Historical Book Reviews

     All you need to know about books at www.booksmonthly.co.uk                                                     Issue 4 July 2008

 Reviews

     »Crime, Thrillers and Horror
     »Fantasy and Science Fiction
     »Popular and Romance
     »History & Historical Novels
     »Non Fiction and Reference
     »Children's Books
     »Comic Books & Graphic Novels

 Feature Articles & Stories

 New & Coming Soon Titles

 

If you were lucky, and you're a dad, you might have received a copy of this fantastic book on Father's Day! Neil Oliver, the historian from the smash BBC series COAST, retells the stories that inspired us to be better men during the last century. He laments... more

Amanda Greenslade is a fantasy writer, like me (except she's young enough to be my granddaughter, and therefore has time on her side!). Her ASTOR CHRONICLES look fantastic, and I hope it won't be long before she finds a publisher. In the meantime, there's an interview with Amanda in this issue, together with information on TALON, the first book in the series.

KELLEY ARMSTRONG's latest book, THE SUMMONING, is so good I had to give it joint book of the month in the fantasy section; Kelley never lets you down, and this is a terrific read, chilling and entertaining at the same time - don't miss it!

And don't forget to let me know what you think of this issue of BOOKS MONTHLY ~ you can e-mail me at [email protected]

Last weekend the fourth INDIANA JONES movie smashed box office records with takings estimated to be in excess of £148m - there are lots more great new Indy books reviewed in this issue, see the Feature Articles and Stories menu above

All of the titles listed or reviewed in Books Monthly are available from the store. Click on the Amazon logo to check availability as many are not yet published.

 

Islam and the Crusades - The Writings of Usama Ibn Munqidh by Usama ibn Munqidh. This will sit alongside our new edition of Chronicles of the Crusades by Joinville and Villehardouin. The volume comprises a lightly annotated translation of two key medieval Arabic texts that bear directly on the Crusades and Crusader society and the Muslim experience of them. Usama ibn Munqidh was born on 4 July, 1095 in northern Syria. In the last decades of his life he concentrated on writing, collecting his scattered poems into a much-praised Diwan, but specialising in topical anthologies of poetry and prose like The Book of the Staff or Kernels of Refinement. Usama's last patron was the mighty sultan Saladin, to whom he intended his most famous work, the Book of Contemplation. He died in Damascus in 1188.

MICHAEL HAAG: THE TEMPLARS ~ An order of warrior monks founded after the First Crusade to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem, the Templars developed into one of the wealthiest and most powerful bodies in the medieval world. Yet two centuries later, the knights were suddenly arrested and accused of blasphemy, heresy and orgies, their order was abolished and their leaders burnt at the stake. Their dramatic end shocked their contemporaries and has gripped peoples' imaginations ever since. This is the first history of the Templars to be published since the sensational discovery of the Chinon parchment in the Vatican's Secret Archives which casts new light on the charges of heresy made against the order. It investigates the Templars' history anew, and the legends and mysteries with which they are surrounded - including beliefs that their hand can be seen in everything from the Cathar heresy to Masonic conspiracies. It also illuminates the background to what Dan Brown has said will be a major theme of his next novel, due to be published in 2008. The history and myths of the Templars, from the mysteries of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem to the rise of the Freemasons in the tumultuous eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are investigated in this book. It also features a guide to Templar castles and sites in Europe and the Middle East, and it surveys the Templar phenomenon in popular culture from Sir Walter Scott to Indiana Jones and the Xbox360 game Assassin's Creed.

CHRISTOPHER PRENDERGAST: THE FOURTEENTH OF JULY AND THE STORMING OF THE BASTILLE ~ The storming of the decrepit Bastille fortress-prison, which symbolically and in real terms, marked the beginning of the French Revolution, took place on 14 July 1789. Bastille Day is the iconic French national holiday, yet it wasn't celebrated until nearly a century later.Using contemporary accounts, often by eyewitnesses, Prendergast describes the Bastille prison, its reputation as France's most feared place of incarceration; its storming by the armed populace, and the momentous aftermath...And then richly and fascinatingly he shows how the celebration of this extraordinary day, truly one of those which have shaped the world, became part of the fabric of national life.

