Holiday reading (1)

Happy New Year to all readers everywhere!  We have decided that this is the year to start blogging in earnest again and we have plenty of great books to entertain you!  Apologies for our absence for a while, we have been three people running two busy libraries in a split site school, and now, with an eagerly anticipated new member of staff arriving, we hope to return regularly!

As usual, after the Christmas holidays, we asked our well-read members of staff to provide recommendations for the New Year and so we’ll highlight these over a few posts, and would welcome any comments you may have…

The first reflects the holiday readings of our illustrious Head of Economics, Mr Cowie.  He has suggested both fiction and non-fiction and begins with Peter May’s series of books known as The Lewis Trilogy which comprises The blackhouse, The Lewis man and The chessman.  Of these novels, Mr Cowie says:

“Set on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – three detective novels. Quite dark in terms of the plots and brilliant descriptions of the locality. It always seems to be raining!”

The stories’ central character is Fin Macleod, born and bred on the island, who returns after a time spent working a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, and finds himself caught up in investigating crimes on the island which take him back into his past and then on into his present…

Mr Cowie’s second and third choices reflect his interest in current affairs and history.  The first of these is entitled The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar.  Mr Cowie’s thoughts invite further investigation by new readers:

“Of interest to the few Germanophiles around. Written from and about 9 German cities – of which 3 are no longer in Germany.” 

“Based on a lifetime living in and reporting on Germany and Central Europe, award-winning journalist and author Peter Millar tackles the fascinating and complex story of the people at the heart of our continent. Focusing on nine cities (only six of which are in the Germany of today) he takes us on a zigzag ride back through time via the fall of the Berlin Wall through the horrors of two world wars, the patchwork states of the Middle Ages, to the splendour of Charlemagne and the fall of Rome, with side swipes at everything on the way, from Henry VIII to the Spanish Empire…  Not just a book about Germany but about Europe as a whole and how we got where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

Finally, we encounter Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by John Morrill.  Of this, Mr Cowie says:

“The French are always boasting about their ridiculous revolution but ours came first and was far superior. Why it is not taught in the 6th form I shall never understand.”

“John Morrill has been at the forefront of modern attempts to explain the origins, nature and consequences of the English Revolution. These twenty essays — seven either specially written or reproduced from generally inaccessible sources — illustrate the main scholarly debates to which he has so richly contributed: the tension between national and provincial politics; the idea of the English Revolution as “the last of the European Wars of Religion”; its British dimension; and its political sociology. Taken together, they offer a remarkably coherent account of the period as a whole.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

With such an interesting collection of books for reading during the holidays, I think this takes care of my reading list for next summer!  I believe that I’ll need more than the shorter period we had for these winter days.  If you are a reader of crime novels and interested in well-written history books, here’s a ready-made selection for you.  Do write to us with more suggestions and comments on these, if you have read them as well.

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Berkhamsted School Christmas Reads (3)

And now to part 3 of our Christmas Reads series…  Mr Cowie, Head of Economics at Berkhamsted, has given me his thoughts on books which he enjoyed over the Christmas break.  He begins by giving an impression of Neil McGregor’s latest book Germany : Memories of a Nation which has been serialised on BBC Radio 4 recently. Please click here for more information about the programmes, most enjoyable!  Mr Cowie says:

“A book of the excellent exhibition at the British Museum. A history of Germany through 70 or so artefacts – a Guttenburg Bible, a ceramic rhino based on a print by Durer, various metal drinking vessels demonstrating a very high quality of craftsmanship, a VW Beetle, a gate from Treblinka, etc. No military artefacts which was a blessing – an attempt to alter our views of the country in Europe with which we have most in common.”  For further news on the exhibition, please click here.

Secondly, Mr Cowie reflects on Matthew Engel’s book, Engel’s England, 39 counties, 1 capital, 1 man : “a trip around England with impressions of each county. And he lit a candle in each cathedral in memory of his son.”  This sounds extremely interesting with more details provided by Neilsen Bookdata Online: “Every county is fascinating, the product of a millennium or more of history: still a unique slice of a nation that has not quite lost its ancient diversity. He finds the well-dressers of Derbyshire and the pyromaniacs of Sussex; the Hindus and huntsmen of Leicestershire; the goddess-worshippers of Somerset. He tracks down the real Lancashire, hedonistic Essex, and the most mysterious house in Middlesex. In Durham he goes straight from choral evensong to the dog track. As he seeks out the essence of each county – from Yorkshire’s broad acres to the microdot of Rutland – Engel always finds the unexpected . Engel’s England is a totally original look at a confused country: a guidebook for people who don’t think they need a guidebook. It is always quirky, sometimes poignant and often extremely funny.”

