First up, the books.
If you are a history fan, we have a bit of focus on this year’s big centenary events, with a look back to the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. Philip Orr takes on The Road to the Somme, as he lets the “men of the Ulster Division tell their story”, one that ended in the death of thousands of them. Richard Grayson reminds us that it wasn’t just Ulster Volunteers who fell in World War 1, in his Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists fought and died together in the First World War.
There are many books out to mark the Easter Rising. Among the best received has been a new edition of Charles Townshend’s Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, described as “vivid, authoritative and gripping”. Setting that episode in a wider context of the struggle for Irish independence is Diarmuid Ferriter’s A Nation and Not A Rabble: the Irish Revolution 1913-23.
Recent Northern Irish history and our ongoing – but failed – attempts to get to grips with it is, I suppose, the unifying theme of the next set of books selected as prizes. David Park’s masterful work The Truth Commissioner has just been given the film treatment and will be broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday night. The book itself is way more than a history lesson and transcends the usual limitations of the political thriller.
Stuart Neville won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Thriller for The Twelve, a modern, tense and violent portrait of a man trying to escape his past. Up there with anything of this genre around today. Another book getting rave reviews is The Good Son, by Belfast-born Paul McVeigh. Published last year, it tells the tale of Mickey and the summer between primary and secondary school in Troubles-era Northern Ireland.
Brian Rowan’s Unfinished Peace provides up-to-date reflections on how we deal with the past – from the author himself and from a series of contributors from the world of politics and beyond.
I seem to recall local hotelier Bill Wolsey telling me that his favourite book is The Ragged Trousered Philanthopists. I may have made that up or it may be true. Either way, the classic work by Robert Tressell features in our great big box of prizes – this edition features a foreword by the late Tony Benn.
Although his best days were still decades away, Winston Churchill was already a government minister by the time Tressell’s work was published. Subject of many biographies, one of the most recent and acclaimed has been The Churchill Factor by none other than London mayor and Brexit booster Boris Johnson.
With more recent reflections on the state of politics today is Owen Jones, due to speak in Belfast this Thursday evening and author of two best-selling books, most recently, The Establishment: And How They get Away With It. Caitlin Moran is one of the UK’s favourite and funniest commentators; her How To Be A Woman is a no holds barred feminist take on modern life.
Shami Chakrabarti may have announced she is standing down as head of Liberty, but she is very much in demand among broadcasters who want a fearless and articulate voice to speak up for human rights. On Liberty is her take on how rights are under threat and need defending like never before.
Casting an eye beyond our shores, most people shudder at the brazen brutality and apparent military success of Islamic State. Helping us understand the phenomenon and its context are two recent works. Patrick Cockburn’s The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, and Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror, by former soldier and counter-terrorism specialist David Kilcullen.