The Secret Twenties
British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age
Beneath the glamour and hedonism of the Roaring Twenties lay a fear that Britain was under threat from the fledgling Soviet state, and that its agents were everywhere, gathering intelligence and fomenting unrest. Drawing on newly declassified documents, this book uncovers British intelligence’s largest peacetime operation, a spy hunt that cast its net over MPs, aristocrats, the Bloomsbury group, workers and trade unionists, bringing down a government and ending several eminent careers.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Searching for Gerhom Scholem and Jerusalem
Gershom (born Gerhard) Scholem was one of the leading intellectuals of pre-war Germany, and a close friend of Walter Benjamin. In 1923 he emigrated to Palestine and became the world’s foremost scholar of the Kabbalah. This study traces the evolution of his ideas from his disillusionment with European materialism and his discovery of Jewish mysticism, to his unease at the politics of Israel, where he found himself ‘a stranger in a strange land’. Off-mint.
The Minister and the Murderer
A Book of Aftermaths
Should a self-confessed murderer be allowed to become a priest? In 1984 the Church of Scotland wrestled with this question when James Nelson, who had served a prison sentence for killing his mother, applied for ordination as a minister. Kelly uses this case as the starting-point for a history of the Church in Scotland, which also combines personal memoir, true-crime narrative and an exegesis of biblical and literary accounts of sin and forgiveness.
A Journey Around Our Archipelago
Britain is comprised of two large islands and 6,289 smaller ones, including 132 that are permanently inhabited. Natural historian Patrick Barkham journeys through progressively smaller islands, including the prosperous Isle of Man, the mysterious islet of Ray, resurgent Eigg and the holy island of Bardsey. He encounters a mixture of islanders, including landlords, lacemakers, writers and nuns, and observes creatures such as puffins and rare voles, as he seeks to define our shared island mentality.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.