Friday, November 14, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 2: thrilling histories and blistering biographies

We started with sublime signed copies, then we shared our favourite special editions and books to share with younger children. Today we want to share with you some of our favourite history, biography and young reading titles to inspire you for Christmas.

History and Biography

How We Got To Now - Steven Johnson - £20.00
A companion book to his TV series, this is enthralling and surprising science and history, as Johnson picks six fundamental inventions (from the worlds of Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, Light) and tracks the surprising inspirations and unexpected consequences of the most influential innovations. He shows how simple scientific breakthroughs have driven other discoveries through the network of ideas and innovations that made each finding possible. Along the way we learn how ultrasound arose as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, and how the death ray 'laser' morphed into the barcode scanner - and paved the way for massive supermarkets. Delightful and unexpected.

Agincourt - Ranulph Fiennes - £25.00
On the eve of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, Sir Ranulph Fiennes casts new light on this epic event, revealing that three of his own ancestors fought in the battle for Henry V - and at least one for the French. It's an intriguing take on this momentous event in European history - and you get the strong impression that 'Ran' isn't wholly approving of some of his ancestors behaviour...

The Worlds War - David Olusoga - £20.00
David Olusoga is a British-Nigerian historian and film-maker, and in all of the books published this year about the first world war, we feel this offers a superb new take on the conflict, a unique account of the millions of colonial troops who fought, and why they were later air-brushed out of history. Allied armies were multi-racial and multi-ethnic, yet from the moment the guns fell silent the role of non-white soldiers was forgotten and airbrushed out by later historians. Sobering, shocking and a perspective that needs to be better understood.

Killers of the King - Charles Spencer - £20.00
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and nothing is colder that how Charles II set about enacting a deadly wave of retribution following his restoration. In January 1649, after seven years of fighting in the bloodiest war in Britain's history, Parliament had overpowered King Charles I and Parliamentarians resolved to do the unthinkable, to disregard the Divine Right of Kings and hold Charles I to account for the appalling suffering and slaughter endured by his people. A tribunal of 135 men was hastily gathered in London to seal his fate. Charles Spencer brilliantly details the shocking stories of the fates of the men who dared to kill a king. This book often reads like a page-turning thriller. Highly recommended.

Joan of Arc - Helen Castor - £20.00
A refreshing new take on the medieval world and the bloody civil war that was tearing fifteenth century France apart. Here is a portrait of a 19-year-old peasant who hears voices from God; a teenager transformed into a warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believed women should not fight. Joan and her world are brought vividly to life but one of our most gifted historians.

Please Mr Postman - Alan Johnson - £16.99
Born in condemned housing in West London in 1950, with no heating, no electricity and no running water, Alan Johnson did not have the easiest start in life. But by the age of 18, he was married, a father and working as a postman in Slough. This is the sequel to the award-winning and bestselling memoir 'This Boy', and a book which readers have raved about when coming into the shop. Please Mr Postman describes the next period in Alan's life with every bit as much honesty, humour and emotional impact as his debut, and a vivid picture of Britain in the 1970s, a country almost unrecognisable to us today.

Vera Brittain and the First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth - Mark Bostridge - £16.99
In the midst of her studies at Oxford when war broke out across Europe, Vera Brittain left university in 1915 to become a V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse. This is the remarkable story of the author behind one of the most loved memoirs of the era of the First World War. Published to coincide with the film adaptation released this Autumn.

Philip Larkin : Life, Art and Love - James Booth - £25.00
Meticulously researched, unwaveringly frank and full of fresh material, this definitively reinterprets the life and work one of our greatest and best-loved poets. Booth reinstates a man misunderstood: not a gaunt, emotional failure, but a witty, provocative and entertaining presence, delightful company; an attentive son and a man devoted to the women he loved.

Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming - £16.99
Mark's favourite memoir of the year, a journey of discovery for Scottish actor Alan Cumming's that started whilst preparing for an appearance on the family history show Who Do You Think You Are. Two stories intertwine, that of Alan's troubled and violent father, and Tommy Darling, his maternal grandfather who disappeared in the Far East after the Second World War. Both stories unfold in unexpected ways, and the revelations are at times jaw-dropping. The book effortlessly pulls you through to a thoroughly uplifting end, and also an unexpected meditation on the shadows - and light - cast by our ancestors. 

A Slip of the Keyboard - Terry Pratchett - £20.00
A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett's non-fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf's love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him. This is a book with all the humour and humanity that have made him and his novels so enduringly popular.

The Frood - Jem Roberts - £20.00
Jem Roberts' masterful book on the history of Blackadder was a favourite of ours in 2012, and Jem Roberts' new book is a fresh and welcome tale of the most celebrated creation of Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Frood tells the story of Adams' explosive but agonizingly constructed fictional universe, from his initial inspirations to the posthumous sequel(s) and adaptations, bringing together a thousand tales of life as part of the British Comedy movements of the late 70s and 80s along the way. Essential for fans, a treat for anyone interested in one of our most enduring cultural icons.

Fathomless Riches - Richard Coles - £20.00
The Reverend Richard Coles is a parish priest in Northamptonshire and a regular host of BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live. He is also the only vicar in Britain to have had a number 1 hit single: the Communards' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' topped the charts for four weeks and was the biggest-selling single of its year. Fathomless Riches is his remarkable memoir in which he divulges with searing honesty and intimacy his pilgrimage from a rock-and-roll life of sex and drugs to a life devoted to God and Christianity.

More Fool Me - Stephen Fry - £25.00
A second chapter in the life of our most wordsome of national treasures - and host of BBC favourite QI. In this, the follw-up to The Fry Chronicles (the biggest selling autobiography of 2010) this enters far darker territory, as Fry's demons threaten to overwhelm him as his blazed a trail from the 80s to the 90s.

Walking Home: My Family, and Other Rambles - Clare Balding - £20.00
A witty and eccentric love letter to the British from the much-loved TV and radio presenter. Ostensibly a story of taking her eclectic family for a 71 mile ramble along a footpath near her home, this is really a rapturous celebration of the British countryside and way of life.

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