2024 Summer Reads from Aspects of History

Our authors and contributors recommend books to take on summer holidays.
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Summer Reads from Aspects of History

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Alan Bardos

Author of Rising Tide

Munich Wolf, by Rory Clements is set in 1935 Munich. When the body of a young English socialite is found, Kripo detective Sebastian Wolff is called in to solve the politically sensitive case. The victim is part of a smart set of Bright Young Things and Wolff’s investigation brings together a fascinating array of characters, including Unity Mitford and ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl. This is a very engaging and well researched mystery and a welcome addition to the cannon of novels about the criminal police in Nazi Germany.

KENNEDY 35, by Charles Cumming is the latest in Cumming’s BOX 88 series, featuring Lachlan Kite. It examines the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, through two different timelines. The first follows a young Kite as he carries out his first fledgling missions for Box 88. The mission goes wrong and it’s the brash inexperienced Kite’s fault. The second storyline follows an older, seasoned Kite who gets to make amends for the sins of his past. This is a tense and carefully plotted thriller, that doesn’t shy away from its dark subject matter.

SAS Great Escapes Three, by Damien Lewis is a brilliant blend of research and firsthand accounts. Many of the escapes discussed in this book were made because of decisions by Allied commanders, who threw these elite soldiers into near suicide missions with little thought given to their extraction. Nonetheless they got home through guile, endurance, and determination.

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Philip Blood

Author of Birds of Prey

Spencer Jones, The Darkest Year: The British Army on the Western Front 1917. 1917 was a pivotal year for the British Army on the Western Front. Before American forces arrived, Britain’s allies began to waver: Imperial Russia, engulfed by revolution, withdrew from the war; France was shaken by a series of mutinies at the front; and Italy faced the devastating Battle of Caporetto. Amidst these crises, the armies of the British Empire confronted severe setbacks on the battlefield. This book delves into the mud and blood of 1917, offering clarity through a collection of remarkable essays. It covers civil-military relations, high command dynamics, evolving tactics, the harrowing dark days of battle, and the evaluation of various formations. Spencer’s chapters on Lloyd George and Sir William Robertson are particularly insightful, providing fresh interpretations of history. Compact yet comprehensive, this book balances detailed analysis with lively discourse, making it an essential read. For those visiting the Great War battlefields this summer, it serves as an invaluable companion.

Iain MacGregor, The Lighthouse of Stalingrad. Stalingrad was the defining battle of the Second World War. After setbacks in 1941, the rejuvenated German Army embarked on a campaign that Hitler believed would culminate in the final destruction of the Soviet Union, establishing an empire from Brest in France to the Urals. In the eighty years since, a vast body of literature has emerged on this epic confrontation. Yet, Iain’s book offers a fresh, vivid narrative drawn from extensive and original research. Beginning in 1941, the story leads the reader through the ferocious battles of early 1942 and the Red Army’s failed offensives, setting the stage for Stalingrad. The book vividly recounts the legend of the Lighthouse and explores how its memory was shaped over time. Iain skilfully brings the story into the present day, connecting it to Putin’s frequent visits to the renamed city of Volgograd, set against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine. This is a compelling and insightful read, offering a new perspective on one of history’s most pivotal battles.


Theodore Brun

Elizabeth Buchan

Author of Bonjour, Sophie.

Katherine Rundell fuses biography with poetical analysis in her lustrous Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne. It is comparatively short, but what is compressed into these pages is her portrayal of Donne’s marriage, considered one of the great love affairs ever to have been put into poetry, and her analysis as to how to crack the ‘locked safe’ of his poetry.

‘Much of the West is struggling to see why anyone would choose to remember their lives behind the Iron Curtain…’ writes Katja Hoyer in Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 and sets out to debunk the myth of a grey and repressive society. In its forty years of existence, the GDR worked for most of its citizens and its strictures tolerated. Fascinating and revelatory.

The years of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s relationship were initially charged with passion and excitement with Anne enjoying a rare political and diplomatic agency as revealed in John Guy and Julia Fox’s Hunting the Falcon Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Working with fresh archival discoveries, they unpick early influences and the metamorphosis of the ‘affable’ prince into the needy, full-blown narcissist who decided he could not tolerate the confident, ambitious Anne. Hugely readable.


