Pen & Sword TBR Pile Review: Richard III – Fact and Fiction, by Matthew Lewis

Hardcover, 127 pages
Published March 20th 2019 by Pen and Sword History
ISBN1526727978 (ISBN13: 9781526727978)


King Richard III remains one of the most infamous and recognisable monarchs in English or British history, despite only sitting on the throne for two years and fifty-eight days. His hold on the popular imagination is largely due to the fictional portrayal of him by William Shakespeare which, combined with the workings of five centuries of rumour and gossip, has created two opposing versions of Richard. In fiction he is the evil, scheming murderer who revels in his plots, but many of the facts point towards a very different man.

Dissecting a real Richard III from the fictional versions that have taken hold is made difficult by the inability to discern motives in many instances, leaving a wide gap for interpretation that can be favorable or damning in varying degrees. It is the facts that will act as the scalpel to begin the operation of finding a truth obscured by fiction.

Richard III may have been a monster, a saint, or just a man trying to survive, but any view of him should be based in the realities of his life, not the myths built on rumour and theatre. How much of what we think we know about England’s most controversial monarch will remain when the facts are sifted from the fictions? 

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Pen & Sword Review: The Real World of Victorian Steampunk, by Simon Webb

Paperback, 168 pages
Published November 13th 2019 by Pen and Sword History
ISBN: 1526732858 (ISBN13: 9781526732859)

In the last few decades, steampunk has blossomed from being a rather obscure and little-known subgenre of science fiction into a striking and distinctive style of fashion, art, design and even music. It is in the written word however that steampunk has its roots and in this book Simon Webb explores and examines the real inventions which underpin the fantasy. In doing so, he reveals a world unknown to most people today.

The Real World of Victorian Steampunk shows the Victorian era to have been a surprising place; one of steam-powered airplanes, fax machines linking Moscow and St Petersburg, steam cars traveling at over 100 mph, electric taxis and wireless telephones. It is, in short, the nineteenth century as you have never before seen it; a steampunk extravaganza of anachronistic technology and unfamiliar gadgets. Imagine Europe spanned by a mechanical internet; a telecommunication system of clattering semaphore towers capable of transmitting information across the continent in a matter of minutes. Consider too, the fact that a steam plane the size of a modern airliner took off in England in 1894.

Drawing entirely on contemporary sources, we see how little-known developments in technology have been used as the basis for so many steampunk narratives. From seminal novels such as The Difference Engine, through to the steampunk fantasy of Terry Pratchett’s later works, this book shows that steampunk is at least as much solid fact as it is whimsical fiction. 

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TBR Pile Review: Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain, by Mike Rendell

Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain
By Mike Rendell
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations – integrated and 8 page mono plates
ISBN: 9781526755629
Published: 29th October 2020
Price: £10.49 was £14.99

Peek beneath the bedsheets of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain in this affectionate, informative and fascinating look at sex and sexuality during the reigns of Georges I-IV. It examines the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour, and the ways in which these attitudes were often determined by those in positions of power and authority. It also explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre and often entertaining solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life.

Did the people in Georgian Britain live up to their stereotypes when it came to sexual behaviour? This book will answer this question, as well as looking at fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition through a new lens, leaving the reader enlightened and with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our ancestors.

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Pen & Sword Review: Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction, by Daniele Cybulskie

Life in Medieval Europe

Imprint: Pen & Sword History
ISBN: 9781526733450
Published: 30th September 2019

Price:£12.00 was £14.99

Have you ever found yourself watching a show or reading a novel and wondering what life was really like in the Middle Ages? What did people actually eat? Were they really filthy? And did they ever get to marry for love?

In Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction, you’ll find fast and fun answer to all your secret questions, from eating and drinking to sex and love. Find out whether people bathed, what they did when they got sick, and what actually happened to people accused of crimes. Learn about medieval table manners, tournaments, and toothpaste, and find out if people really did poop in the moat.

