books monthly christmas 2017 nonfiction

The magnificent Blue Planet II and an amazing book about Goldsmiths dominate this month's nonfiction selection...

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Chris Barber: Megaliths of Wales

Published by Amberley 15th September 2017

Erected by man for some long-forgotten purpose, there are large numbers of enigmatic standing stones, stone circles and burial chambers to be found in Wales. This book provides descriptions of some of the largest, tallest and best-preserved examples that can be visited still. Many of them are remarkable feats of construction, involving hewing and transporting large blocks of stone over long distances to be erected for reasons unknown.

Chris Barber examines numerous legends, once believed to be true, that are associated with the stones. Some stones are said to uproot themselves on certain nights of the year and go for a drink or swim in a nearby river. Others are reputed to have been thrown to their sites by giants or legendary figures such as King Arthur and the Devil. Some stones bear cryptic signs such as ‘cup and ring marks’, telling mute stories that we cannot read but which provide a link with our prehistoric ancestors. The question arises, why was so much energy devoted to erecting these megalithic monuments? It has been shown that stone circles have an astronomical significance and dowsers claim to have detected a hidden force in the stones, even experiencing violent reactions when they touch them. It is shown how quartz contained in the stones appears to cause fogging on photographs and other strange effects. Dowsers also claim that there are strange spiral powers in the stones that wax and wane according to the phases of the moon. Such forces of nature may well be attributed to electromagnetism.

This fascinating book is richly illustrated and gives location details of some of the more unusual sites, which are sometimes in remote locations, requiring map-reading skills to find them. These monuments were erected by man at a time when he must have felt part of nature and perhaps possessed forgotten knowledge that gave him a much closer relationship with the Earth. Read this book and you will feel compelled to go in search of the mysterious megaliths of Wales.








James Honeyborne & Mark Brownlow: Blue Planet II

Published by BBC Books 19th October 2017

Take a deep breath and dive into the mysteries of the ocean.

Our understanding of ocean life has changed dramatically in the last decade, with new species, new behaviours, and new habitats being discovered at a rapid rate. Blue Planet II, which accompanies an epic 7-part series on BBC1, is a ground-breaking new look at the richness and variety of underwater life across our planet.

From ambush hunters such as the carnivorous bobbit worm to cuttlefish mesmerising their prey with a pulsating light display, Blue Planet II reveals the never-before-seen secrets of the ocean. With over 200 breath-taking photographs and stills from the BBC Natural History Unit's spectacular footage, each chapter of Blue Planet II brings to life a different habitat of the oceanic world. Voyages of migration show how each of the oceans on our planet are connected; coral reefs and arctic ice communities are revealed as thriving underwater cities; while shorelines throw up continual challenges to those living there or passing through. A final chapter explores the science and technology of the Ocean enterprise – not only how they were able to capture these amazing stories on film, but what the future holds for marine life based on these discoveries.


At the time of writing, my review copy is still "on its way" so I'll have to say something instead about how brilliant the TV programme is, and that the book is a superb companion to the series, which is drawing viewing figures of over ten million each week. David Attenborough's narration and the unparalleled photography are a surefire winner, and this is by far the most important and impressive documentary series to be broadcast on any of the UK networks this year. I can't wait to read the book! (But I guess I'll have to - my fault for not requesting a copy sooner in the month!)

Gianmaria Bucellati Foundation: A Century of Goldsmiths Art

Published by Skira Editore 7th December 2017

This book illustrates a century of the history of goldsmith art through the treasures of the Buccellati Foundation designed by Mario and Gianmaria Buccellati, heirs of the illustrious Italian tradition which flourished during the Renaissance. It was following the Renaissance canons that Mario Buccellati, defined by Gabriele d’Annunzio as the “prince of goldsmiths,” created his works, reinterpreting them in a very personal, unique, and easily recognizable way. To him should be given credit for having made known the “style Buccellati,” a goldsmith’s myth appreciated by members of the ruling houses, by popes, and by intellectuals.


