Christmas Presents for History Fans


We’ve compiled a list of our favourite books for history enthusiasts if you’re trying to think presents this Christmas. Have a look at these and other fantastic books at


Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland, ed. Valerie Pakenham

January 1 2018 will be the 250th anniversary of Maria Edgeworth’s birth. Valerie Pakenham’s sparkling new selection of over four hundred letters, many hitherto unpublished, will help to celebrate her memory. Dating from 1825, Maria’s letters reflect sixty years of Irish history, from the heady days of Grattan’s Parliament, through the perils of the 1798 Rebellion to the rise of O’Connell and the struggle for Catholic Emancipation. In old age, she worked actively to alleviate the Great Famine and wrote her last story to raise money aged 82. A treasure trove of stories, humour, local and high-level gossip, her letters show the extraordinary range of her interests: history, politics, literature and science.


Telling Tales: The Fabulous Lives of Anita Leslie, Penny Perrick

Anita Leslie was a celebrated biographer who wrote extensively on subjects who were often her own relatives, such as her great-aunt Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston, and the sculptor Clare Sheridan, a cousin. In 1983 her best-selling wartime memoir A Story Half Told detailed her experiences as an ambulance driver in the French Army during the Second World War. This was based on a more revealing memoir entitled Train to Nowhere (1948).

After the war, her life was, at first, haphazard. A complicated and tumultuous divorce from her first husband, a concealed birth and a second marriage are all revealed in candid, breathless letters. Her second husband was Commander Bill King who singlehandedly circumnavigated the world. Anita Leslie was a true heroine fighting the circumstances of her life, bravely navigating her own flawed and bewildered self. Penny Perrick brings together the intricacies of Leslie’s life in a stunning biography telling of adventure, memories, heartache and loss.


This Tumult, Caroline Preston

The Tottenham family is falling apart. There is no money to maintain the crumbling house in Westmeath, and decisions have to be made. Brothers Nick and Tony, fed up with the constraints of rural Ireland and with escalating family tensions, make the long journey to jackaroo on their uncle’s Australian farm.

But it is 1939, and World War Two looms. Nick and Tony’s futures are thrown into chaos as the entire family signs up to help the war effort. Little do they anticipate the unimaginable terror, starvation and heartache that lies ahead of them, or what it will take to survive.

This Tumult is based on the author’s own family history, taking in the battle fields of Syria and Java, a farm in Australia, night sorties over Germany and France, Lincolnshire air fields and the horrors of a Japanese prison camp. It is a remarkable story of hardship, heroism and extraordinary coincidence.


Dublin 7, Bernard Neary


Dublin 7 wanders through one of Dublin’s largest and most colourful postal districts. Neary’s beautifully illustrated volume (with maps and photographs) covers the areas of Ashtown, Broadstone, Cabra, Cardiffsbridge, Grangegorman, the Navan Road, Phibsborough, the Royal Canal, Smithfield, Stoneybatter, Church Street and the Quays.

Dublin 7 is rich in history and fast becoming an increasingly prominent part of the city. It is home to a vibrant cultural scene, growing around existing monuments and sites of national importance. The Phoenix Park, Arbour Hill Cemetery, Smithfield Square, Four Courts and National Museum Collins Barracks all bear the postal code. Neary combines oral history, archival research and personal recollections to create fascinating sketches of the various neighbourhoods, key figures and notable events.


Annals of the Famine in Ireland, Asenath Nicholson, ed. Maureen Murphy


In January, 1847, during the height of the Famine in Ireland, Asenath Hatch Nicholson began her one-woman relief operation in Dublin, organizing a soup-kitchen, visiting homes of the poor and distributing bread in the streets. In a uniquely personal campaign, this remarkable individual travelled the country, aiming to alleviate the starving conditions in Dublin and the West of Ireland and simultaneously ‘bring the Bible to the Irish poor’. Compassionate and searing, ‘Annals of the Famine’ in Ireland is an extraordinary narrative by an eye-witness who became an integral part of the lives of those she helped to feed and clothe. Her sketches and snapshots, vividly recapturing individuals and events during one of the most momentous periods of Irish history, are introduced and skillfully annotated by a contemporary scholar.


Beat, Rowan Somerville

In the midst of the Second Intifada, two acts of extreme violence lead to an act of extraordinary humanity. A suicide bomb was detonated outside a nightclub in Tel Aviv, killing twenty-two people, mostly young Israelis. The next day, in an apparently retributive act of violence, an Israeli settler shot Palestinian pharmacist, Mazan Al-Joulani in the neck, rendering him brain-dead. From the ashes of these deadly events, rose an incredible act of generosity, when the family of Al-Joulani agreed to donate his heart to a dying Israeli.

The son of pioneering cardiologists, Rowan Somerville travelled to the Levant to speak with survivors and their families, interviewing the surgeon who performed the transplant, and meeting the family of the suicide bomber Saeed Hotari. In this moving account of human anger and forgiveness, Somerville untangles the roots of violence, faith and tribal conflict, and examines the possibility of redemption. The close observations and fast-paced narrative style have the immediacy of a contemporary thriller.


South of the Border, John Ryan


It is autumn 1942, and young Balbriggan teacher Matt Duggan arrives on his first posting at the small town of Rathisland in the Irish midlands, barely alive to the global war raging outside. Lawn tennis alternates with Church and classroom politics, as rehearsals take place for a staging of Hamlet. Beneath the surface are pockets of support for Germany, and plans afoot to link up with the Wehrmacht. When a Messerschmitt crash-lands in the locality that world is knocked from its axis. Before long the inherent contradictions of Emergency Ireland boil to the surface, involving Matt in a misadventure with deeply tragic consequences.

This nuanced coming-of-age story rehearses the inner narrative of neutral Ireland as public perception contends with private experience in a series of convergent tableaux. Beautifully evoked and implosive, divided personal loyalties mirror the wider dramas of the wider European stage. South of the Border is a gem of narrative that brings the reader into the heart of a reality that was wartime Ireland.