Buy it from Books Monthly 

DIANA PRESTON: CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY ~ In 44 bc, Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March. His mistress, Cleopatra of Egypt, fled back to Alexandria with their little son. Mark Antony, Caesar's friend and henchman, who, according to some accounts, was already besotted by the beautiful Cleopatra, took up her son's case before the Senate. But they refused to recognize him as one of Caesar's heirs. Civil war broke out, and after the defeat of Caesar's murderers, Antony took control over the East. Summoned to his headquarters in present-day Turkey, Cleopatra made her entry at dusk on a scented, candlelit barge: and so began one of the greatest love stories of all time - an eleven-year love affair that created the ancient world's most famous celebrity couple. The affair became all-consuming and fired the lovers with the ambition to create a new order. Had they succeeded, our world today might have been very different.Filled with murder, intrigue, civil war and great battles, the tragedy of Cleopatra and Antony has fascinated the world for two millennia, and has been depicted by everyone from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the iconic 1960s film. Now Diana Preston has gone back to the original sources and delved into the real history behind the propaganda and the myth, to breathe new life into this epic love story. A thoroughly engaging and fascinating look at those star-crossed lovers who changed the course of history.

JOHN DRAKE: FLINT AND SILVER ~ Pirates of the Carribean meets Flashman in this rip-roaring, hugely entertaining prequel to Treasure Island John Silver had never killed a man. Until now, charisma, sheer size and, when all else failed, a powerful pair of fists, had been enough to see off his enemies. But on a smouldering deck off the coast of Madagascar, his shipmates dead or dying all around him, his cutlass has just claimed the lives of six pirates. With their comrades intent on revenge, Silver's promising career in the merchant navy looks set to come to an end! until the pirate captain makes him an offer he can't refuse. On the other side of the world Joseph Flint, a naval officer wronged by his superiors, plots a bloody mutiny. Strikingly handsome, brilliant, but prey to sadistic tendencies, the path Flint has chosen will ultimately lead him to Silver. Together these gentlemen of fortune forge a deadly and unstoppable partnership, steering a course through treachery and betrayal and amassing a vast fortune. But the arrival of Selina, a beautiful runaway slave with a murderous past, triggers sexual jealousy that will turn the best of friends into sworn enemies ! and so the legend of Treasure Island begins.You'll be hooked

CARL-JOHAN VALLGREEN: DOCUMENTS CONCERNING RUBASHOV THE GAMBLER ~ Rubashov is a gambling addict, and on the eve of the 20th century, he challenges the devil himself just for the 'thrill'. The mistake costs him his soul and he is condemned to immortality. Following this event, Rubashov has much success for a decade or so, but soon he realises that he is cursed. Many unsucessful suicide events lead him to travel around Europe, meeting many infamous personages along the way, in his quest to regain mortality. The book itself is often sad, showing all the evils mankind has bought upon itself. it is macabre at times, but this shouldn't put you off reading it. No, it shouldn't put you off reading it, but I'm afraid it did. Only die-hard aficionados of translated fiction will take a chance on this one. Expect it to be remaindered fairly soon.

 

The Lodger - Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl. A dazzling new book from one of Britain's most celebrated and bestselling non-fiction authors, Charles Nicholl. In 1612 Shakespeare gave evidence at the Court of Requests in Westminster – it is the only occasion his spoken words are recorded. The case seems routine – a dispute over an unpaid marriage-dowry – but it opens up an unexpected window into the dramatist's famously obscure life-story. Charles Nicholl applies a powerful biographical magnifying glass to this fascinating episode in Shakespeare's life. Marshalling evidence from a wide variety of sources, including previously unknown documentary material on the Mountjoys, he conjures up a detailed and compelling description of the circumstances in which Shakespeare lived and worked, and in which he wrote such plays as Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear.

