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1939: The Last Season

1939: The Last Season

A wonderful portrait of British upper-class life in the Season of 1939 – the last before the Second World War.

The Season of 1939 brought all those ‘in Society’ to London. The young debutante daughters of the upper classes were presented to the King and Queen to mark their acceptance into the new adult world of their parents. They sparkled their way through a succession of balls and parties and sporting events.

The Season brought together influential people not only from Society but also from Government at the various events of the social calendar. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain chaperoned his debutante niece to weekend house parties; Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, lunched with the Headmaster of Eton; Cabinet Ministers encountered foreign Ambassadors at balls in the houses of the great hostesses. As the hot summer drew on, the newspapers filled with ever more ominous reports of the relentless progress towards war. There was nothing to do but wait – and dance. The last season of peace was nearly over.
72 Hours

72 Hours

The Royal Navy’s dramatic race to save the crew of a trapped Russian submarine.

5 August 2005. On a secret mission to an underwater military installation 30 miles off the coast of Kamchatka, Russian Navy submersible AS-28 ran into a web of cables and stuck fast. With 600 feet of freezing water above them, there was no escape for the seven crew. Trapped in a titanium tomb, all they could do was wait as their air supply slowly dwindled.

For more than 24 hours the Russian Navy tried to reach them. Finally – still haunted by the loss of the nuclear submarine Kursk five years before – they requested international assistance. On the other side of the world Commander Ian Riches, leader of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Rescue Service, got the call: there was a sub down.

With the expertise and specialist equipment available to him Riches knew his team had a chance to save the men, but Kamchatka was at the very limit of their range and time was running out. As the Royal Navy prepared to deploy to Russia’s Pacific coast aboard a giant Royal Air Force C-17 airlifter, rescue teams from the United States and Japan also scrambled to reach the area.

On board AS-28 the Russian crew shut down all non-essential systems, climbed into thick thermal suits to keep the bone-chilling damp at bay and waited, desperate to eke out the stale, thin air inside the pressure hull of their craft. But as the first of them began to drift in and out of consciousness, they knew the end was close. They started writing their farewells.

72 HOURS tells the extraordinary, edge-of-the-seat and real-life story of one of the most dramatic rescue missions of recent years.
A Million Years in a Day

A Million Years in a Day

‘A wonderful idea, gloriously put into practice. Greg Jenner is as witty as he is knowledgeable’ – Tom Holland

‘You will love Greg Jenner’s jolly account of how we have more in common with our ancestors than we might think … all human life is here, amusingly conveyed in intriguing nuggets of gossipy historical anecdote’ – Daily Mail


Every day, from the moment our alarm clock wakes us in the morning until our head hits our pillow at night, we all take part in rituals that are millennia old. In this gloriously entertaining romp through human history – featuring new updates for the paperback edition – BBC Horrible Histories consultant Greg Jenner explores the hidden stories behind these daily routines.

This is not a story of politics, wars or great events, instead Greg Jenner has scoured Roman rubbish bins, Egyptian tombs and Victorian sewers to bring us the most intriguing, surprising and sometimes downright silly nuggets from our past.

It is a history of all those things you always wondered – and many you have never considered. It is the story of our lives, one million years in the making.
All the Knowledge in the World

All the Knowledge in the World

The encyclopaedia once shaped our understanding of the world.

Created by thousands of scholars and the most obsessive of editors, adults cleared their shelves in the belief that wisdom was now effortlessly accessible in their living rooms. Contributions from Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Orville Wright, Alfred Hitchcock, Marie Curie and Indira Gandhi helped millions of children with their homework.

But now these huge books gather dust and sell for almost nothing on eBay, and we derive our information from the internet, apparently for free. What have we lost in this transition? And how did we tell the progress of our lives in the past?

All the Knowledge in the World is a history and celebration of those who created the most ground-breaking and remarkable publishing phenomenon of any age. It tracks the story from Ancient Greece to Wikipedia, from modest single-volumes to the 11,000-volume Chinese manuscript that was too big to print. It looks at how Encyclopaedia Britannica came to dominate the industry and how an army of ingenious door-to-door salesmen sold their wares to guilt-ridden parents. It explains how encyclopaedias have reflected our changing attitudes towards sexuality, race and technology, and exposes how these ultimate bastions of trust were often riddled with errors and prejudice.

With his characteristic ability to tackle the broadest of subjects in an illuminating and highly entertaining way, Simon Garfield uncovers a fascinating and important part of our past, and wonders whether the promise of complete knowledge – that most human of ambitions – will forever be beyond our grasp.
Children of the Raj

Children of the Raj

Vyvyen Brendon’s evocative, at times heart-tugging book, runs from the 18th century and the East India Company, through the Afghan wars, the Indian mutiny and the more settled era of the Queen Empress, and culminates in the conflict leading to Britain’s hurried exit in 1947. Its subject is the young progeny of traders, soldiers, civil servants, missionaries, planters, engineers and what should be done with them.

Until the coming of air travel these children often only saw their parents every few years. Then there were the children born of Anglo-Indian marriages and affairs. Sent back to Britain they were often reviled as ‘darkies’, ‘a touch of the tar-brush’. And then there were the children educated in India. Brendon reveals appalling stories of abuse at the hands of servants. What frequently unites Brendon’s wildly different subjects is their loneliness–drawing on letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews, she portrays children who had to discipline themselves to adapt (often ingeniously) to unfamiliar cultures, far away from family and forced to spend termtime in boarding schools and holidays with unfamiliar families.
Civilization of Angkor

Civilization of Angkor

A short history of the ancient civilization of Angkor, home to the spectacular temple of Angkor Wat.

