Courtesans, Convicts and Queens: John Purcell guides us through his 25 History Books of the Month.

by |October 17, 2016

johns-history-blog-topWelcome to Booktoberfest, Booktopia’s annual celebration of books, authors and of course you – our readers and book lovers!

In this post, I’ve selected the latest and hottest history books for you – everything from Peter FitzSimons’ Victory at Villers-Bretonneux, Roland Perry’s biography of a Parisian courtesan who became a countess and bestselling writer, and Julia Baird’s provocative biography of Queen Victoria.

If you order any of the history books from this post, you’ll go into the draw to win a non-fiction prize pack worth $1000! And, if you order any book from the Booktoberfest Showcase you’ll go into the draw to win a year’s supply of books. That’s a $50 gift voucher every week – for an entire year!

John Purcell’s Book of the Month

xvictoryVictory at Villers-Bretonneux
by Peter FitzSimons

On Anzac Day 1918, when the town of Villers-Bretonneux falls to the British defenders, it is the Australians who are called on to save the day, the town, and the entire battle.

It’s early 1918, and after four brutal years, the fate of the Great War hangs in the balance. On the one hand, the fact that Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks have seized power in Russia – immediately suing for peace with Germany – means that no fewer than one million of the Kaiser’s soldiers can now be transferred from there to the Western Front. On the other, now that America has entered the war, it means that two million American soldiers are also on their way, to tip the scales of … Learn more.

John Purcell chats about his History Books of the Month

John Purcell’s History Picks of the Month

celesteCeleste: Courtesan, Countess, Bestselling Author
by Roland Perry

Review by Caroline Baum

When I started reading this biography of Countess Céleste de Chabrillan I kept doing a double-take, thinking I was reading fiction as it was so full of improbable episodes of scandal, audacity and melodrama. This is a juicy account of the life of a woman whose appetites and daring led her to become one of France’s most celebrated courtesans, when such women wielded tremendous power and were the celebrities du jour.

Along the way she may have invented the can-can. The darling of the dance halls also takes part in death-defying chariot races, has an affair with one of France’s most celebrated writers, and when she’s shocked the seemingly unshockable Parisian society, she does it all again in Melbourne of all places. A riotous romp …  Learn more



xaustraliansAustralians: A Short History
by Thomas Keneally

Australians: A Short History, Thomas Keneally’s widely acclaimed three volume history of the Australian people from origins to Vietnam, gave us a robust, vibrant and page-turning narrative that brought to life the vast range of characters who have formed our national story.

Australians: A Short History brings these three volumes together and reintroduces us to the rich assortment of contradictory, inspiring and surprising characters who made a young and cocky Australia.

This is the story of the original Australians and European occupation of their land through the convict era to pastoralists, bushrangers and gold seekers, working men, pioneering women, the rifts wrought by World War I … Learn more.


victoriaVictoria: The Queen
by Julia Baird

When Alexandrina Victoria was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 June 1837, she was 18 years old and barely five feet tall. Her subjects were fascinated and intrigued; some felt sorry for her. Writer Thomas Carlyle, watching her gilded coach draw away from the coronation, said: ‘Poor little Queen, she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself; yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink.’

Queen Victoria is long dead, but in truth she has shaped us from the grave. She was a tiny, powerful woman who reigned for an astonishing 64 years. By the time of her Diamond Jubilee Procession in 1897, she reigned over a fourth of the inhabitable part of the world, had 400 million subjects, and had given birth to nine children. Suffrage, anti-poverty and anti-slaver … Learn more


xthe-story-of-australia-s-people-jpg-pagespeed-ic-zt96n5s-ywThe Story of Australia’s People
The Rise and Rise of a New Australia: Volume 2
by Geoffrey Blainey

In Volume II of The Story of Australia’s People, Geoffrey Blainey continues his account of the history of this country from the early Gold Rush to the present day, completing the story of our nation and its people.

When Europeans crossed the world to plant a new society in an unknown land, traditional life for Australia’s first inhabitants changed forever. For the new arrivals, Australia was a land that rewarded, tricked, tantalised and often defeated. From the Gold Rush to Land Rights and the Digital Age, Blainey brings to life the key events of more recent times that have shaped us into the nation and people we are today. Compelling, groundbreaking and brilliantly … Learn more

The History of England: Volume IV
by Peter Ackroyd

The fourth volume of Peter Ackroyd’s enthralling History of England begins in 1688 with a revolution and ends in 1815 with a famous victory.

In it, Ackroyd takes readers from William of Orange’s accession following the Glorious Revolution to the Regency, when the flamboyant Prince of Wales ruled in the stead of his mad father, George III, and England was – again – at war with France, a war that would end with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

Late Stuart and Georgian England marked the creation of the great pillars of the English state. The Bank of England was founded, as was the stock exchange, the Church of England was fully … Learn more.

Must Have Titles For Christmas


Did You Love?

xthe-bush-jpg-pagespeed-ic-nbawn8-og0The Bush
by Don Watson

Most Australians live in cities and cling to the coastal fringe, yet our sense of what an Australian is – or should be – is drawn from the vast and varied inland called the bush. But what do we mean by ‘the bush’, and how has it shaped us?

Starting with his forebears’ battle to drive back nature and eke a living from the land, Don Watson explores the bush as it was and as it now is: the triumphs and the ruination, the commonplace and the bizarre, the stories we like to tell about ourselves and the national character, and those we don’t. Via mountain ash and mallee, the birds and the beasts, slaughter, fire, flood and drought, swagmen, sheep and their shepherds, the strange and the familiar, the tragedies and the follies, the crimes and the myths and the hope – here is a journey that only our leading writer of non-fiction could take us on … Learn more



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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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