2023 Summer Reads from Aspects of History

Our authors and contributors recommend books to take on summer holidays.
Home » Articles » Book reviews » 2023 Summer Reads from Aspects of History

Summer Reads from Aspects of History

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Alan Bardos

Author of The Dardanelles Conspiracy

Queen High by CJ Carey is the sequel to Widow Land and a counter factual/dystopian novel; in a similar vein to 1984, Fatherland and Brave New World. It is set in a 1950s Britain that has formed an ‘alliance’ with an undefeated Nazi Germany. Wallis Simpson sits on the throne and to all intents and purposes Britain is occupied, under the protection of Nazi philosopher and ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. In Rosenberg’s Britain women are told they are the most important citizens and they have been categorised as such. Ranked in a caste system with Gelis, named after Hitler’s niece, at the top and Friedhofsfrau (cemetery women), Freda’s at the bottom. This is enforced by the Women’s Institute, which has become one of the most feared institutions in the country.

Widow Land followed Rose Ransom, a Geli, living a privileged life working for the regime as she becomes a dedicated member of the resistance. In Queen High, Rose is sent by her German overseers to assess Queen Wallis’s loyalty, ahead of a visit by President Eisenhower. Rose’s world soon starts to spiral out of control as she is caught up in the Queen’s cocktail-soaked web of intrigue. Rose must rely on society’s outcasts, the Freda’s to tip the balance.

Queen High is a compulsive literary thriller, with a sharp satirical edge. It ripples with humour, but CJ Carey manages to strike a perfect balance between tongue in cheek and brutality in her depiction of a ruthless authoritarian regime.

Theodore Brun

Deborah Swift’s shift from Renaissance Italy takes us to WWII and the world of espionage in The Silk Code. Nancy, betrayed by her fiance, goes from the Scottish countryside to war-damaged London where she is employed by the so-called Inter Services Research Bureau, really a cover for SOE into which Nancy is recruited. She is brilliant at coding and is eventually sent to France on a spying mission – with her ‘L’ tablet and a concealed piece of silk on which are printed the code letters for communication to England. This is a well-researched novel, but the convincing historical detail never gets in the way of a pacy, suspenseful, and thrilling read.

The Flames by Sophie Haydock is based on Adele Harms, Gertrude Schiele, and Walburga Neuzil, all of whom were involved in the life of the artist, Egon Schiele. It begins in 1968 when an elderly lady is knocked down by a young woman, Eva. The old woman is in rags and her shoes are lined with newspaper. Gradually, her story unfolds and it’s a tragic one, concerning the rivalry of two sisters for the love of the artist. It’s based on the life of the artist, though the author admits that much of the detail of the women’s lives is fictional. An intriguing and moving read.

And for more about an artist, I recommend Mrs Van Gogh, all about Theo Van Gogh’s wife, Johanna, whose persistence ensured that Vincent’s work was not forgotten. Vincent’s tragedy is searingly portrayed.

Theodore Brun

Theodore Brun

Author of A Burning Sea

I came across a couple of absolute gems recently which make great holiday reading if nothing else because they weigh almost nothing. Spear by Nicola Griffith is a re-imagining of the Percival legend and is completely enthralling from the first page. Many have added to the Arthurian canon over the years; few have done so with such originality and lyricism. A beautiful, bite-size epic.


My second recommendation came into my hands quite by chance and is all the more delightful because it’s not the kind of book I would normally pick up. A Good Year by Polis Loizou is almost a fable, set in rural Cyprus, 1925. It plunges us headlong into the lives of a young married couple struggling to reconcile the expectations of their community with the deep superstitions and yearnings of their hearts. Surprising, refreshing and deeply satisfying all at once.

If those don’t grab you, you can always jump on board Angus Donald’s rollicking Viking quest for The Loki Sword, the next thrilling instalment in his Fire-Born series. Donald’s dry humour is evident throughout and, for me, lifts the book above the rest of the Viking horde.

