A personal top 5 of historical fiction

I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and enjoy reading it whenever I can. There is some debate about exactly what historical fiction is (and I’ll write another post on that again soon!) but broadly, I treat it as fiction using real or imagine characters taking part in historical events. Pretty broad brush I know!

Anyway, I think these are my top 5:

1. Fatherland, Robert Harris. I may have broken my rule straight away as this takes places in an imagined time period, a counter-factual re-imagining of the past, but it is utterly compelling storytelling.

2. Biggles, W.E. Johns. This needs no introduction. The rip-roaring and utterly spiffing adventures of a First World War pilot, from cocky, brash youth, to weary veteran within a few short months. A terrific read (although sometimes rather overly elaborate and occasionally “of their time”!)

3. Sharpe, Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is a master of narrative, combining rigorous research with a real flair for writing. Probably single-handedly made the 95th Rifles as well-known as they are today

4. The Shardlake Series, C.J. Sansom. Not normally my time period, but this is gripping stuff. Sansom brilliantly recreates Tudor England, as his eponymous hero battles mysteries, treason, and factional politics.

5. The Man from Berlin / The Pale House, Luke McCallin. A very recent entry, these mysteries set in the Balklans as the frontiers of the Reich are being slowly rolled back have engrossed me. It is a very rare thing indeed to make you care about a German officer, in World War 2, but McCallin’s hero, Gregor Reinhardt, is no ordinary Nazi. A policeman surrounded by a world and system he despises, these novels trace the difficult choices he has to make.

So those are my favourites, what are yours?

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Russell Crowe’s New Australian World War 1 Epic ‘The Water Diviner’

Whilst it has been released in different parts of the world already, next week sees the UK release of Russell Crowe’s latest film ‘The Water Diviner.’ Set in the aftermath of Gallipoli, it follows one Australian man’s quest to find out what happened to his sons who, like 416,809 other young Australians, enlisted and left home to fight for Britain and the Empire in the First World War.

You can watch the trailer below, and the film is in UK cinemas from next week.

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“No Doubt They’ll Soon Get Well”: Social Class and Shell Shock in the First World War

I recently gave a talk as part of the National Army Museum’s Lunchtime Lecture series on social class and shell shock in the First World War in the rather wonderful surroundings of the Army and Navy Club in Piccadilly, which you can watch below:

Hope you enjoy it!

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F-35C makes first aircraft carrier landing

The US Navy has released a couple of videos showing the F-35C stealth fighter jet making its first arrested landing on an aircraft carrier, which you can see in the below video. The arrested landing is part of initial at-sea Developmental Testing I (DT-I) for the F-35C, which commenced on 3rd November 2014.

As an indicator of just how difficult this process can be, watch this second video. You can only imagine what it would be like trying to land a jet on a moving deck! The video also shows several touch and goes, whereby the aircraft briefly touches down on the deck without landing, all whilst moving seriously fast!

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Ground Breaking for the Museum of the American Revolution

This month, the Museum of the American Revolution had its ground-breaking ceremony in Philadelphia. This video provides a little introduction to the project, the significance of the museum’s location, but also a digital tour (from about two minutes in) of the new museum, including some of what will become major highlights of any future visit.

Plans are for the museum to open in 2016, and will no doubt be another interesting stop on the heritage trail in Philadelphia.

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Video shows explosion after large airstrike on Kobane

A video filmed from just inside the Turkish border shows the aftermath of an airstrike on IS positions around the town of Kobane. Interesting to see the number of spectators milling about and cheering the strike, despite the vicious fighting take place just across the border

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New Battle of the Bulge Museum in Bastogne

Last year I walked part of the Battle of the Bulge battlefield, with a particular emphasis on Easy Company. I visited the Mardasson Memorial, just outside of the town of Bastogne, and noticed that a brand new museum to the battle was being constructed.

It seems that the museum is now up and running, and offers a highly-interactive experience – as you can see from the trailer below.

One to see on my next visit!

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Bradley Cooper stars in ‘American Sniper’

The trailer for Bradley Cooper’s biopic of Chris Kyle is here.

It’s different from many of the war-film trailers we’ve seen so far this year (think Fury), as it’s more a single scene playing out. In the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, Cooper plays Chris Kyle, credited as being the most successful sniper in American military history. According to his book American Sniper, Kyle had 160 confirmed kills (which was from 255 claimed kills).

This film will no doubt resonate more with cinema-goers following Kyle’s murder at a shooting range in Texas in February 2013.

Check out the trailer below:

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Whatever happened to… The Archduke’s Children?

This week saw the 100 year anniversary of the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the assassination that sparked the First World War.

Killed alongside his wife, the global consequences of his death are well known. However, I was thinking recently – what happened to his children, orphaned after those events Sarajevo? Well, with a little bit of research I found out!

Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg, had three children, Princess Sophie of Hohenberg, Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg.

After their parents’ death, the children were taken in by the family friend Prince Jaroslav von Thun und Hohenstein. They lived first in Konopiště, a chateau near Prague in the Czech Republic. However, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War, their inherited lands were confiscated, and the children moved to to Vienna and the Schloß Artstetten.

The children, whilst undoubtedly wealthy, went on to lead far more “normal” lives. Maximilian, for example, received a law degree from the University of Graz in 1926, and became a lawyer, managing the family properties.

Following the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938, both Maximilian and Ernst were departed by to Dachau concentration camp for speaking out against the union, and were supposedly employed in cleaning the latrines. Maximilian was released after six months but Ernst was transferred to other concentration camps and only released only in 1943.

Following this, the Reich authorities also expropriated the family’s properties in Austria in 1939 – but they were returned following the end of the war in 1945. By that point the family had moved to Artstetten Castle, where their parents were buried. When the Allies occupied Austria at the end of the war, Maximilian was elected mayor of Artsteten, and he served two five-year terms.

Ernst died in 1954, Maximilian in 1962. Sophie lived to be 89 years old, dying in October 1990, and outliving both of her younger siblings. All had children, and so this famous line continued, and still endures today despite the torrid age they lived through.

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The trailer for Brad Pitt’s latest war movie is here…

The trailer for Brad Pitt’s new war movie, Fury, has gone live on the internet.

Set in Europe in the closing months of the Second World War, Fury depicts a 5-man Sherman tank crew battling to both win the war, and stay alive.

Co-starring Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña, from the trailer it seems Fury promises the full mix of stunning visuals, terrific special effects and maddening cliches that always seem to occur when Hollywood goes to war against the Nazis.

That said, I’ll be sure to go see it when this hits cinemas in November 2014!

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June 25, 2014 · 12:13 pm