Arriving in time for coffee before the start we were over the moon to discover that there were gate tickets for Jeremy Paxman – this meant we were going to see 5 writers over the next 8 hours.
Francis Russell – 101 Places in Italy
Wow. Not a guide book, more of an inspiration. FR spoke of his love of Italy and art. As Deputy Chair of Christie’s we knew we were listening to an expert but it was the passion rather than the intellectual aspect that came across very strongly. The premise of this book is that Italy has some piece of art or architecture that should not be missed and this is a ‘grand tour’ of cities that hold these pieces. FR gave historical context and factual details interwoven with his personal stories of seeing these pieces for the first time. This was an enjoyable talk that has made me keen to visit the cities mentioned.
Jeremy Paxman – Great Britain’s Great War
Many will have read the book/seen the TV series so the content of the book will be nothing new. JP spoke about the shift in the public conscious from a war of living memory to a war of history and how this is clear in his own family. He spoke of the ways in which the war had changed Britain, the impact it had in the short and long term. We enjoyed this talk on two levels – the content was interesting and well presented – and JP is a man who is worth listening to on any topic – interesting, knowledgeable, amusing, sometimes irreverent, and most of all a speaker who connects with his audience.
Helen Rappaport – Four Sisters
HR is an historian who has written a number of books on Russia in the early 20th Century. This book moves away from the ‘big’ history and focusses on the four Romanov daughters. HR has researched the book thoroughly and she spoke with great knowledge and affection about each of the girls. Placing them in the historical context but focussing on the impact on them and their lives. This was an interesting talk in terms of padding out my knowledge of the time.
Tristram Hunt – Ten Cities That Made An Empire
An interesting, informative, and entertaining talk. I enjoyed the occasional political anecdote that TH wove into this talk. The talk itself took us briefly through the ten cities that TH has decided were the economic backbone of the British Empire. As a history lesson it educated, but TH did more than this – talking about the urbanisation that was exported along side the goods – he looked at the the architecture and the lifestyle changes that were taken to these countries. I had previously tended to think of the Empire as a power play imposed on other countries but this opened my eyes to the economic advantages that they gained. I like the way that TH has taken a massive subject and focussed it on ten distinct places,making it easier for us to look at the historical and longer term impact.
Edward St Aubyn – Lost For Words.
I have not read the Melrose novels so I was new to ESA and his writing. This new book is a satirical look at literary prizes and he told us about his reasons for writing something so different. Reading from his book and giving us anecdotes about his writing life and his interactions with the world of literary prize giving bodies, ESA spoke well (in spite of the jet lag) and certainly made me want to read his work.