Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. Microhistory by this year’s Reith lecturer, the life of a sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary in China. Recommended to me because of my interest in memory palaces, although mnemonics aren’t much more than a framing device here. About European almost as much as Chinese history, which makes sense for a biography, but wasn’t really what I wanted to read.
Andrew Marr, A history of modern Britain. ‘Modern’ here means ‘since 1945’. It’s what you’d expect from somebody in Marr’s position: clear, uncontroversial, making half-hearted attempts to awaken personal memories in his readers. The political history is excellent, especially as the narrative moves into periods where Marr has personal knowledge of what’s going on. But he seems a little lost once he moves into the cultural history: no obvious bloopers, just a sense that he’s reciting the accepted version without passion or deep knowledge.
Anthony Sampson, The arms bazaar: from Lebanon to Lockheed. This is over 30 years old, and was written as a rush-job to catch interest in the arms scandals of the late 70s. But I’ll happily choose quality over being up-to-date, and Sampson’s ability to construct a narrative out of mountains of facts is first-rate. The chapters on the long history of the arms trade are particularly interesting; the detail on the (then) most recent developments less so, except as a reminder of what has and hasn’t changed.
Steven Ozment, A new history of the German people. May objectively be a good book, but it rubbed me up the wrong way. The writing is oddly clumsy – not through density of facts or argument (far from it), just something about the way he structures his sentences.
Fortunately this is the end of the reviews, for now.