Saul David

Saul David

Author of Sky Warriors

My Summer Reads include Clare Mulley’s wonderful depiction of Agent Zo. It’s an extraordinary story, beautifully told, of the only female member of the Polish Special Forces unit, the ‘Silent Unseen’, who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War.

Another cracker this year is Giles Milton’s The Stalin Affair, a brilliant examination of the Alliles’ secret mission to wartime Moscow that helped to make victory possible.

Max Hastings is on top form with Operation Biting, the daring parachute mission to steal Hitler’s early warning radar from northern France. And, last but

not least, is my fellow podcast host Patrick Bishop’s superb Paris ’44: The Shame and the Glory, which tells the dramatic story of the French capital’s liberation in August 1944 from multiple perspectives, and using much new material.

Theodore Brun

Tessa Dunlop

Author of Army Girls

The Stalin Affair. Giles Milton’s explosive new book roars along. Rich in anecdote – Stalin is the ultimate geezer with a rumbling belly and big laugh, and Churchill the English eccentric with cigars and bedtimes stories – and shocking in content. The British Prime Minister dupes the American President and overrides the rules for his ‘naughty document’ that cynically carved up Eastern Europe (‘Churchill’ is still a dirty word in Romania). But Stalin has the last laugh. Sterling stuff with a stern warning for the West today.

Saul David weaves his way with deft expertise through the  fraught reality of World War II’s Red Devils – the Sky Warriors who took the fight to the enemy. For Evelyn Waugh the parachute jump was ‘the keenest pleasure I remember’ but a cracked fibula meant the author never jumped into a combat zone. It was for others to find out what it really meant to land behind enemy lines in North Africa, Sicily, mainland Europe and the Far East. Adrenalised, expansive and thought-provoking, military history at its best.

I came across Conflict via the Aspects of History podcast. The irresistible combination of Andrew Robert’s award-winning incisive analysis and General  David Petraeus’s authority and lived experience translates superbly on the page. Seventy-years of conflict explained from Korea to Afghanistan culminating with the ominous return of war in Europe. This book explodes the myth of peace post-1945; it helps make sense of repeated mistakes, underlines the value of effective political and strategic leadership, and is alarmingly honest about a rapidly-changing military landscape. Essential reading.

Borgata by Louis Ferrante. I owe thanks to Aspects of History for asking me to review this book as otherwise it might have passed me by. It is Volume 1 of a history of the American Mafia, and the author was himself a mafioso who served time in jail. He has now become a successful writer and historian. Mafia stories are seldom other than compelling and this well-written book is no exception.

The Wolf’s Shadow by G.J.Williams. This is the second in a terrific series of Tudor mysteries featuring the renowned Elizabethan polymath John Dee as a very original detective ably assisted by his insightful Welsh servant Margaretta. A wonderful read.

Moscow Exile by John Lawton. Lawton is responsible for two tremendous historical fiction series. One revolves around Inspector Troy of Scotland Yard, and the other around British spy Joe Wilderness. The series are not completely distinct insofar as Troy and his associates continue to feature in the Wilderness series. Moscow Exile is the fourth in that series and is set in 1969 in the early days of the Brezhnev regime. As always a complex and highly satisfying novel.

Helen Fry

Richard Foreman

Author of Turpin’s Assassin

Adam Zamoyski is one of our great stylists and his new book – Izabela the Valiant – manages to be both pacy and elegantly written. Isabela’s life intersected with a crucial chapter in Polish history, involving Catherine the Great and Napoleon among others, and should be a must-read for those interested in the period. Zamoyski captures the humanity of his impressive antecedent, as well as the history, to produce one of the biographies of the year. The author rightly admires his subject and the conclusion highlights and champions her legacy. 

A Very Private School can be a harrowing read at times, but it is no less rewarding for it. Charles Spencer’s memoir is touching and memorable, providing a window into an almost Dickensian world – as well as a child’s soul. The book has been a deserved number one bestseller, which has hopefully been read by all manner of parents and educationalists, so history doesn’t repeat itself. 

