Captain Cook’s Voyages 1768-1779

 (James Cook) Stirring accounts of Cook’s scissoring across the world in leaky boats, to places often unexplored, from South America, Africa, South East Asia, the Bering Sea & Strait and all over the Pacific. This book is based on Cook’s journals and reports to Admiralty, selected by Glyndwr Williams for the Folio edition (1997). Cook was one of a handful of giants in exploration when about a third of the world was unknown.  By the time he was lethally sandwiched by natives in Hawaii, he had become famous in his homeland and well known to much of the rest of…

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The Book Show

 Summer 2014, Ultimo TVC loves this show, although the initial set was a shameless rip off of “Hidden”.  A great argument for the national broadcaster, although surely the Fry-B-C could muck along for a few millions less?  We attended a taping some time back (incognito) and thus got stalker-close to Ms Byrne, Ms Hardy and Mr Steger plus guest. Jennifer Byrne is the perfect host – charming, open-minded, enthusiastic (but no pushover – she does generally not abide shite).  Marieke Hardy is P’s favourite, hardiest critic – she and P may share few opinions overall, but when she hates something,…

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His Mutti Loved Him

(Jane Ridley) If, like my mother-in-law, you don’t enjoy books about the  generation of British and European royals who were Queen Victoria’s children because Queen Victoria was so “beastly” to them, stay away from this biography of Prince Albert Edward/King Edward VII.  Victoria is a mother who – knowing that her letters could well be preserved  for posterity and made public – wrote to her daughter Vicky, Bertie’s sister, “The nose…is becoming the true Coburg nose, and begins to hang a little, but there remains unfortunately the want of chin which with that very large nose and very large lips is no…

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The Life of Thomas More

(by Peter Ackroyd) Highly readable and balanced life (and death) of the contentious, hair-shirted and many faceted ‘man for all seasons’ (omnium horarum). Beatified but no saint, an intolerant believer and a survivor who sacrificed himself on principle, he remains an enigma and a controversial one. This book comes close to doing justice to all sides and all sides of the man and one can’t do much better than that.

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The Life of Johnson

(James Boswell) Incomparable biography (or stalker’s notes) of the great Tory grump Dr Samuel Johnson, packed with wit and wisdom. My favourite vignette: Johnson speaks of one of Boswell’s Scottish acquaintances who affects a savage, Rousseau-like disdain for civilised order: “if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.”  

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