This amazing book will set you back a cool £75 in the UK, or $100 in the USA, and although I can see beauty, incredible examples of beauty on virtually every page, I do think the book is a little overpriced. Having said that, it is quite like having your own personal museum as you turn the pages, pausing to drink in the magnificence of the goldsith's art. This book is a worthy tribute to the Bucellati Foundation, whose works have graced the houses and members of the aristocracy, the papacy and treasure houses the world over. The craftmanship is of the very highest, these are stunning works of art, and the printing quality of the book is second to none. I don't imagine this being a best-seller, and some people may well have to seek it out in the major libraries and museums around the world, but the artefacts celebrated in the pages of this book are among the finest treasures in the world and people with an interest in this type of work should seek out a copy of it and revel in it. Unbelievably beautiful, the book itself is to be treasured!


Augustus Vennendaal & Roger Grant: Rails To The Front - The Role of Railways in Wartime

Published by Karwansaray Publishers November 2017

"The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car [...] You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth ― right at your doors."
~ William Tecumseh Sherman, 1860

The military use of railways derives from their ability to move troops or materiel rapidly and, less commonly, on their use as a platform for military systems (like armoured trains and heavy artillery). Until recently, the mobility of large armies generally depended on control of railways to move reinforcements, ammunition and food, as the locomotive and railway cars proved far superior to animal-drawn equipment.

In Rails to the Front, historians Augustus J. Veenendaal and H. Roger Grant capture the critical impact of railways in an abundance of conflicts worldwide, from the German revolutions in the 1840s to the Gulf War in the 1990s. This lavishly illustrated, careful study is the first of its kind in English.


This terrific book celebrates the most important innovation in the history of mankind - the railways, which took over as the main means of transport all over the world from the beginning of the Victorian era. And the impact it had was influential almost immediately in the various conflicts, although it really came into its own in the early years of the first World War. Amazing photos, an amazing slice of social history combine to make this a genuine enthusiast's delight.


Josho Brewers: The Art Of Ancient Warfare

Published by Karwansaray Publishers November 2017

Originally conceived as a reward for Ancient History Magazine Kickstarter backers, the 2016 special edition of Ancient Warfare is a compilation of covers, battle scenes and unit reconstructions from the first fifty issues of the magazine. Compiled and edited by Josho Brouwers, with contributions from the rest of the Ancient Warfare staff, this 100-page full-colour book features artwork by favourite illustrators such as Igor Dzis, Johnny Shumate, Radu Oltean and Rocio Espin, to name but a few. Also included are articles by the staff with insight into our philosophy for commissioning artwork, and a "behind-the-scenes" look at how illustrations are produced.


I have never seen a copy of Ancient Warfare Magazine in any of the newsagents in my provincial hometowns, but I have to say how impressed I am with the quality of the stunning images that illustrate its pages - this commemorative edition from 2016 has just been re-released through Casemate, and as well as providing stunning artwork, it also informs us how the artwork is commissioned and executed. A most brilliant, educational and entertaining volume.


Arthur Krim: Route 66 - Iconography of the American Highway

Published by George F Thomson November 2017

Originally conceived as a reward for Ancient History Magazine Kickstarter backers, the 2016 special edition of Ancient Warfare is a compilation of covers, battle scenes and unit reconstructions from the first fifty issues of the magazine. Compiled and edited by Josho Brouwers, with contributions from the rest of the Ancient Warfare staff, this 100-page full-colour book features artwork by favourite illustrators such as Igor Dzis, Johnny Shumate, Radu Oltean and Rocio Espin, to name but a few. Also included are articles by the staff with insight into our philosophy for commissioning artwork, and a "behind-the-scenes" look at how illustrations are produced.


Slightly disappointed by the small number of illustartions in what should really have been a purely pictorial history of the most iconic of all America's highways.


William Debuys & Joan Myers: The Jungle at the Door - A Glimpse of Wild India

Published by George F Thomson November 2017

Through the miracle of photography and the beholding eye of a master photographer such as Myers, we are able to experience the land and life in India's last remaining wild jungles. This is the land of the tiger and elephant and monkey and rhino and a treasure trove of other species. But, as noted writer William deBuys shares in his provocative essay, poaching is a persistent and pervasive problem, and the natural habitat for wild animals is shrinking at an alarming rate due to expanding development and industrialization. Tigers, for example, are now extinct in ninety-three percent of their historical range worldwide, and, without wildlife refuges such as Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Karizanga, and others in India, their numbers would plummet further. 

