Part memoir, part travelogue, part history of the foghorn, this is a booming, lonely sound echoing into the vastness of the sea. When the author hears the foghorn's colossal bellow for the first time, it marks the beginning of an obsession and a journey deep into the history of a sound that has carved out the identity and the landscape of coastlines around the world, from Scotland to San Francisco. Within its sound is a maritime history of shipwrecks and lighthouse keepers, the story and science of our industrial past. The book is an odyssey told through the people who battled sea and sound, who lived with it and loathed it, and one woman's intrepid voyage through the howling loneliness of nature.
From the moment she hears Lev's violin for the first time, Helena Attlee is captivated. She is told that it is an Italian instrument, named after its former Russian owner. Eager to discover the stories contained within its delicate wooden frame, she sets out for Cremona, birthplace of the Italian violin. Making its way from dusty workshops, through Alpine forests, Venetian churches, Florentine courts, and far-flung Russian fleamarkets, this book takes us from the heart of Italian culture to its very furthest reaches via luthiers and scientists, princes and orphans, musicians, composers, travellers and raconteurs.
Helena will be joined on stage by composer, conductor and current owner of Lev’s violin, the charismatic, cross-genre classical violinist Greg Lawson.
Rare biographical evidence in the Sierra Leone public archives reveals that tens of thousands of Africans were released from slave ships by Royal Navy patrols. The British Library Endangered Archives Programme has made it possible to digitise hundreds of volumes containing fragmentary information about their lives. Adam, a woman aged 26, was among the enslaved Africans stowed on board the Marie Paul in 1808. Anta, her nine-month-old daughter, was also on board when it set sail from Senegal on 20 August 1808 ‘with a cargo of slaves bound to Cayenne in South America’. This lecture explains how evidence from the archives in Sierra Leone has enabled us to reconstruct the identities of individuals uprooted and displaced by the transatlantic slave trade.
Suzanne Schwarz is Professor of History at University of Worcester.
Two great thinkers discuss liberalism, intellectual blindness and the dangers facing democracy today. Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer and 2010 Nobel Prizewinner, promotes liberal thought and pays tribute to seven authors who embrace it, in The Call of the Tribe. He talks to Michael Ignatieff, rector and president of Central European University in Budapest, author of The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World.
Instead of civic organizations, we join internet mobs. Instead of reasoned conversation, the voices of the angriest, most divisive participants are amplified. Rational voices are hard to hear; radicalization spreads quickly. Unsurprisingly, an internet controlled by a tiny number of secretive companies in Silicon Valley does not reflect democratic values of openness, accountability and respect for human rights. Instead, the current rules of online conversation are undermining our democracies. Why don’t we change them?
Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Anne Applebaum is author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University, New York.
Before the Second World War, at a sleepy Air Force base in central Alabama, a group of renegade pilots puts forth a radical idea. What if we made bombing so accurate that wars could be fought entirely from the air? And if we could make the brutal clashes between armies on the ground a thing of the past? This book tells the story of what happened when that dream was put to the test, following the stories of a reclusive Dutch genius and his homemade computer, Winston Churchill's forbidding best friend, a team of pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard, a brilliant pilot who sang vaudeville tunes to his crew, and the bomber commander, Curtis Emerson LeMay, who would order the bloodiest attack of the Second World War.
By knowing the shape of our planet we can create maps, survey the oceans, follow rivers, navigate the skies, and travel the globe. This is the story of how we discovered what no one thought possible: the shape of the earth. In 1735, the good ship Portefaix sailed across the Atlantic carrying the world’s first international team of scientists to a continent of unmapped rainforests and ice-shrouded volcanoes. Beset by egos and disease, storms and earthquakes, mutiny and murder, they struggled for ten years to reach the single figure they sought: the length of one degree of latitude. Twenty-five years after the publication of Longitude, this tells the other side of the story, one of our most important geographical discoveries.
A book about walking in ancient places, in the footsteps of the ancestors, reaching back in time, to find ourselves, and our place in the world. The academic, writer and broadcaster explores what we can learn about the very earliest Britons – from their burial sites. Although we have very little evidence of what life was like in prehistoric times, we can deduce a great deal from the bones and funerary offerings left behind, preserved in the ground for thousands of years. Told through seven burial sites, this prehistory of Britain teaches us about ourselves and how we came to be on this island.
Bonnie Greer, American-British playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster, talks to trail-blazing Novara Media editor Ash Sarkar about a life in writing and activism. What has changed and what has remained the same? A unique view through the telescope of time from then to now and now to then.
Part of Lemn Sissay's George Floyd: One Year On series.
