Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800 – 1906 by David Cannadine

The Blurb On The Back:

To live in Victorian Britain was to experience an astonishing series of changes, of a kind for which there was simply no precedent in the human experience.  This was an exhilarating time, but also a horrifying one.

In his dazzling new book David Cannadine has created a bold, fascinating new interpretation of Victorian Britain.  This was a country which saw itself at the summit of the world.  And yet it was a society also convulsed by doubt, fear and introspection.  Repeatedly, politicians and writers felt themselves to be staring into the abyss and what is seen as an era of irritating self-belief was in practice obsessed by a sense of its own fragility, whether as a great power or as a moral force.  Victorious Century is an extraordinary enjoyable book – its author catches the relish, humour and theatrically of the age, but also the dilemmas of a kind with which we remain familiar today. 

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The Corner Shop: Shopkeepers, The Sharmas And The Making Of Modern Britain by Babita Sharma

The Blurb On The Back:

Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, and the story of corner shops is the story of who we are.

From the general stores of the first half of the 20th century (one of which was run by the father of a certain Margaret Thatcher), to the reimagined corner shops run by immigrants from India, East Africa and Eastern Europe from the 60s to the noughties, their influence has shaped the way we shop, the way we eat, and the way we understand ourselves. 

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Lovers And Strangers: An Immigrant History Of Post-War Britain by Clair Wills

The Blurb On The Back:

The exhausted Britain of 1945 was desperate for workers.  From all over the world thousands of individuals came, assuming they would spend just a few years here, but instead large numbers stayed – and transformed the country.

Drawing on an amazing array of sources, Clair Wills’ new book brings to life the incredible diversity of the migrant experience. She introduces us to lovers, scroungers, dancers, homeowners, teachers, drinkers, carers and more to show the opportunities and excitement, the humiliation and poverty that could be part of their experience.  Irish, Pakistanis, West Indians, Poles, Maltese, Punjabis and Cypriots battled to fit into Britain and found themselves making permanent homes.  

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The Traitors: A True Story Of Blood, Betrayal And Deceit by Josh Ireland

The Blurb On The Back:

September 1939.  For years now Britain has been rudderless, divided and grievously unequal. Successive governments have floundered as they struggled to cope with economic misery at home and machinations abroad.  Many of the country’s citizens are seduced by fascism; others are simply left alienated by leaders who seem unwilling or unable to take the decisive action that is so desperately needed.

When war breaks out the imperilled nation achieves the unity and purpose that has eluded it for more than a decade.  It is a time of heroism and sacrifice, in which many thousands of soldiers and civilians give their lives.  But some Britons choose a different path, renegades who will fight for the Third Reich until its gruesome collapse in 1945. The Traitors tells the stories of four such men: the chaotic, tragic John Amery; the idealistic but hate-filled William Joyce; the cynical, murderous conman Harold Cole; and Eric Pleasants, an iron-willed pacifist and bodybuilder who wants no part in this war.

Drawing on recently declassified MI6 files, as well as diaries, letters and memoirs, The Traitors is a book about disordered lives in turbulent times; idealism twisted out of shape; of torn consciences and abandoned loyalties; of murder, deceit, temptation and loss.  It shows how a man might come to desert his country’s cause, and the tragic consequences that treachery brings in its wake.   

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Directorate S: The CIA And America’s Secret Wars In Afghanistan And Pakistan, 2001 – 2016 by Steve Coll

The Blurb On The Back:

In the wake of the terrible shock of 9/11, the CIA scrambled to work out how to destroy Bin Laden and his associated. The CIA had long familiarity with Afghanistan and had worked closely with the Taliban to defeat the Soviet Union there. Superficially the invasion was quick and efficient, but Bin Laden’s successful escape, together with that of much of the Taliban leadership, and a catastrophic failure to define the limits of NATO’s mission in a tough, impoverished country the size of Texas, created a quagmire, which has now lasted many years.

At the heart of the problem lay ‘Directorate S’, a highly secretive arm of the Pakistan state, which had been covertly arming and training the Taliban for years as part of a wider competition for global influence, and which assumed that the USA and its allies would soon be leaving.

This remarkable new book tells a powerful, bitter story of just how badly foreign policy decisions can go wrong. 

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There Was A Country: A Personal History Of Biafra by Chinua Achebe

The Blurb On The Back:

From the lengendary author of Things Fall Apart comes a long-awaited memoir of coming of age with a fragile new nation only to watch it torn asunder in a tragic civil war.

