, at least. Full review...

Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward

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In 1745 a Spanish friary cook, Juan Altamiras, published the first edition of his New Art of Cookery, Drawn From the School of Economic Experience. It contained more than two hundred recipes for meat, poultry, game, salted and fresh fish, vegetables and desserts. The style was informal, chatty and humorous on occasions and it was aimed, not at those who could afford to cook on a grand scale, but at those with more modest budgets, who sometimes needed to cook for large numbers. Whilst the ingredients were - for the most part - modestly priced there is a stress on the careful combination of flavours and aromas. Spices are used conservatively and the bluntness of some Moorish cooking is eschewed in favour of something much more subtle and we see influences from Altamiras' own region, Aragon, the Iberian court and the New World. Full review...

What Have the Germans Ever Done for Us?: A History of the German Population of Great Britain by Susan Duxbury-Neumann

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The adapted Monty Pythonesque rhetorical question takes some time to provide a full answer, and this slim but useful volume does so very well. Full review...

The Tunnel Through Time: A New Route for an Old London Journey by Gillian Tindall

4.5star.jpg History

This book traces the course of historical journeys across the city in time and space, examining how the areas above the new Crossrail route, the largest building project currently under construction in Europe offering high speed links across London, have changed over the centuries, with destruction and renewal being a constantly recurring process in the city's history. It is a fascinating, compellingly readable exploration through the historical highways and byways of the metropolis. Full review...

Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg

3.5star.jpg History

In the week I write this, Trump has come under fire for not condemning fascistic behaviour in America from some Neo-Nazis. It strikes me that the Neo- is a pointless dignification – yes, they cannot be deemed to follow Hitler precisely as he's long dead and burnt, so they're kind of new, but common sense obliges me to just call them Nazis. Their excuse is they feel America has been invaded by the enemy – but what if you were indeed under occupation? Could you see yourself working for the forces that had indeed invaded you? The author begins by pointing out that several countries were invaded by the Nazis, and they have different feelings about the people who worked against the commonly-held nationalistic aim. France hates her collaborators, but just north of the border things are different – and the picture is a lot more muddy as a result. Full review...

A History of Victorian Postage by Gerard Cheshire

4.5star.jpg History

Although we think of postage and the sending of letters as a specifically Victorian innovation, its roots go far deeper than that. This book, which surveys a much broader time frame than the title might suggest, presents us with an admirably concise picture of its development up to its full fruition in the mid-nineteenth century. Full review...

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII: The visitor's companion to the palaces, castles & houses associated with Henry VIII's iconic queens by S Morris and N Grueninger

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It was inevitable that each of the six wives of Henry VIII would have left their mark in some way on the places they lived and visited. This book straddles several categories; history, gazetteer or guide book, and collection of potted biographies. Full review...

Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty by Terry Breverton

4.5star.jpg Biography

Owen Tudor was one of those shadowy yet very important characters in medieval history. While we may know little about him, or at least did not until this biography appeared, his historical importance can hardly be overestimated. Without him, there would have been no Tudor dynasty. Full review...

The First Atlantic Liner: Brunel's Great Western Steamship by Helen Doe

4.5star.jpg History

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's enduring seafaring monuments were the Great Britain and Great Eastern. Their forerunner the Great Western, which paved the way and yet is now largely forgotten, at last merits a full account in this book. Ms Doe admits at the front that she is not an engineer, and as a maritime historian her interests are more social and economic than technical. Her aim is to tell the story of the ship, that of the people who travelled on her as crew or passengers, and her influence on subsequent maritime history after an existence of barely two decades. Full review...

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (translators)

5star.jpg History

War, says Svetlana Alexievich, is first of all murder, and then hard work. And then simply ordinary life: singing, falling in love, putting your hair in curlers…. This extraordinary book is a collection of first-hand accounts by Russian fighting women in the Second World War. A million women joined Russian military forces as soldiers of all ranks, medics, pilots, drivers, snipers, cryptographers. Most were very young, little more than girls of 18 or 19. They were passionate about defending their homeland and often extremely keen to join up, returning again and again to recruitment offices until someone could be persuaded to take them. Their ambition was to help their brothers, fathers, husbands to fight the terrible invader. They were trained and sent to the front, where they were greeted at first with disappointment and disgust by fighting men, who had hoped for reinforcements of able-bodied men. The women had to prove themselves. Full review...

The English Civil War in 100 Facts by Andrew Lacey

4.5star.jpg History

The '100 Facts' series is now sufficiently well-established as a guarantee of useful introductory histories. This latest addition, recounting the struggle between King and Parliament, is no exception. Full review...

Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin

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Lauren Elkin is down on suburbs: they're places where you can't or shouldn't be seen walking; places where, in fiction, women who transgress boundaries are punished (thinking of everything from Madame Bovary to Revolutionary Road). When she imagines to herself what the female version of that well-known historical figure, the carefree flâneur, might be, she thinks about women who freely wandered the world's great cities without having the more insalubrious connotation of the word 'streetwalker' applied to them. Full review...

Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James

4.5star.jpg History

The 'Irish troubles' go back over many centuries. When I and doubtless many others of my generation studied History at school, the Emerald Isle barely intruded on our consciousness, apart from brief references to the Battle of the Boyne and maybe the Easter Rising. This book therefore does us, and the country, a service in helping to fill a very large gap. Full review...

The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks

4star.jpg History

New titles about the Yorkist dynasty, which ruled England for little more than two decades, continue to proliferate. Michael Hicks, acknowledged as one of the great – although never sympathetic – experts on Richard III, has contributed an interesting chronicle to the shelves. Full review...