In the late sixteenth century a mythical encounter was reported on an elephant hunt in the dense jungle north of the Tonle Sap, or Great Lake, of central Cambodia. King Satha of Cambodia and his retainers were beating a path through the undergrowth when they were halted by stone giants, and then a massive wall. The King, the fable reported, ordered 6,000 men to bring down the wall, thereby exposing the city of Angkor ‘lost’ for over a century.

Subsequent reports from Portuguese missionaries described its four gateways, with bridges flanked by stone figures leading across a moat. There were idols covered in gold, inscriptions, fountains, canals, and ‘a temple with five towers, called Angor [sic]’. For four centuries, this huge complex has inspired awe amongst visitors from all over the world, but only now are its origins and history becoming clear.

This book begins with the progress of the prehistoric communities of the area and draws on the author¿s recent excavations to portray the rich and expansive chiefdoms that existed at the dawn of civilization. It covers the origins of early states, up to the establishment, zenith and decline of this extraordinary civilization, whose most impressive achievement was the construction of the gilded temple mausoleum of Angkor Wat, in the twelfth century, allegedly by 70,000 people.
Dangerous Days on the Victorian Railways

Dangerous Days on the Victorian Railways

The Victorians risked more than just delays when boarding a steam train . . .

Victorian inventors certainly didn’t lack steam, but while they squabbled over who deserved the title of ‘The Father of the Locomotive’ and enjoyed their fame and fortune, safety on the rails was not their priority. Brakes were seen as a needless luxury and boilers had an inconvenient tendency to overheat and explode, and in turn, blow up anyone in reach.

Often recognised as having revolutionised travel and industrial Britain, Victorian railways were perilous. Disease, accidents and disasters accounted for thousands of deaths and many more injuries. While history has focused on the triumph of engineers, the victims of the Victorian railways had names, lives and families and they deserve to be remembered . . .
Dead Famous

Dead Famous

‘Fizzes with clever vignettes and juicy tidbits… [a] joyous romp of a book.’ Guardian

‘A fascinating, rollicking book in search of why, where and how fame strikes. Sit back and enjoy the ride.’ Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads

‘[An] engaging and well-researched book… Jenner brings his material to vivid life’ Observer

Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, strikes us as hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titillating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy; or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who launched a violent feud with her former best friend; or Edmund Kean, the dazzling Shakespearean actor whose monstrous ego and terrible alcoholism saw him nearly murdered by his own audience – the list of stars whose careers burned bright before the Age of Television is extensive and thrillingly varied.

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. DEAD FAMOUS is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.
Empire of the Deep

Empire of the Deep

The bestselling complete history of the British Navy – our national story through a different prism.

The story of our navy is nothing less than the story of Britain, our culture and our empire. Much more than a parade of admirals and their battles, this is the story of how an insignificant island nation conquered the world’s oceans to become its greatest trading empire. Yet, as Ben Wilson shows, there was nothing inevitable about this rise to maritime domination, nor was it ever an easy path.

EMPIRE OF THE DEEP: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH NAVY also reveals how our naval history has shaped us in more subtle and surprising ways – our language, culture, politics and national character all owe a great debt to this conquest of the seas. This is a gripping, fresh take on our national story.
Fighting Fit

Fighting Fit

At the beginning of the Second World War, medical experts predicted epidemics of physical and mental illness on the home front. Rationing would decimate the nation’s health, they warned; drugs, blood and medical resources would be in short supply; air raid shelters and evacuation would spread diseases; and the psychological effects of bombing raids would leave mental hospitals overflowing. Yet, astonishingly, Britain ended the war in better health than ever before.

Based on original archival research and written with wit and verve, FIGHTING FIT reveals an extraordinary, forgotten story of medical triumph against the odds. Through a combination of meticulous planning and last-minute scrambling, Britain succeeded in averting, in Churchill’s phrase, the ‘dark curse’ on the nation’s health. It was thanks to the pioneering efforts of countless individuals – doctors, nurses, social workers, boy scouts, tea ladies, Nobel Prize winners, air raid wardens, housewives, nutritionists and psychologists – who battled to keep the nation fit and well in wartime. As Laura Dawes shows, these men and women not only helped to win the war, they paved the way for the birth of the NHS and the development of the welfare state.
Heyday

Heyday

‘Excellent . . . This is narrative history of the highest quality’ Andrew Lycett, Sunday Telegraph

‘Wonderfully engrossing and intelligent . . . clever and entertaining’ Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

HEYDAY brings to life one of the most extraordinary periods in modern history. The 1850s was a decade of breathtaking transformation, with striking parallels for our own times. The world was reshaped by technology, trade, mass migration and war. The global economy expanded fivefold, millions of families emigrated to the ends of the earth to carve out new lives, technology revolutionised communications, while steamships and railways cut across vast continents and oceans, shrinking the world and creating the first global age.

In a fast-paced, kaleidoscopic narrative, the acclaimed historian Ben Wilson recreates this time of explosive energy and dizzying change, a rollercoaster ride of booms and bust, focusing on the lives of the men and women reshaping its frontiers. At the centre stands Great Britain. The country was the peak of its power as it attempted to determine the destinies of hundreds of millions of people. A dazzling history of a tumultuous decade, HEYDAY reclaims an often overlooked period that was fundamental not only in in the making of Britain but of the modern world.
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