An Honourable Thief is the first in a series set in the early 18th century. The main protagonist, Jonas Flint, is a Scottish adventurer in the service of the Government. The year is 1715 and he is sent from London to Scotland in pursuit of some potentially damaging papers stolen from the late Queen Anne. In his search he encounters frenzied, rioting crowds, vicious London criminals, and a variety of Jacobite plotters and renegades. A rollicking tale which bears comparison with the stories of Scott and Stevenson.

Paris Requiem is the second in the Eddie Giral series set in WW2 Occupied France. Giral is a Paris detective trying to do his job in the most difficult of circumstances, dealing with corrupt Nazi officers embroiled with the thriving local wartime criminal community. Chris Lloyd won the HWA Gold Crown for the first in the series, The Unwanted Dead, and this sequel, which can be read as a stand alone, maintains the author’s high standard.

The Poison Machine is another second in series book (out in paperback 13 July). The hero is a young Royal Society scientist called Harry Hunt, who is a protégé of the real-life brilliant polymath, Robert Hooke. In this story, Hunt is called on to investigate a case in which the skeleton of a dwarf is found in the Norfolk Fens.  Set against a background of court and political intrigue in England and France, this is a compelling read.


Helen Fry

Richard Foreman

Author of Turpin’s Assassin

I can heartily recommend Tom Holland’s Pax, because – rather than in spite – of all the sex and violence that the author serves up. Holland is insightful and entertaining in telling the story the Roman Empire, from Nero to Marcus Aurelius. Fans of Rubicon and Dynasty will be more than satisfied.


I have recently started the second volume of David Carpenter’s biography of Henry III. The book is a portrait of a man and era, combing scholarship with stylish prose. I look forward to the historian’s take on both Simon de Montfort and a young Edward I.


One of the projects that I have been proud to be involved in this year is the publication of Field Marshal William Slim’s The General Wondered Why, The English Colonel and A Close Shave. Special thanks should go to Robert Lyman for editing and curating the material. Should you be a fan of Kipling and Allan Mallinson, or have an interest in the British Empire and Indian Army, then you would do well to treat yourself and read these stories, written by one of our greatest military commanders.

For those intending to take a paperback history book to the beach this summer then I would point you in the direction of Saul David’s Devil Dogs, a tale of horrors and heroism concerning the campaign in the Pacific during WW2. Max Hasting’s Abyss, about the Cuban missile crisis, is as equally entertaining as it is informative.

Finally, you would be wise to also put The World, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, in the palm of your hands this year. I am not alone in being in awe of the depth and breadth of the author’s achievement in putting such a wealth of material together.

Damien Lewis

Robert Lyman

Author of A War of Empires

Every library (whether physical or virtual) needs to have the three short volumes of stories written by the future Field Marshal Bill Slim when he as an unknown and relatively junior officer in the Indian Army between 1931 and 1940, published by Sharpe Books and edited by yours truly. The General Wondered Why, The English Colonel and A Close Shave all contain brilliant insights into the period, the Indian Army just prior to the Second World War, and the literary merits of one of Britain’s greatest ever generals.

Nigel Biggar’s calm analysis of the British Empire in Colonialism, A Moral Reckoning was a stand-out book for me this year, which I reviewed for Aspects. I also recommend David Howarth’s Adventurers: The Improbable Rise of the East India Company and Robin Prior’s magisterial analysis of the Britain between 1914 and 1945, Conquer We Must.

Strongly recommended too is Al Murray’s excellent Command, a very readable analysis of how the British Army and its generals learned how to command their various armies in the different sorts of combat demanded of them during the Second World War. In many ways it’s a Second World War version of Professor Robin Prior’s ground-breaking book Command on the Western Front, the biography of Rawlinson published many years ago.

I’ve also really enjoyed getting stuck into Mark Ellis’ Frank Merlin series: they’ve all become unputdownable. The fifth in the series – Dead in the Water – only takes us to the summer of 1942. With three more years of war to run, I’m looking forward to at least another five in this marvellous series.

