The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley: review

One can’t help but gasp with admiration at the life and exploits of Christine Granville, one of Britain’s bravest wartime heroines. On reading Clare Mulley’s entertaining new biography, The Spy Who Loved, we are introduced to a woman who lived life on the edge and who found ordinary, routine existence a bore. Mulley writes with almost a venerable regard for her subject and rightly so, for one would expect the life of Christine Granville to exist only within the pages of fiction. Indeed, she may well have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character, Vesper Lynd, from his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale.

The Spy Who LovedBorn Krystyna Skarbek in Poland, 1908, to a rakish father, a count who taught her how to ride a horse like a man, and a wealthy, Jewish mother, Christine Granville, the name she later adopted, enjoyed an aristocratic, carefree childhood, whose tomboy antics earned the respect of her loving father. Granville disdained authority and convention from an early age, pushing boundaries wherever she went. As a convent schoolgirl, to cite one of several examples, she was expelled for setting fire to the priest’s cassock. (He was wearing it at the time).

Absolutely fearless

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, Granville and her second husband travelled to London where she offered her services to British intelligence. She was sent to Hungary and from there, skied into German-occupied Poland. And it is from here that Granville’s life of adventure, incredible courage and resilience begins. ‘She is,’ wrote one secret service report, ‘absolutely fearless ready to risk her life at any moment for what she believed in’. What Granville believed in was to play an active role in undermining Nazi control of her beloved homeland.

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Bombing Hitler: Georg Elser, Man Who Almost Assassinated the Führer – review

The date is 8 November 1939, the location – the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich. With their uniforms freshly-pressed, their buttons gleaming, their shoes polished, Hitler’s longest-standing comrades filed into the hall, their chests puffed-up with pride, their wives at their sides. This event, on this day, had become an annual occasion in the Nazi calendar, a ritual of celebration and remembrance. The climax of the evening, awaited with great anticipation, would be Hitler’s appearance and his speech in which he would praise and pour tribute on these self-satisfied men, his old-timers.

Bombing Hitler- The Story of the Man Who Almost Assassinated the FührerBut there was one man who awaited Hitler’s appearance with equal anticipation – but for entirely different reasons. This man was 36-year-old Johann Georg Elser, a carpenter. For Elser, a long-time anti-Nazi, had planted a bomb with the full intention of killing Adolf Hitler. And his bomb was due to explode half way through the Fuhrer’s speech.

Kill Hitler

Georg Elser had always been quietly defiant in his hatred of the Nazi regime – he’d supported the communists and, once Hitler was in power, refused to give the Nazi salute. He feared Hitler’s aggressive warmongering and foresaw the coming of war and resolved himself, in his own way, to do something to prevent it – and that was to kill Hitler.

Exactly a year earlier before the fateful night, on the 8 November 1938, Elser attended the same annual commemoration in Munich marking the anniversary of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. And it was this annual event, he decided, that would provide the perfect opportunity to implement his audacious plan. The following night, he witnessed first-hand the vicious Kristallnacht, when Nazis throughout the country terrorized Germany’s Jews in a concentrated orgy of killing and violence. Seeing for himself this state-sponsored anarchy merely confirmed for Elser that what he was doing was right.

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The Company of Artists – book review

The Company of Artists: The Origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London by Charles Saumarez Smith – a review by Sinead Fitzgibbon

It is late in the afternoon of 28 November 1768, a Monday.  A small group of men – three artists and an architect – converge on St James’s Palace for an audience with the King, George III.  There was but one thing on their minds – to secure the monarch’s support for the establishment of ‘a well regulated School or Academy of Design’ which, they hoped, would be the British equivalent to similar, well-regarded institutions on the Continent.

This is the setting used by Charles Saumarez Smith to introduce his engaging account of the origins of the Royal Academy of Arts.  It soon becomes apparent, however, that this rather decorous opening scene is entirely misleading.  As the author recounts the background to this historic meeting at St James’s Palace – the endless infighting between various artists, the rebellion against the Directors of the Academy’s predecessor, the Society of Artists – the reader soon realises that the establishment of this venerable institution was far from uncontroversial, and the behaviour of those involved was sometimes quite removed from the high-minded ideals they espoused.

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Sara Sheridan – digging in the archives

I used to write contemporary fiction, writes Sara Sheridan, and in those heady days on the cusp of the internet, my research was largely telephone based. I remember calling the council’s cemetery department to ask about body decomposition in different soil types. Once they had verified that I was a novelist and not a sicko, they were extremely helpful.

My contemporary work always had strong historical backstories and after three novels I decided to switch genre. I was fascinated by the spirit of the early Empire explorers and wanted to write historical fiction based on their real-life adventures. History has been a big part of my life since I was a child. My favourite books were Heidi, Wuthering Heights and The Scarlet Pimpernel all of which kept me reading late under the covers. I loved being transported to earlier versions of the world. My father was an antiques dealer and he took me to auction sales. Other times Dad would arrive home with a box of goods he’d bid on and take my brothers and I through the treasures, telling us how each piece was made and why he’d bought it. By the age of ten I could spot a De Lamerie silver teapot or date a diamond from the way it was cut.

