BookPick: Winter Selection
The Thomas Kydd Series is set during the period of the Revolutionary wars (1793-1815) as experienced through the life of former wig-maker turned naval hero Thomas Kydd. My research library contains hundreds of volumes on the Royal Navy and life in Britain during those troubled times. I’ve also gleaned a useful insight into the mind of the foe through various books written from the French perspective. Along with several such books, this selection includes a modern-day sailing adventure, a history of tea, a moving account of children at sea and a comprehensive survey of British naval intelligence in the twentieth century..
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Napoleon’s Paris by David Buttery
While there are numerous biographies and studies of his military and political career, few books have been written about Napoleon’s connections with Paris, the capital of his empire, where many remarkable buildings and monuments date from his time in power. David Buttery’s lavishly illustrated guidebook to Napoleon’s Paris addresses this neglect. Many of the most famous sites in the city were built or enhanced on Napoleon’s instructions or are closely associated with him and with the period of the First French Empire – the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Hotel des Invalides, Musee de l’Armee, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pere Lachaise Cemetery among them.
Buttery’s book is recommended reading for the visitor to Paris who is keen to gain an insight into the influence of Napoleon on the city and the tumultuous period in French history in which he was the dominant figure.
Sailing the Waterways of Russia’s North by Irene Campbell-Grin
A fascinating memoir of the Baltic Millennium Rally in the summer of 2000, a voyage that involved sailing to St Petersburg, inland to Petrozavodsk, on to the White Sea and Barents Sea, and home via North Cape and the west coast of Norway; a circumnavigation of Scandinavia. I know many of these waters well, having sailed in them, albeit in comfort by ferry and liner, during research for my Thomas Kydd novel The Baltic Prize.
Campbell-Grin chronicles the joys and challenges that she and her husband Gordon faced on their boat Fereale (‘love’ in Frisian), in an expedition not many people would have had the courage to undertake as this was at a time when Russia was hostile to the outside world. Her account gives a glimpse into the country’s notorious bureaucracy, but also shows the kindness and generosity of the many Russians they met on their way.
A homage to how boating brings people together and our ongoing love of the sea.
A Dark History of Tea by Seren Charrington-Hollins
Readers of my Kydd tales will know that tea was a very special drink for the Georgians. Today it’s the most popular drink in Britain! This book looks at the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing its significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the toil of manual labour. The humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelled fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British life. The story of tea is a journey from myth, fable and folklore to murky stories of swindling, adulteration, greed, waging of wars, boosting of trade in hard drugs and slavery and the great, albeit dark engines that drove the globalisation of the world economy.
An engaging social history.
British Naval Intelligence Through the Twentieth Century by Andrew Boyd
Having served in the Royal Navy during the period this book covers I found Andrew Boyd’s monumental new history a compelling read. Not far short of 800 pages, the text is supplemented by extensive notes and a useful bibliography.
Boyd provides the first comprehensive account of how intelligence influenced and sustained British naval power from the late nineteenth century, when the Admiralty first created a dedicated intelligence department, through to the end of the Cold War. It brings a critical new dimension to understanding British naval history in this period setting naval intelligence in a wide context and emphasising the many parts of the British state that contributed to naval requirements. It is also a fascinating study of how naval needs and personalities shaped the British intelligence community that exists today as well as the concepts and values that underpin it.
Boyd’s work will appeal to historians of the twentieth century and also to those readers interested in intelligence and its impact on naval policy and operations.
Children at Sea by Vyvyen Brendon
Having written two earlier books on youngsters past and present, former history teacher Vyvyen Brendon turned her attention to Neptune’s Realm.
All the subjects of this, her third book, were born in Georgian or Victorian times when the sea was still the key element of Britain’s national existence. Brendon focusses on eight central characters: a slave captured in Africa, a convict girl transported to Australia, a Barnardo’s lass sent as a migrant to Canada, a foundling brought up in Coram’s Hospital who ran away to sea, and four youths from contrasting backgrounds despatched to serve as midshipmen (one of whom was Sydney Dickens, son of Charles). Their social origins as well as their maritime ventures are revealed through a rich variety of original source material discovered in scattered archives.
A collection of stories that are sometimes inspiring, sometimes heart-rending – but always compelling.
Waterloo Rout & Retreat by Andrew W Field
This, the fourth volume in Andrew Field’s highly-praised study of the Waterloo campaign from the French perspective. (His previous titles were ‘Prelude to Waterloo’; ‘Quatre Bras’ and ‘Grouchy’s Waterloo.’)
This work is based exclusively on French eyewitness accounts which give a remarkable inside view of the immediate aftermath of the battle, and carry the story through to the army’s disbandment in late 1815. Many French officers and soldiers wrote more about the retreat than they did about the catastrophe of Waterloo itself. Napoleon’s own flight from Waterloo is an essential part of the narrative, but the main emphasis is on the fate of the beaten French army as it was experienced by eyewitnesses who lived through the last days of the campaign.
Vivid insights into the often-neglected final phase of the rout and retreat of Napoleon’s army.
Still looking for bookish inspiration?
You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year