My books (select a book to find out more):
The Real McCoy & 149 Other Eponyms
Published October 2018
The English language is rich with eponyms – words that are named after an individual – some better known than others. This book features 150 of the most interesting and enlightening specimens, delving into the origins of the words and describing the fascinating people after whom they were named.
Eponyms are derived from numerous sources. Some are named in honour of a style icon, inventor or explorer, such as pompadour, Kalashnikov and Cadillac. Others have their roots in Greek or Roman mythology, such as panic and tantalise. A number of eponyms, however, are far from celebratory and were created to indicate a rather less positive association – into this category can be filed boycott, Molotov cocktail and sadist.
Encompassing eponyms from medicine, botany, invention, science, fashion, food and literature this book uncovers the intriguing tales of discovery, mythology, innovation and infamy behind the eponyms we use every day. The Real McCoy is the perfect addition to any wordsmith’s bookshelf.
A Library Miscellany
Published February 2018
What can be found in the Vatican’s Secret Archive? How many books did Charles Darwin’s library aboard the Beagle hold? Which library is home to a colony of bats?
Bursting with potted histories, quirky facts and enlightening lists, this book explores every aspect of the library, celebrating not only these remarkable institutions but also the individuals behind their awe-inspiring collections.
From the ancient library at Alexandria to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, A Library Miscellany explores institutions both old and new, from the university library to that of the humble village. It opens the door to unusual collections such as herbaria, art libraries, magic libraries and even the library of smells, and charts the difficulties of cataloguing books deemed to be subversive, heretical, libellous or obscene.
Packed with unusual facts and statistics, this is the perfect volume for library enthusiasts, bibliophiles and readers everywhere.
The Book Lovers’ Miscellany
Published September 2017
Ever wondered how ink is made? Or what is the bestselling book of all time? Or which are the oldest known books in the world? Highbrow to lowbrow, all aspects of the book are celebrated and explored in The Book Lovers’ Miscellany.
From a list of unfinished novels, a short history of the comic, the story behind Mills and Boon and an entry on books printed with mistakes to a guide to the colours of Penguin paperback jackets and a list of the most influential academic books of all time.
Between these pages you will discover the history of paper, binding, printing and dust jackets; which books have faced bans; which are the longest established literary families; and which bestsellers were initially rejected. You can explore the output of the most prolific writers and marvel at the youth of the youngest published authors; learn which natural pigments were used to decorate a medieval bible; and what animal is needed for the making of vellum.
The ideal gift for every bibliophile, The Book Lovers’ Miscellany is full of fun facts, potted histories and curious lists, perfect for dipping into and sharing.
The Golden Age of the Garden
Published May 2017.
The relationship between England and its gardens might be described as a love affair; gardening is one of our national passions, rooted in history. The eighteenth century is often called the Golden Age of English gardening; as the fashion for formal pleasure grounds for the wealthy faded, a new era began, filled with picturesque vistas inspired by nature.
Charting the transformation in our landscapes through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, The Golden Age of the Garden brings the voices of the past alive in newspaper reports, letters, diaries, books, essays and travelogues, offering contemporary gardening advice, principles of design, reflections on nature, landscape and plants, and a unique perspective on the origins of our fascination with gardens.
Exploring the different styles, techniques and innovations, and the creation of many of the stunning spaces that visitors still flock to see today, this is an evocative and rewarding collection for all gardeners and garden-lovers seeking insight, ideas and surprises.
Bodleianalia: Curious Facts About Britain’s Oldest University Library
Published October 2016.
Which is the smallest book in the Bodleian Library? Who complained when their secret pen name was revealed in the library’s catalogue? How many miles of shelving are there in the Book Storage Facility? What is the story behind the library’s refusal to lend a book to King Charles I? And, what is fasciculing? The answers to these questions and many more can be found inside this intriguing miscellaneous collection of curious facts and stories about the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Home to more than 12 million books and a vast array of treasures including the Gutenberg bible, J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand-painted watercolours for The Hobbit, Shakespeare’s First Folio and four thirteenth-century copies of Magna Carta, the Bodleian Library is one of the most magnificent libraries in the world with a fascinating history.