Saul David delivers once again with his latest offering. Sky Warriors takes us through the various missions, achievements and tragic failures of the British airborne forces in WW2. As ever, David quotes well from the soldiers and proves a fine battlefield guide when covering the likes of D-Day and Arnhem.

I am currently writing a series of novels based around the Black Prince. Gordon Corrigan’s latest book, Finest Hours: Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt has proved an invaluable source. Corrigan is strong on the grand strategy and general history of the period, as well as the detail and human story of sovereigns and soldiers.  

Helen Fry

Fiona Forsyth

Author of Poetic Justice

The Queen’s Avenger, by Anna Legat. The aspect I found immediately attractive about this novel was that the main character is not the tragic and much-romanticized Mary but her confessor Ninian. In a very neat twist on the infamous Casket Letters, Ninian tells his story through a manuscript discovered after his death – his devotion to Mary takes him down some unexpected and dangerous roads, and while we know he is the most unreliable of narrators, he is an excellent guide through the religious complexities of the time. The Queen herself, admittedly seen through Ninian’s adoring eyes, is neither a manipulated victim nor a deadly siren threatening England, but a brave and clever woman fighting impossible odds.

The Blind Fugitive, by Julie Maxwell. Two remarkable historical figures command this book and work together remarkably well, considering how in real life they were pitted against one another. As the Restoration looms, the poet Milton faces his lowest ebb, his blindness all but complete and his future doubtful. Set against his darkening life is a vibrant description of history unfolding in a newly-colourful and enthusiastic London, narrated by as firm a Royalist as the reader can hope to meet! Excellent dialogue and a richly-described historical background mark this unusual novel.

Charles I’s Private Life, by Mark Turnbull. I would expect nothing less than the considerable research and expertise Mark Turnbull brings this book. Even as a newcomer to the period I could appreciate the detailed work that has resulted in a sensitive portrait that commands understanding without letting Charles off the hook.

I enjoyed seeing the dynamics of the extended family, including servants and tutors, in which Charles grew up, and His relationship with Henrietta Maria is fascinating!

Turnbull has the knack of combining historical authority and readability making this a highly enjoyable read. For me, the final chapter, discussing a new theory regarding the identities of Charles’ executioners is a historical mystery bonus.


Saul David

Pirate Irwin

Author of Inspector Lafarge Mysteries

Rivals in the Storm, by Damian Collins. A beautifully written page turner, moves along at a great clip almost as fast as David Lloyd George jettisoned his principles in favour of displacing his fellow Liberal Asquith as Prime Minister and being able to implement measures that would bring victory in the Great War.

Collins has succeeded admirably in his wish to sweep away the clichée image of the remarkable Welshman as a philanderer and a PM who sold honours for cash. It is by no means a hagiography— his warts are exposed too — but his greatness and dynamism as a war leader are to the fore and merits him being mentioned in the same breath as his great friend Winston Churchill.

The Lumumba Plot, by Stuart A Reid. Brilliantly written — serious but with the author sprinkling it liberally with dry humour which works a treat.

Reid spares nobody from Lumumba himself — charismatic and the driving force for speedy independence but too fiery and quick to take offence — to the truly dreadful racist colonising Belgians to Ike Eisenhower, who may have played a blinder in World War II but here is portrayed as a racist who decides Lumumba has to be dealt with with extreme prejudice. Couched of course in double speak so it could not be attributed to him directly. All due to unjustified fears that Lumumba would deliver the Democratic Republic of Congo into the Soviet’s hands.

Trouble is that Lumumba also annoys the UN — who launch their then biggest operation — to such an extent that the secretary general Dag Hammarskjold says it is either him or me. Hovering in the shadows of course is a certain Joseph-Desire Mobutu a close friend of Lumumba’s but who grew increasingly disenchanted and then when the US came calling having played Hamlet incapable of making his mind up he jumped on board. Great cast of characters, fascinating story and ticks along at a cracking pace — makes the Borgias seem like pussycats.

