So what books did I get for Christmas? And which ones will I have read by next Christmas?
The books follow. These include also ones I bought for myself in post-Christmas sales, or ones I bought for other people and decided to keep.
Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, by Tony Judt
This is a bit of a brick. As the title suggests, it is a history of Europe since the Second World War. It covers both eastern and western Europe, so a lot of it is about the travails of the communist countries and their subsequent breaking free of the Soviet yoke. I have started reading this one, and I am enjoying Judt's magisterial tone. One thing I am curious about, though, is whether the book will tell me anything that, fundamentally, I did not already know. We will see.
The Smiths : Songs That Saved Your Life, by Simon Goddard
As you know, The Smiths were the greatest band of all time. It is still the case that every album by The Smiths is better than every album by every other band. The approach of this book seems to be to document recording sessions and live appearances, so that you can deduce any thematic structure to The Smiths career from this narrative history. Plainly this is a work that all right-thinking people will enjoy greatly.
The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA, by Evan Thomas
This is a funny one, possibly problematic. It is all about spies, and so inherently interesting. Unfortunately, it is all about shifty CIA spies from the early years of the Cold War. And in particular, it is all about CIA operatives in that period when the agency switched over from gathering intelligence to interfering in other countries' internal politics. The book also seems to see this as the CIA's golden age – so the period when it was assisting maniacs into power in Guatemala and the Congo are some kind of big party and a time to look back on with pride and nostalgia. For all that, it is based on the CIA's own now declassified files and on interviews with retired shady characters, so it should at least be of interest in casting light on how this organisation worked at a key period in world history.
The Damned United, by David Peace
Leeds are a load of rubbish, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. That's what we used to sing back in primary school. This was probably at the time this novel was set. It is about some guy called Brian Clough (famous in the world of football) and how he became manager of Leeds United in 1974. Unfortunately, the fans, board, and players (including "that Irish bastard Johnny Giles") all hated him, so it all ended badly. I am not really that engaged with the sporting world, but I have heard good things about this book, and I want to see it before the film comes out.
As you know, I am somewhat fond of the music of Luke Haines, so while reading this I will have his song 'Leeds United' playing in my head.
Elizabeth's Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England, by Robert Hutchinson
This is about Francis Walsingham, who was the spy master of Queen Elizabeth I, and how he saved England by waging a secret war. This particular war was directed against Elizabeth's external enemies (the Powp and the King of Spain), but also against the enemy within – recalcitrant adherents of the Catholic faith. It seems to have been one of those wars where the Queen's servants were happy to use torture and similar black arts in the servants of their mistress. I will be reading it to learn more about espionage and related endeavours back in the Elizabethan age.