Its that time of year again, so I would like to jot down a few of my favourite books of 2012, to give you - should you require it - a few pointers for the perfect history gift for your own resident historian...
First up - my absolute favourite book this year - was Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956. If you have an interest in central Europe or in Stalinism - this is the book for you. Brilliantly conceived and executed, insightful, sympathetic, readable... I really can't recommend it highly enough.
Next - Antony Beevor's single volume The Second World War was a welcome addition this year. It has all the old Beevorian touches, and reads fantastically well, but there is the suggestion that the sheer scale of the book prevented the usual flourishes, so real devotees of his work might feel that it is lacking something in pizzazz - but it is excellent all the same...
One book from late last year that sticks in the mind is Robert Gerwarth's Hitler's Hangman, a biography of Reinhard Heydrich which is both scholarly and thoroughly readable, finally a volume to do justice to this most fascinating, mephistophelean figure.
Other nods go to:
Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers; a revisionist assessment of the run-up to the outbreak of World War One.
Clare Mulley's The Spy Who Loved, about the remarkable life of Polish SOE agent Christine Granville - aka Krystyna Skarbek. Perhaps a tad breathless for my taste, but still an excellent piece of work.
Patrick Bishop's Target Tirpitz is a characteristically rollicking read about the various efforts to destroy one of Hitler's most dangerous battleships.
Nicholas Best's Five Days that Shocked the World is a well written account of the final week of World War Two in Europe, skilfully combining many memoir accounts.
Lastly, I would like to recommend a slightly unusual choice, as I think this book evaded every one of Britain's literary editors - Jonathan Clements' Mannerheim: President, Soldier, Spy is the biography of one of Europe's most important leaders of the 20th century - Finland's Gustav Mannerheim... You might think that Finnish history is not terribly relevant, but the genius of this book is that it makes it relevant - and Mannerheim's life is the stuff of fiction... Well worth a try..
Of course, all of these are physical books (that's how I like 'em) - but if you are into the whole e-book thing - you could try any of these - or else you could try my own new release, The Wolf's Lair - a collection of published and unpublished essays on the history of the Third Reich, which is priced at a remarkable £1.99... ;-)
Happy Christmas all