Three Victories and a Defeat - The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714—1783 by Brendan Simms. A rich, vivid history of the rise and fall of the first British Empire and the European alliances that supported it. This highly original, extremely enjoyable book tells the story of Britain’s extraordinary scramble to world power in the eighteenth century and how, through hubris and incompetence, it lost almost everything it had gained.
‘Studded with brilliant vignettes and arresting insights, Simms’s marvellous narrative presents an original and provocative account not only of the rise and decline of British eighteenth-century imperial power, but also of the processes that formed the modern global system’ Christopher Clark, author of
Iron Kingdom

The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire - The Demise of a Superpower, 1944-47 by Peter Clarke. 'Peter Clarke's marvellous new book tells us the story of the individuals and forces which shaped our world' Margaret MacMillan, author of Peacemakers. Peter Clarke’s book is the first to analyse in detail the losing hand that Britain was dealt in the last year of the war, and then to see how that hand was played over the next two years by Churchill’s successors. It makes superb use of the copious letters and diaries now available of the major participants and many involved observers to show how decisions were taken and received. Not least, it analyses dispassionately the role of the USA: how Roosevelt and his successors were determined that Britain must be sustained both during the war and after, but that the British Empire must not. The book thus also describes the short pivotal period when American influence finally took over from the British in world politics.

Two Lives of Charlemagne - The Life of Charlemagne; Charlemagne by Einhard; Notker. Two fascinating biographical accounts of the great medieval ruler, translated by David Ganz and Lewis Thorpe. Einhard's Life of Charlemagne is an absorbing chronicle of one of the most powerful and dynamic of all medieval rulers, written by a close friend and adviser. In elegant prose it describes Charlemagne's personal life, details his achievements in reviving learning and the arts, recounts his military successes, and depicts one of the defining moments in European history: Charlemagne's coronation as emperor in Rome on Christmas Day 800. By contrast, Notker's account, written some decades after Charlemagne's death, is a collection of anecdotes rather than a presentation of historical facts. In these stories, which merge into fiction, Charlemagne is already half way to becoming the legendary figure of later medieval epics.

Warrior of Rome I: Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom. The first instalment in an immense trilogy, spanning the decline of the Roman Empire. AD 225 — the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged throughout the territories and along every border. Yet the most lethal threat lurks far to the east in Persia, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. The far flung and isolated citadel of Arête faces out across the wasteland, awaiting the inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshall the defences of this lonely city — one man to shore up the crumbling walls of a once indomitable symbol of Roman power — a man whose name itself means war, a man called Ballista. Alone, Ballista is called to muster the forces and find the courage to stand first and to stand hard against the greatest enemy ever to confront the Imperium. And so unfolds an epic drama — a story of empire, of heroes, of treachery, of courage, and most of all, a story of brutal, bloody warfare.

ETHAN CANIN: AMERICA AMERICA ~ It is the early 1970s; Nixon is in the White House and Corey Sifter, the young son of working-class parents, is befriended by the powerful Metarey family, whose patriarch is a kingmaker in the world of New York state politics. Corey becomes a yard-boy on the Metarey's grand estate, and soon, through the family's generosity, a student at a private boarding school. Before long, he is a confidant of the Metareys and an aide to the great New York Senator Henry Bonwiller as he runs for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.But as the Bonwiller presidential campaign gains momentum a crime is committed, and Corey is forced to reconcile his part in a complex tangle of morality, politics, gratitude, love and loyalty. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and during one of the most turbulent eras of twentieth-century US politics, "America America" possesses the mastery of pace and voice of classic American fiction. Canin has written a magnificent novel about ambition and family, politics and crime, sex and love, small-town life and big-time power - and, ultimately, how vanity, greatness and tragedy combine to change history and fate.

