In the recent edition of The Critic (a fabulous magazine, which has rapidly come to provide a refreshing challenge to the current literary and cultural zeitgeist) my friend Paul Lay bemoaned the paucity of good non-fiction writing in 2022. He should know; he’s made something of a career of the subject. He suggests that the fault is (I paraphrase here) - at least partly - the growing timidity of publishers to commission ruthless, well-written analysis in the face of what can only be seen as activist propaganda. I think he’s right. This is a hardly scientific assessment, but in a visit this week to my local independent bookshop I was faced with a choice of only two books on the subject of Winston Churchill, one by Geoffrey Wheatcroft and the other by Tariq Ali. Both are exponents of a hard left anti-Churchill school that purports to be scholarly but is anything but. I noted this earlier this year when I was asked to review Caroline Elkin’s contextually illiterate The Legacy of Violence (which, I note, continues to receive warm reviews from the literary and historic illuminati). Not only are publishers seemingly happy to promote activism rather than scholarship, but bookshops seem willing to do likewise, if my two local ‘independent’ shops are anything to go by. On Elkins, do also read Barnaby Crowcroft’s review here.
Nevertheless, despite Paul’s depressing assessment there has still been some amazing stuff published this year. I was pleased to see that in one case - Jesse Child’s brilliant The Siege of Loyalty House - Paul’s recommendations tally with mine in a short summary I wrote (with many others) in the Express this week.
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An interesting selection. I thought Anna Keay's book was brilliant and enjoyed Devil Dogs and the Siege of Loyalty House a great deal. I actually didn't get on with Anthony Beevor on the Russian Revolution, he took on a hellish job trying to compact so much history and so many protagonists into the book and it didn't come together as a coherent read for me. Devil-Land by Clare Jackson was a worthy winner of Wolfson imho, and I also recommend 'How the World Really Works' by Vaclav Smil.
I have spent a small fortune this year on what I consider quality historical non-fiction. It's there if you know where to look.