Damien Lewis

Robert Lyman

Author of Victory to Defeat

A standout book for me this year is Hannah Watson’s The Jungle War. It’s a ‘factional’ account of the 1942 and 1943 campaign in Burma seen through the eyes of a young British subaltern in service with a Gurkha battalion fighting the Japanese. It’s really brilliantly told. Its actually aimed at young readers (8 to 16 perhaps) but when I picked it up I thought it as good a description of the war from the worms eye view as I ever seen. Its worth buying not just for all the young readers in your life, but for yourself too. Published by the Gurkha Museum it comes with endorsements from the Gurkha double-amputee Hari Budha Magar (he of Everest climbing fame) and Dame Joanna Lumley.

That old war horse Max Hastings is back with one of his best books yet, that of Operation Biting, the first successful parachute commando raid on mainland Europe in 1942. The operation retrieved parts of the secret German radar system to bring back to England and see just how advanced the Germans were relative to British radar technology. Hastings is best when he’s describing people, and this book is a brilliant collection of large-than-life individuals, from John Frost of Arnhem fame, to the husband of Daphne du Maurier (massively tormented by undiagnosed PTSD from the Great War) to Mountbatten himself. The real heroes for me were the members of Gilbert Renault’s resistance network, whose bravery (and chutzpah) enabled the raid to be so successful.

Finally, Evan Mawdsley has written Supremacy at Sea which describes the extraordinary rise of the United States Navy in the Second World War, detailing the series of operations in the central Pacific which smashed the Japanese to smithereens. He describes the extraordinary increase in the size and fighting power of the US Navy: ships destined for completion in the three Navy Yards in 1944 and 1945 were delivered in late 1942, as the entire nation turned itself into an industrial powerhouse to defeat its enemies and support its friends. This wasn’t just about industrial potential but also about the overwhelming power of human will. America had been attacked at Pearl Harbor and in seemingly one great expression of national will joined the fighting forces. When the communications officer of USS Hornet, one of the four carriers to be lost in 1942 found himself swimming for his life following the sinking of his ship he recalled, four days later, a conversation in the water. “Are you going to re-enlist?” “God damn yes – on the new HORNET.” Millions of ordinary men and women (though the only women allowed to sail in combat were 11,000 female nurses) volunteered in huge numbers, or allowed themselves to be allocated through the conscription process to one of the services without demur. This is an excellent exposition of the campaign that made the US Navy the extraordinary fighting machine that it remains to this day.

Keith Lowe

Miranda Malins

Author of Puritan Princess

Two of my favourite books from the last year have just been published in paperback making them perfect for your summer suitcase. Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death by Laura Cumming weaves together the heart-breaking story of Carel Fabritius, sublime painter of the ‘The Goldfinch’, and a memoir of the author’s own relationship with her artist father to explore the astonishing art of the Dutch Golden Age and some of life’s biggest questions.

Nikki Marmery’s historical novel Lilith also tackles big themes with its urgent feminist retelling of the Bible through the eyes of Adam’s original companion in the Garden of Eden. A real page turner, this book will leave you righteously angry but also entertained, enlightened and uplifted.

Finally, a heavier tome in hardback, but well worth the suitcase space: The Fall by Henry Reece recounts the dramatic and little known story of the last days of the English Republic in 1659-1660. Compelling historical analysis meets arresting storytelling to illuminate this most fascinating period of British history. Happy reading!


Keith Lowe

Alec Marsh

Author of Rule Britannia

If you have the arms strong enough, I cannot recommend Simon Heffer’s magnificent history of Britain between the wars, Sing As We Go, highly enough. Its 948 pages cover 20 tumultuous years of our history with incredible economy and verve (considering that’s fewer than 50 pages a year). You won’t be disappointed.

In a similar vein, Daisy Dunn’s history of Oxford between the wars, Not Far From Brideshead, is a beautifully told story of the university through the lives of its most eminent classicists and students, which, weighing in at 300 pages, leaves you wishing there were four decades, not just two, between the two world wars. It’s a joy to read.

For fiction, I strongly recommend The Pieces by James Wilson, a mystery framed around the disappearance of a folk music star in the 1960s, told through the eyes of the dozen or more characters who were there and witnessed the singer’s rise … and fall. It’s rich wit and humour – you’ll laugh out loud – but also humanity; it’s the sort of book that you want to start reading again all over again the moment you finish it.

