Diva November Non-Fiction Round-Up

Article published on November 30, 2011.

Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

In the early hours of 15 April 1912, after the majestic liner Titanic had split apart and the 1,500 men, women and children struggled to stay alive in the freezing Atlantic, the sea was alive with the sound of screaming. Then, as the ship sank to the ocean floor and the passengers slowly died from hypothermia, a deathly silence settled over the sea. Yet the echoes of that night reverberated through the lives of each of the 705 survivors. Shadow of the Titanic tells the extraordinary stories of some of those who survived.

Although we think we know the story of the Titanic – the famously unsinkable ship that hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America in April 1912 – little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did the loss of the ship shape the lives of the people who survived? How did those who were saved feel about those who perished? And how did they remember that terrible night, in effect a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town?

Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, SHADOW OF THE TITANIC will shed new light on this enduringly fascinating story by showing how the disaster continued to shape the lives of a cross-section of passengers who escaped the sinking ship.

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Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers

Inspired by childhood excursions with her botanist father, Sarah Raven has travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles to find 500 of our most breathtakingly beautiful wild flowers. This lavishly illustrated book is divided by habitat, covering woods, downs and dales, lanes and hedgerows, meadows, coast, marshes and streams, moors and mountains, and wasteland. Sarah introduces a wide range of plants, telling you their names and something about them – how to identify the families, how they’re brilliantly adapted to their environment, their importance to animals and insects, what herbal remedies they can be used for, the story behind their common names and the part they play in local history. Join Sarah on trips to see pulsatillas, fritillaries, bluebells, wild garlic, harebells, forget-me-nots, foxgloves, wood spurge, silverweed, purple cranesbill, deadly nightshade, St John’s wort, comfrey, orchids, wood sorrel, snowdrops and more. There are glorious landscape photographs by Jonathan Buckley throughout, and one of his stunning plant portraits accompanies each of Sarah’s authoritative, captivating species descriptions. Informative and lovely, Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers is a botanical marvel.

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The Rifleman by Victor Gregg

Born into a working-class family in London in 1919, Victor Gregg enlisted in the Rifle Brigade at nineteen, was sent to the Middle East and saw action in Palestine. Following service in the western desert and at the battle of Alamein, he joined the Parachute Regiment and in September 1944 found himself at the battle of Arnhem. When the paratroopers were forced to withdraw, Gregg was captured. He attempted to escape, but was caught and became a prisoner of war; sentenced to death in Dresden for attempting to escape and burning down a factory, only the allies’ infamous raid on the city the night before his execution saved his life.

Gregg’s fascinating story, told in a voice that is good-natured and completely original, continues after the end of the war. In the fifties he became chauffeur to the Chairman of the Moscow Norodny bank in London, involved in shady dealings and strange meetings with MI5, MI6 and the KGB. His adventures, though, were not over – in 1989, on one of his many motorbike expeditions into Eastern Europe, he found himself at a rally of 700 people in a field in Sopron at a fence that formed part of the barrier between the Soviet Union and the West. Vic cut the wire, and a few weeks later the Berlin Wall itself was destroyed – a truly unexpected coda to an incredible life lived to the full.

This is the story of a true survivor.

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Ordinary Dogs by Eileen Battersby

Eileen Battersby is the chief literature critic of the Irish Times and is, in the words of John Banville, ‘the finest fiction critic we have’.

But her first full-length book is not about international literature or the state of the novel. It is about dogs. Two dogs in particular, with the unlikely names of Bilbo and Frodo. She adopted the first from a horrible dog pound, and the second decided he liked her and moved in to join the family. She was in her very early twenties, an intensely serious student and runner who had just moved to Ireland from California. The dogs became her most loyal companions for over twenty years, witnesses to an often difficult human life and more important to her than most other humans.

This book is about two animals with personalities, emotions and prejudices. It is unlike any other book ever written about dogs. It is not sentimental or twee. Battersby became intimately involved in the lives of these intelligent, shrewd creatures, and brings them to life with rare passion and insight. She writes honestly and movingly about the reasons why, for certain people – especially women – there is more integrity in the mysterious relationship with a mammal who cannot speak than there is in most of the relationships that human society has to offer.

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The West End Front by Matthew Sweet

The Ritz, the Savoy, the Dorchester and Claridge’s – during the Second World War they teemed with spies, con-artists, deposed royals and the exiled governments of Europe.

Meet the girl from MI5 who had the gravy browning licked from her legs by Dylan Thomas; the barman who was appointed the keeper of Churchill’s private bottle of whisky; the East End Communist who marched with his comrades into the air-raid shelter of the Savoy; the throneless prince born in a suite at Claridge’s declared Yugoslav territory for one night only. Matthew Sweet has interviewed them all for this account of the extraordinary events that unfolded under the reinforced ceilings of London’s grand hotels.

Using the memories of first-hand witnesses, the contents of newly declassified government files and a wealth of previously unpublished letters, memoirs and photographs, he has reconstructed a lost world of scandal, intrigue and fortitude.

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The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, by Ali H Soufan

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Angels: A Very Short Introduction, by David Albert Jones

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