Thursday, 1 July 2010

July selection of books for reader review

Every month, we offer our readers the opportunity to review some of the latest history publications and to have their review published on the History Today Books Blog. Here is our summer selection. To submit a review, please send an email to Kathryn Hadley (k.hadley[at] specifying your choice of book. We will then send you the book with a one-month deadline to send us your review. Books will be sent on a first come first served basis. (Unfortunately, we are unable to send out books to the USA).

Young Mandela, David James Smith (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
This biography of Nelson Mandela charts his political and personal life before his imprisonment. Drawing on the testimonies of Mandela’s closest friends and family, the author focuses on Mandela as a person, and a young radical – a side of him which is often overshadowed by his reputation as one of the world’s greatest idols.

H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, Michael Sherborne (Peter Owen)
This biography draws on published and unpublished sources, including the long-suppressed ‘skeleton correspondence’ with his mistresses and illegitimate daughter, to tell the life story of H.G. Wells, who remains a controversial figure to this day, attacked by some as a philistine, sexist and racist, but also praised as a great writer, a prophet of globalisation and a pioneer of human rights.

The Stalin Epigram, Robert Littell (Duckworth Overlook)
A fictionalised account based on the true story of one of Russia’s most prominent 20th century poets, Osip Mandelstam, who was arrested when his poem the Stalin Epigram, an indictment of Stalin and his collectivisation programmes written in 1934, was discovered by the secret police.

The Excellent Mrs Fry, Anne Isba (Continuum)
A bigraphy of the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), which focuses on her lifelong work to improve the welfare of female prisoners and convicts bound for Australia in Britain and continental Europe.

Warlord, Carlo D’Este (Penguin)
This paperback version of D’Este’s biography of Winston Churchill traces Churchill’s life through his military adventures, from his days as a schoolboy to the young man captured in the Boer War, and from his 1915 Dardanelles campaign as first Lord of the Admiralty to his triumph in the Second World War.

The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen (Random House)
Focusing on the invention of the steam engine, this account charts the experiments and accomplishments of inventors that led to the Industrial Revolution, as they first came to own and profit from their ideas.

The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824, Harvey Sachs (Faber & Faber)
A study of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which places the premiere of the composition, in 1824, in its historical context to explain how it was emblematic of the High Romantic period and represented a magisterial humanistic statement.

The Silent Duchess, Dacia Maraini (Arcadia Books)
Set in Sicily in the mid-18th century, this historical novel tells the story of the noble Ucria family, seen through the eyes of the deaf-mute Duchess Marianna.

Caravaggio, Andrew Graham-Dixon (Penguin)
This biography of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio charts the dark and dangerous life of the painter in the worlds of Milan, Rome and Naples in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Graham-Dixon reveals the identities of the ordinary people that Caravaggio used for his depictions of classic religious scenes and provides an account of the circumstances of Caravaggio’s death, aged 38, when he fell victim to a vendetta attack.

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