Missing Masterpieces, Gert-Rudolf Flick, Merrell, £40
Why do people steal well-known paintings? After all, it is unlikely they plan to hang them in their sitting room, and they can't feasibly consider being able to get away with selling them. With such thoughts in mind, I was drawn to a book entitled Missing Masterpieces - a biography of a number of great paintings and works of art that have just vanished over the centuries.
Perhaps lost, may be stolen or even just destroyed - no one knows. The majority of paintings that Gert-Rudolf Flick writes about were sufficiently renowned at the time to have been recorded and copied.
However, while their existence is not in doubt, their fate very much is. The mystery of their disappearances, combined with Flick's lucid and well-researched prose, is what makes this book so enchanting.
He traces a range of famous missing masterpieces, and in doing so tells us about some of the greatest art collectors of all time, from the famous such as Charles I and Christina, Queen of Sweden to the more obscure.
Among these masterpieces that have simply disappeared include works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Titian and many other highly acclaimed artists.
I'm not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti, Canongate, £12
Many writers have attempted capturing the world as viewed by children. Few have succeeded, and so on reading the synopsis of this book I was initially sceptical. However I was wrong to be. This is an emotionally charged book about a child forced to choose between moral and family ties. It's a story of lost innocence, childhood confusion, and filial loyalty.
Set in a poverty stricken, small village, made up of five houses in southern Italy, it recounts how a child's inquisitive nature unfolds a terrible secret. Nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, while playing with his friends in the wheat fields around the village, discovers a boy tied up and imprisoned in an isolated farmhouse. Michele recognises him as the young boy, Filippo, who be has seen on television as the victim of a kidnapping. It soon becomes clear to Michele that the village, and most notably his father, is very much involved in this abduction.
The reader is invited to enter two worlds - that faced by Michele, and the tragedy involving the adults. Ammaniti is a talented novelist, who became the youngest winner of the prestigious Viareggio-Repaci prize for Fiction in 2001. It is not surprising that this book has been translated into twenty languages.
Author of the quarter Andrew Roberts
Thank you for agreeing an interview with MQ.
What is your next project? The life of Dr Henry Kissinger.
When writing a book, have you got a preferred place of work, and a favoured writing routine?
Yes; I like to be abroad when writing books, and I start very early in the morning, usually around 5am. I sleep every afternoon - like Churchill!
What do you do to relax?
I indulge in long, complicated either macabre or self-glorifying day-dreams.
What are you reading at
the moment? Twenty-one books for the Elizabeth Longford Historical Biography and the Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Prizes
Who is your favourite author? Kenneth Rose: an impeccable researcher, genuine wit and literary stylist of genius.
What prompted you to write 'Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership'? The present tendency of socalled 'revisionist' historians to denigrate the reputation of Sir Winston Churchill took me to such a pitch of fury that the book was as much a chance of getting something off my chest as setting the record straight.
What did you find most surprising in researching for the book?
That Hitler was as loathsome personally as he was politically - that took some doing!
If you hadn't been a historian, what profession would you have gone into?
I was a merchant banker for two years after going down from Cambridge, but so spectacularly bad a one that I had to write history books instead. If I couldn't be an historian, I'd try to become an astronaut - the job predicted of me by a gypsy fortune-teller when I was six.
You have written books on
a number of different leaders in the 19th and 20th Century ranging from Napoleon and Wellington, to Lord Halifax, Hitler and Churchill. Who did you most enjoy researching? Lord Salisbury; because of the glorious archives of the Cecil family at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire; an unutterable joy for any historian.
Web site created by Mark Griffin