Author: Paul (Page 2 of 109)

Roumeli by Patrick Leigh Fermor

4.5 out of 5 stars

If you were to pop the name of Roumeli into Google maps then all it would bring up is a tiny place on the island of Kriti. For Patrick Leigh Fermor though this name brought to mind an entirely different region of Greece. For him, it is the northern counterpart to the southern Mani and is the ancient name for the lands that went from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic and from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth.

Even though this region isn’t known by that exotic and slightly mysterious name now, the people and places that formed it are still there, and Leigh Fermor is there to tease the stories out from them. He begins in Alexandroupolis, a town that normally elicits a groan from the civil servants who have had the misfortune to be posted there, but he had grown to like it partly because it was the first Greek town that he stayed in after a few years absence. But in this town, amongst the bored civil servants, walked a man dressed mostly in black with curving shoes that had a pompom on the end. He was a Sarakatsan shepherd and he was as out of place as a wolf walking through the streets.

This nomadic style of life still existed; part of the population moved from one area to another seeks grazing for their flocks. This practice had been honed over hundreds if not thousands of years and the rituals and traditions were deeply embedded in their culture. Even though the orthodox church had a certain amount of influence over peoples lives, the pagan spirits of old inhabited the land and still need to be placated and resisted.

This book is full of stories like this, a visit to a substantial house of yellow stone to shoes of Lord Byron, rising at dawn to travel by bus to the hinterland of Aetolia, climbing up the steps to the monastery perched onto of rocks and learning that guests used to be winched up, and the rope was only changed when it broke. This is a wide-ranging series of encounters and vignettes as he travels around the region. You can tell he deeply loves this country from the evocative writing as he travels through the landscape. As I have come to expect, it is such beautiful writing from Leigh Fermor. However, I think I of the two Mani just has the edge for me. But this is still a really special book.

Gathering Carrageen by Monica Connell

4 out of 5 stars

In the Northwest of Ireland is the country of Donegal, it is a beautiful part of the world, but with that beauty comes a price, it is often on the receiving end of the worst that the Atlantic ocean can through at it. Monica Connell Had many fond memories of the place, leaning into the wind of a gale whilst having the cold sea wash around her feet. They shout, but the noise of the storm drowns out their words. It bought happy and sad memories in equal measure.

Then in 1990 her and her husband, Mark, decided that they wanted to move to Donegal, but trying to find a place was proving challenging, but after a conversation in a pub, someone suggested Wattie’s house. They followed a man from the pub to where the house was located and he told them who the owner was. A visit to him the following morning proved productive and they were to be the new tenants of the house. It needed some work though, and they spent three weeks drying the house out and taking the detritus left by the previous residents down the dump. They obtained a bog trespass to allow them to cut peat. Learning to cut peat using a slean to get neat unbroken turf proved challenging at first. As summer faded away, getting the peat cut ad dried before the arrival of the winter storms was the priority.

She met Margaret after stopping to pick her up when driving one day, as they chatted they realised that they had many things in common and they agreed to meet again. She visited her home and was plied with lots of tea, biscuits and cake and Margaret asks her if she would interested in gathering carrageen and dillisk. Connell jumped at the chance to do this with her and at the next full moon headed down to the sea. Connell is shown each of the seaweeds and told to take care as she is walking over very slippery rocks to collect it. The area they are living in provides for them, she catches mackerel and pollack at Leic na Magach and cockles and whelks from other parts of the coast and goes out in a punt with men to collect lobsters from their pots.

One of the highly significant moments of her stay is the pilgrimage that she makes to Lough Dearg. Even though she wasn’t a practising catholic she was informed that she could still participate. It is supposed to be one of the toughest in the Christian world and encompasses a three day fast with only tea or coffee and bread served once a day and a 24-hour prayer vigil at the basilica. There is also a trawler trip to catch herring for a few days with Mark. It is supposed to be unlucky to have a woman aboard, but nothing befell the crew of the boat. She spent a lot of it feeling ill, and the nausea was only relieved on the bridge where she could see the sea. She attends a wedding that went onto 6 am in the morning, the band had gone home at 1 am but there were enough people there to continue playing instruments to keep the party going.

It is a glorious and evocative book about life on the west coast of Ireland. She is a wonderful writer too, you can sense the smell of the sea and hear the howling of the wind or feel the whiplash of hail in a storm, from her prose. But more than that as an anthropologist she has a good measure of the people that she befriends in her stay there, teasing out the stories of their lives and routines. Highly recommended.