Few citizens of the world will ever experience firsthand the jungles and wild places of India, but in Myers's visual discovery they can witness the excitement and energy of coming upon wild game in a moment's notice and experiencing religious shrines and rural life in nearby villages that seem to blend in effortlessly with the adjacent wilderness. 

Jungle at the Door is that rare glimpse into another world, a world that depends not only on human awareness of what is lost when the jungle is gone, but also the courage and foresight to preserve remaining wild places everywhere, from those in India to our own home ground.


Off the beaten track in the backwaters and jungles of India - like watching a film documentary. Stunning photographs...

Emma Varnam: Granny Squares Home

Published by GMC Publications 7th October 2017

Add cheerful, vibrant bursts of colour and style to your home armed with just a crochet hook and some oddments of yarn. Granny squares are a thrifty, fun and fashionable way to use up your yarn stash by creating adorable accessories for every part of your home. From gorgeous blankets to cute toys this book is packed with inspiring projects that will get you hooked.


It never ceases to amaze me, the number of craft etc., there are around that anyone can take up and achieve astonishing results with - I'd never heard of Granny Squares until I saw this book in one of my wife's magazines, and GMC kindly sent me a review copy. I'm sure it's not easy, although the author suggests that it is - but it's something that definitely looks easier than sewing, knitting and crocheting! A beautiful book with clear, colourful instructions. No excuses, now!


Don Snuggs: Love Never Fails

Published by Matador 28th October 2017

With the media widely reporting the shortcomings of the care industry in the UK the subject continues to arouse public concern. Don Snuggs memoir, Love Never Fails, offers a unique insight into what it is like to be the sole carer and husband to a disabled wife, and the failures of the UK care industry. Love Never Fails is the memoir of a retired nurse and acupuncturist Don Snuggs, who, at the age of 75 years old, married a lady with a progressive condition, who is wheelchair dependent and requires assistance in all aspects of daily life. The book records their life together as a newly wed couple facing the challenging task of enjoying married life within the confines of disability and illness. Don paints a picture of the challenges, failures and successes, and reveals the commitment and selflessness required by a carer to a loved one. Over the 10 years that he has cared for his wife, Don has come into contact with external support providers hoping that they could help to ease his caring role, but sadly these encounters have not been positive. In the book, he offers his opinion on how the care industry could be improved to support others in a similar situation. Drawing from Don s previous nursing experience, Love Never Fails offers readers a unique insight into the plight of a totally dependant patient and the problematic care industry in the UK a subject that continues to gain increasing prevalence in today s news. The book will appeal to readers who act as a carer for a loved one, as well as those with an interest in the care industry and readers that enjoy memoirs.


Julie Nancy Wiltshire: A Carer's Chaos

Published by Matador 28th October 2017

When a person with cancer has a partner, it is not I have cancer", it is we have cancer. ' When Julie Wiltshire s husband, David, was diagnosed with cancer twice, he faced a series of treatments made all the more difficult by multiple complications. In A Carer s Chaos, Julie records the details of David s long journey of cancer treatment, but also offers a unique perspective into life as a carer to a loved one, exploring the love, hate, anger, loneliness and fear experienced on a daily basis by a carer. The book explores how a person s life can be turned upside down when their partner s life is threatened, and how the chaos a carer experiences can be frightening and exhausting as they attempt to swim through a sea of complications. Written with the intention of highlighting the carer s experience, Julie offers readers the chance to glimpse into the emotions experienced by a carer as they try to maintain their own individuality whilst caring for a loved one. She demonstrates through her own experience how often a carer is overlooked and experiences isolation as much of the attention and care is focused on the ill patient. Inspired and informed by Julie s recent experiences, A Carer s Chaos is a unique memoir that will appeal to readers facing a similar situation.