Keith Lowe

Iain MacGregor

Author of The Lighthouse of Stalingrad

The Wager by David Grann. I have been a fan of the award-winning journalist David Grann when in my other life as a publisher in London for Simon & Schuster UK I was fortunate to work on his first book The Lost City of Z. I now work elsewhere in the industry but I still hugely look forward to new narratives from him. As with Lost City of Z, Grann’s previous title Killers of the Flower Moon was an international bestseller with a soon-to-be released Hollywood adaptation starring Leonardo de Caprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. Such success doesn’t just showcase Grann’s clear talent for telling a story, but also his eye for making the right choices to target an anecdote from history and turn it into a major work of adventure, betrayal and redemption. With his latest book, he once again hits the bullseye, bringing to life a story lost in the British Admiralty archives until now.

The Wager is hands down the finest nonfiction narratives I have read this year. Without giving away too many spoilers, it is part seafaring naval history from the mid-17th century, a colourful insight into the adventure men felt in the first stages of building the British Empire, and finally a remarkable and intense courtroom drama reminiscent of Mutiny on the Bounty. With a cast of characters Charles Dickens would be proud of, Grann combines a flair for drama with a clear skill for researching the minutiae of the period. Highly recommended.

Goodbye Eastern Europe by Jacob Mikanowski. This brilliant debut narrative captivated me over a weekend during last last Easter. Jacob Mikanowski undertakes quite an odyssey for a writer and historian in providing the reader with a insight into the land mass we know in the west as Eastern Europe. In the hands of such a skilled writer as Mikanowski, this part history and part personal insight into this vast land mass stretching from Stettin in the Baltic to Dibrovnik on the tip of the edge of the Balkans; and from the beautiful city, now a venue for daily ‘stag parties’ Prague, to a city under air attack – Kiev.

Mikanowski takes the reader on a dream-like ride through this ‘other land’, shining a light on a wide and diverse polyglot of peoples, cultures and faiths that populate this mass of continental Europe we often see in such negative terms and media descriptions. Through the telling of folk tales, celebrating legends, investigating local prejudices and stereotypes that evolved over the past few thousand years Goodbye Eastern Europe is such an enjoyable and spellbinding read. This is a land whose people have survived wars, religious persecution, iconoclasm and inter-racial mixing, well before any demarcation of political boundaries that my generation used a s a prism to judge it. The Cold War ended decades ago, as did the old USSR, and despite Putin’s assault on Ukraine to restore a world he remembered from the 1980s, Mikanowski shows us that this in itself is merely a blip in this part of Europe’s continual evolution.

Fake Heroes by Otto English. Seeing as the remit was to recommend summer reads, I am assuming some Aspects of History fans will be sitting in the sun on a beach at any given point over the next few months. Here you are then, a fascinating and humorous look at some of the seminal characters that our recent histories, or what we were taught at school, and finding out if they had feet of clay. Of course, all of them seem to have suffered from this affliction but the narrative is balanced out with the author revealing to the reader a set of new heroes that have lain undiscovered for decades.

Writing under the pen name of ‘Otto English’ veteran journalist Andrew Scott assumes the role of judge and jury on many so-called heroes of our past: How heroic was Henry V? How culpable was Captain Scott’s demise in the icy wastes of the Antarctic, and Mother Theresa – saint or sinner? You decide once you have read this uproarious narrative. Through the laughter one find a serious undertone to mull over whilst the sun beats down on you in France, Spain or Turkey – just how much do we need to know the truth about our heroes, and why should that matter in today’s fast-paced, 24-hour news cycle. Enjoy!