The Dictatorship Syndrome by Alaa Al Aswany

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time – Winston Churchill

You would think that in the 21st century most of the world would live in a democracy of some form or other, but it doesn’t seem that way. Of the 195 countries in the world, 39% of the world’s population in 87 countries are deemed free. Some are partially free and 49 countries make up around 25% of the population. However, there are still 49 countries with 2.6 billion people in the world that have some form of dictatorship or strict authoritarian government.

I was shocked when I read those facts, as it is something that I thought was ebbing away gradually. The people who live there are subject to injustice in all its forms, from the endemic corruption, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and when incarcerated a lot are subject to torture and often killed or ‘disappeared’. The methods that these dictators use to gain control are well documented, but the questions Alaa Al Aswany wants to explore here concern the nature of dictatorship? How does it take hold? In what conditions and circumstances is it permitted to thrive? And how do dictators retain power as the society that they have dominated starts to crumble?

Al Aswany has written a fascinating book exploring the answers to these questions and he gets right to the crux of what makes a dictator, control of the media and police and army and the way that their personality diffuses deeply into the culture and fabric of society of the country. In a lot of cases, the populace can start behaving like the acolytes of a cult, not questioning any of the often erratic behaviours of the dictator. It becomes a self-enforcing vicious circle as the majority of citizens make the deliberate choice to deny themselves their freedom; instead craving stability and will support this individual totally.

It is a very worrying but readable for a book about a fairly grim subject matter. He grew up in Egypt and was seen as a dissenter before taking the sensible decision to leave the country. He has a very personal grasp of his subject and he eloquently describes just how normal people in a democracy can become inadvertent enablers and supporters of this type of person.

30-Second Elements Ed. by Eric Scerri

3 out of 5 stars

My wife teaches chemistry all the way up to A-Level and one of her favourite joke for new students is:

Why can’t you trust an atom?

Because they make everything up…

I’ll get my coat.

But it is true, every single thing that you will come into contact with today is made from some of the 118 elements that exist in the periodic table. There are some that you are very unlikely to come into contact with, polonium, for example, but there are others like nitrogen and oxygen that are in contact with your body 24 hours a day.

These fifty elements that they have chosen each has a test tube full of facts and anecdotes on them, for example which element loosely connects cockroaches and tanks, which one of the hardest known and which is one of the most abundant of the earth. Each element has snippets of information on the person who discovered it, the atomic number, and where the name was inspired or derived from.

There is very little depth to this book, but then you may have already worked it out from the title. Rather this is a thin patina to give a flavour (not literally some of these are poisonous) of the selected elements with lots of details and information about them. Nice little gift book.

Against a Peacock Sky by Monica Connell

4 out of 5 stars

The beauty of the country of Nepal high up on the rooftop of the world is a stark contrast to living there. It is a tough life at altitude and the tiny villages still eke out their existence. The traditions that have existed since time immemorial still hold their power, the modern world at that point had almost no influence on their continuation of life.

For an outsider trying to fit in is very difficult, but for someone used to the relative comforts of a Western lifestyle then this feels an even larger step away from civilisation. Monica Connell is an anthropologist and she wanted to visit a village there to complete the fieldwork section of her degree. She had taken language lessons, studied guide books, scrutinised maps on the area and drew up longs list of supplies to take. She chose the Jumula district as these people there, the matawali Chhetris had not been studied in any depth so this seemed an ideal choice.

The tiny Otter plane took her and Peter, a research assistant who was going to take photos of them, from Kathmandu to Jumla where they stayed for a few days. A village was suggested to them and they headed out to take a look at it. The walked into the village and we met by barking dogs and stares from the villagers. Invited up onto one of the roofs, she asked permission to stay for a period of time to learn about life there. After they had finished, they realised that they had left it too late to head back to Jumla. They sat under a tree deciding what to do, and two boys appeared saying that their father had invited them to stay for six months. The village of Talphi had selected them and this man, Kalchu would become a close friend.

To me all the cows looked similar – small and black all over although I did recognise that some had longer horns and a few had non at all. He looked at me and said he often wondered how I told my books apart. To him they looked the same.
We smiled, acknowledging the difference of our worlds.