SUSAN NAGEL: MARIE THERESE ~ In January, 1796, Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI arrived in Vienna in the care of her first cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, who had smuggled her out of France after the Reign of Terror. For three years Francis tried to convince Marie-Therese to assert her hereditary rights and allow him to invade the newly vulnerable democracy, but Marie-Therese refused, ultimately fleeing her cousin's Hofburg Palace for Mittau, where her exiled uncle, King Louis XVIII, married her off to his son.At Mittau, Marie-Therese wrote her memoirs, and, upon their publication, immediately became the enduring symbol of the Bourbon Restoration and a figure of fascination around the world. Yet for all of her fame Marie-Therese's later life remains shrouded in mystery. To this day, many believe that the real Marie-Therese, traumatized following her family's sudden execution, was spirited away to Eastern Europe, where she switched identities with a childhood playmate and lived out the rest of her life in seclusion as 'The Dark Countess'. Now, two hundred years later, this theory is finally put to rest.

NARA LAKE: REMITTANCE MAN ~ Gripped by a land boom as frantic as the 1850s gold rush fever, the entrepreneurs of Melbourne in 1885 are making fortunes. Amongst them is Walker J. Handford but his wife, downtrodden Maude, is deeply unhappy and in love with another man.Meanwhile, disgraced journalist Adam Bailey is exiled to distant East Gippsland to investigate conditions in the region's goldfields. Before he leaves, a detective acquaintance jokes that whenever Mr Bailey pokes his nose into things, he stirs up trouble.True or not, Adam Bailey is soon covering a sensational murder case, and for Maude, bravely determined to end her sham marriage, life is destined to change in a sudden and horrifying fashion.

VICKIE BRITTON & LORETTA JACKSON: STONE OF VENGEANCE ~ This is a Kate Jepp Mystery.Wealthy cattle baron Charles Kingsley is fatally shot in his home, a flat granite stone placed beneath his head. On the wall above his body among Western memorabilia, Kate Jepp notices an original invitation to Tom Horn's hanging. This notorious gunslinger, who tracked and shot cattle rustlers in the late 1800's, also left behind a stone as a symbol of vengeance.Alerted by this link to Wyoming's bloody past, Kate looks for would-be seekers of revenge. Kingsley's new bride has displaced his niece, Mary Ellen, as his heir, and he has been engaged in a fierce battle with Sam Swen, whose foreman, Ty Garrison, may be a modern-day hired gun.Each step Kate takes places her in the path of deadly vengeance.

DAVID KYNASTON: AUSTERITY BRITAIN - SMOKE IN THE VALLEY ~ David Kynaston's "Austerity Britain" 1945-51, the first book in his series "Tales of a New Jerusalem", was a major "Sunday Times" bestseller in 2007. Here is the second volume from this landmark book covering 1948-51. Continuing his groundbreaking series about post-war Britain, Kynaston presents a breathtaking portrait of our nation through eyewitness accounts, newspapers of the time and previously unpublished diaries. Drawing on the everyday experiences of people from all walks of life, "Smoke in the Valley" covers the length and breadth of the country to tell its story. This is an unsurpassed social history: intensely evocative to those who were there and eye-opening for their children and grandchildren.

DAVID CORDINGLY: COCHRANE THE DAUNTLESS ~ Patrick O' Brian, C.S. Forester and Captain Marryat all based their literary heroes on Thomas Cochrane, but Cochrane's exploits were far more daring and exciting than those of his fictional counterparts. He was a man of action, whose bold and impulsive nature meant he was often his own worst enemy. Writing with gripping narrative skill and drawing on his own travels and original research, Cordingly tells the rip-roaring story of a flawed Romantic hero who helped define his age.

 

OLEN STEINHAUER: VICTORY SQUARE ~ The stunning conclusion to Olen Steinhauer's crictically acclaimed Cold War cycle. Berlin, 1989 The collapse of the Wall. For many, a new beginning. But for some, the beginning of the end. In the dying days of the Eastern bloc, it's business as usual for detective Emil Brod. With three days to go until Brod's retirement, the death of spymaster Lieutenant General Kolev from a heart attack is a routine matter. Until a lethal cocktail of drugs is found in the autopsy and rumours spread that a revolutionary group may be responsible. Soon Brod uncovers a widespread plot, with roots in one of his earliest cases: old enemies have come out of hiding while old friends are choosing sides. Across Europe, Communism starts to crumble, and Brod wonders how many innocents it will take with it!

