Here you will find reference to some of the books I find inspiring, and which help to inform my lines of thought about historical investigation. Enjoy browsing!
All titles can be obtained via the wonderful independent bookshop in Penzance: www.edgeoftheworldbookshop.co.uk
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The Thief at the end of the World
After reading this book I will certainly be searching out more of Joe Jackson's work: he takes what could be a rather dull subject, and imbues it with a sense of adventure and discovery. Here, he traces the life of Henry Wickham, a Victorian whose name is not famous in the annuls of history, but who was instrumental in taking rubber plants from the Amazon and transplanting them to the British colonies in the east. With the advent of the motor car in the early 20th Century, global demand for rubber became immense, and the economic impact of his actions is still debated. My next quest is to find the diary of Wickham's wife, Violet, who literally followed him to the ends of the earth for almost thirty years, before leaving him to pursue his continual dreams of riches. An insight in to the personal costs of an Empire that is usually seen only from a distance.
Mountains of the Mind
This is an easy-reading, but very informative book, taking a 'long-view' of humanity's relationship with the high-ground of our environments. It gives a wonderful perspective of how cultural change in society over the last 400 years has wrought changes in our perceptions of the peaks, and is in parts humorous, moving and gripping. A wonderful way to travel, without moving your feet!
A Time of Gifts
Patrick Leigh Fermor
One of my favourite books! At the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, though he only wrote it up much later in his life, from notes taken at the time. His writing is lyrical, and infused with the sense of adventure and learning as he continually meets new cultures and people. Armchair tourism - of place and time - at it's best!
Between the Woods and the Water
Patrick Leigh Fermor
The second part of Patrick Leigh Fermor's walk through Europe between the First and Second World Wars, taking the reader on a journey through eastern Europe - beautifully written.
The Broken Road
Patrick Leigh Fermor
The third volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor's walk across pre-Second World War Europe, compiled by two editors after it was left unfinished at his death, though still very recognisably in his wonderful prose.
Mani - travels in the Southern Peloponnese
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Travelling in the 1950s and early 60s, Patrick Leigh Fermor encountered a rural Greece that has now disappeared, populated by migrant shepherds and dotted by villages with distinct and varied traditions. A fascinating insight into a lost world of textures and individualism.
A Time to keep Silent
Patrick Leigh Fermor
In an attempt to write-up the manuscript that would become 'A time of gifts', Patrick Leigh Fermor spent some time in the silent monastries of northern France, and here he describes the experience of both these days, and later explorations of the rural monastries in Turkey. A reflective and absorbing chronicle.
Inglorious Empire - what the British did to India
An engaging history of the British in India, from the perspective of the Indian continent, looking outwards. Tharoor's writing cuts clearly to the core of the matter in a very approachable way, while keeping a sharp eye on providing substantive evidence for his opinion. An approachable and thought-provoking read.
Lime Street at Two
This is the fourth of the series of autobiographies that so graphically recreate the experience of life in Liverpool in the 1930s and through the Second World War; this volume is of the War period, containing graphic descriptions of the Blitz, and the struggle for survival at a time when living standards for many people was well below what we would now consider acceptable.
Half the Way Home: a memoir of Father and Son
Perhaps one of my favourite books; Adam charts the path of his life as an only child born in to a wealthy family, and the obstacles encountered in building a meaningful relationship with his father. Very human, very personal, and very engaging.
Bury the Chains
Sharp and direct, this book looks clearly at the strands of history that led to the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1833, finding the stories of the less well-known people who contributed to the success of William Wilberforce, who saw the Slavery Abolition Act pass just 3 days before his death.
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England
A book which is perfectly described by its title! Travel back in time and see how every-day society functioned at a time we more often associate with the acts of Kings and Queens. Very entertaining and informative.
Despite having been identified as a less than accurate record of the reality of Nigel slater's stepmum, this book is a fascinating read for the sense of place it creates of life as a young child in the 1970s. It revolves largely around food - as the title suggests - but is a moving, perceptive portrayal of Nigel's early childhood.
Shadows of the Workhouse
1950s East End of London, from the perspective of a midwife
Documenting the part that Jan played in relaying the news that Everest had been conquered by Edmund Hillary and his team in 1953, this book is rich in descriptions of time and place. It is an engaging and entertaining read - a small book with lots to say!
