Saturday, 1 September 2012


They say that fact is stranger than fiction but in my view, good fiction makes the facts more palatable. However, there is some good non-fiction out there. Tell us what you are reading and recommend what books/authors you have enjoyed. 


  1. The Onion Field
    By Joseph Wambaugh

    I read this book in the late 1970’s and have re-read recently.
    The author Joseph Wambaugh is an ex-LAPD policeman with 15 years on the force. He is a crime novelist with a style that re-creates sometimes bizarre but believable characters based loosely on his experience as a cop.
    The Onion Field is a true story that occurred in 1963 in LA. This is a tale of what happened when two young cops on a routine night patrol intersect with two young thugs who are on the prowl for another store to rob. The book unearths the underlying characteristics of each of the parties before they intersect and the fall out afterwards.
    In a nutshell, the two thugs kidnap the two officers, drive them out of the city to an agricultural area, and a cop is executed. The book details the threads leading up to the fatal moment, and follows all the survivors through the convoluted American legal system. The legal system seemed to support the perpetrators to a level of farce where the murdered policeman no longer counted.
    It is interesting that the last character died in jail in August 2012 after 49 years.
    I think it is a great read because the author’s skill as an acclaimed writer weaves the story and characters like one of his novels.

    1. Sounds an interesting book. I've read a couple of his novels bur didn't realise he also writes non-fiction. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I just read and really loved Midnight in Peking by Leslie French- the true story of the murder of a British girl in 1938. Besides being a mystery it was such an enlightening pictoure of China at that time and the lives if the foreigners. I learned so much. I have also read and really liked the new Ian MacEwn Sweet Tooth Le Carreish and so clever and then can I recommend a marvellous book The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger. It is so moving and I cannot put it down. From Enid in Cape Town

    1. Midnight in Peking does sound very interesting Enid - I do love to read books set in different countries. Must add that to my list!
      What story does The Newlyweds tell?

    2. Hello Enid, welcome. Sweet Tooth has only just been released here and it is on my list. Is it true that McEwan has written himself as a character in the book? Freudenberger doesn't appear on the Literature Map. I googled The Newlyweds, it sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. Please "introduce yourself" and tell us what you like to read.

  3. Hello Enid. Nice to see you on here. They all sound like really good reads. I'll look out for them.

  4. The Ten Best History Books
    Today’s issue of The Independent  lists their selection of the Ten Best History books:
    1. Necropolis: London and Its Dead By Catharine Arnold
    From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the current approach of metropolitan society towards death and bereavement — including more recent trends to displays of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This fascinating blend of archaeology, architecture and anecdote includes such phenomena as the rise of the undertaking trade and the pageantry of state funerals; public executions and bodysnatching. Ghoulishly entertaining and full of fascinating nuggets of information, Necropolis leaves no headstone unturned in its exploration of our changing attitudes to the deceased among us
    2. Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe By Adam Zamoyski
    The dramatic and little-known story of how, in the summer of 1920, Lenin came within a hair’s breadth of shattering the painstakingly constructed Versailles peace settlement and spreading Bolshevism to western Europe.
    3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West By Dee Brown
    First published in 1970, this extraordinary book changed the way people thought about the original inhabitants of America. Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1860 and ending 30 years later with the massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, it tells how the American Indians lost their land and lives to a dynamically expanding white society. It is a truism that “history is written by the victors”; for the first time, this book described the opening of the West from the Indians’ viewpoint. Accustomed to stereotypes of Indians as red savages, many white people were shocked to read the reasoned eloquence of Indian leaders and learn of the bravery with which they and their peoples endured suffering.
    4. A People’s History of the World By Chris Harman
    From earliest human society to the Holy Roman Empire, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, from the Industrial Revolution to the end of the millennium, Chris Harman provides a brilliant and comprehensive history of the planet.Eschewing the standard histories of “Great Men,” of dates and kings, Harman offers a groundbreaking counter-history, a breathtaking sweep across the centuries in the tradition of “history from below.” In a fiery narrative, he shows how ordinary men and women were involved in creating and changing society and how conflict between classes was often at the core of these changes.While many pundits see the victory of capitalism as now safely secured, Harman explains the rise and fall of societies and civilizations throughout the ages and demonstrates that history never ends.
    5. Empires of the Sea: the Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 By Roger Crowley
    “Empires of the Sea” shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453, it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire – and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.

    1. 6. Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945 By William I Hitchcock
      The traditional image of Europe in 1945 is of grateful civilians showering soldiers with flowers and dancing in the streets. In reality, liberation was an extraordinarily violent and chaotic process. Using first-hand accounts, Hitchcock describes the catastrophic effects of invasion on Northern France, Belgium and Holland, the huge civilian death tolls from indiscriminate bombing, with towns destroyed and crops burnt. He shows that the motives and behaviour of the Allied forces were far from noble; they frequently abused power and authority, looted homes and sexually assaulted women. Hitchcock also writes about the discovery of the major concentration camps, and the often shocking lack of empathy shown by its liberators. Lucid and compelling, Liberation explores the paradoxes of ‘the good war’, its glories and its horrific human costs.
      7. The Ascent of Money: a Financial History of the World By Niall Ferguson
      Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance.
      8. Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing By Katherine Ashenburg
      ‘I return to Paris in five days. Stop washing.’ So wrote Napoleon to Josephine in an age when body odour was considered an aphrodisiac. In stark contrast, the Romans used to bath for hours each day. Ashenburg’s investigation of history’s ambivalence towards personal hygiene takes her through plague-ridden streets, hospitals and battlefields. From the bizarre prescriptions of doctors to the eccentricities of famous bathers, she presents us with all the twists and turns that have led us to our own, arbitrary notion of ‘clean’.
      9. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town By Mary Beard
      The ruins of Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius in AD 79 offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman empire. This book will rise to the challenge of making sense of its remains.
      10. Henry: The Virtuous Prince By David Starkey
      The first installment of the highly anticipated biography of Henry VIII, written by one of the UK’s most popular, established and exciting historians. Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne, ‘Henry: Virtuous Prince’ is a radical re-evaluation of the monarchy’s most enduring icon. Henry VIII was Britain’s most powerful monarch, yet he was not born to rule. Thrust into the limelight after the sudden death of his elder brother, Prince Arthur, Henry ascended the throne in 1509, marking the beginning of a reign that altered the course of English history. David Starkey gives a radical and unforgettable portrait of the man behind the icon; the Renaissance prince turned tyrant, who continues to tower over history.