Bodleianalia delights in uncovering some of the lesser known facts about Britain’s oldest university library. Through a combination of lists, statistics and bitesize nuggets of information, it reveals many of the quirks of fate, eccentric characters and remarkable events which have contributed to the making of this renowned institution. The perfect book for trivia-lovers and bibliophiles, it also offers readers a behind-the-scenes peek into the complex workings of a modern, world-class library in the twenty-first century.
Famous Last Words
Published April 2016.
Who said ‘I should have drunk more champagne’? Did Nelson really utter ‘Kiss me Hardy’ from his deathbed? Which statesman was, at the end, ‘bored with it all’? Which king begged, ‘Let not poor Nelly starve …’? An extraordinary number of deathbed sayings have been recorded over the years, some proving irresistible to embellishment, others displaying wry humour, still more showing remarkable lucidity in the final hours of life.
The last words of politicians, kings, queens, actors, philosophers, scientists and writers are sometimes profound, sometimes prescient, often strange, funny and usually poignant. They can reveal the essence of an extraordinary life or tell us something about a celebrated person’s final hours.
In our ultimate moments, it seems, we are not averse to cracking a joke, losing our temper or begging for help from those we are leaving behind. The most interesting, controversial and insightful of these exit lines are collected here, from deathbed desperation to the fondest of farewells.
Penguins, Pineapples and Pangolins: First Encounters with the Exotic
Published April 2016.
Can you remember seeing a giraffe for the first time? Tasting a pineapple? Touching a cactus? Probably not, because in these modern times everyone is very knowing – knowledge is at our fingertips and it can sometimes feel as if there is nothing new to discover. The awe and excitement from that moment has been lost because these objects and experiences have become ordinary to us.
But if we travel back in time just a few hundred years, before the age of globalisation, people were encountering new foods, animals, plants, peoples and cultures for the first time as overseas trade routes opened up. This new book reflects the wonderment and curiosity of these new experiences. Based on the historical collections of the British Library, it uses extracts from a wide variety of sources to reveal the reactions and thoughts of Europeans as they visited new places, tasted new foods and encountered strange animals, peoples and plants for the first time.
Publisher: British Library | Published UK: 7 April 2016 | Published USA: 1 August 2016 | Reviews: The Times | The Daily Telegraph | i Newspaper | Geographical Magazine | Madame Gilflurt | Mental Floss | One of QI’s 10 Most Interesting Books of 2016 | Interview for Okapi Books | Buy it now
How to Skin a Lion
Published May 2015.
How to Skin a Lion is a fascinating collection of miscellaneous historical advice, gathered from the magnificent archives of the British Library. Drawing on medieval manuscripts, Victorian manuals and self-help guides of the early twentieth century, the book uncovers an extraordinary range of guidance from etiquette to apiculture, medicine to mechanics. How to Skin a Lion offers an intriguing insight into a past with no modern conveniences, where navigating the social scene was fraught with perils and Google did not hold the answer to everything.
Publisher: British Library | Published: Spring 2015 | Reviews: Cambridge News | Madame Gilflurt | The Spectator | Washington Post | Mental Floss | Boston Globe | Cambridge Edition | Buy UK | Buy US | Buy in Chinese
The Georgian Art of Gambling
Gift book created to complement the British Library’s 2013 exhibition on the Georgians.
The Georgian Art of Gambling takes the reader on a miscellaneous tour through high and low society to reveal all aspects of gambling in the Georgian era. Descriptions of the most fashionable card and dice games of the day are interspersed with snippets of contemporary anti-gambling pamphlets, descriptions of the most famous (and degenerate) gambling houses, and accounts of the ruination of many high-profile aristocrats.
The Georgian Art of Gambling covers wagering on sports such as cockfighting, bull baiting, boxing and cricket to the more sedentary pleasures of the card table. Both the civilised (card games portrayed in the novels of Jane Austen) and the debauched (card sharps and loaded dice) are explored, offering the reader a fascinating glimpse into the extent of gambling in Georgian Britain.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Seeing The Bigger Picture is a beautiful infographics book covering a huge range of subjects including the environment, politics, overseas aid, crime and the economy – providing a truly global perspective on the issues that matter today. The data ranges from the serious to the quirky (and everything in between) each providing a different angle with which to compare and contrast countries around the world.
Schott’s Almanac was a practical and entertaining annual volume that told the real stories of the year. Covering everything from world politics to who wore what at the Oscars, Schott’s Almanac offered readers a wry look at the year.
Publisher: Bloomsbury | Published: 2005-2010