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  • William Tyler

FOUR HISTORY BOOKS

Blood and Ruins by Richard Overy

The sub-title tells us the contents, 'The Great Imperial War 1931-45'.

Overy has written extensively, and wisely, about both the 20th century and The Second World War. Indeed he is, in the opinion of many, one of the best of our living historians. His works are always challenging in their thoughts but at the same time remarkably easy to read.

This book is a new take on well known history. Overy sees the period under review as the time when 19th century empires ended.

His chapter headings alone entice one into the book. They include titles such as: Imperial fantasies, Imperial realities 1940-43, War economies, Economies at war, and The emotional geography of war. Wide ranging, erudite, challenging, and readable, can one ask for more?

At nearly 900 pages long it is an excellent book for autumn as the nights begin to draw in. The book is supplemented with a selection of good maps, and lengthy notes.


Time's Witness by Rosemary Hill

Hill has chosen an unusual subject for this book. She tells how Antiquaries, mostly amateurs, began to explore new areas of historical study between The French Revolution and the Opening of The Great Exhibition, 1789-1851.

These people, Hill argues, explored the history of the landscape, the history of ordinary people, and ordinary things amongst much else, including the new subject of what became known as Folklore.

The excellent bibliography, in my view, alone justifies the purchase of the book.


Black Gold by Jeremy Paxman

Paxman, journalist and broadcaster, is also the author of a number of popular histories, including one on The English and one on Empire. What he might lack as an analytical historian he more than makes up for by his wealth of anecdotes which illumine this story, as it did his others. All presented in his easy journalistic style. This is truly a 'history' as Paxman begins back in the Roman era and then takes his story up to the pivotal Miners' Strike of the 1980s.

Paxman draws on his own wide reading to cite sources ranging from Engels and John Evelyn to Dickens and DH Lawrence.


This is simply too good a book not to read, even if the deprivations of the miners themselves make at times for tough reading.


The Peasant (4 volumes) by Wladyslaw Reymont

Not strictly a history book but a Polish novel; yet it tells in accurate detail the context of being a peasant in 19th century Poland, and is considered to be one of the best accounts of European peasant life, lives which had dominated the continent for thousands of years and was but slowly ending. The four volumes were published between 1904 and 1909, and in 1924 Reymont won The Nobel Prize in Literature, pipping GB Shaw, DH Lawrence, and Thomas Mann to the award.

I am deeply ashamed to say that until by happenchance I came across this work I had never even heard of it, despite the fact that there have been two English translations. I hope if there are any like me who were equally ignorant some of you may even choose, like me, to read it - not a difficult read and a most interesting one.

Reymont died a year after receiving his accolade but not before publishing his final novel, 'The Revolt'. This is a Polish 'Animal Farm', although written twenty years before Orwell's masterpiece. Whether Orwell himself read the earlier work we don't know. Reymont's book tells of a group of farm animals taking over the farm in the name of 'equality', only to see their experiment end in abuse and bloodshed. Like Orwell, Reynont's novel is a way of dealing with the complexities of The Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

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