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  • William Tyler

Books, Books, Books

Many of us are reading more than ever as the lockdown cuts our options.


So this is not a list like my earlier ones but a glimpse into my own reading choices


Books I am currently reading


I keep about three books on the go at once : a history book, a natural history book (I am trying to educate myself in this area!), and a work of fiction


1 Trees in Anglo-Saxon England by Della Hook. This hits lots of spots for me as it is both history and natural history, with a good dash of folklore along the way. Plus the Saxons is one of my ever enduring loves, inherited from my history master at Prep School in Bristol in the 1950s. He studied the Saxons at Cambridge in the 19th Century when it was the in subject.


2 Woodland Flowers by Keith Kirby (mentioned in an earlier blog when I had just bought my copy). The latest in the British Wildlife series published by Bloomsbury. The whole series is outstanding and I look forward to reading more. The printing on high gloss paper is the best around, which allows the photos to be reproduced perfectly. This book is, however, about much more than botany because it covers historical, and folklore topics as well. I can't wait to get to the chapter intriguingly entitled 'Fun and Games in the Woods' - although I expect it is not quite what I am hoping for!


3. The novel I have on the go is the second in Cixin Liu's Sci-Fi series, 'The Three Body Problem'. It is well translated and the writing is both deep and rewarding. A very difficult series to give a synopsis of. Suffice it to say that it is about first contact with an alien species, far in advance of our own, who are looking for a new planet as theirs is becoming uninhabitable. They are 400 years away however. If you are looking for an easy no thinking sort of novel this is not it. This requires a slow read to savour the writing as well as the story and an ability to remember which Chinese is which (I keep a note of the characters so I can refer back).



Books I have recently read


1 The White Ship tells the story of the life and reign of Henry I. It is written by Charles Spencer, Princess Diana's brother. I have enjoyed his books before and cannot recommend this one more highly for anyone wanting to dig into the story of medieval England and Normandy. Spencer writes in an easy style, and at times the story he tells reads like fiction. No higher praise can be given that you really don't want to put it down because you are desperate to know what happens next (the reign of Henry I is not one all of us are familiar with in such detail). A marvellous popular history.


2 Just one damned thing after another by Jodi Taylor. The first in a series of an unusual fictional conceit. The story centres on a University Institute of History that is engaged in time travel. I didn't at first know what to make of it, but when I had finished I was keen to read the next volume. A very easy read.



Books I am looking forward to reading shortly


1 Statesman of Europe by TG Otte. A serious history book which is comprehensive and erudite. it tells the story of Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. No Dominic Raab was he. The blurb informs us, 'Edward Grey belonged to an era when British Foreign Policy carried global consequences'. Sir Edward was also a twitcher (bird watcher). It looks absolutely fascinating.


2 Britain Alone by Philip Stephens (associate editor of The FT) and This Sovereign Isle by Robert Tombs (former Professor of French History at Cambridge). Both books were this week published on the same day and both books are 'state of the nation' books. They have different views. Tombs is a Leaver, Stephens a Remainer. They complement each other. Stephens' book is the more serious in construction taking our story back to Suez and bringing it up to today. Tombs is more of a polemic, but exquisitely written, and blessedly short! I think reading both should prove most instructive.


A very new book, reviewed in today's Times, is Populism by the excellent historian Michael Burleigh (he of 'The Third Reich'). This again, like the other two books just mentioned, is a very personal book. I think all Burleigh's writings have been excellent and I am looking forward to receiving my copy on publication day, 11th February.


3 Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn. A book about how nature re-colonises abandoned places. Examples include the buffer zone in Cyprus, Chernobyl, Verdun, amongst others. It is sub titled 'Life in the Post-Human Landscape'. A really unusual topic that I am sure will be a rewarding read.


But whatever you read read for pleasure and enlightenment.



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