Tom Chaplin: Narrow Boats

Published by Amberley 15th October 2017

The traditional cargo-carrying narrowboat – recently voted one of the 100 icons of England – emerged with the construction of the narrow canal network and lasted in until 1970 when the last regular long-distance contract was lost. Up until then, working boat families lived aboard according to their own culture and work ethic. Narrow Boats explores this, explains why their way of life persisted for so long, and looks at why and how it has changed.

The vessels evolved as the horse gave way to steam and diesel power and boatyards developed the skills to build beautiful boats, decorated with roses, castles, scrolls and geometric designs that brought colour and vibrancy to the waterways. Since their demise, a new generation of craft has emerged purely for leisure and residential use. This book, by technical consultant Tom Chaplin, reflects on the origin and purpose of the traditions that many of these attempt to replicate.

This book is part of the Britain’s Heritage Series, which provides definitive introductions to the riches of Britain’s past, and is the perfect way to get acquainted with the narrow boat in all its variety.


Narrow boats and canals have been garnering new interest thanks to lovely husband and wife team Timothy West and Prunella Scales as they investigate the world's waterways in their brilliant TV series. Not always in a narrow boat, I should point out, but then if your interest is piqued, this superb book by Tom Chaplin and published by Amberley is for you! As always, with their Britain's Heritage series, the illustrations are perfect and the text is designed to instruct, educate and entertain you - this book does all three handsomely!

Milton Toubkin: Without Walls

Published by Matador 28th November 2017

Without Walls is Milton's Toubkin's unique memoir, which begins with an impoverished, but generally happy, early childhood in South Africa and ends with Milton s retirement. Like most people, Milton faced many difficulties throughout his life, ranging from the divorce of his parents, his mother s suicide attempt and the death of his daughter at the age of just nineteen. But Without Walls also records the happiest moments of the author s life, including meeting and marrying his wife Marj, becoming a father to two children and becoming a grandfather. The book also explores the huge impact that Milton had on the international educational system in London as a result of his founding Southbank International School with his colleagues. Milton describes the school s modest beginnings, surviving with little money and no external support, before growing to become an outstanding educational institution with a unique programme. The story of this school without walls forms a significant part of Milton s life story. Inspired by The School without Walls by John Bremer and Michael von Moschzisker and Peter Godwin s A White Boy in Africa, Without Walls is a unique biography that will appeal to readers interested in education, as well as those that enjoy memoirs. It will also be enjoyed by former pupils and associates of Southbank International School.


William Fell-Holden: Journey Out Returning

Published by Matador 28th November 2017

Journey Out Returning is a street-life story of struggle, sexual discovery, friendship and community told within the 1960s, a decade of flower-power and love-ins . Set against a background of the music of the Beatles Sgt Pepper s Lonely Hearts Club Band ; The Small Faces Itchycoo Park , the bursting forth of Pink Floyd and many other bands and singers, William Fell-Holden s memoir captures his personal history and links this to the major events of the decade.

William recounts a time of youthful bliss, taking readers on a journey of self-discovery to his past to find a core meaning in his life. He recalls how the 1960s gave its mark of joy, freedom and mind-expansion; imaginations eagerly feeding from a feast of new ideas, all hopeful and colourful for a new world of peace, pleasure and love.

Travelling back to the county of William s birth, on the Fylde coast of Lancashire, readers will find a story of friendships and a community of people that helped William to regain his strength after an emotional collapse. Just as the decade was split apart by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, William s is a life of two halves.

Based entirely within the 1960s, William s memoir is written with diary-like immediacy with the spirit of the decade. William captures the soul and social detail of the time within his story, offering readers the opportunity to experience the time and place through his authentic accounts. Journey Out Returning will appeal to readers that enjoy memoirs, as well as those interested in the 1960s.



Evan Davies: Teenage Safari

Published by Helion 15th October 2017

A wide-eyed South African conscript relates his small share of the war in Angola and Namibia in the 1980s. This is not the usual military history, written by a commander armed with facts, nor a researched story of a war or campaign. 

