Book of the Week, August 25th 2018

Harari’s book ‘Sapiens’, published five years ago, is a roller coaster ride through the whole history of humankind. It has become the bestselling non-fiction title of recent times and Ridley Scott is planning an adaption for a TV series. In this new book Harari looks at the greatest challenges and choices currently facing us. Despite enormous cultural diversity, all nations, rich and poor, are now linked into the same global civilisation. To solve the world’s problems, whether it be inequality, climate change, terrorism, or refugees and mass migration, an international perspective is needed.

On politics he explores the recent rise of popular nationalism and fake news. He examines the role of religion as it fades in the light of science yet still has the power to inspire humanity and charity but also terrorism.

He draws on everything from classic texts to Disney’s Lion King to make his points and the result is a bold and original analysis of mankind’s current problems.

Jonathan Cape hardback, £18.99

Book of the Week. August 18th 2018

Andrew Motion, UK Poet Laureate, 1999 – 2009, was brought up in a small village near Braintree. It was those years of roaming in the fields around the flint church and the curling River Blackwater that awakened his love of language and poetry. Now in his sixties he has recently moved to live and work in the United States and it is from this perspective of time and distance that he looks back to some of the events that shaped him as man and as a poet.

Essex Clay is an extended verse memoir. He recalls how, aged 17, he heard the news of a terrible riding accident that befell his mother, leaving her in a coma for many years. He writes about the death of his father many years later and about the beginnings of a youthful love affair.

Illness, loss and grief are not easy subjects but these sharply detailed poems have a grace and intensity that is gripping and powerful.

Faber hardback,  £14.99

Book of the Week, August 11th 2018

For about a hundred days between May and August our skies are blessed with the soaring acrobatics displays of swifts. They stay long enough to rear their chicks then head back south to Africa.

They are the fastest of birds in level flight and can reach speeds of over 100 kph – in fact they have to slow down to catch insects on the wing.  With chicks to feed a pair might catch over 100,000 insects in a day. Once they leave our shores they are continually airborne, sleeping, eating and even mating in flight.

Jonathan Pomroy is an artist who fell in love with swifts as a boy and who has been painting and drawing them all his life, as well as studying their habits and behaviour. This beautiful book is packed with sketches and paintings that capture the nature of these aerial gymnasts against the ever changing colour and moods of the sky.

Numbers of these wonderful birds are now declining and the species is amber-listed by the BTO thanks to a dramatic fall in breeding numbers. It is important for us all to understand the simple needs of these birds end ensure that we don’t remove their homes from our homes. Alongside the beautiful sketches and watercolours this book provides conservation tips and essential facts about the Swift.

Mascot Media Publications, paperback £20.00

Book of the Week, August 4th 2018

It is the summertime of 1983 and a young boy, holidaying with cousins on a farm outside Coggeshall, discovers a body beside the railway line. DI Nick Lowry is sent out from Colchester to investigate but discovers not one but two bodies. In the kitchen at Fox Farm lies famous academic and TV historian, Christopher Cliff, killed by a bullet from an antique shotgun.

The police investigation uncovers a dysfunctional family with some dark secrets, a shady antiques dealer and a dodgy property speculator. Everyone seems to have something to hide and when some apparently supernatural influences start to affect the case it seems that witchcraft might still be alive and well in Essex.

Without the CCTV footage, the sophisticated DNA testing and the mobile phone records of 21st century crime solving, it is good old-fashioned police work helped by gut instinct that Nick Lowry and his team must rely on to sift through the alibis and motives of a fascinating array of characters.  Add to this the wonderfully realised period detail of 1980’s rural Essex and here is a novel to delight local fans of crime fiction.

Quercus, hardback £14.99

Book of the Week, July 28th 2018

In 1584 Elizabeth I issued a charter containing a ‘grant to the town of Colchester for the erection of a Free Grammar School’. In practice this formalised the status of an already existing school – in fact there are documents confirming the existence of a school in Colchester dating back to 1206 and possibly earlier. It is likely that this was the forerunner of CRGS giving our grammar school a history stretching back nearly 900 years!

The influence of Old Colcestrians is considerable. From William Gilbert, physician to Elizabeth 1 and the ‘father of electricity and magnetism, to Admiral Ramsey who masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landings.

This thoroughly researched book examines the long history of CRGS and its links to the changing fortunes of Colchester across the centuries. And at 600 pages it is indeed a mighty tome.

But how would today’s students fit in to the school in times gone by?  Scholars in Tudor times, we find, had to be present in school by 7 am in winter and 6 am in summer – and the schoolmaster was authorised to use ‘reasonable correction’ to discipline latecomers!

Paragon paperback, £27.99

Book of the Week, 21st July 2018

The River Stour Festival runs events and exhibitions throughout the year. Just published is a small anthology celebrating the river, its culture, people and surrounding landscape.

An essay by John Thorne examines how John Constable developed his gloriously accurate portrayal of clouds and skies by meticulous observation and recording of weather conditions as he sketched repeatedly the towering Suffolk skies.

Jules Pretty relates some of the dragon tales of the area: including how Richard the Second was given an egg in the Holy Land which hatched a dragon in the Tower of London. The dragon grew and escaped eventually swimming out of the Thames estuary and up the River Stour.

There is a piece on the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree and the Witch trials of 1645-7; observations by Ronald Blythe on new grass growing in Springtime and a wonderful description of ‘wild swimming’ in the river one chilly morning in early spring. Together with poems and photographs this is a fine little introduction to some of the writers associated with the beautiful River Stour.

River Stour Festival booklet,  £5