books monthly

february 2018 - Pen and Sword Publishers

Home Page | Adult Fiction | Crime & Thrillers | SF & Fantasy | Children's books | Nonfiction | Pen and Sword | Nostalgia | The Jerry Dowlen Column


Gareth C Sampson: Rome, Blood and Politics

Published by Pen & Sword 30th November 2017

The last century of the Roman Republic saw the consensus of the ruling elite shattered by a series of high-profile politicians who proposed political or social reform programmes, many of which culminated in acts of bloodshed on the streets of Rome itself. This began in 133 BC with the military recruitment reforms of Tiberius Gracchus, which saw him and his supporters lynched by a mob of angry Senators. He was followed by a series of radical politicians, each with their'own agenda that challenged the status quo of the Senatorial elite. Each met a violent response from elements of the ruling order, leading to murder and even battles on the streets of Rome. These bloody political clashes paralyzed the Roman state, eventually leading to its collapse. Covering the period 133 - 70 BC, this volume' analyses each of the key reformers, what they were trying to achieve and how they met their end, narrating the long decline of the Roman Republic into anarchy and civil war.

Gareth Sampson's superb book reads as though you were watching a BBC TV documentary, so vivid is the writing! I've never paid that much attention to how the Roman Empire met its end - Gareth presents the facts clearly and in the manner of a lecturer who clearly knows his subject. Fantastic!






Nat Alcock: Tracing History Through Title Deeds

Published by Pen and Sword 14th December 2017

Property title deeds are perhaps the most numerous sources of historical evidence but also one of the most neglected. While the information any one deed contains can often be reduced to a few lines, it can be of critical importance for family and local historians. Nat Alcock's handbook aims to help the growing army of enthusiastic researchers to use the evidence of these documents, without burying them in legal technicalities. It also reveals how fascinating and rewarding they can be once their history, language and purpose are understood. A sequence of concise, accessible chapters explains why they are so useful, where they can be found and how the evidence they provide can be extracted and applied. Family historians will find they reveal family, social and financial relationships and local historians can discover from them so much about land ownership, field and place names, the history of buildings and the expansion of towns and cities. They also bring our ancestors into view in the fullness of life, not just at birth, marriage and death, and provide more rounded pictures of the members of a family tree.

The latest title in Pen and Sword's unique and fascinating series on genealogy and ancestry is Nat Alcock's excellent book on title deeds. I don't believe anyone in our family ever had access to the title deeds of any properties they owned as these would all have been held by the bank, building society or mortgage company that was lending the money. Having said that, Nat's book suggests ways around this. As always, very well presented and illustrated for the growing army of people conducting research into their ancestors.


Heinrich Fraenkel & Roger Manvell: Heinrich Himmler

Published by Pen and Sword 30th November 2017

There are no better biographies of Goering, Goebbels and Himmler in existence (New York Review of Books). Heinrich Himmler was the commander of the SS, and as founder and officer-in-charge of the Nazi concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen death squads, he was responsible for implementing the extermination of millions of people. By the time he died he was the second-most powerful man in Germany and regarded himself as Hitler's natural successor, going so far as to attempt to negotiate independent peace with the Allies. Based on US documents handed over to the German Federal Archives and the testimonies of Himmler's family and staff, this book examines how a seemingly ordinary boy grew into an obsessive and superstitious man who ventured into herbalism and astrology before finally turning to the science of racial purity and the belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. Filled with insights into Himmler s private life, activities and beliefs, this is an important study of one of the most sinister figures of World War II.


An extraoridnary biography of Heinrich Himmler, often considered to be the brains behind Hitler's insane master plans. The blurb describes him as "sinister". That isn't a word I would have used to describe him, preferring the term "evil" myself. Not a great deal we didn't know already but fascinating and compelling nevertheless, a rare insight into why this monstrous man did what he did. There are people alive today who still have these sorts of thought processes, more's the pity. His early life seems to have some of the same characteristics as Aleister Crowley... A biography of an evil monster.

David Hey: A History Of The Peak District Moors

Published by Pen and Sword 2018

The moors of the Peak District provide some of the finest walking country in England. The pleasure of rambling across them is enhanced by a knowledge of their history, ranging from prehistoric times and the middle ages to their conversion for grouse shooting and the struggle for the 'right to roam' in modern times. This distinctive landscape is not an untouched, natural relic for it has been shaped by humans over the centuries. Now it is being conserved as part of Britain's first National Park; much of it is in the care of The National Trust. The book covers all periods of time from prehistory to the present, for a typical moorland walk might take in the standing stones of a prehistoric stone circle, a medieval boundary marker, a guide stoop dated 1709, the straight walls of nineteenth-century enclosure, a row of Victorian grouse butts, a long line of flagstones brought in by helicopter, and very much more besides. Some of this physical evidence remains puzzling, but most of it can be explained by assiduous research in local record offices. The author has not referenced the documents, as that would have made the book twice as long, but the bibliography provides leads to where the information may be found.


