Saturday 17 October 2020

Guest Review: Written in History Compiled by Simon Sebag Montefiore

WRITTEN IN HISTORY celebrates the great letters of world history, creative culture and personal life. Acclaimed historian Simon Sebag Montefiore selects over one hundred letters from ancient times to the twenty-first century: some are noble and inspiring, some despicable and unsettling; some are exquisite works of literature, others brutal, coarse and frankly outrageous; many are erotic, others heartbreaking. The writers vary from Elizabeth I, Rameses the Great and Leonard Cohen to Emmeline Pankhurst, Mandela, Stalin, Michelangelo, Suleiman the Magnificent and unknown people in extraordinary circumstances - from love letters to calls for liberation, declarations of war to reflections on death. In the colourful, accessible style of a master storyteller, Montefiore shows why these letters are essential reading: how they enlighten our past, enrich the way we live now - and illuminate tomorrow.

Review: This is a collection of over 100 letters, ranging from ancient to current times, compiled by the historian and writer Simon Sebag Montefiore. Unlike electronic forms of communication, letters can be preserved for posterity and, as such, provide a snapshot of a particular time in history. The book is divided into various sections covering topics such as love, discovery, power and downfall. Each letter is preceded by a short, explanatory introduction giving biographical details about the writer and the circumstances under which the letter was written.

The letters are mainly those of people in positions of power, or literary figures. These range from a letter from Mark Antony to Octavian written around 33BC to a letter from Donald Trump to Kim Jong Un written in 2018. Since Simon Sebag Montefiore’s area of expertise is mainly the history of Russia, or of the Soviet Union which governed the former Russian Empire for much of the 20th century, there are many letters by Russian, or Soviet, writers. However, there are letters written by less famous people. An example of this is a letter written by a British Army Captain to his mother describing the Christmas truce of 1914 between British and German troops during the First World War.

I found the book, with its array of famous, and some infamous, characters from history, a fascinating read. Because of the nature of the book, it is something that can be dipped into for a short period if you don’t wish to settle down for a longer read. One of the things that struck me was that some of the issues that were being discussed in letters from historical times are still relevant today. I think two of my favourite letters are: one from Josip Tito, president of the former Yugoslavia, to Joseph Stalin, premier of the Soviet Union, threatening the latter to call off assassins; and one left on the desk in the Oval Office of the White House by the outgoing president of the USA George Bush for the incoming president Bill Clinton wishing him well. With its wide cast of fascinating characters and covering a vast range of topics, there should be something amongst this collection of letters for everyone.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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