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This Just In

Interesting new titles in April

Life in a Cold Climate by Laura Thompson

Head of Zeus
Life in a Cold Climate by Laura Thompson

Nancy Mitford was, in the words of her sister Lady Diana Mosley, 'very, very complex'. Her highly autobiographical early work, the biographies and novels of her more mature French period, her journalism, and the vast body of letters to her family, friends such as Evelyn Waugh, and to the great love of her life, Gaston Palewski, all tell an intriguing story.

Drawing from these, as well as conversations with Mitford's two surviving sisters, acquaintances and colleagues, prize-winning author Laura Thompson has fashioned a portrait of a contradictory and courageous woman.

Approaching her subject with wit, perspicacity and huge affection, Thompson makes her serious points lightly, eschewing clichés about the eccentricities of the Mitford clan. Life in a Cold Climate is full of the sound of Mitfordian laughter; but tells also the often paradoxical and complex story beneath the smiling and ever elegant façade.

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In Montmartre by Sue Roe

Penguin Press
In Montmartre by Sue Roe

In Montmartre is a colourful history of the birth of Modernist art as it arose from one of the most astonishing collections of artistic talent ever assembled. It begins in October 1900, as a teenage Pablo Picasso, eager for fame and fortune, first makes his way up the hillside of Paris’s famous windmill-topped district. Over the next decade, among the studios, salons, cafés, dance halls, and galleries of Montmartre, the young Spaniard joins the likes of Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi, Gertrude Stein, and many more, in revolutionizing artistic expression.
Sue Roe has blended exceptional scholarship with graceful prose to write this remarkable group portrait of the men and women who profoundly changed the arts of painting, sculpture, dance, music, literature, and fashion. She describes the origins of movements like Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism, and reconstructs the stories behind immortal paintings by Picasso and Matisse. Relating the colourful lives and complicated relationships of this dramatic bohemian scene, Roe illuminates the excitement of the moment when these bold experiments in artistic representation and performance began to take shape.

A thrilling account, In Montmartre captures an extraordinary group on the cusp of fame and immortality. Through their stories, Roe brings to life one of the key moments in the history of art.

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Ministers at War by Jonathan Schneer

Basic Books
Ministers at War by Jonathan Schneer

In May 1940, with France on the verge of defeat, Britain alone stood in the path of the Nazi military juggernaut. Survival seemed to hinge on the leadership of Winston Churchill, whom the King reluctantly appointed Prime Minister as Germany invaded France. Churchill's reputation as one of the great twentieth-century leaders would be forged during the coming months and years, as he worked tirelessly first to rally his country and then to defeat Hitler. But Churchill—regarded as the saviour of his nation, and of the entire continent—could not have done it alone.

As prize-winning historian Jonathan Schneer reveals in Ministers at War, Churchill depended on a team of powerful ministers to manage the war effort as he rallied a beleaguered nation. Selecting men from across the political spectrum—from fellow Conservative Anthony Eden to leader of the opposing socialist Labor Party Clement Attlee—Churchill assembled a War Cabinet that balanced competing interests and bolstered support for his national coalition government. The group possessed a potent blend of talent, ambition, and egotism. Led and encouraged by Churchill, the ministers largely set aside their differences, at least at first. As the war progressed, discord began to grow. It reached a peak in 1945: with victory seemingly assured, Churchill was forced by his Minsters at War to dissolve the Government and call a General Election, which, in a shocking upset, he lost to his rival Attlee.

Authoritatively recasting our understanding of British high politics during World War II, Schneer shows that Churchill managed the war effort by managing his team of supremely able yet contentious cabinet members. The outcome of the war lay not only in Churchill's individual brilliance but also in his skill as an executive, and in the collective ability of men who muted their personal interests to save the world from barbarism.

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Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Knopf
Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoevsky

From the acclaimed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.

In 1849 Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years at hard labour in a Siberian prison camp for his participation in a utopian socialist discussion group. The account he wrote after his release, based on notes he smuggled out, was the first book to reveal life inside the Russian penal system. The book not only brought him fame but also founded the tradition of Russian prison writing.

Notes from a Dead House (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) is filled with vivid details of brutal punishments, shocking conditions, feuds and betrayals, and the psychological effects of the loss of freedom, but it also describes moments of comedy and acts of kindness. There are grotesque bathhouse and hospital scenes that seem to have come straight from Dante’s Inferno, alongside daring escape attempts, doomed acts of defiance, and a theatrical Christmas celebration that draws the entire community together in a temporary suspension of their grim reality.

To get past government censors, Dostoevsky made his narrator a common-law criminal rather than a political prisoner, but the perspective is unmistakably his own. His incarceration was a transformative experience that nourished all his later works, particularly Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky’s narrator discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. His story reveals the prison as a tragedy both for the inmates and for Russia; it is, finally, a profound meditation on freedom: “The prisoner himself knows that he is a prisoner; but no brands, no fetters will make him forget that he is a human being.”

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