SARA YOUNG: MY ENEMY'S CRADLE ~ A powerful story of love and deception set against the true events of one of the most secret and terrifying of Heinrich Himmler's wartime projects - the Lebensborn Nazi breeding programme Cyrla's neighbours have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Annika, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for Aryan girls carrying German babies. Annika's soldier has disappeared; the Nazis confiscate fatherless children. Cyrla, sent from Poland to hide with her Dutch relatives, has been warned that her neighbours know she is half Jewish. She won't be safe for long. A cruel twist of fate places Cyrla with the terrible choice between certain discovery in her cousin's home and taking Annika's place in the Lebensborn. If she takes refuge in teh enemy's lair, can Cyrla fool teh doctors, nurses, guards and other mothers-to-be? How will she escape before they discover she is not who she claims?

JOHN GUY: A DAUGHTER'S LOVE ~ This book will break open a secret. It is a gripping tale of love, loyalty and domestic happiness that came to be overwhelmed by the forces of ambition, deceit and treachery, from the award-winning author of 'My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots'. The life of Sir Thomas More is familiar to many. His opposition to Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, his arrest for treason in 1534, his virtuoso defence at his trial, and his execution in 1535 (and subsequent martyrdom) make up one of the most famous stories in British history. While More's place in history is secure, Margaret, his daughter, has been almost forgotten. She was airbrushed out of the story, even though she played a leading role in this very public drama. During More's imprisonment in the Tower of London, Margaret became his sole intermediary with the outside world. She visited frequently, and the pair wrote long and loving letters to one another. Margaret also smuggled more inflammatory letters in and out of the Tower during these visits, and it is through these that we see a dramatic new portrait of Sir Thomas More emerge.In this enlightening new book, John Guy returns to original sources that have been ignored by generations of historians, and re-writes a story that we think we already know.

JEREMY LEWIS: GRUB STREET IRREGULAR ~ An engaging, wickedly funny and splendidly anecdotal memoir of a career spent among writers, agents, publishers and bookmen and women of every stripe. Jeremy Lewis's first memoir, 'Playing for Time', was hailed by James Lees-Milne as 'the funniest and best written book I've read for years.' His second, 'Kindred Spirits', was described by John Carey as 'sheer pleasure from start to finish'. Now he has written a third autobiographical account of his encounters with literary figures over the last two decades which fittingly caps the previous two. A rich sense of the absurd and a profound understanding of the extreme comicality of life, together with a delight in the oddities of human behaviour, are the hallmarks of Jeremy Lewis's world. Bumbling figures of the book trade and eccentric luminaries of Grub Street alike are grist to his mill; his characterisations of Andre Deutsch, James Lees-Milne, Alan Ross, Richard Cobb, Barbara Skelton and dozens of others -- are written with huge warmth and affection. Seldom has modern literary life been described with such a sense of relish and enjoyment; and seldom has the reader been so richly entertained by a gallery of eccentric portraits.

SUZANNAH DUNN: THE QUEEN'S SORROW ~ A queen brought low by love compromised and power abused -- the tragedy of Mary Tudor. Plain, dutiful and a passionate Catholic, Mary Tudor was overjoyed by joy when she became England's queen. After the misery of her childhood, when her father had rejected her mother, and effectively disowned his daughter, Mary felt at last that she was achieving her destiny. And when she marries Philip of Spain, her happiness is complete. But Mary's delight quickly turns sour as she realises that her husband does not love her. In fact he finds her devotion irritating. Desperate for a baby, she begins to believe that God is punishing her. Her people are horrified at the severity of the measures she takes and begin to turn against their queen who is lonely, frightened -- and desperate for love. Rafael, a member of Philip of Spain's entourage, is a reluctant witness to the unfolding tragedy and as the once-feted queen tightens her cruel hold on the nation, Rafael becomes closer to Mary and his life -- and new-found love -- are caught up in the terrible chaos that follows.

