James Mcconnachie

Why the most important years in history were from 1347 to 1352

A group of retired Somerset farmers were sitting about in the early 1960s, so Ian Mortimer’s story goes, debating which farming invention had most changed their lives. Was it the tractor? Fertilisers? Pesticides? Silos? No, they agreed, it was the Wellington boot. Mortimer tells this old story to illustrate that ‘it is not always the

Lawrence of Arabia, meet Curt of Cairo

How do you write a new book about T.E. Lawrence, especially when the man himself described his escapades, or a version of them, with such inimitable genius? Scott Anderson’s answer is to intercut Lawrence’s extraordinary story — the camel raids and blown-up bridges, the rape and torture, the lies and shame — with those of

In the heart of darkness, the atom bomb

At the dark heart of this dark book is a startling fact: Joseph Conrad was employed to steam up the Congo river by the same company, Union Minière du Haut Katanga, that later shipped uranium from the Congo to the US, where it was used to make the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Patrick

The Rocks Don’t Lie, by David R. Montgomery – review

This is a book about the clash of faith and reason over the truth or otherwise of a catastrophic, world-shaping flood — and it doesn’t once mention climate change. The debate here is much less stale. David Montgomery is a prize-winning geology professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, and he recounts the history of

Alexandria, by Peter Stothard – review

This subtle, mournful book is many things. It is a diary of three weeks spent, during the tense winter before the outburst of the Arab Spring, in off-season Alexandria, where nothing comes ‘except birds to the lake, most of them when they have lost their way’. It is also a series of fragments rescued from