A couple of years ago Mark Cavendish won the road world championship for Great Britain. This book charts that process by the man who helped to mastermind it. I found it an amazing insight in to how British cycling reshaped itself in order to achieve on the road. I may be biased (turns out Ellingworth is from Burnley) but I thought he was refreshingly honest about what went well and what mistakes he made along the way. Some interesting nuggets to take away about how to organise yourself or a team in order to achieve a goal.
I love bikes and I love Holland. The wife and I have been to Amsterdam many times and so a book about the two jumped off the shelf at me (not literally of course). The book weaves the life of an American ex-pat with the history of the bike in the city. The biography piece was less interesting as I just didn’t have a massive amount of empathy with the author. The sections about the struggles cyclists had with the city council to get decent infrastructure was very insightful. However you did get the feeling the book was padded out in certain areas. For example one chapter on the second world war would have been enough but instead there were several which you couldn’t help feel was just because the author had access to lots and lots of archive materials. Does nobody edit books these days?!!
“You should read Empires of the Dead” was the text I got one evening. There was a show on TV for the Samuel Johnson prize shortlist. Not one to turn down a recommendation I grabbed it on Amazon (other booksellers are available, you know, if you want to pay more) and read through it in one night. To say I never knew the story behind the war graves makes it sound like I’d even really considered there was a story behind them. And I think that’s one of the great things about great books – they make you think about things in a new way and look at the way from a different perspective.
I’ve been reading a lot about French history recently. And one of the things that kept cropping up in the background was Dreyfus. I knew a little about it from my university course but not much detail. This book details not just the trials and the issues around Dreyfus the man but also all the other people connected to the controversy. Lots of people got involved at some stage or another on both sides of the debate – it really did tear French society apart for years and the aftermath lingered for a long time. A very thorough overview of the whole affair.
Charles de Gaulle is a figure that looms over twentieth century history. As a proud Englishman I think it’s just genetics that makes me dislike him! He was tall, he was French and he was a bit annoying/aloof. This book didn’t dispel any of those thoughts but it did flesh out some of the other things he got up to. It was an amazing life from a complicated character.