The Peal District is somewhere I have never visited but would obviously love to... David Hey's book isn't just a travel guide, in fact it is more of a history, uncovering the unique features that await the traveller in the way of standing stones, ancient walls and much, much more. This is an area steeped in history and mystery which the reader will have uncovered for them in David's superb guide.


Brian Best: The Forgotten VCs

Published by Frontline Books 31st January 2018

Fought amid the most challenging terrain of any theatre during the Second World War, the campaign in the Far East saw heroic actions against the unyielding Japanese that resulted in the awarding of more than forty Victoria Crosses greater than a fifth of all the VCs of the war. Such actions include that of Major Frank Blaker, whose battalion of the Gurkha Rifles was held up by Japanese machine-guns on 9 July 1944. After climbing for five hours up a 2,100-foot hill, Blaker crawled on his hands and knees through dense jungle alone until he was close enough to stand up and charge the strong enemy position. Though mortally wounded, he urged his men to follow and the hilltop was taken. During the famous Chindit operations, Lieutenant George Cairns was with the South Staffordshire Regiment as it attacked a Japanese position on top of Pagoda Hill. The Chindits reached the summit and, charging into the Japanese, a vicious hand-to-hand battle ensued. In the fighting a Japanese officer hacked off Cairns left arm but, astonishingly, the young Londoner then killed the enemy officer, picked up the sword with his right hand and carried on fighting. He died the next day. The Gurkhas are renowned for their courage and it is unsurprising that many of the Fourteenth Army's VCs were won by these tough Nepalese soldiers. Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung found his battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles pinned down by an enemy sniper. So he stood up in the open and killed the Japanese soldier. As his battalion advanced again, it once more came under enemy fire. Bhanbhagta Gurung charged the enemy positions, taking five Japanese fox-holes, one by one in the face of almost point-blank fire. The wide-ranging nature of the conflict in the Far East saw awards being granted for actions not just in Burma but also in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Borneo, New Guinea and even off the coast of Japan itself. The recipients came from across the Commonwealth, including Australia, Canada, Fiji, Great Britain, India and Nepal. These VC actions are told in great detail in The Forgotten VCs, the first book to examine in depth the Victoria Crosses of the war in the Far East. Brian Best brings to life the daring deeds of a group of courageous men in the most inhospitable of battlefield conditions, filling a glaring gap in the historiography of Britain s most prestigious award for valour.


Brian Best's superb book about Far East VCs reads like an adventure story book for boys that you might have seen published in the 1950s! Amazing tales of courage and bravery!

Peter Newall: Ocean Liners - An Illustrated History

Published by Seaforth Publishing 30th January 2018

The growth of the ocean liner was driven not only by political and social changes, and developments in marine technology and design but also by increased competition as new companies were established to meet the demands of travellers. Most liner books tend to be focussed on the transatlantic routes whereas the main aim of this book is to tell the story of the whole global development of the ocean liner. The means that not only are the well-known vessels featured but also many lesser known routes and ships. The story starts in the ninetheenth century with the greatest migration ever seen. Communications around the world were also rapidly improving with the introduction of railways, the opening of the Suez Canal, a universal postal system and, most importantly, the laying of undersea telegraph cables. Tourism as we know it took off in the 1870s and 1880s. This was also a time of colonial expansion which would see Britain and other countries establishing empires around the world. To meet the demand, passenger ships became increasingly important with great advances being made not only in ship design but also marine engineering. These technological innovations soon included the introduction not only of the turbine but also diesel engines. Ocean liners also became statements of national pride and artistic achievements. The story concludes in the 1960s when, despite increasing numbers of travellers choosing to fly rather than travel by sea, a final flurry of liners were built, many of which had shorter lives than planned. The unique text is supported by over 250 carefully chosen photographs, many of which have never been seen before. A truly unique and evocative book for merchant ship enthusiasts and historians.


When I was about eight years old, my school teacher gave us all our first real propject work - this would have been in 1954-55, I guess. We were able to choose what we wrote about, but we had to come up with what amounted to a mini-textbook - I chose to compile a "book" about ocean going liners. I don't really remember why I chose this particular subject - I had probably been reading about the Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard Line in one of my many nonfiction books. I don't remember if our projects were marked, but I do remember spending a lot of time on it, writing to the various companies that operated such liners and receiving terrific replies containing full-coloured brochures etc., which I used to illustrate my "book". Peter Newall's book is, it goes without saying, far more professional and comprehensive than anything an 8-year old could have come up with in the mid 1950s; having said that, I have to admit to being rather disappointed that there are no coloured photographs in this book. The information is all there "in black and white" and there are hundreds of thousands of suitable illustrations available for such a book as this in stunning full colour. This book could have been magnificent. As it is, it is just another book about ocean liners, albeit comprehensive and brilliantly written. A missed opportunity in my hunble opinion. There may be a valid reason for keeping it all in B&W; possibly the line in the blurb about the "carefully chosen photographs" says it, but it doesn't stop me from being disappointed. Even my 1950s books about such vessels had coloured illustrations!


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth 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.