Thursday, December 07, 2017

Christmas Ideas: History Books


1517 : Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation, Peter Marshall - £16.99
Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 is one of the most famous events of Western history. It inaugurated the Protestant Reformation, and has for centuries been a powerful and enduring symbol of religious freedom of conscience, and of righteous protest against the abuse of power. But did it actually really happen? 

In this engagingly-written, wide-ranging and insightful work of cultural history, leading Reformation historian Peter Marshall reviews the available evidence, and concludes that, very probably, it did not.

The theses-posting is a myth. And yet, Marshall argues, this fact makes the incident all the more historically significant. In tracing how - and why - a 'non-event' ended up becoming a defining episode of the modern historical imagination.

Marshall compellingly explores the multiple ways in which the figure of Martin Luther, and the nature of the Reformation itself, have been remembered and used for their own purposes by subsequent generations of Protestants and others - in Germany, Britain, the United States and elsewhere. As people in Europe, and across the world, prepare to remember, and celebrate, the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the theses, this book offers a timely contribution and corrective. The intention is not to 'debunk', or to belittle Luther's achievement, but rather to invite renewed reflection on how the past speaks to the present - and on how, all too often, the present creates the past in its own image and likeness.


A History of Britain in 21 Women, Jenni Murray - £9.99
They were famous queens, unrecognised visionaries, great artists and trailblazing politicians. They all pushed back boundaries and revolutionised our world. Jenni Murray presents the history of Britain as you've never seen it before, through the lives of twenty-one women who refused to succumb to the established laws of society, whose lives embodied hope and change, and who still have the power to inspire us today.


Six Minutes in May, Nicholas Shakespeare - £20
London, early May 1940: Britain is on the brink of war and Neville Chamberlain's government is about to fall. It is hard for us to imagine the Second World War without Winston Churchill taking over at the helm, but in Six Minutes in May Nicholas Shakespeare shows how easily events could have gone in a different direction. The first land battle of the war was fought in the far north, in Norway.

It went disastrously for the Allies and many blamed Churchill. Yet weeks later he would rise to the most powerful post in the country, overtaking Chamberlain and the favourite to succeed him, Lord Halifax. It took just six minutes for MPs to cast the votes that brought down Chamberlain.

Shakespeare shows us both the dramatic action on the battlefield in Norway and the machinations and personal relationships in Westminster that led up to this crucial point. Uncovering fascinating new research and delving deep into the backgrounds of the key players, he has given us a new perspective on this critical moment in our history.

The Crown, Robert Lacey - £20
The official book to the Golden Globe and BAFTA award-winning Netflix drama, The Crown, with extensive research, additional material and beautifully reproduced photographs.  Elizabeth Mountbatten never expected her father to die so suddenly, so young, leaving her with a throne to fill and a global institution to govern. Crowned at 25, she was already a wife and mother.

Follow the journey of a woman learning to become a queen.  As Britain lifted itself out of the shadow of war, the new monarch faced her own challenges. Her mother doubted her marriage; her uncle-in-exile derided her abilities; her husband resented the sacrifice of his career and family name; while her rebellious sister embarked on a love affair that threatened the centuries-old links between the Church and the Crown. This is the story of how Elizabeth II drew on every ounce of resolve to ensure that the Crown always came out on top.Netflix's original series The Crown dramatised Peter Morgan's powerful portrayal of Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

Written by royal biographer Robert Lacey, The Crown: The Inside History adds expert and in-depth detail to the events of the series, painting an intimate portrait of life inside Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. Here is Elizabeth II as we've never seen her before.

Chaucer's People : Everyday Lives in Medieval England, Liza Picard - £25
The Middle Ages were turbulent times. In the fourteenth century alone, England was ravaged by war, plague, revolt and the overthrow of a king. Among the surviving records, the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer is the most vivid.

But what does it tell us about the everyday lives of medieval men and women? What did people eat, wear, read and think?Through the assorted cast of pilgrims Chaucer selected for The Canterbury Tales, Liza Picard brings medieval social history to life. These are lives led beyond the court circles frequented by most of Chaucer's well-heeled audience - lives spent at the pedal of a loom or in uncharted waters on the high seas.Chaucer would sometimes raise a thought-provoking query in an apparently simple portrait. 

The Prioress was a sweet, pretty, well-mannered young nun; what was she doing on the road to Canterbury with a mixed band of men, instead of staying in her convent to pray? The Knight was 'a very perfect gentle knight'; but why had his military service landed him in such distant places as Lithuania and Spain? By providing these characters with a three-dimensional framework - the times in which they lived - Picard opens up the fourteenth-century world to us.

Drawing on contemporary experiences of a vast range of subjects including trade, religion, toe-curling remedies and hair-raising recipes, Chaucer's People recreates the medieval world in all its glorious detail.

Queens of the Conquest : England's Medieval Queens, Alison Weir - £20
The story of England's medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England's queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.

Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, who supported William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066, and culminating in the turbulent life of the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen of England in her own right and fought a bitter war to that end, the five Norman queens emerge as hugely influential figures and fascinating characters. Much more than a series of individual biographies, Queens of the Conquest is a seamless tale of interconnected lives and a rich portrait of English history in a time of flux. In Alison Weir's hands these five extraordinary women reclaim their rightful roles at the centre of English history.


The Templars, Dan Jones - £25
The Knights Templar were the wealthiest, most powerful - and most secretive - of the military orders that flourished in the crusading era. Their story - encompassing as it does the greatest international conflict of the Middle Ages, a network of international finance, a swift rise in wealth and influence followed by a bloody and humiliating fall - has left a comet's tail of mystery that continues to fascinate and inspire historians, novelists and conspiracy theorists.


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