Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/ Become the Expert

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We’re now in Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) of Nonfiction November. The topic is – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads)

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve read a few books on World War 1, but I am nowhere near an expert. I’ve looked on Amazon and Wikipedia and am struggling to know  where to start, there are so many books.  So I would like some suggestions of books, specifically about the causes of the war and its progression, but not military history detailing the specific battles blow by blow! Also any personal memoirs that you can recommend.

I’ve just started to read Jeremy Paxman’s history of the First World War – Great Britain’s Great War. The back cover describes it: ‘He tells the story of the war through the experience of those who lived it – nurses, soldiers, politicians, factory workers, journalists and children.’

These are some of the books I’ve read:

  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years.
  • Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon – part of his fictionalised autobiography
  •  The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison – the main sources of information in this book are personal accounts from the veterans as they remembered them many years later.

I also have a copy of Chronicle of Youth: Great War Diary 1813 – 1917 by Vera Brittain, her war diary on which she based Testament of Youth. I’ve read parts of this book.

chronicle of youth

 

 

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Fiction/ NonfictionPairing

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Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I couldn’t stick to just pairs of books because I read more fiction than nonfiction, so my pairings are trios.

The first three I’ve chosen are about Richard III – what is the truth about him, was he deformed, with a withered arm, a hunch back and a limp as Shakespeare portrayed him, was he a cold-blooded, evil villain? Or has he been maligned and been turned into a  monster who killed his brother’s sons in order to take the Crown?

The Princes in the TowerThe Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)The Sunne In Splendour

Many years ago I read The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, which examined the available evidence of the disappearance of the princes in 1483 at the time her book was first published in 1992. It has an extensive bibliography, her sources mainly supporting the view that Richard was guilty of their deaths. Alison Weir has since revised this book and published it as Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, published in 2014. I haven’t read this revised edition, but looking at Alison Weir’s website I see that she still holds the same views on Richard’s guilt.

Years later I came across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel in which Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III and investigates Richard’s role in the death of his nephews and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth. He concluded that Richard hadn’t murdered his nephews.

And two years ago I read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, probably the best historical novel that I’ve read. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard. From his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV. I’m not going to reveal her solution to who killed the princes, but I was convinced by her version of events.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012 revealed that although ‘the curved spine on the skeleton does show he had Scoliosis, he did not have a withered arm or other details attributed to him in some characterisations’ (see the Incredible Discovery at the King Richard III Visitor Centre).

There are many books about Richard III, especially following the discovery of his remains, and in time I hope to explore more of them.

The next three books are about Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Baron Cromwell of Okeham. He was born c.1485, Putney, near London and was executed on July 28, 1540.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant

Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies PBS Masterpiece E-Book Bundle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell and Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies all cover the life of Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, who rose to become Henry VIII’s Chief Minister and was executed for heresy and treason.

Hilary Mantel’s books bring the Tudor world to life for me. They are beautifully written, full of colour and detail so that there is no doubt that this is 16th century England, with vivid descriptions of the people, buildings, fabrics, and landscapes of both town and countryside. Her Thomas Cromwell is not the saint I thought he was from watching ‘A Man for All Seasons’, and neither is he the hard-hearted, cold and stern character I’d read about before, but he is humane, kind and considerate, hardworking, generous and cultured. But tough and ruthless too. I haven’t read Tracy Borman’s biography yet, so I have yet to see how it compares to the novels (and the TV adaptation), which I loved.

My third trio of books are about Robert Scott’s 1912 Antarctic expedition, comparing Beryl Bainbridge’s novel with two nonfiction books.

South with ScottThe Birthday BoysRace to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole

Ever since I bought South with Scott by Edward Evans, Lord Mountevans when I was at school I’ve been fascinated by the race to reach the South Pole. Evans was the Second-in-Command of the British Antarctic Expedition under Captain Scott. He nearly lost his life on the return journey from the Pole, falling ill with scurvy and was rescued. Years later I was delighted to find that Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys is about the expedition. It’s narrated by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the other four men who died in the Antarctic having reached the South Pole. It gets inside each man’s mind, vividly describing the events as they progressed to the South Pole and the terrible conditions they had to endure.

