Heywood Hill, the bespoke Mayfair bookshop where Nancy Mitford worked in the Second World War, is seeking COUNTRY LIFE readers’ help in creating ‘the ultimate library of powerful modern books’.

So far, 100 of the shop’s distinguished customers-actors, soldiers, politicians and headmasters-have named the title that means the most to them; the results form the Heywood Hill One Hundred, on display in the shop. Education Secretary Michael Gove has chosen the late trenchant essayist Christopher Hitchens’s Hitch-22, Maj-Gen Mark Carleton- Smith, Director Special Forces, the searing Holocaust memoir If This Is A Man by Primo Levi for ‘the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit’, and Harry Mount, writer and COUNTRY LIFE contributor, The Compleet Molesworth (Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Willans) because it’s ‘overwhelmingly funny’.

One of the most popular works is Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy, which was the favourite of the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Sir David Richards, Brig Andrew Parker Bowles, military historian Sir Michael Howard and Lord Fellowes, former private secretary to The Queen. Anthony Powell’s 12-novel cycle ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ had strong support, too, including from Joanna Lumley, who says: ‘I am under the spell of his writing.’

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The idea, with the help of COUNTRY LIFE readers, is to reach 1,000 titles and create a Heywood Hill One Thousand of influential and affecting books, ‘the quirkier the better’, according to chairman Nicky Dunne.

He explains: ‘As an independent bookshop, we have to work very hard to keep being useful to people. Our little shop exists to stimulate and guide readers and collectors to discover good and important books, new and old-we’re aiming to be the best bespoke bookshop in the world. This list offers a glimpse into the souls of a fascinating group of real readers.’

Heywood Hill, named after its founder, opened in 1936 and became a focal point for some of the world’s sharpest intellectuals-Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Gore Vidal and Sam Goldwyn were customers, plus John le Carré, whose central character George Smiley visits the shop in the BBC version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as did the actor, Alec Guinness, in real life. It has been associated with the family of the Dukes of Devonshire since the beginning-the present Duke, the nephew of Nancy Mitford, is now the major shareholder and his son-in-law, Mr Dunne, runs it. Books by Nancy and her youngest sister, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, have already been selected.

Nominations for titles, which must have been published since 1936 and in English, should be emailed to ben @heywoodhill.com or posted to Ben Scott, Heywood Hill Bookshop, 10, Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH (020- 7629 0647; www.heywoodhill.com).

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  • Deborah Schlee

    Rosamund Piltcher’s.. Shellseekers, Winter Solstice, and Coming Home.