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Anne de Courcy: By the Book

Category: Art & Culture,Books

Which books by contemporary historians — both academic and amateur — do you most admire?

I loved Jane Ridley’s “Bertie,” a wonderful biography of Edward VII (published in the United States as “The Heir Apparent”), which was impeccably researched, highly entertaining and brilliantly envisioned. Another that really captured me was Nicholas Shakespeare’s “Six Minutes in May,” the story of how Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 — although one knew what was going to happen, it was a real page-turner.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — do you admire most?

India Knight of The Sunday Times and Jan Moir of The Daily Mail are brilliant columnists. Rod Liddle, also of The Sunday Times, is one of my heroes: so witty, so trenchant, so unafraid of political correctness — I read every word he writes and laugh over many of them. I loved Simon Sebag Montefiore’s “Catherine the Great and Potemkin,” Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History,” Miranda Seymour’s “Ottoline Morrell” and any well-written diary or volume of letters.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

As a child I used to be in floods over the death of Akela in Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” and the bad patches in the life of Black Beauty (a handsome black thoroughbred horse) in Anna Sewell’s eponymous story. I cried a lot when I was writing the story of the Thetis (a terrible submarine tragedy) in my book about 1939. But today it’s mainly clunking prose that makes me want to weep.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a book recently?

I had always believed that growing tea was just as much a part of Indian agriculture as it was of China’s — an age-old custom rather than a comparatively recent introduction. “For All the Tea in China,” by Sarah Rose, is a fascinating account of how tea came to India in the 19th century, with stories of stolen seedlings, a merchant disguised as a mandarin and the correct way to brew a cup of tea.

What three writers, dead or alive, would you invite to dinner?

Nancy Mitford, for her wit, funniness and immense chic; Michael Wolff, for the riveting stories he could tell about the White House; and the diarist James Lees-Milne, for his all-around erudition, charm and good conversation.


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