I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out more – which I did in Race to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole by Ross D E MacPhee, a beautifully illustrated account of each team’s trek to Antarctica and the Pole. Comparing the books I think Beryl Bainbridge’s fictionalised version is remarkable accurate, bringing the terrible hardships vividly to life.

I’ve enjoyed comparing these books – what books would you choose to compare?

Library Books

Over the last few months I’ve reserved books at the library, but of course they all arrived at once instead of at regular intervals. This leaves me hoping I can renew them as there is no way I could read them all in the next three weeks!

Reserved bks June2018

From top to bottom they are:

  • Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. Annabel  reviewed it recently on her blog Annabookbel, saying she absolutely adored it and that it was the best thing she’s read so far this year. I liked the look of it – it’s a novel about the pursuit of happiness and a story about growing old with grace. With such a recommendation I think I’ll start with this one.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I reserved this ages ago. It’s set two decades after Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I loved. I’ve read reviews that it’s disappointing, so I thought I’d see for myself what it’s like. Jean Finch, ‘Scout’, returns home to visit her father Atticus, in Maycomb, Alabama.
  • Elizabeth’s Rivals: the Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester by Nicola Tallis. I saw this on Amazon and fancied having a look at it, then saw it was available from the library. This is the first biography of Lettice Knollys, one of the most prominent women of the Elizabethan era. A cousin to Elizabeth I – and very likely also Henry VIII’s illegitimate granddaughter – Lettice Knollys had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows.
  • Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, a huge doorstop of a novel of over 700 pages, telling a tale of four families across the centuries set in Paris, the City of Lights. Helen at She Reads Novels wrote about Edward Rutherfurd’s books in one of her Historical Musings posts and I thought I’d like to try them. Paris was listed in the library catalogue and so I reserved it.

The beauty of borrowing library books is that you can then take your time deciding whether you really do want to read them – and if no one else reserves them you can renew the ones you haven’t finished in the loan period – my library lets you renew them 5 times!

My Friday Post: Wedlock by Wendy Moore

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, a library book, that my friend recommended to me.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

It begins in London on 13 January 1777:

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast riverside development designed by the Adams brothers, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56

It should have proved a memorable occasion, summoning up reminiscences of the royal wedding just six years earlier. Yet by the time that Mary walked down the aisle of St George’s Church in Hanover Square, splendidly robed in her silver and white wedding dress, on her eighteenth birthday on 24 February 1767, her teenage infatuation was over. She knew she was marrying the wrong man.

Described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘ Splendid … as gripping as any novel’ this is non-fiction, the biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney. When Mary heard her gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel fought to defend her honour, she felt she could hardly refuse his dying wish to marry her.

I’ll be reading this book soon. What do you think? Does it tempt you too?

Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson

I finished reading Victoria: A Life at the end of January with a sense of sadness that it was over – I’d been reading it for three months and I have learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Victoria was 81 when she died and had been Queen for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901. She’d had 9 children and was grandmother of 42.

A. N. Wilson’s biography of Victoria is masterful, detailed and like all good biographies is well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He had access to the Royal Archives and permission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in royal copyright. He portrays her both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.

Whilst I was reading I wrote three posts about different aspects of the book that interested me at the time – one on my thoughts soon after I started reading the biography, one on Christmas at Windsor in 1860 and one on Victoria and John Brown.

And now I’ve finished it I’m not sure what to write about it. It has fascinated me and surprised me. It surprised me because it is so extensive, with so much about her involvement in the politics of the time. It has made me want to know more about so many of the people – such as Lord Melbourne, Gladstone, who she disliked so much that when he stayed at Balmoral she wouldn’t speak to him, Disraeli who she liked very much and of course her beloved Albert.