It is an intense world that she has entered, life is hard in the village and the rich tapestry of life and death is a daily occurrence. She and Peter settle into a routine in the village, helping out the family that they are staying with, watching the villagers dancing for the festival of karati on the roof of a neighbours house, seeing the tiny symbolic gestures and rituals when the flocks to go on the move and helping out where possible with those that were ill. As the monsoon arrives, they observe them building a temporary bridge as they do every year. She marvels at the way the women collect the pine needles, gather then together somehow and carry the enormous loads back to the village.

Connell provides some real insight into daily life in this village. It is full of tiny details that help paint a picture of what life is like there, from the grime that surrounds them all the time, the bead of dew glistening on the grass at dawn, the villagers smoking a chillim and getting the harvest in. The village is maintaining its way of life, but the outside and modern world is chipping away at it little by little. Connell writing is sharp and clear, much like the rarefied atmosphere. She writes with compassion too, not seeking to judge the people for the things that they do, nor questioning the rituals that hold significance to them. Rather, she bonds with Kalchu and his family, helping with the activities and work, participating and sharing the happy and sad moments of daily life there.

Further 2020 Releases

I have been through all of the autumn 2020 publishers catalogues that could lay my hands on. I have extracted all the books that I really really like the look of. Most are non-fiction, as you have probably come to expect by now, but there are a smattering of fiction and sci-fi in there. This is why my TBR is never going to end!!!


Allen Lane

The Sirens of Mars – Sarah Stewart Johnson

Owls of the Eastern Ice – Jonathan C. Slaght

Calling Bullshit – Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West

Bunker – Bradley Garrett

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

The Ten Equations that Rule the World – David Sumpter


Bodley Head

Why We Drive – Matthew Crawford

Science Fictions – Stuart Ritchie

The Janus Point – Julian Barbour

Ten Tips for Surviving a Black Hole – Janna Levin



Wild Abandon – Jen Barclay



The Secret History of Here – Alistair Moffat

Idiot Wind – Peter Kaldheim

The Oak Papers – James Canton

Antlers of Water – Ed. Kathleen Jamie



Ingredients – George Zaidan

Queen of Spies – Paddy Hayes



Impact: Reshaping capitalism to drive real change – Ronald Cohen

Why We Swim – Bonnie Tsui

Letters from an Astrophysicist – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Perfect Planet – Huw Cordey



Tales From the Life of Bruce Wannell – Various


Elliott & Thompson

Into The Tangled Bank – Lev Parikian


Faber & Faber

Conflicted – Ian Leslie

Beneath the Night – Stuart Clarke

Lost for Words – Alex Bellos

The Stubborn Light Of Things – Melissa Harrison



The Museum of Whales You Will Never See – A. Kendra Greene

Undreamed Shores – Frances Larson

Eat the Buddha – Barbara Demick

Between Light and Storm – Esther Woolfson


Hamish Hamiton

The Lost Spells – Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris


Head of Zeus

99% – Mark Thomas

We, Robots – Simon Ings (ed.)

Jet Man – Duncan Campbell-Smith

Languages are Good for Us – Sophie Hardach

Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific – Nicholas Thomas

The Gardens of Mars Madagascar, an Island Story – John Gimlette

The First Kingdom – Max Adams

The Wild Isles – Patrick Barkham (ed.)

The Cabin in the Mountains – Robert Ferguson


Icon Books

The Gran Tour – Ben Aiken


Jonathan Cape

Vesper Flights – Helen Macdonald

Inmates – Sean Borodale

Gigantic Cinema – Ed. Alice Oswald and Paul Keegan



The Border – Erika Fatland


Michael Joseph

A History of Britain in 12 Maps – Philip Parker



Weirdest Maths At the Frontiers of Reason – David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee

The Last Stargazers – Emily Levesque

Survival of the Friendliest – Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Them and Us – Philippe Legrain


Pan Macmillan

The Saints of Salvation – Peter F. Hamilton

The Dark Archive – Genevieve Cogman



The Bookseller’s Tale – Martin Latham



Reimagining Capitalism – Rebecca Henderson

Competition is Killing Us – Michelle Meagher

Bad Buying – Peter Smith

Investing To Save The Planet – Alice Ross

BANKING ON IT: How I Disrupted an Industry – Anne Boden



Summerwater – Sarah Moss

The Gospel of the Eels: A Father, a Son and the World’s Most Enigmatic Fish – Patrik Svensson