Finally, for those after something darker, Blood Roses by Douglas Jackson is a thriller set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Warsaw. A serial killer is on the loose. Be warned, it’s darker than Himmler’s sock drawer, but it’s a real page-turner.

Keith Lowe

John McKay

Author of Arctic Convoy: PQ18

Damien Lewis never fails to disappoint. He has the ability to bring history to life in a way no other author, in my view, is able, and his latest offering, SAS Great Escapes Three, does just that. This third book in the series contains five of the most gripping and exciting true tales of escape and evasion of World War Two by some of the most formidable soldiers in the SAS’s remarkable history. His best volume yet!

Rising Tide by Alan Bardos is my second choice. The first book in the Daniel Nichols spy series, this is a gripping WW2 thriller based around the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Filled with brilliant characters and a fast-paced plot, it is very well researched and written with style and authority. It will have you gripped from first page to the last.

Finally, Normandy The Sailors’ Story by Nick Hewitt fills the D-Day historical gap. Focusing on the men who took the soldiers to the beaches and defended the Seine Bay, allowing reinforcements and supplies to continue to flow to the battleground, this book is an extensively researched masterpiece. It’s also an extremely good read!


Keith Lowe

Roger Moorhouse

Author of The Forgers

It’s been a pretty good year so far for history book.  There have been a few weighty tomes and some lighter, airier stuff, all of which will burden our collective bookshelves equally.  First up for me is Sky Warriors by the worryingly prolific Saul David.  A rollicking account of the evolution of British airborne forces through the Second World War, it is full of dramatic set pieces and pen portraits of remarkable individuals.  Saul is very much at the top of his game at the moment and his book is well worth your time.

Another notable pick is Adam Zamoyski’s new book Izabela the Valiant, which tells the story of Izabela Czartoryska, a Polish princess of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, who lived both the high life of the time – she met Benjamin Franklin, Rousseau and Voltaire – but also experienced everything that central Europe could throw at her: court intrigues, revolutions, Russian occupations and Kremlin kidnaps. Zamoyski guides the reader through the story with his customary elegance and dry wit, revealing en route that Izabela was, in fact, his great-great-great grandmother. 

There are a few other worthy offerings that have crossed my desk. Clare Mulley’s Agent Zo is the story of Ezbieta Zawacka, a thoroughly remarkable and formidable woman of Poland’s wartime underground. 

The Stalin Affair, by Giles Milton is a beautifully written romp through the inner workings of the wartime Grand Alliance, seen largely through the prism of Kathleen Harriman, daughter of FDR’s ambassador to the USSR.  

Lastly, Jonathan Dimbleby’s Endgame 1944 is a vivid contribution to our understanding of the final stage of the war on the Eastern Front, including some new and enlightening “voices.”  All highly recommended! 

Keith Lowe

Tom Petch

Author of Speed Aggression Surprise

Saul David’s Sky Warriors tells of the evolution of the British parachute regiment through its brutal birth in the Second World War. And brutal it is. At every turn of the page is a horrific casualty count in operations that often seem so badly conceived as to be suicidal. The ethos produced amongst these men is extraordinary. Arriving on a target in 1944 to find he only has a fraction of his force one commander says; ‘In the Parachute Regiment giving up is not an option.’ David does an excellent job of making sense of Arnhem, and there are gems I’d not heard of such as the last stand made by the Indian Parachute Brigade at Sangshak, Assam (North East India).

Roland White’s Mosquito is an ode to the legendary wooden aircraft of the Second World War. It hints at a different type of air war that might have happened if Britain had not become obsessed with developing four engine strategic bombers. He weaves in the Special Operations Executive and the heroism on the ground that made the action in the air so effective. And White doesn’t shy away from the final tragedy when it happens. This is a celebration of aviation engineering and its impact on human lives; White’s home territory and which he does so well. 

Benjamin Labatut’s The Maniac is a fictional account of the life of John von Neumann, pioneer of the mathematical model for quantum physics who worked with Einstein on the Manhattan Project. The title alludes to the type of character who might carry out this work, though used to describe a computer in the novel; the Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator and Computer, or MANIAC for short. The story of Nazis, mathematical theory, the board game ‘Go’ and the emergence of Artificial Intelligence makes a fascinating and believable novel that is both compelling and elucidating.  


