WHAT BOOK would historian Sir Antony Beevor take to a desert island?


. . . are you reading now?

Peter Frankopan’s extraordinary volume, The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story. It follows his earlier masterpiece, The Silk Roads, as a work of vast scholarship, yet it is even more ground-breaking in approach.

This is the first wide-ranging account of humanity’s relationship with the natural world — both climate and environment.

Old-fashioned, top-down, Eurocentric history has been replaced by a global overview to include ancient civilisations and cultures in Africa, Asia, Australasia and South America, of which we were far too ignorant. But, most important of all, Frankopan — without preaching — shows us the devastating consequences of previous climate changes, none of which matched what we are going through now.

If this book does not make us think, then nothing will. The Earth Transformed could hardly be more timely.

Antony Beevor, pictured, is currently reading Peter Frankopan's extraordinary volume, The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story

Antony Beevor, pictured, is currently reading Peter Frankopan’s extraordinary volume, The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story

. . . would you take to a desert island?

I was on Desert Island Discs and you are automatically allowed to take a copy of the Bible, presumably to stop everyone choosing it for themselves. It makes sense, of course, to go for a very long book, with lots of characters and intriguing sub-plots.

For my luxury, I considered Marcel Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, as it ticks all those boxes — but in the event I went for a fishing rod instead, to provide both amusement and nourishment.

Proust would still be my choice today, because of his brilliant observation of character and social interaction, as well as for the luxuriant beauty of his prose.

This, I must admit, can put me to sleep in no time, so I have to go back to the beginning of the chapter or page on waking, wasting even more of the time that I need to while away in our mythical paradise.

. . . first gave you the reading bug?

I think I was about 11 when I first read C. S. Forester’s The Happy Return, the first published Hornblower novel, even though it became the sixth in chronological terms as it turned into such a successful series.

I suppose I was drawn to Horatio Hornblower as he, too, suffered the same lack of confidence (as well as sea-sickness) as me. Yet he still triumphed, despite all the setbacks. In The Happy Return, Hornblower is in command of HMS Lydia, a frigate sent to the Pacific during the Napoleonic Wars to fight the Spanish.

Antony says he was 'about 11' when he first read C. S. Forester's The Happy Return, the first published Hornblower novel

Antony says he was ‘about 11’ when he first read C. S. Forester’s The Happy Return, the first published Hornblower novel

Forester’s great talents were his ability to write characters and the way he could bring to life the realities of being at sea then — this was more than a generation before Patrick O’Brian’s Master And Commander.

. . . left you cold?

I have tried, Emily Bronte, I have tried, but Wuthering Heights does not just leave me cold, it irritates me, as people of incontinent emotions just scream at each other.

Russia: Revolution And Civil War 1917-1921 by Antony Beevor (W&N, £10.99) is out now.



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