The defining experience of Chinua Achebe’s life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967 – 1970.  The conflict was infamous for its savage impact on the Biafran people, Chinua Achebe’s people, many of whom were starved to death after the Nigerian government blockaded their borders.  By then, Chinua Achebe was already a world-renowned novelist, with a young family to protect.  He took the Biafran side in the conflict and served his government as a roving cultural ambassador, from which vantage he absorbed the war’s full horror, immediately after the war, Achebe took refuge in an academic post in the United States, and for more than forty years he has maintained a considered silence on the events of those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry.  Now, decades in the making, comes a towering reckoning with one of modern Africa’s most fateful events, from a writer whose words and courage have left an enduring stamp on world literature.

Achebe begins his story with Nigeria’s birth pangs and the story of his own upbringing as a man and as a writer, so that we may understand both the young country’s keen sense of promise, which too quickly turned to horror, and Achebe’s view of the particular obligation of the artist, especially in a time of war.  For Chinua Achebe, to be a serious writer is to be a committed writer – to speak for one’s history, one’s beliefs, and one’s people, especially when others cannot.

A marriage of history and memoir, vivid first-hand observation and decades of further research and reflection, There Was A Country is a work whose wisdom and compassion remind us of Chinua Achebe’s place as one of the great literary and moral voices of our age. 

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The Unwomanly Face Of War by Svetlana Alexievich

The Blurb On The Back:

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, The Unwomanly Face Of War is Svetlana Alexievich’s collection of stories from Soviet women who lived through the Second World War: on the front lines, on the home front, and in occupied territories.  As Alexievich gives voice to women who are absent from official narratives – captains, sergeants, nurses, snipers, pilots – she shows us a new version of the war we’re so familiar with, creating an extraordinary alternative history from their private stories.

Published in 1985 in Russia and now available in English for the first time, The Unwomanly Face Of War was Alexievich’s first book and a huge bestseller in the Soviet Union, establishing her as a brilliantly revolutionary writer.  

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The Pharmaceutical Studies Reader edited by Sergio Sismondo and Jeremy A. Greene

The Blurb On The Back:

The Pharmaceutical Studies Reader is an engaging examination of this new and growing field, bringing together provocative, multidisciplinary articles to look at the interplay of medical science, clinical practice, consumerism, and the healthcare marketplace.  Ranging far beyond the simple discussion of patients, symptoms, and pills, this reader offers important insights into contemporary cultures of health and illness and the social life of pharmaceuticals.

Drawing on anthropological, historical, and sociological research, it delves into the production, circulation, and consumption of pharmaceuticals.  The coverage here is broad and compelling with discussion of topics such as the advent of oral contraceptives, taxonomies of disease, the evolution of prescribing habits, the ethical dimension of pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, and drug production in the age of globalisation.  Placing a strong focus on context, this collection exposes readers to a variety of approaches, ideas, and frameworks and provides them with an appreciation and understanding of the complex roles pharmaceuticals play in society today.  

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The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters With The Islamic State by Graeme Wood

The Blurb On The Back:

Graeme Wood’s The Way Of Strangers is a riveting, intimate journey into the minds of the Islamic State’s true believers, one which up-ends our understanding of their psychology, character and aims.

From the streets of Cairo to the mosques of London to the suburbs of Melbourne, Wood, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, interviews supporters, recruiters and sympathisers of the world’s most infamous jihadist group.  We meet an Egyptian tailor who once made bespoke suits for Paul Newman and now wants to live under Sharia; a garrulous Australian convert who translates the group’s sermons and threats into English; and a self-taught Muslim cleric who is now determined to see America, the nation of his birth, drenched in blood.  Drawing on insights from a wide spectrum of Islamic scholars, Wood explores the group’s apocalyptic dogma and the theology that influences its expansionist project.

The Islamic State is bent on murder and apocalypse, but its recruits find meaning and fellowship in a utopian dream.  This appeal of the Islamic State is key to understanding it – and predicting what its followers will do next.

With on-the-ground reporting, vivid character studies and clear-eyed analysis, The Way of Strangers uncovers a movement that has inspired tens of thousands of people to abandon or uproot their families.  It will shape how we see a new generation of terrorists.  

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Suffragettes And The Fight For The Vote by Sarah Ridley

The Blurb On The Back:

While the First World War still raged on, another battle was finally seeing some results.  In February 1918, British women over the age of 30 finally gained the right to vote in general elections.  The hard-won victory was the result of a long struggle.  This book takes up the story in the mid 19th century, when the first petition was presented to Parliament, and traces the fight for the vote through the work of suffrage organisations and the suffragettes.  From peaceful demonstrations to violent campaigns and prison hunger strikes, the story is brought to life through fascinating historical photos and artefacts.

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