Black Snow, by James M. Scott. This is a fine piece of academic research, written in a powerful narrative style that pulls no punches in its description of how the US military targeted Japanese civilians for the first time in the Pacific war – to catastrophic effect. The author has left no stone unturned to give the reader a thorough understanding of the development of America’s premier bomber, the B-29, as well as the industrialised production of its payload – napalm and the bombing tactics that evolved to make it the most devastating aerial attack of the entire war. With a wide variety of first-hand accounts from both sides, Scott offers a unique perspective on what hell the Americans unleashed on 9 March, 1945 when 300 B-29s under the command of Curtis LeMay took the Japanese capital’s defences by surprise with a low-level attack by night. It makes for a gripping read and is highly recommended.



Keith Lowe

Giles Milton

Author of Checkmate in Berlin

THE BEST THING about finishing writing a book is having the time to read again. I’ve recently been immersed in a rollicking historical adventure. Mark Piesing’s N-4 Down: The Hunt for the Airship Italia tells the true story of arguably the greatest polar rescue mission in history. In the spring of 1928, the gigantic airship Italia was struck by a ferocious Arctic storm as it returned from a voyage to the North Pole. The ensuing crash triggered a massive search and rescue mission, which led to further disasters. Among the would-be rescuers was the world-famous explorer, Roald Amundsen, who disappeared and was never seen again. N-4 Down is a gripping Boy’s Own adventure. If you like your books splashed with derring-do, Arctic blizzards, gigantic egos and Italian fascists, then it will tick all the right boxes.

Bart Van Loo’s epic narrative, The Burgundians, recounts the history of the dazzlingly rich realm of medieval Burgundy. It’s a colourful read, featuring dynastic clashes, crazy dukes, feuding aristocrats, lavish banquets and spectacular acts of treachery. A veritable feast of a book which brings to life the spectacular but blood-drenched world of Bruges and Ghent.

British politicians are forever talking up the special relationship between Britain and the United States, but what does it actually mean? Michael Smith’s fascinating new history, The Real Special Relationship: The True Story of How the British and US Secret Services Work Together traces the origins and development of that relationship. A fascinating behind-the-scenes account of intelligence-sharing at the highest level.

Keith Lowe

Roger Moorhouse

Author of First to Fight

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine last year has served to put Central Europe back on the map, all of which is good for those of us who hold the region close to our hearts.  It has also prompted a new crop of titles relating to the area.  First up, The Middle Kingdoms by Martyn Rady, former Masaryk Professor of Central European History at the University of London.  It’s a weighty tome, certainly, but it covers the history of the region – roughly from the Rhine to the Dnipro – from prehistory to the present day, and reading it doesn’t feel like a chore.  In spite of his academic credentials, Rady writes with an admirable elan and levity.

Next, Katya Hoyer’s monumentally successful history of the GDR Beyond the Wall, which is a call to restore the history of East Germany to the mainstream of German modern history, rather than treat it as a weirdly anomalous diversion.  Hoyer makes her case well and the book – a feast of vignettes and anecdotes – is a genuine pleasure to read.

Lastly, I would recommend Daniel Finkelstein’s family memoir Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad, the story of the remarkable survival of his parents; one of whom survived the Holocaust on a false Paraguayan passport (more on that in my forthcoming book The Forgers), while the other survived the horrors of Stalin’s gulags.  With Central Europe back in the public consciousness, this book is a timely reminder of the myriad tribulations that the region’s people experienced during the 20th century – the shadows of which hang over them still.

Keith Lowe

Tom Petch

Author of Speed Aggression Surprise

I’m unashamedly recommending two books I reviewed recently. Both share my favourite type of history – revisionist – and challenge or update our current understanding of traditional historical narratives. The first is Tempest by James Davey – Davey’s fascinating book is set against the backdrop of Britain’s naval war against Revolutionary France of 1793-1801. It did not escape those below decks that while their enemy espoused liberty and equality their own condition resembled bondage. This led, in 1797, to the mutiny of the entire south coast fleet, followed by a similar size mutiny of the whole east coast fleet. A history missing in both ‘Master and Commander’ and ‘Hornblower’, because the Navy of the day subsequently promoted the image of Nelson his band of brothers as a more reliable than Jack Tarr. Davy’s account is vital in that it tells that these seamen were first human, and second in the military, and Davy’s thorough and well researched analysis breathes of fresh air through some very old yarns.

