Review of the year – non-fiction

For the last four years I have read almost exclusively just non-fiction, partly because I was studying, but also because of a passion for history. Then in February I completed an Open University creative writing course and that led to the rest of 2006 being devoted to catching up on some of the great books that I missed.

But there were still some good non-fiction reads to summarise. Until I shifted to fiction there were two themes – The First World War and the Tsar’s death and theories around it.

On the First World War the standout reads were 1918 To the Last Man Standing by Lyn Macdonald, who let’s the soldiers do the talking through their letters and diaries. The Great War by Marc Ferro provided a French perspective on things and as a result you understood the psychological importance of Verdun and the fact the Somme was a way of the British taking the pressure off that battle front. In terms of historical biography The last Kaiser by Giles Macdonald provided a chance to learn about a man who was a victim of his own posturing and in the end lost almost everything.

In terms of the Tsar I have always had a fascination about the demise of the Russian imperial family because it not only seems so brutal but has that slight question mark hanging over it about whether or not it happened the way the communists alleged it did.

Shay McNeal with The Plots to Rescue the Tsar blew the doors off the idea that they died and went quite far in ascertaining that they escaped and got away from Russia completely. For a taste of the feeling at the time of the Tsar’s death (disappearance?) The Sokolov Investigation by John. F. O’Connor provided numerous passages from Shololov’s original investigation plus there are some interesting photographs of the house the imperial family were murdered in. Both books have the ability to leave questions unanswered and as a result the case on the Tsar cannot be closed quite yet.

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