Unwritten Letters to Spring Street by Jacquelyn Frith

This is certainly a book for those who have an interest in the events of World War Two. Especially those events in the East, from the bombing of Pearl Harbour onwards.

The book looks specifically at one youne man Jack Frith, as he experiences not only the horror of war but also time as a prisoner of war. A brutal and harrowing experience.

However, this tale does not end there. This presents the investigation into the search for justice for what happened, sadly, to so many something that has an impact on not only the future of those involved, but also part of the heritage and history of all of us.

Clearly developed with evidence that is presented throughout to the reader, Frith allows us to follow the narrative of events and draw our own conclusions. Which, we all know, is part of a good history book as well as the mark of a good historian.

You will be asking youself many questions as you read this, especially about the cost of war. However, the one that strikes me, and that I am often discussing with others, is who are the enemies in war? Is each individual an enemy?

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner

I have read this as part of a Twitter History Bookclub, however, it is not like I really needed an excuse, as I have been kee to get my hands on a copy as soon as I knew this book was going to be brought to the world.

I am fascinated by stories from history – good job as I am a history teacher. And, like many who have a passion for history, it was not any of the big stories or artefacts that sparked that passion – it was a story of a portrait and an execution, told to me by a Beefeater at the Tower of London. So, ‘Dead Famous’ is perfect, despite being about the history of celebrity, for lovers of some of those lesser-known tales. You will have heard of some of the characters you encounter, but, for me, much of the joy came from reading tales of those that I did not know. Again, sparking an interst to find out so much more (pleased to say Greg Jenner kindly supplies additonal reading material at the end – so don’t be surprised if your to-be-read pile shoots up).

This book is beautifully written, with humour throughout, is not a daunting read, but fully informative as it attempts to tackle the complex idea of celebrity; something that you will certainly be left rethinking by the end of the book.

I can certainly call this book a lockdown highlight and would urge you to pick up a copy if you can. You may come to the end of it with a new love of histoty, or at least much more of an idea of exactly what makes a celebrity, ot what creates a celebrated figure.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Why did I not pick this book off the shelf sooner? This could be one of my favourite reads of 2020. What a book!

Hallie Rubenhold has told the story of five fascinating women who, over time, may have lost some of their identity. These are the women who became victims of the infamous Jack the Ripper. I hesitate to refer to ‘The Five’ as this, though, because they were, of course, so much more and it suggests that ‘Jack the Ripper’ is almost the one who deserves the attention. (Don’t get me wrong I have had and still have an interest in one of the most famous unsolved crimes of all time, but now I have a different perspective).

This book, introduces the context, tells the full tale of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary-Jane, and reaches a fascinating conclusion. I felt like I learned so much about these people, misconceptions were broken down and clear historical context added. This is not a story linked only to Whitechapel, but a story about England and beyond. These women were victims of their circumstances, tragedy was almost written in the stars, and we should remember the five women as they lived and not just for how they died, providing fuel for the Victorian media circus.

Rubenhold’s book gives them back their identity and, by the end , they are most certainly not just ‘The Five’.

The Choice by Edith Eger

I have just returned from Krakow, Poland. The purpose of this visit was to visit Auschwitz and educate young people on the past, present and future of the Jewish community of Europe. After all as the quote from George Santayna states, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

One of the greatest ways for us to understand the tragic events of the Holocaust is from the testimonies and memories of those who sadly had to experience them. One such survivor was Edith Eger, and has put pen to paper to bring us a true story of hope in her work ‘The Choice’.

I knew nothing about this book until a friend had read it and passed it on to me, as she wanted a History teacher’s view of it. And she could not have timed it better to coincide with my trip to Poland.

Oh my – what a book – what a life. I am so glad that Edith Eger felt she could tell her story as part of her attempt to release herself from her past.

Edith became a prisoner of Auschwitz when her family was sent there along with thousands of Hungarian Jews. She talks about her experiences in the camp – even her encounter with Doctor Mengele. However, this is not the sole focus of the book; this is about the choices she consciously makes to survive. And these choices are made by Edith every day, from the moment she was taken to the camp right up to now.

Edith Eger comes across as an extremely strong woman who did not want her past to define her, but to allow her to become the woman she is today. Now, she helps others to make the choices they need to, for them to become the best versions of themselves. Edith does not want others to make the mistakes that were made in the past.

This book is one that is almost impossible to put down, as you follow Edith Eger through her life story. It certainly made me consider the choices I make a little more carefully as, ultimately, we are the only people in control of our future and we do not have to rely on others or events beyond our control to take over.

This book is an inspiration and certainly made me look at my trip to Krakow a little differently to those trips I had made before.

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

As a history teacher for the day job, this book really appealed to me. This may sound strange but I have not always been a fan of reading books about History. They can sometimes be very technical and very hard-going, which can, sometimes attack someone’s love of history. However, recently I have found some really excellent history books – and combined with a new love of learning have really embraced reading factual books.

Now, this book is ‘Bloody Brilliant’ in so many different ways. Number one, it is a book about women in history but more importantly it is about some of the women that the history books have not recognised quite as much as they should have done. Cathy Newman has done an amazing job of ensuring that they can now have more of the recognition that they deserve. It really inspired me to ensure that, as a woman, some of these women make it into lessons so that they are highlighted to future generations. You never know, they may be the inspiration someone needs to go forward and be ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

Number two, it is written in a wonderfully accessible way. It will bring history to many readers who may usually be put off by the idea of reading a ‘fact-filled’ book.

Number three, the cover. In fact, the cover is so fabulously eye-catching that it started a conversation between myself and a fellow train passenger about whether it is a good read. By the end, I am pretty sure that she would be picking up a copy herself.

Finally, this book is a stepping stone to finding out more about some, if not all, of these women. You realise that they have paved the way for some of us to have far more opportunities in our lives. I know, it’s always up for debate if full equality has been achieved, we would not even be this far without them.

Do you have any favourite inspirational women from history?

A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

The book-buying ban I have chosen to follow for the start of 2019 has been a blessing in disguise because it is making me pick up books that I really should have read sooner.

The is one of those discovered gems ‘The History of Britain in 21 Women’ is a book I bought last year but which then sat on my ‘to-be-read’ pile, not seeing the light of day. I am now wondering why I did not pick it up sooner. As a History teacher for the day job, I am always keen to keep learning and improve my knowledge. This book educated me and provided me with excellent nuggets of information to share with my classes. It could even be said that it enthused me even more for a subject that I already love.

I am not sure how Jenni Murray managed to whittle down her list to only 21, as Britain is a country with such a rich history and culture. However, what is clear is that she genuinely believes in every single choice that she has made. There are some that may appear obvious choices to some of us, but there are some that may surprise us in equal measure.

I was pleased to see the recognition of Jane Austen and her work, and those who fought to ensure that women had a political voice. However, for me, the moment that struck a chord (especially as I teach the History of Medicine) was the inclusion of Mary Seacole. Her significance has been an issue that we regularly debate in the classroom, so it was joy to find her on this exclusive list.

This book is an entertainingly written joy to bring history to life. I hope everyone is inspired to pick up this book and find out about the wonderful women of Britain. It is certainly making me think about who I would add to the list.

Any ideas about who your women of British history would be?