Adrian Tinniswood (Cape £30, 416 pp)

By the time World War II began, country houses were in crisis, thanks to rising taxes, the shortage of servants and the feeling that their owners were, in Adrian Tinniswood’s words, ‘as anachronistic in 20th-century Britain as the rusting suits of armour that decorated their dusty halls’.

Yet the country house is ‘a remarkably resilient beast’.

The prediction of its death was premature.

This beautifully illustrated book shows that the 1950s and 1960s witnessed a revival as rock concerts took over hunt balls, and doors to old family seats were opened up for paying customers. Tinniswood explains it all in vivid detail.

Magnificent: Castle Howard in North Yorkshire

Magnificent Castle Howard, North Yorkshire


James Heneage (Old Street £12.99, 256 pp)

‘The West’, James Heneage reminds us, ‘owes its civilisation to the Greeks.’ In two centuries, from about 500 to 300 BCE, their extraordinary achievements in philosophy, literature, art and the organisation of society laid the foundations for the world we experience today.

Yet, many people don’t have a good grasp of Greek history. Heneage manages to rectify that. In 250 pages, Heneage summarizes the history of not just the Greek ancients, but also the Byzantine Greek-speaking rulers of Constantinople. He also covers the struggle of 19-century Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, as well as the traumas and horrors of Nazi occupation in the 20th and 20th centuries.


Robert Sackville West (Bloomsbury £25, 368 pp)

The fate of half a billion soldiers from Britain remained unsolved two months after the end of World War I.

Most were assumed to have been killed: in the words of a character in a Rudyard Kipling story, ‘Missing always means dead.’ Yet grieving relatives longed for closure. ‘I shall never believe . . . that my son is dead until his grave is found,’ one woman wrote.

Robert Sackville-West’s revelatory, moving book chronicles the century-long efforts to locate lost soldiers.

These still continue today: around 50 sets of human remains are recovered annually in France and Belgium in what locals call the ‘harvest of bones’.

NOBLE AMBITIONS by Adrian Tinniswood (Cape £30, 416 pp)

NOBLE AMBITIONS by Adrian Tinniswood (Cape £30, 416 pp)


Dov Forman and Lily Ebert (Macmillan £18.99, 320 pp)

Lily Ebert was 20 years old when, along with her entire family, she was forced into a crowded wagon carrying goods at an Hungarian railway station. The wagon’s destination was Auschwitz.

‘Words can barely describe what happened next,’ she says in this unforgettable memoir written in conjunction with her great-grandson. ‘But,’ she goes on, ‘words are all I have.’

They have been used to great effect by her to summon up the horrors of Auschwitz as well as the slow progress towards rebuilding a life after the war.


by Harald Jähner (WH Allen £20, 400 pp)

Germany was in ruin by 1945. Berliners saw their cities devastated after the war was over.

For each person who survived, there was 40 metres of rubble. There were many refugees in the country.

Of Germany’s population of 75 million, around 40 million were ‘not where they belonged or wanted to be’.

How did a new society rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Hitler’s murderous regime?

Harald Jähner’s book provides a brilliant portrait of Germany in the tumultuous years between 1945 and 1955, during which the nation that perpetrated the Holocaust transformed itself into a democracy.


Max Hastings (Collins £25, 464 pp)

British fortunes were low in World War II during the summer of 1942. Malta, which the U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt, had described as ‘one bright flame in the darkness’, was on the verge of surrender to the Germans.

Bombed and devastated, the island needed help. A huge convoy of merchant vessels with supplies was sent to the Mediterranean, along with an escort Royal Navy combat ships.

In his first book about war at sea, the acclaimed military historian Max Hastings unfolds the gripping saga of how, and at what cost, the ‘island fortress’ was saved.

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