The Second World War in 100 Facts by Clive Pearson

4star.jpg History

To begin at the beginning, that is one dissembling title. 100 Facts? There are bounties galore here that that low figure belies. There are a lot more, and I would attest that there will be some you aren't completely au fait with. If the Phoney War and the Battle of the Plate are bread and butter to you, how about Matapan? You could well be used to reading essays about Goebbels or Speer, but Field-Marshal von Manstein? That's not to say this is utterly exhaustive or complex, nor confined to the trivial. Its unexpected format actually makes it one of the better primers for the entire WWII, before, during and after. Full review...

The Wars of the Roses by John Ashdown-Hill

4.5star.jpg History

During my schooldays, I always found the Wars of the Roses the most fascinating period of English history. In those days we were taught that the battles began in 1455 and ended in 1485. Ashdown-Hill is one of several modern historians whose study of the subject extends these boundaries, and in this volume he starts with the reign of Richard II, ending late in the Elizabethan era. Full review...

Mapping the Past: A Search for Five Brothers at the Edge of Empire by Charles Drazin

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Mapping the Past is at once a personal quest into the author's family history, and an account of some of the interesting, perhaps even amazing things the Royal Engineers have achieved over the past couple of centuries. Drazin is descended from a generation of Engineers; five brothers who all served in the Army, mostly as surveyors mapping the far flung parts of the Empire. This was despite them being both Irish and Catholic. He uncovers their pasts, the many things they undertook and how it affected them in the end. It's a story that's uplifting and extremely sad, as the First World War and the Easter Rising in 1916 seem to mark a true watershed for his family. Full review...

Martin Luther:Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper

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Exactly five centuries ago in October 2017, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. The ensuing maelstrom ripped the Christian church asunder and changed the course of history. But how was a provincial professor in a cassock able to set the Reformation in motion, despite papal and imperial authority being ranged against him? In a biography which was ten years in the making, Lyndal Roper strips away mythology to illuminate the facts underneath (for starters, it is highly unlikely that Luther actually nailed the ninety-five theses to the door). She provides a thoughtful analysis of the forces which drove the evangelical preacher and convincingly explains his contradictions – why, after decades of monastic observance did he marry a nun and develop a love of German beer and wine? Full review...

A Passing Fury: Searching for Justice at the End of World War II by A T Williams

4.5star.jpg History

In A Passing Fury, we follow an Orwell Prize-winning law academic's journey through Germany as he pursues the legal history of the trials waged by the British, and to some extent other Allied forces, against the newly-fallen Nazi regime. This is a deeply personal account, that reads very much like a travelogue in places. Williams is affected at every turn by harrowingly familiar accounts of life in the concentration camp system, such as those of the esteemed Italian writer and academic Primo Levi, who features throughout the book. More striking to the reader, however, are the often-forgotten atrocities Williams describes that failed to make a mark on our collective memory, such as the Cap Arcona tragedy, in which some 7,000 concentration camp internees were killed in a British air raid. Horrors such as these, which largely go unremembered, raise many questions, chief among them, was justice served? Williams pursues answers to this question throughout his investigation, which is just shy of 500 pages long. Full review...

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

5star.jpg True Crime

Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the Osage tribe, forced to settle in the rocky, uninhabitable wilds of Oklahoma in what would become Osage County. In an unexpected turn of fortune, prospectors struck oil, instantly catapulting the Osage into unimaginable wealth and fortune making them some of the richest people in the world. Then members of the tribe start to die, slowly at first of apparently natural causes then in increasingly violent ways. Investigation into the matter stalls and is beset by incompetence and a general lack of interest in the fate of the Osage until the FBI becomes involved and draws together a team of battle scarred, unorthodox agents led by former Texas Ranger Tom White. As pressure on White increases, from both the FBI and the increasingly angry Osage, the race to find the truth becomes increasingly difficult, with more twists and double crosses than any murder mystery. Full review...

The Island that Disappeared by Tom Feiling

5star.jpg History

'The Island that Disappeared' tells the history of the, largely now forgotten, island of Providence in the Caribbean. It is a fascinating and compelling account of what might have been but ultimately is the story of greed, ambition and human nature. In 1630 on board the Seaflower, a sister ship to the Mayflower, a small group of English puritans sailed to the island to establish a new colony. They were convinced in their belief that the British Empire would rise in the Central America and not in New England. The hopes that they carried was soon destroyed by failing crops, quarrels and rebellions and many turned to piracy and the plundering of Spanish treasure ships. Within ten years, the Spanish retaliated and invaded the island, wiping the colony out. Providence became a footnote of history until it was resettled over a hundred years later. The book tells the island's story from its early puritan beginnings to the present and through its telling it provides a fascinating microcosm of the world we live in today. Full review...

Allotments (Britain's Heritage Series) by Twigs Way

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Allotments came about originally from the enclosure of land, primarily for sheep pasture. Fearing that the enclosures would leave peasants unable to feed themselves, Elizabeth I issued an act requiring all new cottages to have four acres of ground, something which has been honoured more by history than by Elizabeth's contemporaries. It was the first in a long line of legislation with that aim in mind - which largely failed to achieve their aims. Full review...

Harold: The King Who Fell at Hastings by Peter Rex

4.5star.jpg History

Harold is in the unenviable position for being remembered as the monarch who was defeated and killed in the Norman conquest, and almost nothing else. He does not even merit a passing mention in the renowned 1930s spoof English history, '1066 and all That', which no doubt has him in their category of 'Unmemorable Kings'. This book is thus inevitably a history rather than a biography of someone about whom undisputed facts are rather lacking. Full review...