Share this page:
Follow Choice on Social Media:
Get the most out of life

Enjoy Life

October's book reviews

Simon Evans reviews the latest hardbacks. Let us know if you've read any of the below or are planning to, we'd love to hear your own reviews. 

A Northern Wind, by David Kynaston

Post-war Britain has been well documented in recent years by Dominic Sandbrook and Peter Hennessy, but it is David Kynaston’s Tales of a New Jerusalem series that seems to best capture the spirit and mood of the times.

The series aims, ultimately, to cover the period from 1945 to 1979 – essentially the rise and fall of social democracy – but given that it has already taken him 16 years to reach the mid-Sixties the end may yet be some way off.

The previous books in the series – Austerity Britain, Family Britain, Modernity Britain and On The Cusp – encompassed the years 1945 to 1962, and this latest volume covers 1962 to 1965, a period when, as Kynaston observes, Britain was still looking backwards, emerging from the austerity of the post-war years and experiencing the dying embers of a patrician Conservative government, but also anticipating the turbulent technological, cultural and social changes of the Sixties.

As the book opens, Labour is preparing for government, The Beatles have just released their first single and the satire boom is still taking lumps out of everything that reeked of the Establishment.

Issues of the day such as the welfare state and union power are refracted through contemporaneous diaries, personal recollections including the author’s own (he started secondary school in 1962) and numerous references to the pop culture of the day, from Coronation Street and Top of the Pops to The Black and White Minstrels and The Wednesday Play. Sometimes the constant references to ‘ordinary’ people’s lives can drag – everyday life isn’t always that interesting, even through the rose-coloured lens of nostalgia – but it all helps to give a flavour of the time. And how different it all seems, how full of hope, a foreign country indeed.

Published by Bloomsbury Price £30 Pages 704 ISBN ‎9781526657572


Paul_Whitehouse_and_John_Bailey_How_we_fish_book_coverHow We Fish, by Paul Whitehouse and John Bailey

You don’t have to be an angler to enjoy this book, merely a casual acquaintance with the TV series Gone Fishing will suffice. Featuring an excellent introduction by Paul’s old pal and fishing buddy Bob Mortimer, and wonderful illustrations by Carys Reilly-Whitehouse, the book is part guide for the novice angler, exercise in nostalgia for those have spent slightly longer occupying the nation’s riverbanks, or, for those who prefer to vicariously enjoy the sport’s many delights without dipping a line into water, a charming celebration of this joyous pastime.

Published by Mudlark Price £22 Pages 320 ISBN 9780008559632


Danny_Robins_Into_the_Uncanny_book_cover.Into the Uncanny, by Danny Robins

Danny Robins wrote the hit West End play 2:22 – A Ghost Story, and hosts the Uncanny Radio 4 podcast so it’s no surprise that his abiding interest is in all things spooky and unexplained, be they poltergeists haunting an embassy residence in Rome or UFOs in Todmorden. In this excellent book, one of the most enjoyable I have read on the subject, Danny allows his subjects to tell their, frankly astonishing, stories, all the while retaining an open mind – credulous, yet questioning. And of course there are no easy answers or explanations but, if nothing else, Danny’s book should leave you with an open mind and an acceptance that, as Hamlet says to Horatio, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The book accompanies a BBC2 series – worth a watch on iplayer.

Published by BBC Books Price £22 Pages 325 ISBN 9781785948091


Berserker_by_Adrian_edmondson_book_coverBerserker!, by Adrian Edmondson

So what have we here? The actor, writer and honorary Bonzo’s autobiography is most definitely not a celebrity love-in – there’s no tales of riotous behavior at the Groucho or red carpet encounters with Brad and Angelina (apart from a rather underwhelming encounter with Mick Jagger), and Adrian’s close-on 40-year marriage to Jennifer Saunders is most decidedly off-limits. And, although a lot of time is spent on Adrian’s strange, rootless childhood – sent away to boarding school, a loveless, brutal institution, while his parents and siblings were living thousands of miles away – it is most definitely not a misery memoir either – Adrian is able, endearingly, to find humour in even the darkest of places.

No, apart from being a fascinating social history – Adrian drops in references to records topping the charts at various points that act as instant memory triggers – and an engagingly told, endearingly self-deprecatory, life story, it is also about friendship and self-discovery.

Adrian’s relationship with his long-time pal and comedy partner Rik Mayall inevitably dominates, from the time they met in the first year of university to the troubled years leading up to Rik’s death. It’s profoundly moving and, as anyone who listened to Adrian’s recent Desert Island Discs, will recognise, still evokes raw emotion. And, although Adrian’s private life is kept largely out of view partly, he insists, because it’s actually not very interesting, it’s obvious that family is everything to him.

