Our autumn history blockbusters: a reader’s guide

07 October 2020

As autumn approaches, we’re looking to history books to get stuck into; to educate us and draw us into their stories as the evenings grow longer. Our line-up of new publications includes top-class writing from bestselling academics. Read on to find out more.

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britain at bay

BRITAIN AT BAY
Alan Allport

‘Invigorating and beautifully-constructed’ – David Kynaston

In the bleak first half of the Second World War, Britain stood alone against the Axis forces. Isolated and outmanoeuvred, it seemed as though she might fall at any moment. Only an extraordinary effort of courage – by ordinary men and women – held the line.

The Second World War is the defining experience of modern British history, a new Iliad for our own times. But, as Alan Allport reveals in this, the first part of a major new two-volume history, the real story was often very different from the myth that followed it. From the subtle moral calculus of appeasement to the febrile dusts of the Western Desert, Allport interrogates every aspect of the conflict – and exposes its echoes in our own age.

Challenging orthodoxy and casting fresh light on famous events from Dunkirk to the Blitz, this is the real story of a clash between civilisations that remade the world in its image.

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The Black Book

THE BLACK BOOK

Sybil Oldfield 

In 1939, the Gestapo created a list of names: the Britons whose removal would be the Nazis’ first priority in the event of a successful invasion. Who were they? What had they done to provoke Germany? For the first time, the historian Sybil Oldfield uncovers their stories and reveals why the Nazis feared their influence.

Those on the hitlist – more than half of them naturalised refugees – were many of Britain’s most gifted and humane inhabitants. Among their numbers we find the writers E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, humanitarians and religious leaders, scientists and artists, the social reformers Margery Fry and Eleanor Rathbone MP, the artists Jacob Epstein and Oscar Kokoschka.

By examining these targets of Nazi hatred, Oldfield not only sheds light on the Gestapo worldview; she also movingly reveals a network of truly exemplary Britons: mavericks, moral visionaries and unsung heroes.

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WAR

WAR
Margaret MacMillan

‘[An] excellent historical exposé’ The Times

The time since the Second World War has been seen by some as the longest uninterrupted period of harmony in human history: the ‘long peace’, as Stephen Pinker called it. But despite this, there has been a military conflict ongoing every year since 1945.
 
The same can be said for every century of recorded history. Is war, therefore, an essential part of being human? In War, Professor Margaret MacMillan explores the deep links between society and war and the questions they raise. We learn when war began – whether among early homo sapiens or later, as we began to organise ourselves into tribes and settle in communities. We see the ways in which war reflects changing societies and how war has brought change – for better and worse.
 
Economies, science, technology, medicine, culture: all are instrumental in war and have been shaped by it – without conflict it we might not have had penicillin, female emancipation, radar or rockets. Throughout history, writers, artists, film-makers, playwrights, and composers have been inspired by war – whether to condemn, exalt or simply puzzle about it. If we are never to be rid of war, how should we think about it and what does that mean for peace?

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ruin and renewal

RUIN AND RENEWAL
Paul Betts

‘Erudite, rigorously researched, and elegantly written… A masterpiece’ 
– Prof. David Motadel

In 1945, Europe lay in ruins – its cities and towns destroyed by conflict, its economies crippled, its societies ripped apart by war and violence. In the years that followed, Europeans tried to make sense of what had happened – and to forge a new understanding of civilisation that would bring peace and progress to a broken continent.

As they wrestled with questions great and small – from the legacy of colonialism to workplace etiquette – institutions and shared ideals emerged which still shape our world today. Drawing on original sources as well as individual stories and voices, this is a gripping and authoritative account of how Europe rebuilt itself – and what we, in the twenty-first century, could lose again.

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