John Keats, who died 200 years ago at just 25, is one of Britain’s most enigmatic poets and this biography by Lucasta Miller, critic and author of The Brontë Myth, excavates the backstories of nine familiar works. The epitaph Keats composed for his own gravestone – Here lies one whose name was writ in water – seemingly damned him to oblivion. He took a battering from the conservative press, yet in 1818 he wrote, "I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death". A lower-middle-class outsider from a dysfunctional family, his energy and love of language enabled him to reach the heart of English literature. A freethinker and a liberal at a time of repression, his work has retained its originality through the generations.
In Bright Star, Green Light, Jonathan Bate interweaves the lives of John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The latter was profoundly influenced by Keats, using the poet's lines in the title Tender is the Night. These two great writers both died young, loved to drink, were plagued by tuberculosis and haunted by their first love – and were the young Romantic figures of their twinned centuries. They talk to Miranda Seymour, author of Mary Shelley and In Byron's Wake.
From 1988-1991 war devastated Somaliland, and like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, Ahmed Dahir Elmi was forced to flee. He lived and worked in the UK for 22 years, discovering a love of libraries, and when he returned home in 2011 he took on the challenge of creating the country’s first national library. Over the next eight years, and with the help of Somali-born British journalist and writer Rageh Omaar, Ahmed's dream became a reality. The two talk to Paul Boateng, chair of Book Aid International and frequent visitor to Somaliland, about their personal struggle to bring books to everyone in Somaliland, and how the library is now at the heart of a thriving literary culture.
War between organized groups goes far back into human history. Is it an integral part of our society? What do those who make war think they can gain from it? And how have we tried to control and eliminate it? Modern war, its causes, nature, and impact, and the continuing search for peace are the topics covered by the expert on international relations and professor at University of Oxford. She talks to the broadcaster and journalist Nik Gowing.
The Trump Presidency, responses to Covid-19, and rising tensions around China suggest a global order in flux, pitting rule of law systems increasingly at odds with a new globalised authoritarianism and posing important questions for Britain and the EU. Peter Ricketts (Hard Choices) and Matthew d'Ancona (Identity, Ignorance, Innovation) debate the future of international diplomacy and the factors most likely to tip the balance.
The anthropologist, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Into the Silence, discusses his new book on Colombia's complex past, present, and future, through the story of the great Río Magdalena. The river represents the political history of Colombia, home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. As he travels its length, he encounters people who have overcome years of conflict, informed by indigenous wisdom and an enduring spirit of place. Only in Colombia can a traveller wash ashore in a coastal desert, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests and reach verdant Andean valleys rising to ice-clad summits. This wild and impossible geography finds fuses perfectly with the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, at others tortured and twisted. He talks to journalist Rosie Boycott.
The Wolfson History Prize is the UK’s most prestigious history writing prize, recognising outstanding works of historical non-fiction and awarded annually to a work that combines excellent research and readability for a general audience. £40,000 is awarded to the winner, with each shortlisted author receiving £4,000.
Previous winners include Mary Beard, Simon Schama, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Amanda Vickery, Antony Beevor, Christopher Bayly, Antonia Fraser, Mary Fulbrook and David Abulafia.
The books shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2021 are:
• Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust by Rebecca Clifford
• Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh
• Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin
• Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood by Helen McCarthy
• Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack by Richard Ovenden
• Atlantic Wars: From the Fifteenth Century to the Age of Revolution by Geoffrey Plank
The winner will be announced on 9 June.
The shortlisted authors for this year’s Prize will join previous winner, Professor Amanda Vickery, to discuss their books and historical writing today.
2021 marks the centenary of English PEN, the organisation that promotes the freedom to write and to read. Mexican journalist and activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro and Syrian journalist and author Samar Yazbek are both winners of the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage. They talk to the English PEN president and international human rights lawyer Philippe Sands about the vital role of free expression in speaking truth to power.
Run wild with this author as she introduces you to the latest book in her Wolf Brother series. Set in a Stone Age world, it invites you to rejoin Torak, Renn and Wolf for a non-stop adventure where the clans are tested like never before, as they battle to find ways to survive and thrive in the forest.
Through economics, our politicians have the power to transform people's lives for better or worse. Deng Xiaoping lifted millions out of poverty by opening up China, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal helped the USA break free from the Great Depression, and Peron and his successors in Argentina brought the country to the brink of ruin. The economist and politician examines the legacy of 16 world leaders who transformed their countries' economic fortunes, and also challenged convention. From Thatcher to Trump, Lenin to Bismarck, this book offers a new perspective on the science of government over the past 300 years. He talks to Grace Blakeley, political and economic commentator and author of The Corona Crash: How the Pandemic will Change Capitalism.
Part of the Festival’s PM300 series marking 300 years since the UK’s first Prime Minister with conversations on leadership and the future of democracy.
Both Maaza Mengiste's Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Shadow King and Aida Edemariam's Ondaatje Prize-winning biography of her grandmother, The Wife's Tale, approach the history of 20th-century Ethiopia through female protagonists. How does this change what is seen, what is heard, and what, in the end, lasts?