BOOKS OF THE YEAR, AND FOR CHRISTMAS…
Linda Kinstler, Come to this Court and Cry (London: Bloomsbury, 2022), £20
This book is one of the most thought-provoking works of history I have read in a long time. It is also thrilling, taking the reader on a journey back in time, to attempt to uncover truths around genocide, betrayal, assassination, and memory. We uncover the role of Mossad agents hunting an escaped Latvian in Uruguay, Herbert Curkurs, who although a Nazi collaborator implicated in mass murder of Jews, is today regarded as a national hero. The book examines the roles played by the author’s own family in Latvia during World War Two, and their involvement with Curkurs. Kinstler picks up threads of information from her family, from newspapers and archives, and even from random encounters, to try and arrive at the truth. The book is particularly interesting on the idea of evidence, looking at both archival documents and at personal testimony, and is powerful in its realisation of the difficulties in bringing truth to bear on Latvia’s national memory today, where that society has tried to forget its difficult past rather than remember and confront it.
Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian and Head of Gardens, Libraries and Museums, and Fellow of Balliol.
Julia Laite, The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey. A True Story of Sex, Crime and the Meaning of Justice (London: Profile Books, 2021: paperback 2022), £9.99
Has women’s history had its day, fifty years after the great wave of writing about women in the past, broke on the somewhat resistant shores of historical scholarship? Have studies of gender, sexualities, and non-binary identities made women’s history uninteresting or even naïve? Julia Laite’s magnificent sleuthing recovery of Lydia Harvey, an unremarkable New Zealand teenager who in 1910 left Wellington to be sex-trafficked to Buenos Aires and then London shouts a loud ‘No!’ Lydia became visible in court records when she gave evidence against her international pimps at the Old Bailey in 1910. Laite joins the dots of her experience from fragments of evidence as painstakingly as the police pursued her tormentors. This is a thrilling micro-history that also opens up the big global worlds of pre-1914 policing, journalism, and sex-trafficking while recognising Lydia Harvey’s genuine agency even in the most dire of circumstances.
Frances Lannon is a historian of modern Spain. She was Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 2002-2015.
Ukraïner. Ukrainian Insider. (Vol 2, 2022) ISBN: 978-617-8216-00-9 £20
The book I want to recommend is unsurprisingly coming from my home country – it is Ukraïner. Ukrainian Insider by a media project Ukraїner. The book is a set of stories accompanied by breath-taking pictures from all around Ukraine collected during the team’s expeditions in 2016-18, and then in a second volume from 2019-21. The two volumes capture and reveal all the variety and authenticity of modern Ukraine, its cultures and people, providing insight into what Ukraine was before February 24, 2022 and the beginning of a full-scale war. The first volume struck a chord, becoming a best-seller and recipient of several awards. The second volume has a more explicit purpose in light of events: ‘to keep it in our memory so that after the victory it could be rebuilt, and made even better’.
Yaroslava Bukhta (St John’s, 2022) is studying for her Master's in Social Anthropology at St John's College. She is one of 26 Ukraine Refugee Scholars at Oxford.
Visible Strengths: Capitalize on Strengths, Contribute Value, and Communicate Results to Accelerate Your Career by Mary Adeyemi (New Degree Press, 2022) £17.69
Visible Strengths is an incredibly insightful book, spotlighting an effective way for graduates to navigate their careers. It highlights a three-step process to get you noticed and promoted - identifying your strengths, committing to contributing value, and, finally communicating your worth. Written by an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs, the book relies on lived experience in the financial world. Where better to get advice to set you up for an illustrious career?
Gwendolyne Brown (Brasenose, 2022) is currently studying for a Masters in Economic Development
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler, (Serpent’s Tail, 2022) £8.79.
I really enjoyed reading Booth by Karen Joy Fowler last summer. It is a novel, but also a fictionalised biography of the family that produced the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Booth’s father was a Shakespearean actor who ran away from England to start a new life touring America – in the course of the novel we enter into the world of the stage in the nineteenth-century, and also into the world of slaves and slave-owners and of the side-lined Booth women. A richly-textured tour-de-force that helps readers to understand the complexities of a troubled family and the darkness of what happened in that theatre in 1865.
Professor Marion Turner (St Anne’s, 1993) is the recent JRR Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language in the Faculty of English Language and Literature (from 17 October 2022), and is a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall.
Terry Pratchett, A Life with Footnotes*, by Rob Wilkins, (Penguin, 2022) £25
Rob Wilkins met Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) through his first publisher, then became his PA and helped him with the ‘the embuggerance’ of the early onset Alzheimer’s that led to his untimely death. He is Pratchett’s Boswell, and fans of the Discworld’s inspired satirical take on humankind will relish this intimate portrait. With affectionate verve he tells of Pratchett’s rise from nerd fiddling with crystal radios through local journalism to astonishingly rapid writing success. Omnivorous reading was key. Once The Wind in the Willows woke the school-shy Terry to the imaginative possibilities of books, he haunted the local library, storming not just through the William books, Biggles, Tolkien and sci-fi galore, but the whole of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
Christina Hardyment was founding editor of Oxford Today. Her latest book is The Serpent of Division, a novel about Alyce Chaucer, available only from https://christinahardyment.co.uk
Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to go Green by Henry Sanderson, (One World, 2022) £20.
This book by a former Financial Times correspondent for commodities and mining, might seem dull. I mean, mining? But it’s actually a terrifying, whiteknuckle glimpse into what electrification means in terms of natural resource extraction and it’s highly unlikely by the end that you’ll aspire to a Tesla in the same way, if at all. From Chinese-owned Congolese supply chains of ‘blood cobalt’ and child labour to desperate despoliation of the marine environment in Indonesia by Chinese-owned mining interests, to feed Chinese battery makers in ruthless pursuit of global markets and low prices, this is one shocker of a book. And yet it doesn't set out to shock. It's just that you strap yourself in for a ride around the author's world, which is seldom one that anyone has access to, and it just unfolds. The mining and commodities trading behemoth Glencore is right in the book too, as it has been in the headlines while this was being written. You can conduct your own Google to bring things right up to date.
Dr Richard Lofthouse (Lady Margaret Hall, 1990) QUAD Editor
Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet by George Monbiot (Allen Lane, 2022) £20.
This book is so engaging to read, being that magical blend of first-hand narrative linked to global issues of existential gravity. He wears it all so lightly, yet not a single sentence is wasted. Professor Sir David King, former Chief Scientific advisor to the government and fellow of University College, insists that this is ‘in my view one of the two or three most important books to appear this century.’ Monbiot (Brasenose, 1982) is an Honorary Fellow at Wolfson College, and Wolfson College switched off its biggest gas boiler earlier this year. A hopeful amalgam of ideas and action, brewed up in Oxford alongside cider from a community orchard. Definitely one to mull alongside a mince pie.
Dr Richard Lofthouse (Lady Margaret Hall, 1990) QUAD Editor
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