Hills of Adonis: a quest in Lebanon
This is the first of the many books written by Colin Thubron, and gives a glimpse in to the rural life of Lebonan in the 1970s, when he travelled there, mainly on foot. His writing is wonderful - fresh and direct - and has no sense of being 'dated' though it is nearly 50 years since it was written.
Down and Out in Paris and London
A classic of contemporary literature, and for good reason; Orwell brings his powers of observation to his journey though London and Paris in the 1930s, making the reader feel as if they have themselves experienced the characters he has met.
The Matter of Wales: epic views of a small country
Wonderful; probably best described as an 'autobiography' of Wales, beginning with the distant early history, and painting a vivid picture of how it has evolved culturally and economically. Characters abound, and I can recommend reading with a map alongside, for planning your next visit!
Pale Rider - The Spanish Flu of 1918, and how it changed the world
An extremely readable and interesting account of the flu pandemic after the First World War.
Farewell the Trumpets
The third volume of the Pax Britannica trilgy, tracing the fall of the British Empire and the people it affected. Engaging and informative.
The Wildlife of our Bodies
A wonderful 'way in' to biology, as the journalist and author Rob Dunn takes us on a tour of how microscopic life has been essential to our wellbeing throughout evolution.
Red Sky at Sunrise - Cider with Rosie; As I walked out one Summer Morning; A moment of War
The three autobiographical works of Laurie Lee, all wrapped up in a single volume. The first book gives a moving insight in to village life before the motor car, and subsequent volumes explore how Laurie's life opened-up as he moved from the village of his childhood in to the wider world.
The Road to Wigan Pier
A very evocative description of Orwell's travels through the industrial towns around Wigan in the years before the Second World War, giving an insight in to the difficult living conditions which prevailed.
Shadows of the Silk Road
A poetical and insightful read, documenting travel on foot across a large tract of Asia, connecting East with West.
The Man who touched his own Heart
Taking an unusual 'people-centric' way in to the history of early heart surgery, this book opens up a topic that would not usually be thought of as enjoyable and makes it fascinating!
A Potter in Japan
Describing his years spent in Japan between 1952-54 is the essence of this book, but the wonderful descriptions of the author of the people and places he encounters mean that its appeal is much wider; speculation on the transition from hand-made to factory made items is a recurring theme.
Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War
Through the personal stories of those who were there, Adam Hochschild brings to relevance a lesser-known period of military history, and makes it come alive.
The Captive Queen: a novel of Eleanor of Aquitane
An 'historical ficton' novel, aiming to re-create the ambiance of medieval England, using the facts where they are known, and fiction to 'fill in the blanks'. An engrossing read.
The Black Death
This book is deceptive; it looks like a text-book, but reads easily. It's an informative and entertaining insight in to a famous and socially important period in history.
Hillbilly Elegy: a memoir of a family and a culture in crisis
J D Vance
Well-written and full of insights in to a way of life that has been brought to the fore by the recent Presidency of Donald Trump, and which deserves to be better understood.
Beyond the High Blue Air
A moving true story written by a mother, telling the trajectory of her family's life after a skiing accident in which her eldest son suffered life-changing brain damage.
Sapiens: A brief history of humankind
Yuval Noah Harari
One of the most broad-ranging books I've read in recent years, taking in human evolution, early civilisation, and how religion helped to shape our world. Very accessible.
Travels with a donkey trap
A trip back in time to 1970s Devon, when Daisy widens her horizons in her old-age with the purchase of a donkey and trap. Her descriptions of the scenery around where she lives, and her awareness of the changing seasons, is reminiscent of Laurie Lee. This book deserves to be more widely read.
Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics
A very readable and engaging perspective on how the physical geography of our world influences political and human geography.
The children act
Short-story writing at its best; an intense plot rife with the microscopic detail characteristic of this author, that gives a sense of real involvement with the characters.
The last fighting Tommy: the life of Harry Patch, the last veteran of the trenches. 1898-2009
Richard van Emden with Harry Patch
Incredible reading: a perspective on the real experience of the First World War, from the oldest survivor of the trenches. Amazing.
Into the Whirlwind & Within the Whirlwind
The two-part autobiography of a woman caught up in the terrors of being a prisoner in the Soviet gulags in the 1930s. It manages to be inspiring and uplifting, while recounting the truth of her experiences.
Nella Last's War
This is the first part of Nella Last's diary which, as the title suggests, details her life during the Second World War in her home town of Barrow-in-Furness. Beautiful descriptions of life and the Lake District, providing an intimate glimpse in to a moment of history.