Mary Beard’s book on Rome’s first millennium took me a while to work through. Highly readable but dense with ideas and perspectives to think about. I found the first and last sections – on the early history of the town on the Tiber and the lives of “ordinary” people in Rome and beyond – the most interesting; the political history of the Republic and Emperors less so.
In the words of Rachel, who lent it to me, Antonia Fraser’s biography of Louis XIV really does help you to make sense of all the ladies in the Sun King’s life (and in Versailles).
As well as explaining complicated dynastic connections and relationships, political and personal ambitions, and the still pervasive religious context, Love and Louis XIV elucidates on matters of etiquette and protocol at the 17th century French Court.
Very readable account of the life (and death) of Victorian explorer, George Hayward, with lots of “probably”s thrown into a history of The Great Game in the far west of China and the Princely States that the British Empire ceded to Pakistan and India, combined with a whodunnit murder mystery.
After a short biography covering George Hayward’s childhood, his time in the army and arrival in India, we’re off following his adventures in Ladakh, crossing the Karakoram and the Kun Lun mountain ranges to get to Yarkhand, arriving shortly after Robert Shaw who laid claim to being the first Englishman to reach that Central Asian oasis-kingdom. Lots of unauthorised exploration and mapping en route – but prevented from continuing on to his true objective, the Pamir Mountains, by wily warlord Yakub Beg. And this expedition encompasses some of the places I’ve visited in this last year’s Autumn in Ladakh, 2008’s Central Asia Overland trip and 2010’s Himalayan Journey from Lhasa to Kashgar
With funding from the RGS, and kit from the the Indian Army, George Hayward set of again a year later, still in search of The Pamirs, travelling from Srinagar to Gilgit and the remote valleys-kingdoms beyond on an expedition that reminded me of the many amazing places I saw and the gentle people I met on my Hindu Kush Adventure in 2006.
Got to say I found this book on European slaves in 17th/18th Morocco and North Africa a bit of a slog. Perhaps Thomas Pellow’s account of his life as a slave in the court Sultan Moulay Ismail of Meknes was just too thin to serve as the primary source material.
History, exploration, archaeology, forensic analysis – all feature in this account of Franklin’s search for the fabled Northwest Passage, and the impact tinned food had on the expedition causing lead poisoning, resulting in the illness and “general debilitation” that afflicted the crew (which has previously been assumed to be the sailor’s enemy, scurvy) and – ultimately – the death of everyone on the expedition.