Best books for Christmas

Ravilious in Pictures: The War Paintings James Russell
(The Mainstone Press, £25)
The second in this series of books focusing on Ravilious considers his work as official war artist during the Second World War. The pictures are accompanied by short essays drawing on his
letters and other sources to paint a vivid portrait of the artist and the historical context of his work.

Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View Shirley Neilsen Blum
(Thames & Hudson, £35)
Windows feature in more than 100 of Matisse’s works. This book brings together for the first time his paintings of interiors, grouping them chronologically into five chapters. Through them, we see how the artist paved the way for some of the radical abstract paintings of the 20th century.

A History of the World in 100 Objects Neil MacGregor

(Allen Lane, £30)
The director of the British Museum has taken an original approach to the history of humanity by focusing on objects left behind, often accidentally, by previous civilisations. They are the prisms through which he explores past worlds and lives in this intellectual and visual feast of a book, which complements his Radio 4 series and ranges across two million years, from one of the earliest objects made by man to a solar-powered lamp of 2010.

What Makes a Masterpiece? Encounters with Great Works of Art Ed. Christopher Dell

(Thames & Hudson, £24.95)
Distinguished artists, critics and art historians explore the idea of the masterpiece through their own personal encounters with the world’s greatest artworks, from all periods and cultures.
John Brett: Pre-Raphaelite Landscape Painter Christiana Payne (Yale, £40)
The multi-talented but long-forgotten pre-Raphaelite artist is brought compellingly to life in this beautifully illustrated book.

The Bloomsbury Group
Frances Spalding (National Portrait Gallery, £9.99)
In this new edition, the leading authority on the Bloomsbury Group has added previously unpublished material to her revealing biographical accounts of 19 key figures. The book is beautifully illustrated, with paintings and intimate photographs showing how the network of artists, writers, friends and lovers recorded themselves.

One Hundred Great Paintings

Louise Govier (Yale, £24.99)
A beautiful presentation of 100 of the greatest works from the National Gallery, one of the richest collections of Western European paintings in the world. From a 13th-century Virgin and Child to Cézanne’s Bathers, this book is a wonderful introduction to the development of European painting over 600 years.


The Classical Country House
David Watkin (Aurum, £40)
The latest architectural book to draw on Country Life’s famous picture library isolates one major theme-Classicism-and devotes a chapter to each century, from the 17th to 21st.

Ruskin on Venice

Robert Hewison (Yale, £45)
A large part of Ruskin’s career derived from his engagement with Venice. This book charts in fascinating detail the story of his obsession with the city and the debt it owes to him.

Richard Norman Shaw
Andrew Saint (Yale, £40)
New and magnificently illustrated edition of Andrew Saint’s 1976 monograph of the life and work of this complex and influential architectural genius, whose office trained many talented architects of the late 19th century.

The Buildings of England

(Yale, £35)
The latest new editions in the indispensable series: Cumbria, Berkshire and Hampshire: Winchester and the North.

Weeds Richard Mabey (Profile Books, £15.99)

A series of linked essays on the vast subject of weeds, this fascinating book bursts with the witchy, elusive charms of the plant kingdom’s most impudent operators. Mr Mabey reveals ‘how these vagabond plants gatecrashed civilisation and changed the way we think about nature’.

The Curious Gardener Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury, £20)
Six horticulturally inclined essays for each month of the year, joined by ‘Tasks for the Month’ from The Independent’s gardening correspondent. Lively, conversational and personal, it’s a charming bedside read, with exquisite wood engravings by Howard Phipps.

RHS Grow Your Own Flowers

Helen Yemm (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99)
A down-to-earth guide to choosing and growing 100 popular flowering plants from Achillea to Zantedeschia, from The Telegraph’s reliable and witty horticultural agony aunt. For anyone keen but new to gardening, this will be a welcome practical gift.

Dear Christo: Memories of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter (Timber Press, £18.99)
Friends of the late Christopher Lloyd contribute their fond (or sometimes alarming) memories of the celebrated horticulturist and long-time Country Life columnist. Visitors recall the feel of the centuries-old floorboards of Great Dixter, Lloyd’s lifetime home, the food, good company and thrilling garden walks.

Gardens of the World: The Great Traditions Rory Stuart (Frances Lincoln, £30)

Through a broad-sweep analysis of the world’s key garden traditions-Chinese, Japanese, Islamic, Italian, English, plus ‘The American Experiment’-the author seeks to answer why people from different cultures made pleasure gardens. An intelligently illustrated overview of garden history through the ages.


Under The Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Ed. Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shake-speare (Jonathan Cape, £25)
This selection of Chatwin’s own letters-gossipy, lyrical, informative and exotic-creates a com-
pelling autobiography of the enigmatic writer, art dealer/historian and traveller, who died in 1989.

