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  1. #1

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    Books about years

    I'm a sucker for these. History-lite, perhaps, and obviously an artificial construct, but when done well, they are great fun. If before your time, plenty of "ooh, I never knew that" nuggets, and if the year is one you lived through, the combination of re-awakening memories and occasionally challenging them ("That's not what happened! I was there!"). The author's skill is in weaving together disparate events, developing a narrative in a way that makes them plausibly connected without over-cooking it (it's just orbits in the solar system, dude).

    A few I've read lately:

    1968 - Mark Kurlansky. One of the most (over?) rehashed years of the century, in everything from film to fiction, but Kurlansky's is one of the better recollections. We'll soon be inundated with 50th anniversary specials, so read it now before you hate 1968 with a passion.

    1927 - Bill Bryson, you know what you'll get. The underlying theme is the birth of mass media celebrity. I enjoyed it partly because it filled a blank: my timeline was: UK General Strike ... then Wall Street Crash. 1927? "your search yielded 0 results".

    1956 - Francis Beckett, Tony Russell. Focuses on Britain, so Suez. A slighter volume, in quantity and quality, but does a pretty good job of explaining how Britain really did still think Imperial, and what a shock it was to learn the truth a decade after everyone else had worked it out.

    1995 - W. Joseph Campbell. Only just started this one. Very much within my lifetime, I think it's the most recent "Year" book I've ever picked up, generally I prefer the safe distance of time. It's discomfiting to recall the world of primitive Internet, and my ignorance/indifference which lasted until the century was over. Buy shares in Netscape, now.

    There are countless others, of course. As Campbell writes, they usually have a title like "The year which changed America/the world/everything". If you find one called "The year when not much changed at all" let me know, I want to read that one. Maybe around 1353.

  2. #2
    ad hoc's Avatar
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    Books about years

    OTF's own wingco has one recently out about 1996

  3. #3
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    Books about years

    Do two years count? Frederic Morton's books on Vienna are both excellent. A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888-1889, and Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914. The latter year has been extensively covered of course though not perhaps in this way the first less so. It's a while since I read either of them them, but the consequences of the murder-suicide at Mayerling on fin-de-siecle Viennese life are fascinating.

  4. #4

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    Books about years

    I can't think of fin de siecle Vienna without thinking immediately of Schnitzler's fantastic stream-of-consciousness short story Leutnant Gustl, which I read for one of my German lit courses at university. Really captures the hang ups of the officer class of the time.

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    Books about years

    There's a great book called 1812 by Adam Zamoyski. But it's actually about Napoleon's campaign in Russia rather than about the year itself. Still, excellent stuff and a nice companion if you're also reading War and Peace.

  6. #6
    ursus arctos's Avatar
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    Books about years

    I also loved the Morton books on Vienna.

  7. #7
    Incandenza's Avatar
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    Books about years

    Charles Mann's 1491 and 1493 are supposed to be really good.

  8. #8
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    Books about years

    Musically:

    1966 - Jon Ronson

    1971 - David Hepworth

    Marx and Engels had a pamphlet on the 1848 revolution.

  9. #9

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    Books about years

    A few recommended ones for you to be going on with on this list:

    https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/104786.Year_books_Histories_of_a_single_year

  10. #10

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    Just picked up a copy of Charles Emmerson's "1913 -The World before the Great War" in the Headingley branch of Oxfam this morning, and looking forward to getting stuck into it soon.

  11. #11

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    Gavin Menzies' 1421: the year China discovered the world. Which is mostly fiction, but it's fun fiction.
    Keith Jeffrey's 1916: A global history, which was not bad at all.q

  12. #12
    Patrick Thistle's Avatar
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    I've got a book of essays about Nineteen Eighty Four published in 1984 called 'Nineteen Eighty Four in 1984'. I found it in Oxfam a while back. Not read it though. I bought it more for the quirk factor than anything else.

  13. #13
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    Not mentioned but deserves to be is Margaret Macmillan's Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. On the machinations and personalities involved in the Treaty of Versailles. It's tough to make a book that's essentially about men talking to each other interesting but Macmillan succeeds in spades.

    BTW picked it up, apparently unread, from the book-swap box.

  14. #14
    Felicity, I guess so's Avatar
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    Burgess wrote a sequel to 1984, called 1985. I got it out of the library in St. Andrews in 1980, but can't remember a thing about it.

    David Peace's Yorkshire noir/'Red Riding' trilogy: 1974; 1977 and 1983 are very good. But his masterpiece is GB84

  15. #15
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    Finally finished — in 30 minute bursts over morning coffee — Margaret Macmillan's 1919, (see above.) Can't recommend it enough. Lots of characters and details I'll follow up on in the future. Such as, Queen Marie of Romania. The youngest child of Queen Victoria who was married off into about the only European royal house that didn't already have British content. She was about the only woman of standing at the conference, and a very successful negotiator for her country's interests. Unlike her siblings she went full on Romanian, learned the language and became hugely popular. I don't know if ad hoc has anything to add, but I'd be interested.

    Also intriguing is a brief discussion on the genesis of the Balfour Declaration, which eventually led to the formation of Israel. MacMillan wonders why Balfour, then foreign secretary, was so solidly behind a Palastinian homeland for the Jews, and how come Lloyd George was almost as enthusiastic when every British diplomat who knew anything about the Middle East saw nothing but eventual catastrophe. She speculates that heavily religious/biblical upbringings imbued them with a powerful emotional attachment to Zionism. Other Brit ministers were appalled. Lord Curzon (a genuine eccentric but someone who traveled extensively throughout Asia) was outraged. "But what about the people who live there!" he ranted over the cabinet table. He was dismissed with a wave of the hand by Lloyd George, who's knowledge of geography was rudimentary in comparison to that of the Old Testament. Anyway the visceral mutual dislike of Curzon and Balfour — especially on the former's part — might be worth more time exploring.

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