John Maytham's Books: War, an ornithologist's love story and the power of flags

Listen to John's book reviews for the week...

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

October 1918: the war on the Western Front is all but over. Desperate for one last chance of promotion, the ambitious Lieutenant Henri d'Aulnay Pradelle sends two scouts over the top and secretly shoots them in the back to incite his men to heroic action once more.

And so is set in motion a series of devastating events that will inextricably bind together the fates and fortunes of Pradelle and the two soldiers who witness his crime: Albert Maillard and Douard Pricourt.

Back in civilian life, Albert and Douard struggle to adjust to a society whose reverence for its dead cannot quite match its resentment for those who survived. But the two soldiers conspire to enact an audacious form of revenge against the country that abandoned them to penury and despair, with a scheme to swindle the whole of France on an epic scale.

Meanwhile, believing her brother killed in action, Douard's sister Madeleine has married Pradelle, who is running a little scam of his own...

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

For Meridian Wallace — and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s — being ambitious meant being an outlier.

Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian has been obsessed with birds, and she’s determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off.

But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him

Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags by Tim Marshall

When you see your nation's flag fluttering in the breeze, what do you feel? For thousands of years, flags have represented our hopes and dreams.

We wave them. Burn them. March under their colours. And still, in the 21st century, we die for them. Flags fly at the UN, on the Arab street, from front porches in Texas. They represent the politics of nations and Tim Marshall's book explores the power and politics imbued in flags.

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