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   Love and Louis XIV.  Antonia Fraser long ago mastered the art of writing meticulous history so that it reads like an engrossing novel, and her latest offering is no exception...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Times here.

 
   All fine and dandy? Was Benjamin Disraeli gay? This is not a new question, nor does William Kuhn, professor of history at Carthage College near Lake Michigan, suggest that it is. What he does claim to be different about his approach is the particular use he makes of Disraeli's novels to find evidence both of the politician's "unusual sexuality" and of his daring to hint at it in public. If Disraeli was indeed homosexual, and if he did "flirt with revealing this" in his novels, then, says Kuhn, our whole view of Victorian society, which was prepared to accept this dandyish, effeminate, Christianised Jew as prime minister for two periods of office needs to change...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Times here.

 
   How Stalin inspired Muscovites in the darkest days of battle with Hitler. "The Bolsheviks are lucky. God is on their side." Not, perhaps, words one would have attributed to Joseph Stalin, but they indicate his gift for understanding his people's mood in a crisis. He also knew how to appeal to a Russian patriotism so closely allied to the Orthodox religion, by invoking saints, sacred and military, from Alexander Nevsky to Field Marshal Kutuzov. The contradictions of the Soviet Union's wartime leader come into stark relief in Rodric Braithwaite's engrossing and masterly account of the battle for Moscow from summer 1941 until spring 1942...

Read the rest of this review published in The Independent here.

 
   Mistress of all the arts. The voice of the dwarf Bucino Teodoldi opens the story with characteristic energy: "My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting colour into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman emperor's army blew a hole in the wall of God's eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment." As a valued and expensive courtesan, the 23-year-old Fiammetta has been living a life of great luxury and refinement in Rome; her latest patron is a highly-placed cardinal. But the date is May 6 1527 and the Roman idyll is about to end, as Habsburg mercenaries sack the city...

Read the rest of this review published in The Guardian here.

 
   Catherine Merridale specialises in the unearthing of buried memories. In her Night of Stone, the focus was on the relatives of so-called "enemies of the people" in the Soviet Union, forbidden to mourn their loved ones. In Ivan's War, she collects the stories of men and women who fought in the Red Army during the "Great Patriotic War"...

Read the rest of this review published in The Independent here.

 
   "The biography of Voltaire has become a palimpsest, each new version being written over the many that have gone before," says Roger Pearson. His own version of this extraordinary writer, philosophe, human-rights campaigner and entrepreneur is sparklingly witty and eminently readable...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Times here.

 
   The story opens in 1895 with a New York society wedding at the fashionable church of St Thomas on Fifth Avenue.  The bride-to-be is the 18-year-old heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, the daughter of the recently divorced but still socially prominent and highly ambitious Alva, and the groom is the 24-year-old 9th Duke of Marlborough, Charles Richard John Spencer-Churchill, known as 'Sunny'...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Times here.

 
   Karl Bazinger, a Wehrmacht officer, a lover of his country but not of its Führer, feels at home in Paris, where the occupation does not yet weigh too heavily, but he is beginning to be aware of the ambivalence of his position.  He has friends in Paris: the Févals, who live in the Place des Vosges, and the Nallets, with whom he dines every Thursday...  Bazinger fears he may be enjoying the last of this idyll, for he has been warned that the Gestapo knows about his social life...

Read the rest of this review published in The Guardian here.

 
   Love for Sale, first published in Norwegian in 1997, is nothing if not ambitious, attempting as it does to cover all aspects of the world's oldest profession, at all times and in all places.  On the whole it reads well and is entertaining; Nils Ringdal certainly covers an extraordinary amount of ground, from the whore of Babylon to New York call girls, via ancient Athens, the Mahabharata, hara-kiri and the samurai, and the Wild West...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Times here.

 
   The nine Garman children were born near Walsall between 1901 and 1911 to conservative and passionately religious parents.  Quite what their doctor father Walter and his devoted wife Marjorie did the produce the 'rare and beautiful' creatures their offspring turned out to be remains something of a mystery...

Read the rest of this review published in The Sunday Telegraph here.


 


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