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One man's odyssey through the world of books

Updated: 2018-04-24T08:56:19.551+00:00


Frederick Engels - The Peasant War in Germany


This short work by Frederick Engels is rarely read, but it forms an important part of his contribution to Marxist historical works and theory. Dealing with the German Peasant War of 1525-1526, part of the enormous upheavals that shook Europe during the Reformation, Engels argues that this has it roots in the economic changes taking place in German society, combined with the class struggle

Colin Dexter - The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn


One of the great things about the Inspector Morse novels is that they are relatively timeless. Morse and Lewis don't have mobile phones and communication suffers as a result, but by and large the books could be set in contemporary times. Reading The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn I didn't realise that it was first published as long ago as 1977 until I checked the front of the book. Amusingly

Ian Mortimer - Outcasts of Time


Outcasts of Time is a beautiful book. It tells the story of two Devon men caught up in 1348 in the horror of the plaque. John Wrayment is a skilled stonemason who has carved many of the statues in Exeter cathedral, including the faces of his beloved wife Catherine and his brother William Beard. William is more boisterous, interested in wine, women and song. John's attempts to do a good dead for

Georg Bücher - In the Line 1914-1918


A recent visit to the World War One battlefields of Flanders has awakened an interest in that horrific conflict, but having read a number of books written by British authors that contained eyewitness accounts from Allied troops, I was pleased to find this book by a German soldier. Georg Bücher's In the Line was a well known book when it was first published, but has been out of print for many

Josiah Bancroft - Senlin Ascends


I really liked the beginning of this unusual fantasy novel. Newly wed teacher Thomas Senlin arrives at the Tower of Babel with his wife for their honeymoon. Babel has long held Senlin's imagination back in his far off, small village were he teaches his students science, economics, history and politics using Babel as an example. Senlin is no action hero. He's clumsy, unsure and easily startled.

Barry Stone - The 50 Greatest Westerns


While it may not be apparent to readers of this blog one of my secret pleasures is the Western. I'm a huge fan of Sergio Leone in particular, and when I initially picked up this book I was mostly checking to see how the author's list tallied with my own. Barry Stone's justification for being the author of this book is that he too is an enormous fan, though his knowledge of Western films is far

Stephen Basdeo - The Life & Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler


Stephen Basdeo's book is a fascinating study of the cultural impact of one of England's most famous rebels: Wat Tyler, who was a key figure in the Great Revolt of 1381. I've written myself about the Peasants' Revolt and I won't repeat that here. For those who do not know the history Basdeo opens his book with a good summary of events, though he also encourages people to read Juliet Barker's

John Christopher - The Death of Grass


John Christopher's The Death of Grass is a remarkable ecological disaster novel first published in 1956. It's particularly surprising because it was published six years before Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring kick started the modern environmental movement and at the heart of the book's disaster is a crisis caused by some of the same problems that Carson highlighted. The book begins with

Christopher Hill - A Nation of Change and Novelty


This book is a collection of essays proving how great a historian Christopher Hill was. They demonstrate exactly how detailed Hill's knowledge of the English Revolutionary period was, and his ability to make links between subjects and contemporary politics. They are also incredibly polemical, one, for instance Abolishing the Ranters is a strident defence of the very existence of that religious

Iain Ferguson - Politics of the Mind: Marxism and Mental Distress


Iain Ferguson begins his examination of the politics of mental distress with a look at how people in Britain are suffering: In 2012, more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in the UK, the highest number ever. In some parts of the country, such as the North West of England, one in six people are now prescribed anti-depressants in an average month. Later he adds In

James S.A. Corey - Caliban's War


Volume two of James S.A. Corey's Expanse series continues almost where the first book left off. It maintains the fast pace of its predecessor but has a somewhat darker tone. While there is plenty of action and set piece battles these takes place in the context of the political battles going on between Earth, Mars and the Belter systems. Because the fragile balance between these three political

Gerald Horne - The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism


In the introduction to his latest book historian Gerald Horne makes clear the consequences of European settlement in the Americas: Though disease spread by these interlopers is often trotted out to explain the spectacular downturn in the fortunes of indigenous Americans, genocide - in virtually every meaning of the term, including volitional acts by invading settlers - is the proximate cause

