Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell makes a convincing case against the widely held perception of the Middle Ages as a bloodthirsty and violent period of history where beliefs about medicine were guided primarily by superstition. Instead, the reality is shown to be very different in Hartnell’s examination of how medieval people experienced their physical selves. Each chapter of this lavishly illustrated book focuses on a different part of the body and explores their cultural significance and how medieval attitudes towards them were shaped by a range of influences.
Drawing on art, medicine, literature, science, politics, history, philosophy and much more, I think Hartnell sometimes tries to tackle too much here. The geographical range of sources spanning across Europe and the Middle East is impressive but the scope is so wide that it is a lot to grasp for non-expert readers, whereas I think those who are more knowledgeable about this period of history may find the analysis too thin in some areas. However, Hartnell’s evident passion for his subject is infectious and I think ‘Medieval Bodies’ could be a possible contender for the next Wellcome Book Prize longlist. Continue reading
The first non-fiction title to be shortlisted since the 2015 relaunch of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is ‘Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman’ by Minoo Dinshaw. Runciman was an English historian and author who wrote several books about the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades and is still regarded as one of the most influential voices on the subject in academic circles and beyond. Continue reading
Formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction has a new sponsor this year and a longlist of ten books, whittled down last month to a shortlist of just four. Open to authors of any nationality, it covers all areas of non-fiction including current affairs, politics, history, science, sport, travel, biography and autobiography. This year’s shortlisted books are:
- Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich)
- Negroland by Margo Jefferson
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
- East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands
The longlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was announced today. The twelve books are:
Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate
Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance by Robert Gildea
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World by Oliver Morton
Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia by Peter Pomerantsev
They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson
The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman
The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky
Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Tim Snyder
This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian
‘The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story’ by Martin Edwards investigates the mysterious Detection Club of famous crime writers including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Margery Allingham amongst others. While many of the works by these authors have been dismissed by some as “cosy” crime stories compared to the more graphically violent offerings today, Edwards reveals that this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth as he investigates the stories behind the authors, their books and the curious social network that linked them together.
After reading two excellent novels in recent months about Soviet spies recruited at Cambridge University – Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and Red Joan by Jennie Rooney – I was intrigued by Ben Macintyre’s biography of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five spies recruited by Arnold Deutsch in the mid-1930s. Philby worked for Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS or MI6) during the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War before his activities as a double agent for the NKVD and KGB were finally uncovered in 1963.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995, ‘The Stone Diaries’ by Carol Shields is a fictional biography of Daisy Goodwill which outlines her life story in ten chapters covering her birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and death. Born in Canada in 1905, Daisy’s life spans the majority of the twentieth century and is both very ordinary and yet also highly extraordinary. Continue reading