My second recommendation is Agents of influence by Mark Hollingsworth. ‘Agent Vlyiyania’ (agents of influence) are not Russian spies in the traditional sense, but anyone who the KGB viewed as able to influence Western public opinion. Amidst bars, nightclubs, hotel rooms, and embassies, and across the whole range of Western democratic institutions, from the media to politics their tentacles spread. What is shocking in Hollingsworth’s history is both the scale and lack of morality of the enterprise. As one British diplomat about trying to stop KGB influence ‘never get into a pissing match with a skunk.’ In all this the KGB had the upper hand. The word ‘Vryano’ means indifference to the truth – they were not in favour of promoting one politician or party, contrary to modern speculation, just to weaken and destabilise the West. Hollingsworth warning is clear: while this is history, it has become far easier to influence the West. You no longer need to penetrate organisations or compromise politicians, you don’t even need to be a human. If this history teaches us one thing; we should all be more aware of the threat.

Helen Fry


Author of Son of Mercia

  The Alewives is a fantastically well-written murder mystery set in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death, with delightful characters and a sinister murderer and thief, at the heart of all the problems. Set in the tannery area of Colmar, something smells bad. The three main characters of Gritta, Appel, and Efi are all glorious creations – Grita with her useless husband and horde of children (she had 12, you see), Appel with her mysterious nighttime activities, and young Efi, who has the sense of a young kid goat at the beginning of the tale.

A short, sharp, snappy, hugely entertaining, medieval mystery that portrays the realities of life at the time, with just the right amount of humour to make it thoroughly entertaining.

A new Bradecote and Catchpoll (and Wakelin) medieval mystery is always a true delight, and Too Good To Hang by Sarah Hawkswood is a fabulous addition to the series. This time, our trio are called upon to determine the true culprit when an overzealous village has already hanged a man they deem to be responsible for the murder of the priest without trial or even, any real proof, other than the man’s unfortunate appearance at the side of the dead man.

As ever, I love the way the mystery slowly resolves itself. Bradecote is lordly, Catchpoll is more world, and Wakelin is slowly becoming his own man. Added to this, there is a fine cast of strong women ruled by weak men, and the author highlights this in their interactions. An absolute joy.

Death at Crookham Hall by Michelle Salter is an incredibly well-written historical mystery set in 1920, both in London and Walden. Our intrepid young report, Iris, finding work as a reporter for the local newspaper, begins to discover much she doesn’t know about her mother’s untimely death following a visit to the House of Parliament.

Iris is a great character, modern but not too modern – wearing trousers is fine, but wearing a dress short enough to show her thighs is too shocking – and she finds herself desperate to gather together the unknown strands of her mother’s death.

The resolution of the mystery feels particularly well-constructed, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the story. A fabulous, well-written, mystery that holds all the promise of much more to come for young Iris and her fellow reporter, as well as the local policeman, Ben, and her friend, Alice, in Walden.

Helen Fry

Andrew Roberts

In Assad: The Triumph of Tyranny, the veteran Daily Telegraph defence correspondent Con Coughlin examines how a quiet eye surgeon could have turned into one of the world’s most vicious blood-stained dictators. No one could be better qualified than Coughlin to write this thought-provoking and penetrating book.


In this Coronation year, I hugely enjoyed Angela Levin’s Camilla, which tells the Queen’s story free from both Hello!-style saccharine and sneering republicanism. The Queen emerges as a very genuine, relatable, and good-natured person with a great deal of the best kind of noblesse oblige about her.


Jesse Norman’s historical novel The Winding Stair takes Hilary Mantel’s way of writing about the Tudors in Wolf Hall and applies it brilliantly to the early Stuarts. It tells the story of the rivalry between the jurists Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke, which has constitutional overtones even for today. 