KIRSTEN ELLIS: STAR OF THE MORNING ~ The dramatic story of Lady Hester Stanhope -- a wilful beauty turned bohemian adventurer -- who left England as a young woman, unashamedly enjoyed a string of lovers and established her own exotic fiefdom in the Lebanese mountains where she died in 1839. Ambitious, daring and uncompromising, Lady Hester Stanhope was never cut out for a conventional life. Born into an illustrious political dynasty, she played society hostess for her uncle, William Pitt the Younger. After his death, she struck out for unchartered territory, setting sail with her lover for the Mediterranean and Constantinople -- turning her back on England, as events would transpire, forever. It was in the Middle East, however, that she found her destiny. As the greatest female traveller of her age, she was the first western woman to cross the Syrian desert, where she was hailed by the Bedouin as their 'Star of the Morning'. From her labyrinthine fortress in the mountains of Lebanon, where she established what amounted to her own fiefdom, she exerted a canny influence over the region's devious politics.Hers was a life of adventure and intrigue -- yet in the years following her death her remarkable story has been largely dismissed, reworked by the Victorians into a cautionary tale for young women with wayward tendencies.

OPHELIA FIELD: THE KIT-CAT CLUB ~ The fascinating history of the male-only members of the Kit-Cat Club, the unofficial centre of Whig power in 17th century Britain, and home to the greatest political and artistic thinkers of a generation. The Kit-Cat Club was founded in the late 1690s when London bookseller Jacob Tonson forged a partnership with pie-maker Christopher (Kit) Cat. What began as an eccentric publishing rights deal -- Tonson paying to feed talented young writers and receiving first option on their works -- developed into a unique gathering of intellects and interests, then into an unofficial centre of Whig power during the reigns of William & Mary, Anne and George I. With consummate skill, Ophelia Field portrays this formative period in British history through the club's intimate lens. She describes the vicious Tory-Whig 'paper wars' and the mechanics of aristocratic patronage, the London theatre world and its battles over sexual morality, England's Union with Scotland and the hurly-burly of Westminster politics.Among the club's most prominent members were William Congreve, one of Britain's greatest playwrights; Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, authors of the Tatler and Spectator, who raised English prose to new heights; and John Vanbrugh, a versatile genius whose architecture remains some of the most ambitious in Britain.

LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: A CHOICE OF ENEMIES ~ The United States is locked into three prolonged conflicts without much hope of early resolution. Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme; the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has seen unrelenting intercommunal violence; and the Taliban have got back into Afghanistan. George W. Bush will almost certainly leave office without solving any of these big foreign policy issues that have defined his presidency. Lawrence Freedman, one of our most distinguished historians of 20th century military and political strategy, teases out the roots of each engagement over the last thirty years and demonstrates with clarity and scholarship the influence of these conflicts upon each other. How is it that the US manages to find itself fighting on three different fronts? Freedman supplies a context to recent events and warns against easy assumptions: neo-conservatives, supporters of Israel and the hawks are not the sole reasons for the failure to develop a viable foreign policy in the Middle East. The story is infinitely more complex and is often marked by great drama. First, the countries in dispute with America are not themselves natural allies; and second, their enmity was not, at first, America's choice. Until the Shah went into exile in 1979 Iran had been a pillar of US security policy...Third, the region's problems cannot all be traced to the Arab-Israeli dispute. Unique in its focus, this book will offer not only new revelations but also remind us of what has been forgotten or has never been put in context.

Lewis Carroll in Numberland - His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life by Robin Wilson. A celebration of one of the nineteenth century's most gifted minds His writings have inspired and entertained generation after generation of readers, but only now are the lesser-celebrated achievements of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson — better known as Lewis Carroll — finally brought to light by highly acclaimed author and mathematician Robin Wilson. Lewis Carroll in Numberland explores the full gamut of the workings of the singular imagination that created Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. For many years, as lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College, Oxford, Dodgson published extensively in the traditional fields of geometry, logic and algebra. His mathematical achievements, however, were not confined to the purely academic: from the study of voting patterns to the design of tennis tournaments and the prolific creation of imaginative, mathematical recreational puzzles, Dodgson made many contributions to British society that are explored in this absorbing book.

