This book is subtitled "A Diary showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years", and that's a very good descriptiThis book is subtitled "A Diary showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years", and that's a very good description of it. Hodgson, a social worker in Notting Hill, simply kept a record of what she and the people around her did on a daily basis during the war -- blitzes, blackouts, rationing, the whole bit -- and though it could easily have gotten repetitive, it's instead engaging, giving a vivid picture of civilian wartime life. I found her worship of Churchill especially endearing; at one point she says that a statue of gold should be erected to him in thanks....more
I found this a lively though not very scholarly guide to London in the time of Elizabeth I. Picard adopts a chatty tone which is very readable and oftI found this a lively though not very scholarly guide to London in the time of Elizabeth I. Picard adopts a chatty tone which is very readable and often funny, and she includes lots of quotes from primary sources. However, I often wanted her to try to go deeper into her subject. For instance, after spending an entire chapter on the poor of London and concluding that "there was a splendid, comprehensive, welfare system in place," she quotes a primary source which wonders why "the streets yet swarm with beggars," and says that she has no answer. It seems as though this should be the starting point, not the ending. But I'm probably asking too much of a work of popular history, and even with that quibble, I did enjoy Picard's evocation of Elizabethan London and would certainly read her books on London in other time periods....more
This is a gripping account of the 1854 London cholera epidemic and how a physician and a curate investigated and discovered its cause. I very much likThis is a gripping account of the 1854 London cholera epidemic and how a physician and a curate investigated and discovered its cause. I very much liked the cross-disciplinary approach Johnson uses, exploring social history, epidemiology, city planning, and even the nature of scientific inquiry itself in his evocation of the epidemic and its world and era. I was less entranced with the last chapter, in which Johnson tries, not always convincingly, to relate the lessons learned in 1854 with lessons we should learn today about urban living, but on the whole, this was a fascinating book....more
Perhaps this should have been called: "London: A Collection of Historical Anecdotes and Occasional Authorly Rants". I did enjoy it, mostly, as I generPerhaps this should have been called: "London: A Collection of Historical Anecdotes and Occasional Authorly Rants". I did enjoy it, mostly, as I generally find Wilson entertaining and interesting, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for an actual history of London. And I definitely wouldn't recommend the last chapter, in which Wilson vents his spleen against London's mayor from 2000-2008, Ken Livingstone, producing a rant which I simply found annoying to read (and not a good way to wind up the book). ...more
After reading Glenarvon, I really had to read a biography of Lady Caroline Lamb; this is the most recent one I could find. Douglass is very sympathetiAfter reading Glenarvon, I really had to read a biography of Lady Caroline Lamb; this is the most recent one I could find. Douglass is very sympathetic to Lamb while managing to remain fairly balanced in his presentation of her, and he doesn't allow Byron to take over, which would be all too easy, I think. He's good about quoting primary sources often (and now I really want to read the letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, Caroline's cousin, which are alluringly witty and spiteful), and he gives a lot of very interesting space to Caroline's literary aspirations (I had no idea she'd written any novels besides Glenarvon).
However, I thought Douglass skimmed over things a little too often. He doesn't really address Caroline's problems with drugs and alcohol, and her final descent into illness and death is far too abrupt. It felt as though perhaps he was trying a little too hard to present her in a good light, and thus didn't address her very real problems as well as he might. Still, it's a readable, workmanlike biography and did shed a lot of light on her life and character, so it was worth reading....more
Realizing that there are not enough details for a full biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and then wife of John of Gaunt in the fourteenth centRealizing that there are not enough details for a full biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and then wife of John of Gaunt in the fourteenth century, Lucraft instead investigates Katherine's history: not just the details of her life, but her place in her times. She looks at the depiction of Katherine by sources from her own time to the present, separating fact from conjecture, and discusses how Katherine may have chosen to present herself and her own image, notably through her association with St. Katherine. I found this a readable (though occasionally stilted), balanced, scholarly assessment....more
Daughters of Britannia is an entertaining social history of the families (not just wives, but also children, siblings, and in later days, husbands) ofDaughters of Britannia is an entertaining social history of the families (not just wives, but also children, siblings, and in later days, husbands) of British diplomats from the seventeenth century to the present day. Hickman moves adroitly from century to century, linking her subjects by theme rather than by chronology and covering every aspect of diplomatic life, from the postings themselves and how diplomatic families travelled to them, to the details of their lives once they reached their postings. Particularly absorbing were the accounts of some of the hardships the families encountered; for example, Hickman uses the diary of her mother, who was on the spot, to recount how Jane Ewart-Biggs and her family dealt with the death of Christopher Ewart-Biggs by IRA bombing in 1976.
My only issue with the book was the occasional hints of insularity; I suppose it's natural that Hickman, being a diplomatic daughter herself, would be a little biased on the side of the British culture, but a little more open-mindedness on the subject of, for example, the "disfigurement" of Chinese women's hands with long fingernails would have been appreciated. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book a lot, though I sometimes regretted its rather short length, for I often wanted more details about a particular person; fortunately, though, there's a useful bibliography for those who want suggestions for further reading. ...more
I enjoyed Jenny Uglow's biographies of George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, so I'd been looking forward to reading her new book, A Little History of BrI enjoyed Jenny Uglow's biographies of George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, so I'd been looking forward to reading her new book, A Little History of British Gardening, and wasn't disappointed - it's delightful. Uglow traces British gardening from Roman times down through today, looking at gardens large and small across social classes. The book is elegantly written, well researched, and beautifully illustrated with a plethora of black-and-white illustrations accompanying the text as well as several sections of color plates. Uglow's love of gardening pervades the book, and she supplies lots of colorful examples and anecdotes. I adored the Victorian Lord Egremont, who spent lots of money on a greenhouse to grow bananas:
"But when he tasted the first home-grown one, peeling it with a golden knife and impaling a sliver with a golden fork, he flung 'dish, plate, knife, fork and banana on the floor and shouted, "Oh God, it tastes just like any other damn banana!"' The offending tree was summarily destroyed and it was estimated that the single banana cost some £3000."
I could quote many more delightful bits, but really you should just go and read the book yourself, if you've any interest in British history or in gardening. ...more
This is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of iThis is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of it is devoted to the life of Elizabeth Ponsonby, whom Taylor puts forth as a typical "Bright Young Person", but there isn't quite enough of her life for me to really feel that it was a well-rounded account of it. Simultaneously, there's enough of it that not enough time is devoted to other Bright Young People, and the whole book feels rather shallow as a result. It's entertaining, don't get me wrong, and I'll probably keep it as a general reference and jumping-off point for further reading, but it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be.
(Also, I don't think Taylor gets Nancy Mitford terribly well, and I object to his referring to her as "Nancy", when he refers to male writers like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell by their surnames. And someone should have gone through the book and deleted every use of the word "alternatively", a verbal tic which irritated me enormously by the end.)...more