How The Hell Are You? – Glyn Maxwell

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books – Cathy Rentzenbrink

The Running Book: A journey through memory, landscape and history – John Connell



Notes from Deep Time – Helen Gordon

The Velvet Rope Economy – Nelson Schwartz

Fabric – Victoria Finlay

The Colour Code – Paul Simpson



Red Sands – Caroline Eden


Reaktion Books

Crime Dot Com – Geoff White

Wanderers – Kerri Andrews

A History of Writing – Steven Roger Fischer

Landscape as Weapon – John Beck


Sandstone Press

The Actuality – Paul Braddon


Square Peg

The Swallow: A Biography – Stephen Moss



Slow Trains to Seville – Tom Chesshyre



Written In Bone – Sue Black

Privacy is Power – Carissa Véliz

The Wild Life of the Fox – John Lewis-Stempel


Two Roads

Tall Tales and Wee Stories – Billy Connolly



Agent Sonya – Ben Macintyre

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy – Arik Kershenbaum

How Spies Think – David Omand

Numbers Don’t Lie – Vaclav Smil



The Outlaw Ocean – Ian Urbina

Harvest – Edward Posnett



Hodder & Stoughton

The 2084 Report – James Lawrence Powell

Billion Dollar Loser – Reeves Wiedeman

Nala’s World – Dean Nicholson

The 99% Invisible City – Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt

Clanlands – Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish

Good Enough – Eleanor Ross

Bread Therapy – Pauline Beaumont


Yellow Kite

TFL Quote of the Day – All on the board


John Murray

Burning the Books – Richard Ovenden

Meteorite – Tim Gregory

If, Then – Jill Lepore

Word Perfect – Susie Dent

Things I Learned on the 6.28 – Stig Abell


Two Roads

Spell In The Wild – Alice Tarbuck

Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes – Jeremy Hardy, ed. Katie Barlow & David Tyler



Outraged – Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles

The Book of Trespass – Nick Hayes

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

How to Lose the Information War – Nina Jankowicz

Catching Stardust – Natalie Starkey

First Light – Emma Chapman


Any books in this list that take your fancy? Any that you weren’t aware of? More importantly, are there any that I have missed that you might know of?

Wanderland by Jini Reddy

4 out of 5 stars

People visit the countryside for a variety of different reasons, some for the pleasure of being away from a screen, some for the fresh air and others for some more serious rest and relaxation. There are plenty of guides that you can buy that suggest places to go and things to do, but there are times when some people want to find their own way and set their own agenda.

Reddy is a London based journalist who has had an unconventional and multicultural upbringing. With this outsiders perspective, she sets off on a journey to the English countryside to seek the spiritual and the magical where ever it exists. But rather than go to the classical spiritual sites of the UK , Reddy chooses to find her own paths and use her own inner compass as a guide. This personal pilgrimage had started up a mountain in the Pyrenees with a tent, nine bottles of water and, er, that was it. Alone in the tent the first night she heard a strange voice, terrified, she lay still for a couple of minutes that it lasted and it went as suddenly as it came. To this day she does not know what it was that made that sound, but it led to her wanting to know more about the spirit of the natural world.

It was the beginning of a journey that would take her all over the UK, to the far west in Cornwall, to visit a labyrinth on a farm and is soothed by the sound of birds and the sea. To High Weald in Sussex to search for the search for a spring with magical qualities and onto Herefordshire to meet a lady who has a ‘kenning’ or ‘knowing’ of the plants and animals that surround her. Lindisfarne is also on her travel list, to stay in a Christian retreat house and listen to the silence. Reddy has a passion for trees too and she arranges a trip arrange to Derwent Valley to meet a tree whisperer and she is lucky enough to get to visit the Ash Dome, a piece of living art created by the sculptor David Nash, high in the welsh hills, a place where the 22 trees have been grown together in the shape of a vortex. There is the obligatory visit to Glastonbury, a place where the magic has been expressed in retail form…

A sizeable portion of recent writing about the outdoors and landscape is about what the author can take from it, how it inspired them or was there as a crutch for their own health and wellbeing. And they are good reads, picking up on the connections that we have long lost to the natural world. A lot of this writing has been from predominately white male writers, with female authors only starting to get a look-in in the past few years. Reddy is a breath of fresh air in this camp, as she writes from a perspective from her family heritage and multicultural upbringing. She draws deep on all these facets and elements of her mother’s Hindu faith to explore the countryside in a way that I have not come across before. I really liked it because of that, she is prepared to embrace the activities that she has chosen, whilst still being a touch sceptical about it. It is also a reminder that the natural world is more than just the picturesque, there are thin places that have always had special significance to people over millennia. As an aside, it has an absolutely beautiful cover. If this sort of book interests you, I can also recommend Rising Ground by Philip Marsden, it focuses more on the spiritual legacy left behind in the landscape.

