London Stage in the Nineteenth Century by Robert Tanitch (Carnegie, £24.99) This beautifully illustrated guide to the London stage in the 19th century shines a light on a muchneglected period of theatre history. London at this time was the largest city in the world and its theatrical life was vibrant and hugely popular. The major productions were often extravagant, sensational and ridiculous, with erupting volcanoes, reconstructions of military battles, and even a presentation of Henley Regatta complete with real boats and 200 tons of water.
This book, by The Catholic Herald’s theatre critic Robert Tanitch, moves through the century year by year, listing all the significant productions, with snippets of reviews and quotes, playbills, illustrations and photographs of big stars.
This is an ideal purchase for theatre enthusiasts who want to know more about a fascinating period of stage history.
Mark Greaves The Rebelsʼ Hour by Lieve Joris (Atlantic, £9.99) Lieve Joris is a Belgian journalist unafraid to take risks. Having previously written books about conflict zones in the Middle East and southern Africa she now turns her pen to the Congo. Joseph Conrad famously described it as the heart of darkness during the Belgian colonial era when the whole country was the personal fiefdom of King Leopold II. But in the years since independence the country has sunk into darker provinces and deeper horrors than even Conrad could have imagined.
Joris had exclusive access to “Assani” a rebel commander operating in the lawless east of the country. Though this book is fact, she changes the names and we can only assume that “Assani” is indeed Laurent Nkunda, the rebel leader who almost brought Kinshasa to its knees a couple of years ago. This is a subtle, transfixing account of rebellion.
Stav Sherez The Road to Rome by Ben Kane (Random House, £12.99) The third in the Forgotten Legion series will be eagerly awaited by fans of this popular swords’n’sandals author. In the previous instalment Romulus and Tarquinius had survived the battle of Carrhhae and the march to central Asia, regions of unfathomable distance to Europeans in the first century.
Romulus, the former slave and gladiator, and Tarquinius the Etruscan mystic and warrior who hates Rome, are now forced into the legions to fight the Egyptians. Once again the fiction is mixed with history, with Romulus’s sister Fabiola being loved both by Brutus and his arch-enemy Marcus Antonius. After Romulus fights at the Battle of Zela and Tarquinus wanders Egypt, the twins Romulus and Fabiola destined to be reunited on March 15, 44BC – one of the most significant dates in European history. This is a gripping, manly adventure.
Ed West Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey (Arrow, £8.99) After his excellent series on English history Robert Lacey has taken on an even more obscure and mysterious place, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is the ultimate in contradictions. A key ally to the US, it is also the home of Wahabbism, the most puritanical and dangerous form of Islam which inspired al-Qaeda. Yet its royal family, the Sauds, are considered the arch-enemy of the Islamists, primarily because of their close friendship with the Americans which entails the blasphemy of Christian troops being posted in Arabia.
The real special relationship goes back to Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom who took control of the desert land in 1902 and became, thanks to oil, once of the most powerful patriarchs on earth. Lacey finds an oil-rich but uncertain nation desperate for change, but fearful of modernity.
Ed West The Last Banana by Shelby Tucker (Stacey International, £17.99) Lawyer Shelby Tucker first journeyed to East Africa in 1967 to visit an Oxford contemporary then farming the slopes of Kilimanjaro. His friend’s grandfather had been one of the first of many Greeks to settle the area when it was still called German East Africa.
Unfortunately Julius Nyerere, the long-serving president of Tanzania, was unduly swayed by Communist rhetoric and decided to “return” all land to the natives, thus destroying many communities that had built up (as well as the national economy). Tucker’s friend feared the inevitable “nationalisation” and invited Tucker to come and eat the “last banana” before his farm was taken from him.
Tucker contrasts the moral force and consequences of the missionaries who brought Christianity to Africa with the banality of modern travel and despotism of so-called African democracy.