History book club

It’s a good thing I love reading because I have just joined a third book group. This one is for people who enjoy reading historical books – novels, biographies, non-fiction… any book to do with the past! For our first meeting it was suggested that we bring two or three books we would recommend to be read in the group; we each gave a brief introduction to our choices and why we thought they would make interesting reading and lead to an interesting discussion.

It won’t come as a surprise that the first book I suggested was one I really enjoyed and have written quite a lot about, ‘A Voyage For Madmen‘ – Peter Nichols. It is fifty years since the first single-handed non-stop round the world yacht race took place; nine brave (or crazy) yachtsmen took to sea with various amounts of experience and set off between June and October of that year. Even with in the first few months, people were retiring for various reasons, but four of them made it through into the new year of 1969. Of those four, one retired, one sank, one killed himself and the last man standing (or sailing!) won. It’s a great book, wonderfully written.

The second book I recommended was ‘Elizabeth’s Spymaster‘ by Robert Hutchinson. I don’t have a specific interest in Tudor history, but I do have an interest in spying and espionage, so any books which chronicle the life and activities of Francis Walsingham, the eponymous Elizabethan spymaster, fascinates me! This is the Amazon blurb fr the book:

Francis Walsingham was the first ‘spymaster’ in the modern sense. His methods anticipated those of MI5 and MI6 and even those of the KGB. He maintained a network of spies across Europe, including double-agents at the highest level in Rome and Spain – the sworn enemies of Queen Elizabeth and her Protestant regime. His entrapment of Mary Queen of Scots is a classic intelligence operation that resulted in her execution.
As Robert Hutchinson reveals, his cypher expert’s ability to intercept other peoples’ secret messages and his brilliant forged letters made him a fearsome champion of the young Elizabeth. Yet even this Machiavellian schemer eventually fell foul of Elizabeth as her confidence grew (and judgement faded). The rise and fall of Sir Francis Walsingham is a Tudor epic, vividly narrated by a historian with unique access to the surviving documentary evidence.

My third choice was of another mystery, a two thousand-year old mystery… what happened to the Roman legions in the Teutoberg Forest? Three Roman legions, (Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX), six cohorts of auxiliary troops, and three squadrons of cavalry – alae, totalling about 25,000 men were led by  General Varus into the dense, dark forest of Teutoberg. An impressive force, but they were ambushed by  Germanic tribesmen under their leaders of Arminius. No-one really knows the toll of life on that day, maybe only five thousand survived – many soldiers (including General Varus, killing themselves) There are many books about this terrible event, but the book I recommended to the group was ‘Rome’s Greatest Defeat: Massacre In The Teutoburg Forest‘ by Adrian Murdoch.

As you can imagine there was a wide range of different books recommended, some I’d read, some I’d heard of, some completely new to me:

  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
  • The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
  • I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Revelation by C.J.Sansom
  • The Common People by Poole & Postgate
  • Down & Out in Paris & London and The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
  • Diary of a Country Parson by James Woodford
  • The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
  • Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt,
  • The Quakers by James Walvin

… and the book we chose to read for next time? The Wicked Boy.

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