As for  the berserker title, well that’s a reference to Adrian’s assumed Norse heritage as well as his attitude to life and comedy, at least in his early years. Reading his book, however, Adrian comes over as pretty sane and grounded – refreshingly so – even after a particularly bizarre encounter with Joni Mitchell that would test the boundaries of anyone’s sanity.

Published by Pan Macmillan Price £22 Pages 416 ISBN 9781035014279


Sing_as_we_go_Britain_between_wars_book_cover.Sing As We Go, by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer’s four-volume study of British history from 1838 to 1939 concludes with this huge, and illuminating, portrait of the inter-war years. The breakdown of the age of deference, the retreat of the British Empire, the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution and a desire not to repeat the slaughter of the ‘war to end all wars’ helped shape a period that is inevitably, in hindsight, regarded as the beginning of what we know as the modern world.

Art Deco and the jazz age were manifestations of a world determined to move on from the horrors of the conflict that had just ended, at the same time as maypoles in many towns and villages were being replaced with war memorials, another sign of a world “changed, changed utterly” as Yeats put it in his poem Easter 1916.

But as the Thirties progressed the nightmare of another war started to loom large. As Heffer demonstrates, there are many points at which the Nazi threat could have been negated or addressed but fear, complacency and a feeling in some influential quarters that Hitler was ‘our kind of chap’ made another war increasingly inevitable.

Five years after the Gracie Fields film and song that give the book its title, Prime Minister Chamberlain would appeal to that same communal spirit when he announced the commencement of hostilities to the British people, certain that “I know you will all play your part with calmness and courage.” But the realisation that the nightmare of another war had come to pass was, as Heffer observes, “a crushing moral defeat” and the nation would never be the same again.

Published by Hutchinson Price £35 Pages 960 ISBN ‎9781529152647


Peter_Kay_TV_book_cover.T.V. by Peter Kay

In this enjoyable autobiography the much-loved stand-up, actor and writer looks back at his long association with television, goes behind the scenes on shows such as Phoenix Nights, That Peter Kay Thing and Car Share, and, most enjoyable of all, shares his own personal memories of the box in the corner, from watching Open All Hours in the bath to his young obsession with Mork and Mindy.

There are refreshingly candid reminiscences of his own experiences, and the people he has encountered, all shot through with Peter’s warm, but blunt, sense of humour, and it is no surprise to learn that two of his key comic influences were, and are, Victoria Wood and Ronnie Barker, the first for her ability to spot humour in the everyday and mundane, the latter for his effortless knack of creating and inhabiting memorable comic characters.

I especially enjoyed Peter’s description of how he struck up a friendship with Ronnie Barker, long after the older man had retired from show business. Barker’s long letter to Peter in character as Fletch from Porridge demonstrates that Ronnie B never lost his comic touch, and neither, clearly, has Peter Kay.

Published by HarperCollins Price £25 Pages 302 ISBN 9780008623319


Michael_Palin_Great_Uncle_Harry_book_coverGreat Uncle Harry, by Michael Palin

Michael Palin’s diaries (a fourth installment is due next year) have provided a fascinating window not just into the life of the multi-talented former Python but also, more broadly, into changing social attitudes over the same period of time.

Much the same can be said of his latest fascinating work of historical archaeology, following on from Michael’s recounting of the adventures of HMS Erebus. Great Uncle Harry is, however, much closer to home for Palin, as the title suggests. Palin’s relative died at the Somme in 1916 but little was known about his life until his great nephew started digging into the archives.

Like so many killed during the Great War he was an unknown soldier. No one knows how he died and there were precious few clues how he lived other than the odd terse diary entry or letter. All of which, coupled with the fact that Great Uncle Harry was a bit of a black sheep in a family of over-achievers, clearly motivated Palin all the more to tell his story.

It’s not just an admirable feat of historical detective work but also a movingly rendered portrait of a man very much of his time but also, strangely, outside it too.

Published by Hutchinson Heinemann Price £22 Pages 336 ISBN 9781529152616


The_secret_life_of_John_Le_Carre_book_coverThe Secret Life of John Le Carré, by Adam Sisman

When Adam Sisman published his biography of John Le Carré in 2015 it was rightly regarded as the definitive study of the great spy novelist, responsible for books including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Night Manager. But for all the fascinating detail – Sisman had been granted hours of interviews with Le Carré, real name David Cornwell, as well as access to his personal papers – it seemed rather thin on detail regarding the previous 30 years of Le Carré’s life.