Finally, he ruminates on The English and their history by Robert Tombs: “One for the history department, some of whom seem to be under the impression that America matters. It does not – England does, and this book explains why. Proper history.”  I agree!  I do feel the need to read more about the history of our land, and the latter two books, are a must.

the english and their history Engel's England Germany memories

Berkhamsted School plays host to two really good authors for children, part 2: Paul Dowswell

Paul Dowswell, a children’s author, spoke to Year 7 and Year 8 boys on the  research he carried out to assist him in his writing of his historical novel Auslander.  Set against the backdrop of Hitler and the Second World War, Paul examined what it was like for the Germans who were against Hitler’s regime and against Nazism.  He captures  the essence of their fear whilst highlighting the true bravery and courage shown by  German individuals . It’s a superb novel suitable for both children and adults alike.

Within the presentation Paul spoke to the boys on what German life was like under Hitler. The control he exercised across all areas of life including babies’ first books, the family unit, a doll’s house, children’s games and political postcards: all examples of primary sources which he came across whilst carrying out his research in Berlin . The slides in the photos hone in on specific examples of the control, manipulation and propaganda which was cloaked across Germany.  Although the boys are not specifically focussing on this period of History they did impress Paul with their knowledge  and their engagement during the event was a joy to the eyes.

From Fact to Fiction

We invited Paul in specifically to fit in with a forthcoming Library research project embedded in their scheme of work.  Year 8 will be involved in carrying out a History research project on Elizabethan life. Although this author does not write about the Elizabethans he does very successfully include historical facts into a wonderful and thrilling story and it is this which is the key, as we want our boys to do something similar. When the project lessons  begin next term, we will be able to look back and discuss his process of research, sources he used and finally how he uses those facts in his story. We hope that this will help the boys when they come to write their own historical diaries.

Mr Grant’s books for World Book Day 2010

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.  Mr Grant spoke with his classes about a number of books.

The first is Gunter Grass’s ‘The Tin Drum’.   Nielsen Bookdata Online says of the book:

‘The publication of The Tin Drum in 1959 launched Gunter Grass as an author of international repute. Bitter and impassioned, it delivers a scathing dissection of the years from 1925 to 1955 through the eyes of Oskar Matzerath, the dwarf whose manic beating on the toy of his retarded childhood fantastically counterpoints the accumulating horrors of Germany and Poland under the Nazis.’

This was followed by ‘The Wild Things’ by Dave Eggers:

‘Seven-year-old Max likes to make noise, get dirty, ride his bike without a helmet, and howl like a wolf. In any other era, he would be considered a boy. In 2007, he is considered willful and deranged. His home life is problematic. His parents are divorced; his father, immature and romantic, lives in the city. His mother has taken up with a younger man who steals quarters from the change bowl in the foyer. Driven by a series of pressures internal and external, Max leaves home, jumps in a boat and sails across the ocean to a strange island where giant beasts reign – “The Wild Things” from Maurice Sendak’s visionary classic. This is an all-ages adventure, full of wit and soul, that explores the chaos of youth while Max explores the chaos of the world around him.’

Thirdly, Mr Grant talked about Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’:

‘This is Volume One of the “Border Trilogy”.  ‘A uniquely brilliant book …told in language as subtly beautiful as its desert setting. One of the most important pieces of American writing of our time’ – Stephen Amidon, “Sunday Times”. John Grady Cole is the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood. “All the Pretty Horses” is an acknowledged masterpiece and a grand love story: a novel about childhood passing, along with innocence and a vanished American age. Steeped in the wisdom that comes only from loss, it is a magnificent parable of responsibility, revenge and survival.’  Now this is a book that did translate beautifully to the big screen, very atmospheric. Matt Damon, as usual, was amazing in the role of John Grady Cole…  Must read and see…

All quotes are from Nielsen Bookdata Online.