Sleight of Hand by Elizabeth R Andersen. We return to our three fabulous characters of Efi, Gritta and Appel and find them once more in a bit of a pickle. The characters of our women, their sort of ‘guardian angel’ and the only one who takes them seriously, Friar Wikerus, and the ‘men’ in Colmar remain as firm as in book 1 – the men are still stupid (aside from Friar Wikerus, although he also causes himself some difficulties) while Appel, Gritta and Efi are fabulous as they circumnavigate the restrictions placed on them by men who think they know better. There is a great deal of gentle humour, and this, combined with the strong characterisation, ensures the reader is very firmly in favour of the women and not the men. The mystery itself is very well-constructed. Everything slowly reveals itself, and there are any number of red herrings to keep the reader guessing.

Litany of Lies by Sarah Hawkswood.It’s a joy to be back with our ‘boys’, Bradecote, Catchpoll and Wakelin in the twelfth century, close to the border between England and Wales. Another murder needs solving, and we know Bradecote, Catchpoll, and Wakelin won’t rest until they find the culprit. This is a particularly twisty tale of long-standing grievances and newer ones as well. I didn’t guess the culprit, and I always appreciate a mystery where I can’t work out who ‘did it.’

Murder in Moscow by Kelly Oliver is the latest instalment in the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane cosy historical mystery series. We’ve been to Egypt, Italy, the UK and now we’re off to 1918 Moscow. What could possibly go wrong? This is a fun addition to the series, which is going from strength to strength. Fiona is a single-minded woman, hell-bent on making a name for herself, and her overconfidence means she gets into some very tricky situations. Her ability to get out of these situations is one of the appealing qualities of the series, told with a pinch of humour.

Helen Fry

Andrew Roberts

Author of Conflict

Matthew Taylor’s Black Redcoats: The Corps of Colonial Marines 1814-1816 is a brilliant account of a very little-known British Army unit of former American slaves freed by the British Empire who fought in the War of 1812 against their former slaveowners, and generally get the better of them. It’s Django Unchained but true, and would make a better movie too.

Damian Collins’s Rivals in the Storm is subtitled ‘How Lloyd George seized power, won the war, and lost his government’. It does for the First World War what Doris Stearns Goodwin’s ‘Team of Rivals’ did for the American Civil War. Collins displays an excellent feel for the powerful personalities around Lloyd George and makes their struggles intensely readable.

Unlike the last two books by debut authors, General Sir John Kiszely has already written a fine book on the Norway Campaign of 1940. His latest offering, General Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay, is about Winston Churchill’s military secretary, who emerges from history’s shadows as the key component that kept the vital relationship between the prime minister and his chiefs of staff on track throughout the Second World war. It’s a model biography and – like my other two choices – it combined scholarly research with first-class writing.

In view of the 2024 General Election, three weeks away as I write this, the publication of Richard Toye’s Age of Hope: Labour, 1945, and the Birth of Modern Britain is extremely timely. Toye notes the similarities between British politics now, with the possibility of a Labour landslide, and in 1945. In that year Labour’s message resonated with an election desperate for change, and Attlee’s party won a huge majority. In part it is a cautionary tale, of how radical aims and popular enthusiasm fizzled out six years later, when the Conservatives returned to power. But they did so on Labour’s terms. There was no attempt to undue the postwar settlement, founded on a welfare state, the National Health Service and a commitment to full employment.

For the most part, Labour’s programme of nationalisation was allowed to stand. The Attlee government’s commitment to the newly formed NATO alliance, and gradual decolonisation was continued by the new government led by Winston Churchill. Richard Toye’s fresh and original study of this critical period is very readable as a fascinating guide to the past and as context for a very likely future.

Helen Fry

Mark Turnbull

Author of Charles I’s Private Life

Dominic Pearce’s biography The King’s Only Champion tells the remarkable story of the First Marquis of Montrose, but what sets it apart is the fine context and background. Readers are seamlessly inducted into Montrose’s turbulent 17th century world; from his family history, Stuart marriages and Reformed Protestant beliefs, to the strange tales and travels of his embalmed heart. With a solid grip of Scottish history from Fergus I to Charles I, this book offers so much to anyone with a passion for history.