The Bystander Effect by Catherine Sanderson

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Turning a blind eye isn’t just a very British thing to do, it is a phenomenon that happens in every human culture around the world. There are famous cases where people have had terrible things happen to them, these have often been witnessed and yet those seeing it happen have either ignored the events deliberately or unconsciously.

So why do people seem to be good at recognising bad behaviour but bad at taking action against it? Pioneering psychologist Catherine Sanderson considers this in The Bystander Effect. She takes real-life examples, neuroscience and some of the classics behavioural studies on humans as well as the latest psychological studies to understand why we do this.

The consequences and risks of getting involved in disputes for a lot of people outweigh the benefits. Whilst the risk is low, tragedies do happen; Rick Best, who confronted a man who was shouting racist slurs at two Muslim women got stabbed for his efforts and died shortly after. With this in mind, Sanderson considers people that do intervene on a professional level, i.e. emergency services personnel and looks at the skills those people have. From that, she proposes practical strategies to apply to change the way that we react, by intervening or even just speaking out, to an unfolding situation.

I thought that it was a very interesting discussion of the realities of why some people help and good analysis as to why others really do not want to get involved. She has some very sensible policies that really need to be implemented in schools, partly because of bullying that can dominate a child’s life, but also because skills learnt there can have the biggest long term effect on people’s behaviour and reactions in life. Empathy needs to be taught too. I did think that is was very American centric which surprised me as the author is British!

Elementary by James M. Russell

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Just over 150 years ago the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev had the idea of collecting the elements together with similar properties and seeing if he could organise them in diagrammatic form. At this moment in time, only 62 elements had been discovered and no one knew if that was it if there were more to be discovered. He decided to arrange them in order by atomic number in a long line.

The key to his breakthrough was noticing that certain elements had broadly similar properties, so he took his line and started cutting it into shorter sections to line these up. His new table had a series of elements, sodium, lithium and potassium all on the left-hand side. From this, he developed his periodic law that argued that elements with similar properties occur at regular intervals. He published it in 1869 but continued to work on it and it was this extra work that both solved the puzzle but also created more questions. He realised Arsenic was in group 13, but its properties fitted group 15 better, so he moved it along. This left gaps, but in those gaps would be other elements, but these hadn’t been discovered yet.

In 1913 Henry Moseley proved that the order of the periodic table needed to be the atomic number, not the atomic mass, this revelation led to the discovery of more gaps in the table and the only logical thing to conclude was that there were unknown elements that still hadn’t been discovered. This simple table revealed so much about each element, the groups that they occupied and the way that these interacted with each other.

Almost everybody has heard of some of the elements, but there are lots that most people would have never heard of nor were even aware that they existed. Chemists have been discovering them for years, but it is only with the help of this brilliantly conceived table that they knew where to start looking for them. In this book, Russel has ordered them in ascending atomic number and collected some of the histories behind their discovery, a small table of facts and other interesting facts, such as why some elements have an utterly different letter to their given name.

It is a nicely put together little book that gives a good overview of each one of the elements along with detail on how they were discovered and by whom, those that have changed their name, for example, one well know element used to be called wolfram. This is a good place to start, but for those that want much more information than this, I can recommend The Periodic Table by Hugh Aldersey-Williams which is much more expansive.

Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi and published by Penguin and one of the shortlisted books for the Wolfson History Prize.


The Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually to promote and recognise outstanding history written for a general audience. First awarded in 1972, it remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability and excellence in writing and research. Books are judged on the extent to which they are carefully researched, well-written and accessible to the non-specialist reader. The Wolfson History Prize is the most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, with the winner receiving a total prize of £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. The Prize is awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts & humanities.

The books shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2020 are:

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths by John Barton

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution by Toby Green

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire by Prashant Kidambi


About the Book

‘Cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English, ‘ it has famously been said. Today, the Indian cricket team is a powerful national symbol, a unifying force in a country riven by conflicts. But India was represented by a cricket team long before it became an independent nation.

