Following my fiction picks, here are my non-fiction books of the year. Again, in no especial order . FWIW the book of the year for me is still Silk Roads by Frankopan but I read it first in 2015.
I had come across this book a good while ago but had never managed to get around to it. I had read his Report from Ground Zero, but then nothing else. It is a wonderful read, taking you into the life and mores of the busiest ladder company in the NYFD at a time when anyone in uniform was seen as the enemy. Fighting fires in the Bronx in the early 1970s must count as one of the harder ways to earn a living in the modern world. The writing is crisp and elegant, and you come away with even more respect for those who daily put their lives on the line for not a whole pile of money. It should be mandatory reading for those of the sneeretariate of the right who despise all public service. Dennis Smith has a series of fire related books and I intend to seek them out.
This is an interesting book. I dont know that I am fully convinced but he makes a strong case that the body of Alexander the Great is that now revered as that of St Mark. Buried in the depths of St Marks in Venice, this would of course be soluble with modern forensic tests. On sounder ground Chugg takes the disappearance of the Soma as his starting point. Alexandria was founded literally around the temple housing the body of Alexander, a massive complex. Not only is it now vanished but it is unclear where it ever was. And yet, as late as the C3 CE it existed. As a reading in deep time, on how even the mightiest edifices can vanish even from memory this is fascinating stuff.
From one great conquerer to another. Georgy Zhukov arguably has the best claim to be “the” man who won WW2. He saved Leningrad, saved Moscow, crushed the Nazis, personally arrested Beria, and A military genius, who was lucky to escape a reward from Stalin of a swift trip to the grave, he came back into power again and then was deposed a second time. His story is one of a career soldier, who despite having supreme power within his grasp several times declined to take the helm.
To me one of the most fascinating characters in history is Talleyrand. A more cynical, complex and complete diplomat has rarely been seen. An anti clerical bishop who supported the French revolution; the man who engineered Napoleon into power only to betray him ; a senior administrator in the Ancien Regime, the Revolution, the Consulate, the Empire, the Burbon restoration and the rule of Louis-Philippe who betrayed them all; a cynic and a realist, a man of letters and enlightenment. This book is an oldie but a goodie, and a cracking read