It is a personal experience. Being brutally honest it will resonate not only with readers of all things military but also with a wider literary audience, for its poetic prose and subtle sentiments, and for its entertaining narrative. It may thus be of interest not only to the South African men who were there, but to their women who were left behind, and to all men and women anywhere. It is a book by a non-warrior dumped into a war, which nevertheless provides vivid alternative first-hand accounts whose validity cannot simply be brushed aside by professional historians.

Descriptive writing takes readers right into the colourful past, into action and into personal interactions. Notes made at the time preserve intimate details of what it was like to be a White South African during Apartheid, and the surprisingly humane culture within its small but effective White-led Army. Dialogue is remembered verbatim as is the unique jargon and profanity of the time, with English translations where Afrikaans is spoken. After a brief life background the narrative moves chronologically through two years of military training, deployment, combat and demobilisation, with comments on the human effect of these experiences. The result is a compelling time capsule: the South African Defence Force ceased to exist in 1994 when South Africa began its non-racial democracy. Surprisingly, because it was a humane army it was a good one. This is not just a liberal attitude. It meant that when a thing needed doing, it was done conscientiously and thoroughly, with thought for secondary effects. It was a dangerous opponent to have, inflicting maximum casualties where this was necessary, but when the need passed, it switched easily to a humanitarian purpose. There was much lost that being unique (and laudable) in the Old South African culture and in its Army's approach and attitude, is fascinating today.


Anyone that finds real-life "adventure" as fascinating as I do will revel in Evan Davies's memoir of the Angola War. There are a huge number of conflicts that warrant further investigation, and this is one of them. Evan's narrative is studied and engaging. You will feel "informed" after reading about his exploits with the South African army. Inspirational.


Asa B Christiana: Build Stuff With Wood

Published by Taunton Press 7th October 2017

Build Stuff with Wood is a true beginner's guide to woodworking, aimed at anyone who is interested in the craft but has only a few tools and no real idea where to start. The idea behind the book is to begin with a basic toolset (a circular saw, chop saw, cordless drill, jigsaw, and a few hand tools) and then add tools as you go. Step-by-step projects are presented showing what you can build with that tool (plus the basic toolset). For example, adding a router to your tool arsenal allows you to gracefully round edges on tables and shelves; buying a simple doweling jig opens up the world of joinery. As well as power tools, hand tools are also introduced. In all, 14 fun projects will be presented, all built with just a few woodworking tools and off-the-shelf lumber.


This is an American title, but most of what the author describes is valid in terms of tools, preparation, techniques etc. There isn't anything the Americans do in the way of woodworking that is substantially different to what we do. I was interested to note, however, that, unless I turned two pages at once, there was no mention of a need for a hand saw in the bit at the front where the essential tools are recorded. That aside, there are a number of great projects that most handymen (and women) will be able to tackle, the instructions are clear, precise and beautifully illustrated. A brilliant craft book.


Rob Higgins and Will Farmer: Arts And Crafts Tiles - William De Morgan

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

William De Morgan was the principal ceramic designer and maker in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Heavily influenced by the art of the Middle East, he was active for nearly thirty years from the 1870s onwards and was never content with an existing technical process if he thought it could be improved. He is famous for his vases and decorative chargers, but it is arguably his tiles – still to be found in homes and museums around Britain and the world – that have made the greatest impact.

His tiles portray iconic images of animals, ships and floral designs, blending style influences to produce designs that featured new, stylized interpretations and a whimsical character. He combined a strong design style with rich glaze colours, making blue and green, and a deep orangey red into visual trademarks. There were important commissions from royalty and industry, and his ceramics were marketed to the growing middle classes by William Morris, the founder and leading light of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The tiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement are now highly collectible, and none more so than those made at William De Morgan’s Chelsea, Merton Abbey and Fulham potteries. This highly illustrated book, by acknowledged experts on De Morgan, presents the first study of the tiles to be published in over thirty-five years and features an examination of De Morgan’s lustre glazes using high sensitivity X-ray analysis.


There is something extraordinarily beautiful about the Arts and Crafts movement and this moving and educational tribute to William De Morgan (of whom I had never heard) and his tiles is exceptionally well illustrated. The Victorians must have treasured his designs, so striking were they! A beautiful book.



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.