Our history recent picks this month cover a broad range of topics, from a friendship between Nelson Mandela and one of his Robben Island jailers, to the story of the archaeological find of the bones of Richard III in a car park (!) in Leicester. Plus, discover Andrew Robinson’s history of India — the world’s largest democracy — and read about a third of a million country women and the story of their lives in England during the Second World War. Have a browse, and enjoy!
Digging for Richard III : how archaeology found the king / Mike Pitts.
“The events of Richard IIIs reign and his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth are known worldwide through Shakespeares most performed, filmed and translated history play. Digging for Richard III is the page-turning story of how his grave was found, the people behind the discovery and what it tells us. It is the first complete narrative of a project that blended passion, science, luck and detection. Told by a noted archaeologist with access to all the parties involved, it follows the quest from an idea born in an Edinburgh bookshop to the day, fourteen years later, when two archaeologists carefully raised the bones from a car park in Leicester, and the scientific studies that resulted. The vivid tale of a king, his demise and now his rediscovery, this is also an insiders gripping account of how modern archaeology really works, of how clues meticulously assembled and forensically examined are pieced together to create a narrative worthy of the finest detective fiction.” (Amazon.co.uk)
Jambusters : the story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War / Julie Summers.
“The Second World War was the Women’s Institute’s finest hour. The whole of its previous history – two decades of educating, entertaining and supporting women and campaigning on women’s issues – culminated in the enormous collective responsibility felt by the members to ‘do their bit’ for Britain. With all the vigour, energy and enthusiasm at their disposal, a third of a million country women set out to make their lives and the lives of those around them more bearable in what they described as ‘a period of insanity’. Jambusters tells the story of the minute and idiosyncratic details of everyday life during the Second World War. Making jam, making do and mending, gathering rosehips, keeping pigs and rabbits, housing evacuees, setting up canteens for the troops, knitting, singing and campaigning for a better Britain after the war: all these activities played a crucial role in war time.” (Library Catalogue)
The wars of Reconstruction : the brief, violent history of America’s most progressive era / Douglas R. Egerton.
“A history of the Reconstruction years, which marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the Civil Rights movement, tells the stories of the African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality after the Civil War.” (Library Catalogue)
Ko te whenua te utu = Land is the price : essays on Māori history, land and politics / M.P.K. Sorrenson.
“In this new book, Sorrenson brings together his major writing from the last 56 years into a powerful whole – covering topics from the origins of Māori (and Pākehā ideas about those origins), through land purchases and the King Movement of the nineteenth century, and on to twentieth-century politics and the new history of the Waitangi Tribunal. Throughout his career, Sorrenson has been concerned with the international context for New Zealand history while also attempting to understand and explain Māori conceptions and Pākehā ideas from the inside. And he has been determined to tell the real story of Maori losses of land and their political responses as, in the face of Pakeha colonisation, they became a minority in their own country. Ko te Whenua te Utu / Land is the Price is a powerful history of Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand” (Library Catalogue)
Four thousand lives : the rescue of German Jewish men to Britain, 1939 / Clare Ungerson.
“In November 1938 about 30,000 German Jewish men were taken to concentration camps where they were subjected to torture, starvation and arbitrary death. In Four Thousand Lives, Clare Ungerson tells the remarkable story of how the grandees of Anglo-Jewry persuaded the British Government to allow them to establish a transit camp in Sandwich, East Kent, to which up to 4,000 men could be brought while they waited for permanent settlement overseas. The whole rescue was funded by the British Jewish community, with help from American Jewry. Most of the men had to leave their families behind. Would they get them out in time? And how would the people of Sandwich – a town the same size as the camp – react to so many German speaking Jewish foreigners? Four Thousand Lives is not just a story of salvation, but also a revealing account of how a small English community reacted to the arrival of so many German Jews in their midst.” (Amazon.co.uk)
India : a short history / Andrew Robinson.
“In ten incisive chapters Andrew Robinson provides a clear focus to each segment of the unfolding story of Indian history, from the remarkable cities of the Indus Valley civilization four millennia ago to the Hindu dynasties, from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj, and from Indian independence to the nations emergence as the worlds largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies in the modern era.” (Amazon.co.uk)
Mandela : my prisoner, my friend / Christo Brand with Barbara Jones.
“Christo Brand was a South African farm boy, born into the Afrikaans culture which had created apartheid to persecute black people and claim superiority for whites. Nelson Mandela, also raised in a rural village, was the black son of a tribal chief. He trained as a lawyer to take up the fight against apartheid on behalf of a whole nation. Their opposing worlds collided when Christo, a raw recruit from the country’s prison service, was sent to Robben Island to guard the notoriously dangerous terrorists there. Mandela was their undisputed leader. The two of them, a boy of 18 and a long-suffering freedom fighter then aged 60, could well have become bitter enemies. Instead, they formed an extraordinary friendship through small human kindnesses. [...] This book tells the story of their friendship in Christo’s words for the first time.” (Amazon.co.uk)
1177 B.C. : the year civilization collapsed / Eric H. Cline.
“In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the “Sea Peoples” invaded Egypt. The pharaoh’s army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians. The thriving economy and cultures of the late second millennium B.C., which had stretched from Greece to Egypt and Mesopotamia, suddenly ceased to exist, along with writing systems, technology, and monumental architecture. But the Sea Peoples alone could not have caused such widespread breakdown. How did it happen? In this major new account of the causes of this “First Dark Ages,” Eric Cline tells the gripping story of how the end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures.” (Amazon.co.uk)