Profile, £20, pp320
In historian Margaret MacMillan’s mind, war, to channel Edwin Starr, is good for, well, quite a number of things, actually. Not that this hugely readable chronicle of conflict is bloodthirsty – far from it – but MacMillan argues that the very study of war, and its impact on every facet of civilisation and culture, is usually overlooked, because to do so suggests tacit approval of violence. Expanding on her 2018 Reith Lectures, MacMillan cogently explains via colourful historical anecdotes how understanding war means we can also understand our emotions, our ideas and our capacity for good – as well as for cruelty.
Little, Brown, £16.99, pp224
A remarkable exploration of life and death, Sigrid Nunez’s novel is a quiet, almost meditative experience – and all the more powerful for it. A woman is trying to help her friend through the last months of her terminal illness and refracted through their relationship is the age-old question of how we marry our own uncertain futures with those of a bleak, seemingly hopeless world. Such melancholy is tempered with humour and a revelatory appreciation of small moments of pleasure and friendship, perhaps the best way to be right now.
Vintage, £8.99, pp432 (paperback)
Shortlisted for the Costa novel award last year, Shadowplay is a wonderfully evocative tale within a tale, focusing on the real-life relationship between Bram Stoker and Victorian theatre stars Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. The period and character detail are laid out brilliantly as these three remarkable, volatile friends get drunk, fall out and make up, the likes of Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats mere cameos for the overarching, thrilling presence of Count Dracula in Stoker’s mind.
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