      Pasted from

    2. One for the history buffs among us. Interesting that Barbara Tuchman is not mentioned.

  5. Sorry, I probably won't read these. Not that I don't like history - just don't have the time. However, No 9 is by Mary Beard, the Cambridge classics professor in whose book of her blog I had a comment published and an invitation to meet her in London which I couldn't manage. She recently made a TV series which was shown on ABC - "Meet the Romans". She also had a bad time at the hands of a sexist male journo who wrote an article about how she shouldn't have been allowed on TV because she is grey-haired, toothy and unattractive. She was going to charge him but not sure if she went ahead with it.

    Picture and article here:

  6. No, I probably won't read them either, though some sound quite interesting. In the article Beard says, "People of 57 look like me unless they have had an awful lot of expensive work done". I checked out a photo of Gill (58) and he must have had that expensive work done. What a subtle dig! Go Mary!

  7. It's the same sort of sexism that says it's OK to criticise what Gillard wears and how she does her hair and her "high" heels when she fell etc etc but no one ever comments on male MP's pot bellies, baggy grey suits and thinning hair.

    By Peter Fitzsimons
    In 1629, the Dutch ship Batavia is shipwrecked on a reef off the coast of Western Australia on the journey to the Dutch East Indies. It was part of a fleet of eight carrying stores and twelve chests of treasure to fund the Dutch East India Company’s commercial enterprises in the East. Before the shipwreck, the captain and core crew of the Batavia plot to mutiny against the company’s fleet commander Pelsaert after they depart Cape Town.
    Before the mutiny can gain momentum, the Batavia smashes into a reef. The captain and Pelsaert decide to sail a long boat to the Australian coast for water, and failing to find any, strike north 2000 miles to what is now D’ Jakata in Indonesia for help. They leave behind 220 people on a small island with pitiful supplies. The forty mutineers, led by Pelsaert’s second-in-command, step into the void left by the departing leaders and begin a reign of terror that includes murder and sexual slavery.
    The story outlines the human condition when a charismatic rebel leader takes charge of 220 bewildered lost people and begins a horrific murder campaign to reduce the number dependant on diminishing supplies. He divides and rules. Those not with him are against. It is interesting to read how astonishing it is how people react when faced with a bloody dictator with no moral, legal or ethical boundaries.

    Peter Fitzsimmons is a journalist who has written nearly twenty Australian non- fiction books including history and biographies. He tells the fascinating story well by developing the characters and writing it like a novel instead of presenting a dry summary of facts. He draws the reader into the story.

    1. Thanks, Linrob. 'Batavia' sounds like a 'Lord of the Flies' scenario. I agree, Fitzsimons writes interesting history. Have you read his other books?

  9. I have been collecting books about Australians' experience of war for some thirty years. I do not know why or how it came about, but I do have a penchant for prisoner of was diaries. ( And no, any amateur shrinks out there, no P.O.W s in the family)

    I do remember that the very first book I purchased in this line was on a throw out table in Adelaide and cost me 50 cents. It was called "Brother Digger" about the five sons of a Toowoomba Qld family who all went off to different theatres of war in the 1940's , and whom all returned home. A simple book , with a simple story about complex times not so long ago, that helped shaped the world in which I live.

    It was Patricia Shaw's first book.

    I am currently reading another of Shaw's efforts, "Mango Hills", about pioneers on the eastern coast of Australia. Look, I am no history buff, opted for geography at school instead, but this book isn't a bad read in that its an engaging story about goldfields, Cobb and Co, and cattle stations , littered with historical references to old( and in many cases long since gone) hotels in Brisbane, Gympie and Rockhampton.

    Much like Mr Fitzsimons I would suggest....

    1. Colin is currently reading The Great War by Les Carlyon who was his tutor in Journalism many years ago. I bought it for him for Christmas and thought it was going to be about WW1 generally (didn't look very closely at the blurb) but its' mainly from the Australian perspective. It's a huge book and he's ploughing through slowly.

  10. On my list. Bit mammoth to be included in my train reading manifesto

    1. No, and not for holding up in bed either. He has it on the coffee table next to his chair and dips into it in spare moments - we are retired so he does have quite a few of those! At night he's reading the lightest of detective novels - one of the series set in the Cotswolds. I've read a few of them too and they are very unchallenging but lovely settings and a bit of light entertainment after Carlyon.

  11. Here are a few literary biographies which have been featured in the media recently:

    KAFKA- Reiner Stack
    JOYCE - Richard Ellman
    SALINGER - David Shields
    JACK LONDON - Earl Labor
    MAILER - Michael Lennon

    1. Thanks, I will keep my eye out. I just bought - cheap from amazon uk - Tamara de Lempicka,

      Wikipedia - Tamara de Lempicka, born Maria Górska in Warsaw, Poland, was a Polish Art Deco painter and "the first woman artist to be a glamour star". She was very notorious for her varied love life of both genders!