‘26 Treasures’

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: a review

The whole perception of war can be changed by a single book: All Quiet on the Western Front is such a book; a novel which shines a light on the horrors of war. The author, Erich Maria Remarque, drew on his own experience as an infantryman during the First World War as his inspiration for the novel. Published in 1929, the book sold over one million copies in Germany within its first year. It became even more popular after being translated and published in other countries.

(Pictured is the cover to its first edition.)

The book is written in a strict chronological manner. The plot alternates between battle scenes at the Western Front and places of peace. The author was no doubt attempting to compare and contrast the two types of experiences to make an impact on the reader, which he did quite successfully.

Plot Summary of All Quiet on the Western Front

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Women Heroes of World War Two: review

No one knows how they will react in a situation of utmost peril. Fortunately, for most of us, we will never have to face that ultimate test of one’s deepest resolve. None of the 26 heroines in Kathryn Attwood’s new book, Women Heroes of World War Two, thought of themselves as heroes but their actions beggar belief. For the greater good they defied or tried to defy the evils of Nazism, each trying in her own, individual way to throw a small spanner into the giant machine that was Hitler’s Germany.
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Women Heroes of World War Two

Kathryn J. Atwood has written a wonderful book for the Young Adult market recently published. Called Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, Kathy describes here how she researched the book:

A few months into researching my book, I received a book in the mail from a man who personally knew Hannie Schaft, the young, beautiful, gun-toting Dutch woman who the Gestapo – desperately searching for her — called “The Girl with the Red Hair,” and who Queen Wilhelmina designated, “The Symbol of the Resistance.”  And I feel like I’ve touched a piece of history.  Again.

In November, 2008 I started writing a book for the Chicago Review Press about female WWII resisters.   CRP gave me only 12-14 months to research and write 26 2,000-word profiles, plus an introduction on each country represented.

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Meet At Dawn, Unarmed – book review

Meet At Dawn, Unarmed  by Andrew Hamilton and Alan Reed

On August 5th, 1914, Robert Hamilton (pictured) left his young family behind in Devon to start amomentous six months journey through France and Belgium with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

In his diary he recorded his experiences of the front line which included:

  • The famous Christmas Truce in which he played a prominent part
  • The humour, comradeship and loyalty of fellow soldiers in the face of constant danger
  • the rain, mud and discomforts of life in the trenches
  • the daily fight for survival and the constant danger from shelling and sniping
  • life behind the lines – the billets, estaminets and local hospitality

Extracts from his wife Renie’s diary highlight the fears and anxieties of loved ones awaiting news from the Front.

Robert’s grandson Andrew Hamilton and Great War enthusiast Alan Reed have complemented the diaries with an informative commentary.  They have used a wide range of contemporary evidence, including the cartoons of Robert’s famous friend  Great War cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather whose cartoons were based on the shared experiences of the Royal Warwicks’ officers in the first six months of the War.

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Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Heretic

Edward A. Gosselin reviews Ingrid Rowland’s Giordano Bruno: Philosopher, Heretic.

Ingrid Rowland’s biography of Giordano Bruno brings the life and thought of this important late sixteenth-century figure to the English-speaking world. There have been many studies of Bruno’s philosophy and life, especially since Dame Frances Yates’s groundbreaking work, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964). Much of the subsequent work on Bruno has been either for or against Yates’s interpretation of Bruno as a Hermetic magus or sorcerer.

Rowland’s biography is generally excellent. Writing in a smooth and dramatic way, she translates passages accurately and closely to the original text. Her biography deals with Bruno’s early years in Nola, Southern Italy, where he was born in 1548, and through his years as a young monk in Naples.

The Travels of Giordano Bruno

In 1576 Bruno left the monastery and wandered throughout Northern Italy, looking for an income as a teacher of Sacrobosco’s Sphere (a 13th century treatise on astronomy) and the art of memory. He then went over the Alps to Calvinist Geneva and, after incurring trouble there because of an argument with the city’s leading theologian, went to France travelling from Lyon to Toulouse. He taught for a while in Toulouse until religious acrimony between Huguenots and Catholics caused him to go to Paris. In Paris, he became attached to Henri III’s royal academy and courtiers and their interest in the work of Copernicus (the 16th century astronomer).

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Interview with Roger Moorhouse, author of Berlin At War

History In An Hour interviews Roger Moorhouse, author of recently published and critically acclaimed Berlin At War: Life And Death In Hitler’s Capital, 1939-45.

First of all, a bit about Roger from his website,http://rogermoorhouse.com: “A fluent German speaker, Moorhouse is a specialist in modern German History, particularly Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. In this capacity, he is a regular contributor to the BBC History Magazine and History Today, a book reviewer for the Independent on Sunday, and is an occasional commentator on television and radio.”

History In An Hour interviews Roger Moorhouse, author of recently published and critically acclaimed Berlin At War: Life And Death In Hitler’s Capital, 1939-45.

First of all, a bit about Roger from his website, http://rogermoorhouse.com: “A fluent German speaker, Moorhouse is a specialist in modern German History, particularly Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. In this capacity, he is a regular contributor to the BBC History Magazine and History Today, a book reviewer for the Independent on Sunday, and is an occasional commentator on television and radio.”

Roger, your latest book, Berlin at War, gives us an idea of what it was like to be an ordinary Berliner during the war.   

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