Perhaps it was simply the case that, by the late Eighties, Le Carré’s best work was behind him and so there was little of interest to say. The truth, however, was much more interesting, as this book, which Adam Sisman describes as a ‘coda’ to his original biography makes clear. For it appears that, like so many of the characters that dominated his books, Le Carré – who died in 2020 – lived a double life, with frequent affairs, many conducted during his long second marriage to the long-suffering Jane. Le Carré fell out with Sisman over the latter’s request to include details of these liaisons in his original book and it was only after the death of Le Carré and his wife, and with the blessing of the Cornwell family, that he finally felt able to publish these missing sections from the biography.

Does it add anything to our understanding of Le Carré or is it just mere tittle-tattle? Sisman insists that it was the pressure of this double life that drove Le Carré on to his greatest literary achievements, suggesting the writer’s sexual adventures and fear of discovery may have been a stimulus to creativity, even a substitute for spying. Le Carré also admitted as much to Sisman.

Freed from Le Carré’s beady eye and red pen, Sisman does not hold back in his criticism of the author, who seems to have been, all told, a bit of a cad, so much so that you start to lose sight of the nobler instincts and undoubted literary genius detailed in the earlier volume. Perhaps, in future, the two could be combined to provide a more properly shaded portrait of this enigmatic, beguiling writer.

Published by Profile Books Price £16.99 Pages 203 ISBN 9781800817784


The_double_life_of_Bob_Dylan_book_cover.The Double Life of Bob Dylan Volume 2, 1966-2021 by Clinton Heylin

Clinton Heylin had already written one of the best books about Bob Dylan, Behind The Shades, by the time he embarked on this latest formidable study of the great singer-songwriter, so you have to ask the question, why? Apart from an obvious desire to bring the story up to date – the most recent version of Behind The Shades was published in 2011 – the answer lies in the Bob Dylan archive based in Tulsa, which was created in 2016.

This repository of notebooks, tapes, business documents and film footage is a godsend to biographers, and Heylin enjoyed unprecedented access during the writing of his two-volume Double Life biography, of which this is the concluding volume. But does it really add anything to our understanding of Dylan? If anything it only adds to muddy the waters, which were already murky enough thanks to Dylan’s well-known talent for self-mythologising and obfuscation, but there is certainly plenty here to keep the Dylanologists happy.

The first volume of Heylin’s biography covered Dylan’s early years, through his early to mid-Sixties run of career-defining albums up to the motorcycle accident that put everything on pause, and this second volume takes up the story from the aftermath of the crash up to his 80th birthday and the release of the much-lauded (although not by Heylin) Rough and Rowdy Ways album.

There’s a pattern here. Great songs and albums are downgraded while low points such as Under The Red Sky are deemed, in Heylin’s eyes, worthy of reconsideration. And Heylin is often up for a literary fight, too, with fellow biographers he deems to be unworthy to supplicate at the altar of His Bobness.

All of which makes this a fascinating read for the confirmed Dylan fan looking for hitherto unknown details about their hero and an unusual slant on albums that may have become over-familiar, but rather less welcoming for those not so familiar with the finer points of Dylan’s career (a certain knowledge of the chronology is rather assumed). It’s still a great read though – and may even send you back to that unplayed and unloved copy of Under The Red Sky.

Published by Vintage Price £35 Pages 848 ISBN 9781847925893 


More great books to look out for, reviewed by Simon Evans

Becoming_the_Boogeyman_book_cover.Richard Chizmar’s Chasing the Boogeyman was one of the most inventive thrillers in years, a crime novel that had all the realism of a true-crime story that planted the author at the centre of the action. Becoming the Boogeyman (Hodder, £22) takes up the story and is every bit as compelling as its predecessor…

Stop_Them_Dead_book_cover.Roy Grace returns in Stop Them Dead (Macmillan, £22), the latest page-turner from Peter James that finds the intrepid Detective Superintendent faced with one of his most challenging cases, as ruthless gangs operating a new, malevolent black market threaten to instigate a nationwide crime wave…

A visit to the local fete turns into a nightmare for PR agent turned amateur detective Agatha Raisin in Dead on Target (Constable, £18.99) the latest instalment in MC Beaton’s much-loved series, and in JG Kelly’s absorbing novel The White Lie (Hodder, £22), more than 50 years after Captain Scott’s death at the South Pole – and with man about to walk on the Moon – an orphan of the Blitz, with a special emotional connection to Scott’s expedition, sets out to discover the truth about what really happened  all those years ago…

12 Months to Live (Century, £20) is the latest thriller from James Patterson, telling the story of a leading criminal defence attorney facing the challenge of appearing in a high-profile murder trial, taking on a challenging cold case, and coping with a devastating medical diagnosis…

Light_over_Liskeard_book_coverA wonderful cast of eccentric characters populate Louise de Bernieres’ new novel Light Over Liskeard (Harvill Secker, £20), as a government scientist seeks refuge in Cornwall from the imminent collapse of civilization…

