My dad loved history, and I inherited his love. It's fascinating how events unfold, how the unexpected so often emerges, how history is all around us, infusing everyday things with depth, meaning and interest.
I guess that's why I use unusual lenses to examine it: small everyday things like postage stamps, or big extravagant (and wonderfully wacky) things like the Eurovision Song Contest. Both turn out to be marvellous companions on the history journey, always coming up with something fresh, unusual and delightfully apt to say.
A History of Modern Europe through
the World's Greatest Song Contest
I've been a Eurovision fan since watching Sandie Shaw padding to victory in 1967 - and I'm also intrigued by the history of my home continent and annoyed how little people know about it. So mixing the two enthusiasms was an obvious win. Who were Live Report and what happened to their song? What was the Spaak Report and what was its role in the founding of the original EEC? It's all here, in a book that is a perfect gift for every Eurovision fan - or for anyone wanting to understand how modern Europe came to be the way it is - and, by extension, the relation-ship Britain can have with the rest of Europe in the future.
"A feast for every Eurovision fan." Graham Norton
"Surprisingly erudite on Europe... A timely, readable and fun book."
Tim Judah, author, The Serbs
“This book definitely gets douze points from me.” Mel Giedroyc
"Witty, entertaining, wise and informative."
Sir Stephen Wall, UK Permanent Representative to the EU, 1995 - 2000
"A cornucopia of information and everything I never knew I wanted to know about modern history and the Eurovision Song Contest."
Katrina Leskanich, Katrina and the Waves, the UK's last winner back in 1997
A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps
Years ago, I was clearing an attic and found an old stamp album that I had (partially) filled as a boy. I decided to fill in some of the gaps - and became ever more fascinated in the stamps and the stories behind them. What was Britain like when this stamp was produced? What messages is it trying to convey and why? I found that my burgeoning collection told Britain's story from 1840, when Britain led the world by producing the first stamp (the Penny Black) to the present day.
"I wanted to thank you for the breadth of knowledge, the humour, the even-handedness and the gentle humanity with which you organized, selected and presented your story. You found a marvelous balance between caring about the subject but never taking the cheap shot or glib generalization... I'm now going to find that old album from my childhood."
Ron Wilson, Reader
A History of America in 36 Postage Stamps
After the success of First Class, I was commissioned to do the same about the USA. This required a lot more research, as I had large gaps in my knowledge of both American history and American philately. This turned into a fascinating journey of discovery. The US has produced some of the most beautiful stamps in the world (as well as some of the funniest), and the story of how 13 colonies clinging to the coast of a vast continent became the most powerful nation on earth is mesmerizing.
"Thrumming with the patriotic drumbeat of a military march, this enjoyable history is presented with a true collector's exuberance."
Bridget Thoreson, Booklist
"This engaging survey will appeal to both history buffs and stamp enthusiasts." Pamela Toler, History in the Margins
This is a fun, light work based on the premise that if you find an old stamp album in your attic, it will be full of places you have never heard of. Travancore, Cundinamarca, Danish West Indies, Stellaland, Fernando Poo... So where are these places, and what are their stories? They turn out to be fascinating. I co-authored it with Stuart Laycock, author of the bestselling 'All the Countries we've ever Invaded'.
"A genuinely enjoyable read."