- by reading a book about Britain. There’s no shortage of candidates, but one or two suggest themselves right now. Roy Hattersley’s In Search of England collects many of the pieces produced during years of writing regular newspaper columns about ….well, everything English really, the towns, the countryside, the people, industry, architecture, the past, his home town of Sheffield, the village where he now lives in Derbyshire…… It’s a delightful miscellany and the pieces are well-written, often gently humorous and short enough to make this an excellent bedside book.
Stuart Maconie has followed his successful looks at our way of life, Pies and Prejudice and Adventure on the High Teas, with Hope and Glory, a ‘People’s History of Modern Britain’. He has chosen to present this in ten chapters, each chapter focusing on one particular day in each decade of the twentieth century but taking in many different aspects of British life as he examines the causes and consequences of the events of that day. For example, Chapter 2, ‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field’, looking at the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, moves from Wootton Bassett, where he watches the repatriation of a soldier’s body from Afghanistan, to the British military in general, to the National Anthem, to the disaster of the Somme, to the plays, films, and books (particularly the satires) which have revisited that time, to Accrington which sent the most famous of the the Pals battalions to France and then to two of the Lancashire Thankful Villages (whose men all returned home from the Great War). It’s an interesting approach and Maconie usually has something original or personal to say, though the paperback would have benefitted from better proof-reading and editing (an ‘Emily Pankhurst’ appears in chapter 1).
Still looking at history, Robert Lacey’s Great Tales from English History takes all the most famous and fascinating true or legendary stories of our nation’s past and presents the facts clearly and concisely in short, entertaining essays: we can find out what is really known about ‘Hobbehood, Prince of Thieves’, Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada and the sacrifice of Captain Oates, as Lacey sorts the reality from the myths.