The Lodger - Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl. A dazzling new book from one of Britain's most celebrated and bestselling non-fiction authors, Charles Nicholl. In 1612 Shakespeare gave evidence at the Court of Requests in Westminster – it is the only occasion his spoken words are recorded. The case seems routine – a dispute over an unpaid marriage-dowry – but it opens up an unexpected window into the dramatist's famously obscure life-story. Charles Nicholl applies a powerful biographical magnifying glass to this fascinating episode in Shakespeare's life. Marshalling evidence from a wide variety of sources, including previously unknown documentary material on the Mountjoys, he conjures up a detailed and compelling description of the circumstances in which Shakespeare lived and worked, and in which he wrote such plays as Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear.

Three Victories and a Defeat - The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714—1783 by Brendan Simms. A rich, vivid history of the rise and fall of the first British Empire and the European alliances that supported it. This highly original, extremely enjoyable book tells the story of Britain’s extraordinary scramble to world power in the eighteenth century and how, through hubris and incompetence, it lost almost everything it had gained.
‘Studded with brilliant vignettes and arresting insights, Simms’s marvellous narrative presents an original and provocative account not only of the rise and decline of British eighteenth-century imperial power, but also of the processes that formed the modern global system’ Christopher Clark, author of
Iron Kingdom

The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire - The Demise of a Superpower, 1944-47 by Peter Clarke. 'Peter Clarke's marvellous new book tells us the story of the individuals and forces which shaped our world' Margaret MacMillan, author of Peacemakers. Peter Clarke’s book is the first to analyse in detail the losing hand that Britain was dealt in the last year of the war, and then to see how that hand was played over the next two years by Churchill’s successors. It makes superb use of the copious letters and diaries now available of the major participants and many involved observers to show how decisions were taken and received. Not least, it analyses dispassionately the role of the USA: how Roosevelt and his successors were determined that Britain must be sustained both during the war and after, but that the British Empire must not. The book thus also describes the short pivotal period when American influence finally took over from the British in world politics.

Two Lives of Charlemagne - The Life of Charlemagne; Charlemagne by Einhard; Notker. Two fascinating biographical accounts of the great medieval ruler, translated by David Ganz and Lewis Thorpe. Einhard's Life of Charlemagne is an absorbing chronicle of one of the most powerful and dynamic of all medieval rulers, written by a close friend and adviser. In elegant prose it describes Charlemagne's personal life, details his achievements in reviving learning and the arts, recounts his military successes, and depicts one of the defining moments in European history: Charlemagne's coronation as emperor in Rome on Christmas Day 800. By contrast, Notker's account, written some decades after Charlemagne's death, is a collection of anecdotes rather than a presentation of historical facts. In these stories, which merge into fiction, Charlemagne is already half way to becoming the legendary figure of later medieval epics.

PETER HART - 1918: A VERY BRITISH VICTORY ~ In the spring of 1918 the German army launched a series of devastating offensives against the French and British lines on the Western Front. For four months they threw literally everything they had at the Allies, sending them reeling all the way back to the Marne. But despite the most appalling losses, the British did not break, and when the German advance ran out of steam in the summer, the Allies finally turned the tables on them and began the astonishing advance that would bring an end to the war. In a conflict known for its static battles, 1918 provided some of the most dramatic, mobile battles of the century. For the Germans this was the last desperate fling of the dice, much like the Ardennes offensive of December 1944. This book captures the desperation of the ordinary British soldiers, fighting with their backs to the wall as they clung on to their fragile lines. Drawing on the dramatic personal accounts of men who were there - both commanders and ordinary soldiers - Peter Hart brings to life the sheer suspense of waiting for the German attack, the desperate turmoil of the retreat, and the nail-biting turning of the tide which brought an end to the war.

In this issue: interviews with ELIZABETH GEORGE and AMANDA GREENSLADE plus fe

Books Monthly (formerly Gateway Monthly) is published by Paul Edmund Norman on the first day of each month. You can contact me via e-mail at: [email protected]. If you'd like to get a story published in Books Monthly just e-mail it to me and I'll consider it - no payment though, I'm afraid!