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Review: The Spanish Flu Epidemic and its Influence on History, by Jaime Breitnauer

ISBN: 9781526745170
Published: 20th November 2019
Price: £15.99

On the second Monday of March 1918, the world changed forever. What seemed like a harmless cold morphed into a global pandemic that would wipe out as many as a hundred-million people – ten times as many as the Great War. German troops faltered lending the allies the winning advantage, India turned its sights to independence while South Africa turned to God. In Western Samoa a quarter of the population died; in some parts of Alaska, whole villages were wiped out. Civil unrest sparked by influenza shaped nations and heralded a new era of public health where people were no longer blamed for contracting disease. Using real case histories, we take a journey through the world in 1918, and look at the impact of Spanish flu on populations from America, to France, to the Arctic, and the scientific legacy this deadly virus has left behind.

My Review

Thanks to Rosie at Pen & Sword for sending me this book. It’s much appreciated, given how much time it’s taking me to read and and review books she’s been sending me.

Took me less than four hours to read this book last night. I couldn’t sleep anyway. No, really, I’m coughing a bit. It’s probably just a cold or an allergy. Might change my bedding later and vacuum the carpet, just in case. I’ll let you know if it’s something worse.

Like the Spanish Flu.

Although I’d probably be dead by now if I had Spanish Flu. In the second wave it was so virulent that it killed people as they walked down the street to the doctors to get help. Whole families died. Thousands of children were left orphaned. Up to 100 million people died in less than two years. At the time it was a shocking event, but in the years that followed it was forgotten. The author speculates that the horrors of war, mass movement of people, malnutrition and then the pandemic was too much for people to cope with. They prefered to think that people died in combat not coughing up their own lungs and choking to death.

Colonialism helped spread the pandemic. Troops from the colonies were sent to the Western Front and then sent back. European troops had been sent to the Middle East, Chinese citizens were sent through Canada and across the Atlantic as part of the Chinese Labour Corp. Millions of people from all over the planet moving around, meeting up in closely packed, unhealthy conditions, malnourished and carrying seasonal infections, then going back out into the world.

People generally know about the effects of the Spanish Flu in Europe and North America, but the pandemic covered the whole globe. People who were of European decent were less likely to die compared to indigenous people in Africa, the Americas, Australia and the Pacific Islands. European and North America people of European descent are used to getting colds and flu, so they had some immunity. Indigenous people didn’t.

Viruses do this interesting thing where they can share their genetic material with each other if they meet in a cell. At some point in the years between 1916 and 1918 some nasty H1N1 flu strains met up, shared genetic material and produced the nastiest virus humans have ever dealt with. Reconstruction of the virus from Alaskan bodies buried in the permafrost in 1920 shows that any one of the eight segments would produce a nasty virus; together they made it leathal.

The arrival of the flu in 1918 helped end the Great War, because it’s really hard to keep up violence when your soldiers are dying from disease and your support lines are falling apart because everyone who should be moving supplies is dead, dying or sick. There were mass famines as the fields weren’t harvested or planted in 1919. In industrial areas, factories and mines shut down because too many people were ill.

It encouraged new and already existing independence movements in colonies in response to the poor treatment of indigenous people during the pandemic, and probably screwed up the post-war negotiations, since it killed or sickened many of the people at the table. The loss of moderate political voices lead to greater punitive measures against Germany, the loss of expertise about the Middle East resulted in the utter mess we still have today.

People are still not sure where it started. There were outbreaks of flu in 1916, 1917 and 1918 in China, the US and France before the first wave of the Spanish Flu. I have a hypothesis that there were some nasty strains going around, and the mass movement of people from across the world, carrying these different strains, as the ‘first wave’ and finally brought together in France, allowed the nastiest of them to meet up, shuffle around some genetics and then produce the virus we call Spanish Flu. I think this is the ‘second wave’, which was the truly awful one. The one that killed millions. The ‘third wave’, less virulent was possibly a version that had drifted a bit or one or the less nasty. Might be wrong, someone else has probably looked at it and ruled this idea out.

Honestly, this is a really good introduction to the Spanish Flu pandemic and its ongoing influence. I could tell the author has a history background and a journalism background too. She made the book very easy to read and the use of real people examples really brought the events of those years to life.

