Dip into the Past for Christmas Presents; Take a Trip Down Memory Lane as Chris Upton Guides Us through Some of the Best History Books Released This Year

The Birmingham Post (England), December 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

Dip into the Past for Christmas Presents; Take a Trip Down Memory Lane as Chris Upton Guides Us through Some of the Best History Books Released This Year


Byline: Chris Upton

IT'S that time of year again when I dig out a few of the best local history books for your delectation.

I've always enjoyed books which cross the genre divide, and lace their history with geography, literature or folklore.

It feels more holistic somehow. I was very taken, therefore, by The Singular Stiperstones by Tom Wall, Orphans Press, Leominster, PS18. Tom Wall has roamed this untamed part of Shropshire for a quarter of a century, and knows it like the back of his hand.

Perhaps because the Stiperstones are more natural than man-made, their history reaches way back into geological time, and forward into legend and myth.

Tom Wall explores what these craggy hills have meant to writers and artists (and tourists), as well as to those who have endeavoured to farm and manage them.

Richly illustrated, this is a book with a real sense of place, and a landscape that is forbidding and alluring in equal measure.

Inevitably, I suppose, the bookshops of 2014 have been awash with studies of the First World War, much as the airwaves have been. One or two ambitious publishers have planned whole series of books, each dealing with a different part of the country. From the Pen & Sword stable comes Michael Pearson's The Black Country in the Great War, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, PS9.99, although I have been dismayed to see it discounted in Sainsbury's by 50 per cent.

Pearson takes a year by year approach to the combat, and concentrates most of his fire on the Home Front, and there are lots of intriguing details on the impact of the war locally. A major - indeed, culpable - drawback here is the lack of any references to sources, and the absence of any kind of bibliography. A significant opportunity to open up the records of the war to interested readers is thus missed.

Amberley Publishing is engaged on a similar operation, covering the nation county by county, and is generally making a better fist of it. Worcestershire's War, Amberley, Stroud, PS14.99 is compiled by Maggie Andrews, Adrian Gregson and John Peters. You couldn't ask for a better forward line than this.

As the title implies, this book focuses on the primary evidence behind the conflict, as experienced by its participants, and drawing on diaries and letters, of course, but also on newspaper reports, council minutes and even school magazines to uncover life on the Home, as well as on the Western, Front.

What the authors are doing here is guiding the reader through that evidence, revealing and interpreting it as they go.

I particularly enjoyed the section on the aftermath of the war, and the conversation Worcestershire had with itself on how to commemorate those four unprecedented years. …

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