Julian Jackson’s France on Trial is one of those instant classic history books that are immediately recognisable as a masterpiece of scholarship. Although ostensibly about Marshal Petain’s trial in the aftermath of the Second World War, Jackson weaves in all the main issues regarding French resistance versus collaboration, and the profound chiaroscuro between the extremes. I read it in Lyon, where the superb Resistance Museum records in powerful detail the crimes of Klaus Barbie and others, and it proved the perfect intellectual backdrop for the trip.

Wellington’s Peninsular army is one of the most famous land forces in history. But the army that preceded it, the one which fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, is best known through the nursery rhyme ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, which gives an unflattering picture! R.N.W. Thomas’s, No Want of Courage: The British Army in Flanders, 1793-1795 does much to lift the veil of obscurity. It is a fascinating study of the organisation and administration of the army in which the future Duke of Wellington first ‘smelt powder’, and as a bonus contains eight pages of contemporary pictures in colour. No Want of Courage is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the British army at this critical moment.

Moving on a few years, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 is a familiar, even clichéd, event. For an author to write something fresh and original on the battle is a real achievement, but Andrew W. Field has done just that. His Wellington’s Waterloo Allies: How Soldiers from Brunswick, Hanover, Nassau and the Netherlands contributed to the victory of 1815 is a valuable corrective to British-centric views of the 1815 campaign. Wellington commanded a multi-national coalition force, in which British soldiers were a minority. Field is an ex-British army officer, and he views the various contingents through the lens of military effectiveness, a good example of the successful application of a modern analytical concept to a historical army.

Helen Fry

Peter Tonkin

Author of Shadow of Treason

The books could not be more different in setting, time-frame, character & scale of narrative but they are all brilliantly researched and written and grip like a vice from the first few words.

Taking them in chronological order, we start with Bellatrix by Simon Turney in which we follow Legio XXII through the lethal deserts of Aegyptus in the days following Octavian’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. Both stories are told through the eyes of the legion’s Capsarius (doctor) as he follows his squad deeper and deeper into trouble while a female general is organising a vast army with the single objective of wiping them all out.

Then there is Desperate Valour by Timothy Ashby in which we follow Chart, a mixed-race officer in the English army during the American War of Independence. Chart is sent undercover into New Orleans to prepare the way for a full frontal attack on the city. The attack proceeds despite his warnings of a disastrous outcome – warnings that prove all too well-founded. Military narrative to equal the best of Flashman.

Finally in The Crimson Child by R.N.Morris we find ourselves in Pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg where the relentless detective (cunningly lifted from Crime and Punishment) seeks to solve the murderous attack on an elderly General in a beautiful park – an assignment which leads him ever deeper into duplicity and danger…

Helen Fry

Alistair Tosh

Author of Edge of Empire

Eleanor Swift-Hook’s first book The Mercenary’s Blade is an immersive and historically rich novel that from the first page transports the reader to England at the outset of the English Civil War.

The story grabs you from the very first line and keeps your attention throughout. Swift-Hook artfully crafts characters with complex thoughts, feelings and backgrounds that begin to unravel as the story becomes darker. She has managed to achieve what is often a very difficult balance for a fiction writer, to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, language, clothing and armament of the time but in a very light-touch way, so that the reader barely notices. It is one of the few books this year that I found difficult to put down. Highly recommended.


Steven Veerapen

Steven Veerapen

Author of Of Judgement Fallen

The early 2020s has, for whatever reason, seen a Renaissance of the Stuarts in both fiction and nonfiction. This is great news for history fans, and it’s resulted in a flurry of unmissable titles. A new favourite – and an author to watch – is Julie Maxwell’s The Image of the King a phenomenal fictional treatment of the Civil Wars, as seen through the eyes of Charles I and the poet John Milton. Maxwell’s talent for characterisation and her depth of knowledge of early modern literature make this perfect for fans of historical and literary fiction.