E. M. Forster: A New Life
Wendy Moffat (Bloomsbury, £25)
This ambitious biography is full of deft character sketches, and gives a convincing account of Forster’s inner struggles. The result is a very different life story from those published to date.

Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter Antonia Fraser

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20)
In their time, Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter were literary royalty. Lady Antonia’s memoir, based on the diary she has kept since 1968, is an addictive and affecting account of her 33-year love affair with the playwright who defined his age.

Tolstoy: A Russian Life

Rosamund Bartlett (Profile Books, £25)
Translator and Chekhov scholar Rosamund Barlett unearths new material about the brilliant, contrary Russian author in the first biography of Tolstoy written in English for 20 years.

Wait for Me! Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister
Deborah Devonshire (John Murray, £20)
Rich, lyrical and cheerful: the Dowager Duchess of Devon-shire’s autobiography.

Operation Mincemeat
Ben Macintyre (Bloomsbury, now in paperback, £7.99)
A captivating account of one of the most brilliant deceptions of the Second World War-the cloak-and-dagger confidence trick codenamed Operation Mince-meat. The author reveals new details about the ruse, whereby the body of a Welsh labourer was dressed as a Royal Marine and dumped at sea, deceiving Nazi intelligence as the Allies prepared to invade Sicily in 1943.


The Making of the British Landscape Francis Pryor
(Allen Lane, £30)
A sweeping and extremely readable history of the human impact on Britain’s landscape, in which the author, a farmer and archaeologist, charts its evolution from Neolithic ritualistic sites to the industrialised landscapes of today.

A Book of Britain: The Lore, Landscape and Heritage of a Treasured Countryside
Johnny Scott (Collins, £50)
Popular countryman Sir Johnny Scott celebrates the British countryside and its peoples, customs and traditions in this handsome imitation-leather-and-tweed-bound volume, which easily fills its 600 pages.

The Natural History Book: The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth

(Dorling Kindersley, £30)
Strikingly illustrated bible of more than 5,000 species in the plant and animal kingdoms, from fossils and microscopic lifeforms to rocks and mammals.

Bugs Britannica Peter Marren and Richard Mabey (Chatto & Windus, £35)
Extraordinary, comprehensive bestiary of invertebrates in all their diversity and degrees of importance to life on Earth, scattered with glowing colour plates.

Collins Beekeeper’s Bible

(Collins, £30)
This massive and gloriously illustrated work explores every aspect of bees, from the practicalities of building and managing beehives, to historical material and the medical uses of honey.

The Running Sky: A Birdwatch-ing Life Tim Dee (Jonathan Cape, now in Vintage paperback, £8.99)

Haunting and passionate memoir of a lifetime’s experience observing, encountering and tracking birds from Shetland to Zambia. Charting the avian year from one summer to the next, Tim Dee offers a new take on birdwatching and, in graceful, poetic prose, compels us to look again and marvel at the ‘storm of life over our heads’.

Villages of Britain
Clive Aslet (Bloomsbury, £30)
The history of the British countryside is told through 500 of its most noteworthy settlements, each account putting ‘a single aspect of rural Britain under the spotlight: a country poet, a way of building, an agricultural innovation, a horrible death, a rare survival, a monument to an exceptional person or event’.

Badger Timothy J. Roper

(Collins, £30)
This comprehensive natural history explores every aspect of the biology and behaviour of one of our more controversial mammals.

The Keen Foxhunter’s Miscellany Peter Holt (Quiller, £16.95)
Foxhunting trivia past and present, including 18th-century poems, advice on how to address the MFH, a vivid description of a horrible hunt ball in 1926 and profiles of hunt eccentrics.

The Big Bang: Christmas Crackers 2000-2009 John Julius Norwich (Dovecote Press, £20)

A compilation of Lord Norwich’s delightful literary selections sent out to his friends every year in place of a Christmas card. He has a keen eye and instinct for literary treasures, prose and poetry, which can now be savoured in this one assemblage.
We Are Amused: A Royal Miscellany Brian Hoey (JR Books, £14.99)

This ‘right royal guide to our great British monarchy’ provides a wealth of inside knowledge on everything about the Royal Family, from corgis, tartans and tweeds to ladies-in-waiting, handbags, and garden parties.

There’ll Always Be An England: Social Stereotypes from The Daily Telegraph Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape (Constable, £12.99)

New collection of social stereotypes (right) from the leading satirists, whose hilarious sketches spare no aspect of English life, from ‘The Gap Year’ to the ‘Uncontrollable Gun Dog’.

The Walker’s Friend:
A Miscellany of Wit and Wisdom Jude Palmer

(Summersdale, £9.99)
There’s nothing like walking to get the feel of a place. Take this book with you and dip into its collection of humorous and evo-cative quotations and all manner of advice, from taking a warm footbath with bran after a long hike to the history of pub names.