I think A.N.Wilson himself sums it up best in this quotation:

‘Writing about Queen Victoria has been one of the most joyous experiences of my life. I have read thousands (literally) of letters never before published, and grown used to her as to a friend. Maddening? Egomaniac? Hysterical? A bad mother? Some have said so. What emerged for me was a brave, original woman who was at the very epicentre of Britain’s changing place in the world: a solitary woman in an all-male world who understood politics and foreign policy much better than some of her ministers; a person possessed by demons, but demons which she was brave enough to conquer. Above all, I became aware, when considering her eccentric friendships and deep passions, of what a lovable person she was.’ A. N. Wilson

and in the last paragraph of the book he wrote of Victoria’s greatness and the awe awe she inspired:

The awe is for Queen Victoria the woman. Step over the carpet to that plump little figure that sits at her table, state papers or a Hindustani grammar open in front of her, the Munshi or Princess Beatrice at her side. You are approaching someone of great kindliness, someone of a far sharper intelligence than you would have guessed, and someone who – contrary to the most tedious of all the clichés about her – was easily amused. but you are also, if you have your wits about you, more than a little afraid. You are in the presence of greatness. (page 575)

This was going to be my last post about the book, but I have placed so many markers in places of interest to me as I read that I think I may do at least one more just of passages that I’d like to remember.

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The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson

Published: Penguin Books (UK), 5 October 2017, 535 pages

Source: review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My Rating: 2*

Blurb:

What if everything we thought we knew about history was wrong? From Niall Ferguson, the global bestselling author of Empire, The Ascent of Money and Civilization, this is a whole new way of imagining the world.

Most history is hierarchical: it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?

The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower Niall Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Once we understand this, both the past, and the future, start to look very different indeed.

My thoughts:

Subtitled ‘Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power‘, this is described as ‘a whole new way of imagining the world’ as it’s possible that we’re missing information about networks because it’s not recorded in historical archives. But what I found in this book is rather different, being a run through history in what seemed to me a disjointed way, albeit very detailed, with network diagrams and many footnotes. I found parts of it quite tedious, especially the early section detailing the research on the history of networking. If I hadn’t requested the book from NetGalley I would have not bothered reading any more. Fortunately I found some sections were more interesting (such as on such varied topics as social media, the Illuminati, the Reformation, European Royal families, the Cambridge spies, Al Qaeda, ISIS and Trump to name but a few) and I did finish the book.

Ferguson states that his book seeks to learn about the future mainly by studying the past, in particular by looking at the importance of networks in the past that had been at times very powerful. But by the end of the book I didn’t feel too enlightened in that respect as often the distinction between hierarchies and networks is blurred – there are networks that are hierarchical and hierarchies that are parts of wider networks. As Ferguson acknowledges, the dichotomy between hierarchy and network is an over-simplification.

I requested this book when I saw it on NetGalley because history is a subject that I find fascinating, and the blurb interested me. However, although there are sections that I did find interesting, mainly those written as conventional narrative history, overall I was disappointed. I think it is disjointed with sections that don’t seem to me to have much connection with the main theme, overstretching the analogy. To summarise – I don’t think such theoretical historical analysis is for me.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.

Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now by Stuart Maconie

I knew of the Jarrow March/Crusade in 1936, but not much about it beyond the fact that men from Jarrow in Tyneside marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. Stuart Maconie has filled in the gaps in his excellent book Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now. In October last year he retraced the route they took, 300 miles, comparing what conditions and attitudes were like in 1936 with those of 2016. The men were accompanied for part of their march by Ellen Wilkinson, who was the MP for Middlesbrough East and it was Ellen who presented their petition to the House of Commons. But despite their protest and all Ellen Wilkinson’s efforts on their behalf it didn’t result in any improvements for employment in Jarrow.

Maconie a writer, broadcaster and journalist, writes fluently and with conviction. The Long Road from Jarrow is a mix of travel writing, social and cultural history and political commentary, with the main emphasis on the current social, cultural and political scene. It’s a thought-provoking book that both entertained and enlightened me. Maconie writes about the past, the history of the places he walked through and the tales and reminiscences of the people he met. He also writes with enthusiasm on such topics as football and music and food. It’s a lively, chatty account that includes the thorny topic of Brexit, the current and past state of the north/south divide and considers what it is to be ‘British’.

I was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed this walk through England, past and present. My copy is an ARC from the publishers via Netgalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1617 KB
  • Print Length: 365 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1785036319
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (20 July 2017)