History is two things: event and report, which are not necessarily the same. In this provocative book, historian Simon Schama uses the techniques of fiction to explore the eccentric 19th-century Parkman family of Boston – and to interrogate the practice of his own profession.
Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London's Great Forest
After 15 years in the music industry, Will Ashon experienced a ‘not hugely original’ mid-life crisis. Struggling to write, he took to walking in Epping Forest near his East London home, encountering filthy graffiti and terrifying dogs. The result was this unique work of non-fiction – part memoir, part cultural history, part landscape writing. Shot through with self-deprecating humour and political indignation, the book is a life-affirming exploration of our modern anxieties.
Love of Country
A Hebridean Journey
Over six years, Madeleine Bunting made several journeys to the Hebrides, starting on Holy Isle and exploring the islands’ landscapes and their histories of dispossession and migration. She travels through Jura, Iona and Staffa, Rum, Eriskay and Lewis, ending her search for an understanding of home and the sense of belonging on the ‘edge of the edge’ at St Kilda. Love of Country was a Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’.
A Life with Birds
Esther Woolfson, in a blend of memoir and natural history, describes how she shares her home with birds, not only the rook that arrived as a young, abandoned fledgling, but also doves, parrots, a cockatiel and a starling. ‘Of all of them,’ she writes, ‘it has been the corvids, the rook, magpie and crow, who have altered for ever my relationship to the rest of the world, altered my view of a hierarchy of form, intellect, ability; my concept of time.’
After a Funeral
Diana Athill had read Waguih Ghali’s novel, Beer in the Snooker Club, long before she met and fell in love with him. Love turned to friendship, and Ghali, or ‘Didi’, carried on living in her flat, where he ultimately took his own life. Published 13 years later, this is Athill’s honest account of the three years they spent together.
The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century
Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was a physician, philosopher and naturalist, renowned for essays on subjects as diverse as death and the significance of number in nature. Rather than a plain biography of a man who ‘stands at the gates of modern science and yet remains happily in thrall to the ancient world and its mysteries’, Aldersley-Williams takes ideas that were important to Browne and remain important now – among them animals, plants, faith and melancholy – and explores them from both 17th- and 21st-century perspectives.
The Last Nights of Cleopatra
Having arrived in Alexandria in the winter of 2010–2011 with the intention of working on his eighth attempt at a biography of Cleopatra, Peter Stothard, a former editor of The Times, found his plans spoiled by the onset of the Arab Spring. The book he writes is a chronicle of his stay in the city, visiting ancient sites amid the gathering political storm, but it is also a fragmentary memoir of his youth, glimpsed through the history of Cleopatra.
The Impossible Exile
Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
From being one of the most widely read authors in pre-war Europe and a celebrity in the vibrant intellectual and artistic life of Vienna, Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) became an exile when he fled Nazism in 1934. He settled first in Britain, then New York and, finally, Petropolis, a small town in Brazil, where he and his wife committed suicide. Prochnik's critically acclaimed study traces Zweig's rise and fall, exploring the cultural gulf between Europe and America and the alienation of the refugee forced into exile.
Have You Been Good?
The granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, Vanessa Nicolson was born to an illustrious name and an unhappy marriage. In this brutally frank, bittersweet memoir, she chronicles her reckless childhood and disjointed youth, summer holidays at Sissinghurst Castle, and life at a liberal boarding school. Interlinked with her story is that of her daughter Rosa, who died at the age of 19. The result is a powerful meditation on love and loss, cultural privilege and emotional deprivation.
A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found
'A severed head can be many things: a loved one, a trophy, scientific data, criminal evidence, an educational prop, a religious relic, an artistic muse, a practical joke.' Larson surveys all these fates of human heads in a strange and often gruesome history that ranges from primitive tribes' shrunken heads to bizarre experiments in bringing guillotined heads back to life, and discusses issues such as the spectacle of public execution, the human face and the act of decapitation.
A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz
Published in Sweden as a novel, Göran Rosenberg's much-acclaimed book is based closely on his parents' lives, from the Łódź ghetto in Poland where they met in the early years of the Second World War, through incarceration in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the slave camps and transports of the final months of Nazi Germany, to a new life in Sweden. The book opens in 1947 as the father arrives at 'the Place' in Sweden, but the past has come with him.
An Editor's Life
For half a century, Diana Athill edited, coaxed, nursed and, at times, coerced a succession of novelists from Jean Rhys to Timothy Mo into producing their finest work. Elegant, clear-sighted and self- deprecating, her memoirs offer a wise and often very funny account of a life in publishing; a life in which the parade of literary luminaries takes second place to Athill's sheer love of language and literature.
The Smoking Diaries
When playwright Simon Gray turned 65 he began recording his frank and entertaining thoughts in this diary, described by Craig Brown as 'the great hidden treasure of English comedy'. Gray records details of his daily life but also reminisces about his younger years and ranges across topics as various as air travel, famous piles sufferers and giving up smoking. Off-mint.
Field Notes from a Hidden City
Inspired by the discovery of an injured pigeon in the snow-covered streets near her home in Aberdeen, the author of this nature watcher's journal spent a year carefully recording the plants and animals she encountered through the seasons. Her thoughtful prose muses on how close we are to the natural world in our urban lives as it reveals the behaviours of the often-overlooked birds, rats, foxes, squirrels and spiders that inhabit the city.
Alive, Alive Oh!
And Other Things That Matter
After four decades as an editor with André Deutsch, Diana Athill (b.1917) began a second career as a writer with her memoir, Stet, in 2001. Alive, Alive Oh! is her fifth book, reflecting on being very old and looking back, not on literary work, but on memorable experiences of places and things including her grandparents' garden in Norfolk, a miscarriage in her forties, and a £21 holiday at the new Club Méditerranée, Corfu, in the 1950s.
The Possibility of Free Will
Do we have free will? It is a question that has exercised philosophers and theologians for centuries and feeds into many contemporary political, social and personal concerns. In this cogently argued book, the popular philosopher Julian Baggini explores the concept of free will from every angle, drawing on neuroscience, cognitive science and sociology as well as philosophy, and using real-world examples to reveal the kind of free will that is worth striving for.
In Search of the Wild Otter
One of Britain's best-loved wild animals, the otter is making a comeback thanks to the efforts of conservationists. Otter Country follows Miriam Darlington's travels from her Devon home to the wilds of Scotland in pursuit of these charismatic beasts. Her writing evokes the beauty of the landscapes otters inhabit as she recounts meetings with ecologists, fishermen, hunters and poets and describes how the stillness required to track these elusive creatures brings its own wonders.
Living with a Wild God
A Non-Believer's Search for the Truth About Everything
In middle age, the acclaimed social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich rediscovered a journal she had kept as a teenager. It recorded an event so strange that she had never spoken or written about it: a mystical experience that rocked her steadfast rationalist convictions. In this profound reflection on science, religion and the human condition, she attempts to reconcile that cataclysmic moment with her secular understanding, challenging us to reassess our perceptions of life.