For those who like their novels dark, bloody, and set in more recent periods, I’d recommend R. N. Morris’s The Crimson Child: a brutal, painstakingly-researched crime novel set in an incredibly-realised Imperial Russia. This is the second in Morris’s Virginsky novels and hopefully not the last. If you want to feel the chill wind whistling through the dark streets of St Peterburg and see the blood leaching into the snowbanks, this is the tale for you.

More recent again, I can’t recommend Andrew Liddle’s Cheers, Mr Churchill! enough. It’s rare that a nonfiction book will cause readers to revise their opinions and question myths they’ve always been taught are true; but here is such a book (which is, additionally, delightfully written and peppered with wit). This book also manages that other rare feat: it’s nonfiction narrative history told with all the verve and readability of a good novel.

Oliver Webb-Carter

Oliver Webb-Carter

Editor of Aspects of History

Originally conceived as a film starring Robert Carlyle, Jamie MacGillivray is a rollicking tale, encompassing Scotland, London, and colonial America as our hero evades death at Culloden, but is captured and sent as a slave to America, where he falls in with Native American tribes before taking part in that great battle on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. Many figures from the past appear: General Wolfe; the Auld Fox; Hogarth; George Washington; Shingas and Pontiac. Filmmaker John Sayles has made many great movies, but now he’s written a great novel.

Uproar! by Alice Loxton is a wonderful and rip-roaring journey back to outrageous Georgian London. Focussing on the satirists of the time, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and Isaac Cruikshank, the great and the good of the age are mercilessly ridiculed, from Napoleon to the Duchess of Devonshire. One can see the origins of That Was the Week That Was and Private Eye here. Written with great humour and impressive insight, Uproar! is a glorious debut and perfect to take to the beach.

The Russo-Ukrainian War, by Serhii Plokhy. The horrific war in Ukraine rumbles on, and perhaps it’s a strange time for a history of the conflict to come out, but Serhii Plokhy is the perfect historian to write it. Plokhy has lost relatives and friends in the conflict, and this book details with well constructed arguments the causes and consequences of Putin’s gamble. It may be current affairs, but it’s not difficult to argue the invasion is historic.

Operation Chiffon by Peter Taylor. The veteran journalist has written a fourth in his riveting series covering all sides of the Northern Ireland conflict (the others being: Provos, Loyalists and Brits), this time detailing the intelligence work that took place behind the scenes from 1972. Various spies from MI5 and MI6 worked to secure the peace that eventually resulted in the Belfast Agreement of 1998. If there was a hero during The Troubles, and there weren’t many candidates, it would be Brendan Duddy, the Derry based businessman who worked tirelessly to bring the violence to an end.


Barney White-Spunner

Author of Berlin: The Story of a City

My first choice is The Dissolution of the Monasteries – A New History by James Clark, a wonderfully researched and engaging account of this terrible calamity. In 1536 there were 850 religious houses in England; by 1540 there were none. While we may all admire Hilary Mantel’s fiction, she can be fairly accused of distorting our true perspective of Cromwell and his motivation. Rather like Eamon Duffy’s Chronicles of Morebath, Clark reveals how deeply the often violent subjugation of Catholicism was resented, how damaging was its impact on society and the extent of its desecration to our cultural heritage.

Secondly I am reading Peter Wilson’s Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-speaking Peoples since 1500. This is an ambitious book which was badly needed given that so much of our recent history has been dominated by both the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns and the consequences of their demise. It also particuarly illuminating on the complicated relationship between Prussia, both state and society, and its army. At over 900 pages it may not be for those planning a short summer holiday but it is required reading for serious military historians.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Jeremy Bowen’s The Making of the Modern Middle East. Bowen has spent his life reporting for the BBC from the region that has arguably affected our lives more than any other part of the globe. We might not always agree with him but there is no doubting his knowledge and authority. He also writes engagingly and with passion. If anyone finds the Middle East confusing then this book is one of the clearest analyses of the area I have seen.

Summer Reads from Aspects of History