Drawing on an unparalleled range of original archival sources, Cricket Country is the story of the first ‘All India’ cricket tour of Great Britain and Ireland. It is also the extraordinary tale of how the idea of India took shape on the cricket field in the high noon of empire. Conceived by an unlikely coalition of colonial and local elites, it took twelve years and three failed attempts before an ‘Indian’ cricket team made its debut on the playing fields of imperial Britain.

This historic tour, which took place against the backdrop of revolutionary politics in the Edwardian era, featured an improbable cast of characters. The team s young captain was the newly enthroned ruler of a powerful Sikh state. The other cricketers were chosen on the basis of their religious identity. Remarkably, for the day, two of the players were Dalits.

Over the course of the blazing Coronation summer of 1911, these Indians participated in a collective enterprise that epitomizes the way in which sport — and above all cricket — helped fashion the imagined communities of both empire and nation.


About the Author

Prashant Kidambi trained as a historian at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and completed an MA and an MPhil before proceeding to the University of Oxford to undertake a doctorate. After holding a Junior Research Fellowship in History at Wolfson College, Oxford, took up a lectureship in the School of History, University of Leicester, where he has taught ever since.


My Review

I have loved cricket since my early teenage years (quite a long time ago now) and have occasionally played for low-level club teams where batsmen have been underwhelmed with my spin bowling. I have followed the sport for years and have had that roller coast of emotion that you get supporting the England cricket team where defeat is often snatched from victory and the certainty of a batting collapse hangs over every match.

While cricket is a sport that we invented and evolved, it seems that most of the world is better at it than us as a rule, in particular the players of the subcontinent, hence the phrase, cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English. Now days India is a force to be reckoned with in modern cricket, producing world-class batsmen and bowlers who can reduce an opposition teams supporters to tears. It is a sport that does manage to unite a country that is riven with internal conflicts, but where did it all begin?

The story begins way back in the 1830s when India was under British control and the youth of the day began to take up the sport. As it became more popular interest in traditional Indian games began to diminish. Their colonial rulers did not discourage this, seeing that the game extolled of the British virtues. Lots of local teams were formed and by the late 1870s, some of them were good enough to defeat the Royal Navy Team. It was around this time that the possibility of a tour of an Indian Cricket team around the UK was first mooted. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen, but in 1889 a team from England toured the subcontinent and the India team of Parsi’s beat Lord Hawkes team, much to the disbelief of spectators.

Ranji was a talented cricketer who had studied at Cambridge and at one point played for Sussex and there was even some controversy about his being selected to play for England. He was involved in the possible first Indian tour of the UK, that was being organised for the turn of the century, but he scuppered that with his attempt to secure the throne of Nawanagar. There were internal rivalries in the team too, with the Hindu and Parsi factions causing another attempt to tour being abandoned. These differences were resolved in the end.

Further progress was made with the organisation for the tour and the Tata family offered to help with financial assistance, but some of the team members complained about individuals from lower castes being selected, thankfully Balloo contested the decision and in his time became to be considered the best left-arm spinner in the world.

Finally, all the different aspects of the tour came together and a team left India to go to the UK in 1911. The UK that year was undergoing a heatwave with temperatures as high as 98 deg F. The country cooked, thousands died from the heat and there was even one man who shed so many clothes as he was so hot that he was arrested for nudity. On top of that, there was social turmoil, strikes fighting in the streets and a political battle between the House of Commons and the Lords. It was an inauspicious start to their tour of the UK, but they began it in Oxford, nonetheless.

They didn’t have an auspicious start to the tour and lost a number of their matches at the start of the tour, this was partly because they weren’t used to the pitch conditions of the spin and seam bowling, the matches were too close together not allowing recuperation between them and they were often set against much better sides. The odds were very much stacked against them, however, halfway through, their fortunes changed and they began to win matches, even Baloo began to take wickets and accumulated five-wicket hauls. The team was dissolved on it’s return to India and there would be another national team until 1926 and it was another five years after that, that an official Indian team would return to the UK.

I will admit to being a cricket fan, so this had an immediate appeal anyway, but for those that like their sport this book will almost certainly appeal. Kidambi has written a book that is comprehensive, richly detailed and full of stories and anecdotes about the origins of what is now a great cricket team. There was a brief sojourn into a story about a gentleman called Ramamurti Naidu who performed feats of strength and wrestling Fascinating as it was, and he was in the UK at the same time as the others, I wasn’t totally sure of the link to the cricket team’s story.


Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour:


You can buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here


My thanks to Ben at Midas PR for sending a copy of the book to read.

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