Ettie Neil-Gallacher rounds up a selection of favourite books and good reads

Penning Poison

By Emily Cockayne

Who among us wasn’t morbidly fascinated by the anonymous email sent the day before to all the guests attending George Osborne and Thea Rogers’ wedding? Some of us might even have gone to the trouble of finding the epistle online, and relished the allegations of sexual intrigue and passions that read like a potted bonkbuster.

In the age of the internet, with its immediacy and lack of nuance, actual poison-pen letters seem almost quaintly evocative of an Agatha Christie novel but far more threatening and powerful. After all, the idea of someone knowing where you live rather than simply how to contact you electronically is far more intimately invasive. Emily Cockayne takes the reader through the history of the anonymous letter writing from 1760 to 1939, romping through gossip, tip-offs, threats, obscenity, libels and more. They are by turn frightening, scandalous and bizarre, and make for a thrilling read as Cockayne writes with an academic’s attention to detail and a novelist’s lightness of touch.

Reviewed by Ettie Neil Gallacher

To buy Penning Poison by Emily Cockayne, click here.

The Ethnobotanical

By Dr Sarah Edwards

Those of us who relish a fillet steak or a haunch of venison may baulk at the bold claim with which Dr Sarah Edwards starts this fascinating book, namely that ‘plants supply us with everything required for our survival’. She quickly justifies it by explaining how we rely on them to convert energy and create oxygen through photosynthesis, provide us with food, medicine, fuel, and the materials we need to build and create furniture and instruments and clothes: ‘They even have entheogenic substances which are used to commune with the Divine.’

It’s this relationship that lies at the heart of ethnobotany: the scientific study of how people make use of indigenous plants. Given our dependence, we should be alarmed that just shy of 40% of plants are threatened with extinction, largely due to loss of habitat. The UK has lost nearly half its biodiversity, which is more than anywhere in Western Europe.

This is a most absorbing and informative work with vivid illustrations and forensic detail.

Reviewed by Ettie Neil Gallacher

To buy The Ethnobotanical by Dr Sarah Edwards, click here.

The German Occupation of Jersey: Agriculture and Survival in a Time of War

By Andrew Gilson

The Germans had been expecting a swift victory over Britain during the Second World War, and when in June 1940 they occupied the Channel Islands it seemed as if that was on the cards. But this was as far as they got. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm would be the only British territories under Nazi occupation (although the Axis powers, Italy and Japan, would occupy parts of Africa and Asia) and so the Channel Islanders had a very different wartime experience to the rest of the country.

After occupation, agriculture was the only industry left on Jersey, which meant that the Germans, the civilian government and the local farmers had to work together to ensure survival, resulting in a complex relationships. Retired history master Andrew Gilson’s gripping book is full of intrigue – stories of sabotage, collaboration, the black market, tobacco and Nazi plans for a bovine ubermensch all combine to make this a page-turner.

Reviewed by Ettie Neil Gallacher

To buy The German Occupation of Jersey: Agriculture and Survival in a Time of War by Andrew Gilson, click here.

Slim Aarons: The Essential Collection

By Shawn Waldron

‘Attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places’: an epigrammatic summary by Slim Aarons of his own work, which stretched over six decades, but one that fails to do justice to how evocative his images were and how powerful they remain nearly two decades after his death at 89.

While Aarons captured the cream of American high society at play, he thought of himself as a photojournalist rather than a society photographer. Born to immigrants in New York in 1916, Aarons earned his stripes as a war photographer (he was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded) but his charm endeared him to American high society, and was able to capture them with freshness and vivacity. He also travelled extensively to Britain and Europe, shooting Princess Margaret, Earl Mountbatten, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, as well as polo players and fox hunters. This book is a sumptuous chronicle of their world.

Reviewed by Ettie Neil Gallacher

To buy Slim Aarons: The Essential Collection by Shawn Waldron, click here.

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