Britainʼs Rottenest Years by Derek Wilson (Short Books, £12.99) Subtitled “You think you’ve got it bad”, this book follows in the Terry Deary tradition of light historical books for beginners, although this one is more aimed at adults.
Starting with Boudicca’s fall in AD60, in which up to 100,000 Britons died in a futile attempt to stop the Romans invading, and ending with the dreadful year, 1981, when Britain was racked by mass unemployment that topped three million and race riots, the author chronicles some of the worst years of our history.
Along the way he also takes in the genocide of 1069, the Black Death year of 1349, the Civil War and the South Sea Bubble.
My only complaints are that the final year seems spurious in comparison, his analysis of the cause of the Brixton riots is simplistic, and his comparison of Margaret Thatcher and Hitler ridiculous.
Ed West The Last Veteran by Peter Parker (Fourth Estate, £14.99) Harry Patch, who died earlier this year, was the last veteran of the First World War, a conflict that is now utterly alien to us in its aims, ideals, tactics and belligerents. The Last Tommy indeed came from a different world: born in 1898 in Somerset, he was conscripted into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1916 and served at the dreadful Battle of Passchendaele the following year.
During that fight a shell exploded and killed three of his comrades. Patch was hit in the groin and went on to live another 90 years, by which time he had outlived three wives, two sons, and most of World War Two’s survivors.
He had outlived Fascism, Communism, seen the End of History and witnessed the dawn of the great struggle between democracy and fundamentalist Islam. His is a fascinating story.
Ed West My Secret by Frank Warren (Orion, £9.99) The PostSecret website (postsecret.blogspot.com) has been something of an anomaly in internet resources. It’s not there to sell anything; it’s not a forum for argument or didacticism, but rather an attempt to create a sort of “virtual” confession box for those who would never set foot in a church.
The idea, started by Frank Warren, was for people to send in their deepest secrets written on one side of a postcard.
These anonymous missives were then published on the website where many flocked for comfort and reassurance.
The book collects some of these postcards and though it may look and feel like a coffee table book, it is anything but. Here are heartwrenching confessions from the darkest parts of broken psyches, a communality of pain and suffering that makes one’s individual unhappiness melt away.
Stav Sherez Icing the Body Electric by J C Whitehouse (YouWriteOn. com, £6.99) J C Whitehouse is a lecturer in comparative religion and a trenchant commentator on Catholic novels and authors. He writes with style in an informative and entertaining manner.
This, his latest book, is a novel, a crime novel that probes morality and murder in modern England.
Wendy Bridger is nice, serious but not especially bright. She is also a police constable who falls in love with the chief suspect in an ongoing murder investigation.
What she doesn’t know is that there have been previous women who have fallen under this suspect’s influence. She doesn’t understand his deeper motivations, his aims or his character.
Described as “a modern bonfire of the vanities”, this novel becomes a tragi-comedic look at life, death and current morality.
It is a good, old-fashioned read. Maria Jones Samuel Johnson by Peter Martin (Phoenix, £14.99) Peter Martin is an academic who has written extensively on 18thcentury gardens in both England and the United States, as well as on James Boswell and Alexander Pope.
He is therefore ably suited to produce this mammoth biography of Samuel Johnson, perhaps the most quoted writer in the world after William Shakespeare.
Martin has tried in this book to let us see the unknown Johnson: an outsider wracked with self-doubt, depressed and flawed. Martin argues that Johnson’s character was marked by an impoverished childhood, his abandoned education and his service as a hack.
Johnson had many important things to say about the human condition, whether it be colonialism, slavery or gender equality, and though we may feel we know the man through his bon mots, this biography reveals hidden depths. Stav Sherez