The Queen’s Avenger by Anna Legat, brilliantly recounts the turbulent life of Mary, Queen of Scots in a gripping manner. Five years after her death, Brother Gunther, an unsuspecting monk in a Ratisbon monastery, stumbles across the most intimate secrets of Mary’s marriage, reign, and abdication. Dangerous political machinations and murder are far from consigned to the past when a dead confessor’s memoirs are discovered – Abbot Ninian Winzet, a loyal servant of Queen Mary, had refused to take his secrets to the grave. As the intrigued Gunther pores over these explosive scrolls, his own life parallels aspects of Winzet’s. The revelations threaten not only the Scottish crown, but the entire Benedictine Order, and Gunther’s very soul, too.


Helen Fry

Steven Veerapen

Author of The Wisest Fool

The Thistle and the Rose: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Tudor. Linda Porter reassesses the fascinating life of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret Tudor, who married James IV of Scotland. A comprehensive, beautifully-written biography which brings early modern England and Scotland to life.

Spice: The 16th-century Contest that Shaped the Modern World, by Roger Crowley. An excellent exploration of the epic battle for control of the sea lanes which resulted in our modern global economy.

The Blind Fugitive. Julie Maxwell returns to seventeenth-century England in this poetically-written tale of John Milton’s role in the Restoration hunt for the executioners of Charles I.

Oliver Webb-Carter

Oliver Webb-Carter

Editor of Aspects of History

The Muse of History by classicist Oswyn Murray takes as its conceit the Ancient Greeks as the inspiration for Western historical thought since the Enlightenment. Perhaps unfashionable in some quarters of academia, the book is a joy to read, thought-provoking and with humour.

A Very Private School is a moving memoir of a miserable and abusive prep school experience from Charles Spencer. It is a hugely powerful account that resonated strongly with me. I was at a similar school during the 1980s and whilst I didn’t experience the abuse at Maidwell Hall, the ache of homesickness was ever-present. Beautifully written, I read it in a day.

With Iran all over the news this year what better way to understand the country’s modern political story than Iran, a pocket history from Ali Ansari? Beginning with the Constitutional Revolution via the 1953 coup and the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, it ends with the recent protests and is a must-read for those interested in current events in the Middle East.

If you’re yearning for a gripping novel, then look no further than Lucy Ashe’s The Sleeping Beauties, set around WW2 ballet at Sadler’s Wells. The daughter of widowed Rosamund becomes the obsession of Briar, a dancer who is not all that she seems. The story shifts from the beginning of the war to the end, all the while keeping an emotional hold – I loved it.


Barney White-Spunner

Author of Berlin: The Story of a City

General Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay: Soldier, Statesman, Diplomat: A New Biography by John Kiszely. Ismay is one of those key figures of the last century who has not been given due acknowledgement. He played a critical role as Churchill’s principal staff officer, in guiding an over confident Mountbatten in India in 1947 and in becoming the first Secretary General of NATO. This is a really well researched and fluent biography which is even more authoritative by being written by someone who was himself both a distinguished field soldier and also served at the top of the British defence establishment. It is also timely as governments across the western world face the challenge of formulating defence policies when most lack any experience of crisis or conflict. One of the most difficult aspects of the direction of military campaigns is managing the political interface. Kiszely’s excellent biography explains Ismay’s skill in managing that at the most challenging of times and with an even more challenging cast.

The Rising Down: Lives in a Sussex Landscape by Alexandra Harris. Sussex is a county with many different characters. From its quintessential villages , its castles, its downland and its oak forests to its open coast and its seaside resorts, these many characters have bred some extraordinary people. Alexandra Harris’ charming history of the county explores their lives and by doing so ‘opens vast new horizons’. It’s as interesting as a study of how the people of one English county came to influence so much of the world as much as being a portrait of Sussex itself. We neglect local history. We shouldn’t and Harris’ book demonstrates why.


Summer Reads from Aspects of History