Unexpected Review: The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes, by Terry Deary

The Peasants' Revolting Crimes
ISBN: 9781526745576
Buy here
Published: 23rd October 2019
Price: £8.00

Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the ‘right side’ of the law.

Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods.

Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. Read all about it here!

This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.

My Review

Thanks to Rosie Crofts at Pen & Sword for sending me this book. I’m making my way through my book backlog while trying to keep up with my blog tour commitments.

It’s popular history, so don’t expect in-depth discussion of the crimes or events covered in the book. The author has a rather broad definition of ‘peasant’. A peasant is:

person who owns or rents a small piece of land and grows cropskeeps animals, etc. on it, especially one who has a low income, very little education, and a low social position. This is usually used of someone who lived in the past or of someone in a poor country

Deary’s broader definition seems to be broadened to ‘a person with a low income and a low social position’. So long as they don’t have land and extensive income or property, the author classes them as a peasant.

The author covers the period from the Norman Conquest to the late-eighteenth century. The crimes are everything from petty theft to forgery, murder and revolt. This book is sometimes humorous and it was good for dipping in and out of. It did keep me amused (even when I had to correct minor things) and it is an easy to read book that builds on Deary’s ‘Horrible Histories’ books. It has a similar format to those books, with the era chapters sub-divided by crime, which makes it easy to find specific crimes in specific eras. Deary uses quotes judiciously to support the text.

Probably a good one for children interested in history who have read all the ‘Horrible Histories’.

Review: ‘Charles and Ada’, by James Essinger #BlogTour #Rachel’sRandomResources #ConradPress #OneDayBlogBlitz

Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership

The partnership of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace was one that would change science forever.

They were an unlikely pair – one the professor son of a banker, the other the only child of an acclaimed poet and a social-reforming mathematician – but perhaps that is why their work is so revolutionary.

They were the pioneers of computer science, creating plans for what could have been the first computer. They each saw things the other did not; it may have been Charles who designed the machines, but it was Ada who could see their potential.

But what were they like? And how did they work together? Using previously unpublished correspondence between them , Charles and Ada explores the relationship between two remarkable people who shared dreams far ahead of their time.

Purchase Links

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Pen & Sword book reviews: The Women’s History edition

Thanks to Rosie Crofts, who emails me with lists of books every now and then. I have quite a pile of books to get through so I’m doing themed review posts. In this case, Women’s History. The next one will be ‘True Crime’.

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Exoplanets, moon moons and the scientists of Lincolnshire

A few years ago, when I was looking around the University of Lincoln for my MA course, the guide, a 2nd year undergraduate, said he hadn’t known Isaac Newton was from Lincolnshire until he’d come to the University. I think he was from Nottinghamshire. Sir Isaac isn’t our only famous scientist however.

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Bonus Review #4:’The Murder of Prime Minister Spencer Percevel: A Portrait of the Assassin’, by Martin Connolly

Published By: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 4th October 2018
Format: Hardback
I.S.B.N.: 9781526731241
Price: £1999


England entered the nineteenth century having lost the American states and was at war with France. The slave trade had been halted and the country was in torment, with industrialisation throwing men and women out of work as poverty haunted their lives. As the merchants of England and America saw their businesses stagnate and profits plummet, everyone blamed the government and its policies. Those in charge were alarmed and businessmen, who were believed to be exploiting the poor, were murdered. Assassination indeed stalked the streets.

The man at the centre of the storm was Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. From the higher reaches of society to the beggar looking for bread, many wanted him dead, due to policies brought about by his inflexible religious convictions and his belief that he was appointed by God. In May 1812 he entered the Lobby of the Houses of Parliament when a man stepped forward and fired a pistol at him. The lead ball entered into his heart. Within minutes he was dead.

Using freshly-discovered archive material, this book explores the assassin’s thoughts and actions through his own writings. Using his background in psychology, the author explores the question of the killer’s sanity and the fairness of his subsequent trial.

Within its pages the reader will find an account of the murder of Spencer Perceval and a well-developed portrait of his assassin.

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