These books on England (for history buffs) are ideal for rainy day reads. Not everyone wants to spend time looking at the past, but it can be interesting, in order to change the present and future. Unless you know how we live in a country where just a few own most of the land, it can be hard to create change.
The History of the Countryside is a beautifully written book by ecological academic Oliver Rackham on the endless changing character of natural and man-made features of our land: fields, highways, hedgerows, fens, marshes, rivers, heaths, coasts, woods and wood pastures. Oliver Rackham looks at subtle and sometimes radical ways in which fauna, flora, climate, soil and people have played their part in shaping our countryside.
A Short History of England takes us from the key events that shaped England’s birth to its rise to global prominence, to the partial eclipse and beyond. Perhaps those who still think ‘we are an empire’ should read this! By journalist Simon Jenkins, this beautifully illustrated book is an ideal gift.
Who Owns England? is by environmental writer Guy Shrubshole. This is a cracker. He uses modern methods like GPS mapping, Freedom of Information (and a little bit of peaceful trespassing) to look at who owns our land and offers an inspiring manifesto for change. As food for thought, one reason for our constant floods is grouse-shooting (flattening the land for shoots, which means water is not absorbed). But because those who do it own most of the land, nothing changes. Look at recently, when a Cabinet meeting was held to discuss grouse shooting (not the fact that a footballer had to shame it into providing free school meals, for children in poverty).
The Northumbrians is a history of this heavy drinking, social and sentimental people near the border, who have had a violent and interesting history. What can we learn from the folks that gave us the locomotive and the lightbulb? A future of people – caught between the South and Scotland.
- Mudlarking is a lauded book about items lost and found on the River Thames. Mudlarks are ‘river scavengers’ who look for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour. Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for nearly 20 years and in this book charts what she has unearthed: from Neolithic flints to Roman hairpins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. What began as a search for solitude came to reveal the story of a city, its people and their lost ways of life.
- Rag and Bone is a unique story from Lisa Woollett, who tells the history of her family, many of whom made their living years ago from London’s waste. This book traces the story of our rubbish, and the history of how we got to today’s present-day consumption. In a series of beachcombing and mudlarking walks (beginning in The Thames in central London) then out to the Kentish estuary and eventually to the Cornish coast, Lisa offers a beautifully written but urgent mixture of social history, family memoir and nature writing. This is a book on what we can learn from what we’ve thrown away; and a call to think more, about what we leave behind.