J.L.Carr - A Month in the Country


A few years after the end of World War One, Tom Birkin, a survivor of Passchendaele and a victim of shell shock find himself in the tiny village of Oxgodby with the job of restoring a medieval painting in the church. Tom arrives in Oxgodby in the pouring rain, yet the summer weeks he spends there turn into a idyllic summer that he can only contrast with the rain and mud of Flanders. The rainy

Randall Hansen - Fire & Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-1945


In the excitement of the release of a book called Fire and Fury about Donald Trump's Whitehouse tenure, Randall Hansen's 2009 book of the same title became a surprise bestseller again as confused readers clicked the wrong online ordering button and purchased a book about the firebombing of Germany cities in World War Two. I wasn't confused like this, but having read a newspaper article about

James S. A. Corey - Leviathan Wakes


It's always dangerous diving into a novel that is part of an established series, particularly one like the Expanse universe which has already spawned various short stories, TV series and is unlikely to see a final book any time soon. However I enjoyed Leviathan Wakes a lot. It's not a brilliant piece of science fiction, but it has some great ideas and good characters. In particular it is good

Yuri Prasad - A Rebel's Guide to Martin Luther King


This year radicals will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year of global rebellion. One of the key events of that year took place on 4th April when the civil rights activist Martin Luther King was assassinated by a racist. King's death provoked a wave of furious uprisings, riots and protests. Yuri Prasad's new book looks at King's political life within the Civil Rights movement.

Lyn Macdonald - Passchendaele: The Story of the Third Battle of Ypres 1917


I picked up Lyn Macdonald's Passchendaele quite by chance. I was looking for a history of the battle to read prior to visiting the World War One battlefields at Ypres. My random selection turned out to be extremely fortuitous - Passchendaele is the perfect book to read to understand the slaughter that was the Third Battle of Ypres. The strength of the book lies in the powerful testaments from

James C. Scott - Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States


This fascinating new book takes a new look at an age old question of ancient history. Precisely when, where and why did early humans move from effectively nomadic existence to a sedentary one? Why did they make this transition that would lead to the first "states"? Traditionally historians argue the key issue is agriculture, and that farming led directly to sedentary life, and then to the rise

Alastair Morgan & Peter Jukes - Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder Exposed


Private investigator Daniel Morgan was brutally murdered in 1987. Thirty years later, the case is "the most investigated murder in British history", yet despite this no one has ever been punished for their involvement in the killing. This remarkable book is the story of Daniel Morgan's family's struggle for justice. It is a book that exposes the rotten heart of the British justice system and

Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho - Marx's Capital


A decade after the financial crash that marked the start of the Long Depression, capitalism has still failed to recover. Economic crisis, poverty, austerity combine with a staggering concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals. It is no wonder then, that the ideas of Karl Marx remain of interest to many people trying to understand the capitalist system, and the two hundredth

Ken Follett - The Pillars of the Earth


Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is, to the surprise of the experts, one of the most popular novels in the UK. Its sweeping story has been made into a TV series, and even board and computer games and spawned two sequels. The plot covers a largely unknown period of English history, the turbulent 12th century when England was engulfed in Civil War following the death of Henry I's only male

Mark Lause - The Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots & Class Conflicts in the American West


Countless western films, novels and artworks have portrayed the "cowboy" as a lonesome figure, surviving through his wits and ability to quick draw a six shooter. The reality, as this unique book shows, is that the cowboy was a worker. Badly paid, living a life of intense physical hardship, with seasonal and often highly skilled work. They were never loners. Looking after a herd of hundreds of

Louise Raw - Striking a Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen and their place in History


Louise Raw's book on the famous matchwomen's strike at Bryant and May is a brilliant work of working class history. But it is much more than an account of the dispute. Raw's argument is that up until now the strike itself has been completely misunderstood. Traditionally it has been seen as a strike led by a few outside socialist agitators, principally the Fabian socialist Annie Besant. In

Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian


The history of the American West is one that is all to often cleansed of its violence. Even modern "Westerns" frequently sanitise the killing through ritual gunfights - highly choreographed shootings. The reality is, as one recent history book has shown, that the modern US is built on systematic violence, oppression and exploitation. So I was attracted to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

Andreas Malm - The Progress of This Storm: Nature & Society in a Warming World


Over the last couple of years there have been intense debates within left ecology about how best to understand the interrelation between society and nature, or even whether there is such a duality as "nature" and "society". Andreas Malm is author of one of the finest studies of the origins of fossil fuel capitalism and his new book is part philosophical study, part polemic and finally a