The_Armour_of_Light_book_coverKen Follett’s The Armour of Light (Macmillan, £25) is the fifth in the majestic Kingsbridge series, set in 1792 against a backdrop of revolution, the rise of Napoleon and unprecedented industrial change, and Murder On The Dance Floor (HQ, £18.99) is the first in a series of dance-related ‘sequin mysteries’ by Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas in collaboration with Sheila McClure…

Sondheim_his_life_his_shows_his_legacy_book_coverFilled with first-person tributes and evocative images, Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy, by Stephen M Silverman (Black Dog and Leventhal, £30), lifts the curtain on Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, the master of musical theatre responsible for such timeless shows as A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park and Into The Woods

The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger, edited by Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith (BFI, £30), draws on the BFI National Archive’s design collections, as well as key objects held in other public collections, to celebrate the work of British cinematic visionaries Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and The Red Shoes, by Pamela Hutchinson (BFI), is a fascinating examination of Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 cinematic masterpiece…

The second volume of Christoph Baumer’s extraordinary History of the Caucasus (IB Tauris, £35) traces the history of the region from 1050 BC up to the modern age, brought to life through more than 200 colour images and maps…

The Savage Storm, by James Holland (Bantam, £25) is a remarkably detailed account of the brutal battle for Italy in 1943, and Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans, by Daniel Cowling (Head of Zeus, £29.99) is the untold history of the British occupation of Germany between 1945 and 1949, drawing on accounts of people who were there at the time…

Kate Garraway’s The Strength of Love (Bonnier, £22) draws on the TV presenter’s own experiences over the past three years, as husband Derek battled against the devastating impact of Covid. The book explores the importance of love and the need for positivity in the face of whatever fate throws up, and it will resonate with anyone suffering loss or fearing for the future…

Billy Connolly’s Rambling Man (Two Roads, £25) brings together hilarious stories from the much-loved comedian’s lifetime on the road, from riding his trike down America’s famous Route 66 and building an igloo on an iceberg to being serenaded by a penguin in New Zealand…

Sisters_under_the_rising_sun_book_cover.In her new novel, Sisters Under the Rising Sun (Zaffre, £20), Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, brings to life the women imprisoned by the Japanese during the Second World War, and historian Neil Oliver travels across the British Isles in search of Hauntings (Bantam, £25), locations where our senses become heightened, and the separation between the dimensions becomes wafer thin. It’s a brilliantly spooky read…

In Holding The Note (Picador, £22), Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist David Remnick writes, sometimes provocatively, always illuminatingly, about some of the most important figures in popular music over the past 50 years, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen…

Before_it_went_rotten_book_coverBefore It Went Rotten, by Simon Matthews (Oldcastle, £19.99) is an excellent, in-depth history of the London pub-rock scene from 1972 to 1976, and in Triggers (Nine Eight, £22) former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock reflects on his life through the prism of 30 formative songs, ranging from Scott Walker and David Bowie to The Kinks and his own era-defining contributions to the punk movement…

Ever wondered what it would be like to run a football club? Well, Kevin Day, Kieran Maguire and Guy Kitty, the team behind the Price of Football podcast, decided to find out, and the hilarious and revealing results are to be found in their book, Unfit and Improper Persons (Bloomsbury, £16.99)…

Luke O’Neill’s hugely enjoyable To Boldly Go Where No Book Has Gone Before (Viking, £22) is an accessible and enlightening history of science, revealing the human stories behind some of mankind’s greatest discoveries, Hockney: A Graphic Life (Frances Lincoln, £16.99) is a graphic novel-style illustrated biography that follows the journey of the artist David Hockney’s exceptional career, written by criminal barrister and Hockney super-fan, Simon Elliott, and The World According to Joan Didion (Fourth Estate, £16.99) is a very personal examination of the life and work of the influential journalist, by academic Evelyn McDonnell…

New to paperback, The Traitor, by Ava Glass (Penguin, £8.99), is former spy insider Ava Glass’s enjoyable high-octane follow-up to her debut novel The Chase, featuring Britain’s female Bond, Emma Makepeace, and Elaine Everest’s

Celebration_of_the_Woolworths_Girls_book_coverCelebrations for the Woolworths Girls (Pan, £7.99) is set in February 1952 and whilst the nation grieves the death of King George VI, life must go on for The Woolworths Girls as they face challenges at home and at work…

Current Issue

What's new

Walks by the sea

Fred Olsen's Cruise lines for 2025

Christmas books reviews

DVD reviews

Doctor Who

Our new website - Enjoy Britain online

New CD releases

Discover Knightsbridge, London

Birdwatching and more