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Vanora Bennett's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Vanora Bennett recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Vanora Bennett's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Tipping the Velvet

Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty's dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins. less
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettIt is. It’s about a girl named Nan who goes off to the Pantomime Theatre, which is on the South Coast of England, and sees a girl named Kitty, who is a male impersonator, on the stage and falls in love with her. You’re not sure if it’s a sexual love or a girlish crush but she does go off to London with her and it does turn into a love affair. They begin living together but it becomes complicated... (Source)

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An ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and Cromwell's short-lived republic. Oxford is the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. A fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear the story of the death from four witnesses: an Italian...
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettThis one is really complicated – maybe I just like them complicated. Pears is also a really intelligent man and has oscillated between writing fiction for entertainment and academics. He’s lived in Italy and he’s a professor and this book sort of speaks to all of those things. On the face of it, it’s about a murder in 17th-century Oxford, but quite amazing things are going on that are creepy yet... (Source)

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The Name of the Rose

The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.” less
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettI read this a few years ago and it was one of those books you always remember because it creates a whole new way of thinking. I had no idea at the time that the medieval mindset was any different to the modern one. It is about the adventure of a Franciscan friar and his novice in medieval Italy and it is part murder mystery, part game with semiotics and medieval knowledge. At university I read... (Source)

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A Small Corner of Hell

Dispatches from Chechnya

The recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya is grim evidence of the danger faced by journalists passionately committed to writing the truth about wars and politics.  A longtime critic of the Russian government, particularly with regard to its policies in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the liberal Moscow newspaper Novaya gazeta.  Beginning in 1999, Politkovskaya authored numerous articles about the war in Chechnya, and she was the only journalist to have constant access to the region.

Politkovskaya's second book on the Chechen War,  A Small Corner of...
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettThere are no superlatives too superlative for Anna Politkovskaya, who, after three books and innumerable investigative reporting trips to Chechnya, was murdered, execution-style, outside her Moscow apartment in 2007. Politkovskaya, a social affairs reporter, was sent to Chechnya in 2000 by her liberal newspaper editor to cover the second, Putin-era, war, not because she knew about wars but... (Source)

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The Oath

A Surgeon Under Fire

When Chechen rebels took Moscow theatergoers hostage in October 2002, it tragically highlighted the ongoing conflict between Russia and its breakaway republic, Chechnya—a war that has claimed an estimated 200,000 Chechen lives in the past decade. Yet the true nature of the debacle lies behind the headlines. In The Oath, a heroic Chechen doctor relates his harrowing experiences in the line of fire to bear witness to this international calamity, and illuminates his remarkable people and their culture.

In 1994, when fighting threatened to break out in Chechnya, Baiev left his...
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettBaiev’s The Oath is probably the least well-known of my books and yet in some ways it’s the best. It’s an eyewitness account by an ordinary Chechen doctor who went home to stitch up wounds and served in the various makeshift hospitals around Grozny during both modern wars – both Yeltsin’s and the war that began under the next president, Vladimir Putin, in 2000. What’s unusual about it is not just... (Source)

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A Small Victorious War

Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettThe first two. A Small Victorious War is a very thorough, practical guide to the first of two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya. The authors interviewed everyone connected with the war, except maybe Boris Yeltsin. Their book tells the story of how and why newly independent Russia, in 1991, first gave its various ethnic minorities what the president called “as much independence as you can swallow” and... (Source)

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Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora Bennett. It is. This next one is a collection of authoritative essays on how Russians and the mountain peoples of the Caucasus (among other Muslims in the former Soviet world) have interacted, from the end of the 19th-century wars to the outbreak of a modern Russian-Chechen war in 1994. There are accounts of various Russian persecutions right through the 20th century, and how they only stifled but never... (Source)

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Hadji Murad

In 1851 Leo Tolstoy enlisted in the Russian army and was sent to the Caucasus to help defeat the Chechens. During this war a great Avar chieftain, Hadji Murád, broke with the Chechen leader Shamil and fled to the Russians for safety. Months later, while attempting to rescue his family from Shamil’s prison, Hadji Murád was pursued by those he had betrayed and, after fighting the most heroic battle of his life, was killed.

Tolstoy, witness to many of the events leading to Hadji Murád’s death, set down this story with painstaking accuracy to preserve for future generations the horror,...
Recommended by Vanora Bennett, and 1 others.

Vanora BennettYes. This is the story of the 19th-century war between colonial Russia and the tough, fiercely independent mountain tribes they needed to control if they were to have easy access to their new territory of Georgia, on the southern side of the Caucasus mountains. In those days the mountaineers were united against Russia under Imam Shamil. Shamil’s war went on for half a lifetime. Many of the... (Source)

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War And Peace

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

As Napoleon's army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and...

Vanora BennettAlthough it was published in 1869, War and Peace deals with events half a century earlier. This makes it one of the first historical novels – and, all these years later, it’s still the greatest. (Source)

Tendai HuchuTolstoy does something which is very unusual in War and Peace and which, for his time, was pretty profound: he sees the conditions of the ordinary soldier on the battlefield. (Source)

Niall FergusonAs a middle aged man, I react differently to Tolstoy than I did when I first read War and Peace at about 15. (Source)

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Wolf Hall

Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself.

His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

Neera Tanden@BarackObama Wolf Hall is a great book. (Source)

Vanora BennettThe Tudor monarchy has a big moment with England leaving the Church of Rome for love – that’s the moment every film and television writer is interested in. She turns it upside down. (Source)

Thomas PennHilary Mantel possesses an extraordinary historical imagination and her recreation of the world of the 1530s through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell is, I think, utterly convincing. (Source)

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