Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction by David N Myers (Oxford University Press, £7.99). This essential series of primers continues apace with this well-researched, elegantly written and elegiac survey of Jewish history. Despite the non-stop and widespread persecution of the Jews, Myers asks: why did they, of all the peoples of antiquity, survive to this day when the Romans, Persians, etc, morphed into other groups? Eschewing chronology for thematic scrutiny, the book takes in language, religion, politics and culture, spanning timelines and geography, much as the Jews have done throughout their history.

The Husband Hunters by Anne De Courcy (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20). De Courcy’s books are diverting and full of fascinating anecdotes and shrewd commentary. This one is no exception. Describing the fortunes of young American heiresses pushed into courtship and marriage with impoverished English aristocrats, she reminds the reader that social climbing and snobbery are abiding features in human nature. And one problematic marriage, between Jenny Jerome and Lord Randolph Churchill, did produce Sir Winston Churchill.

Challenges in Later Life by Mary Threadgold (Messenger Publications, £3.50). The author, a speech therapist who has specialised in helping older people in nursing homes with limited speech, has written a short, useful book based on her experiences. Discussing all the ways in which mental and physical frailty in older age often lead to impaired quality of life, she offers hope and encouragement to all professionals who work in this demanding area. Behind such care, Threadgold reminds the reader of St John XXIII’s words of advice: “To unite all minds in truth and hearts in charity.”

The House of the Dead by Daniel Beer (Allen Lane, £30). Subtitled “Siberian Exile under the Tsars”, this weighty book reminds us that, despite its faults, democratic government is better than autocracy. Hundreds of thousands of people were sent to Siberia during the 300 years of the Romanov dynasty, including common criminals and those who simply criticised the tsar or fell out with their village elders. Hoping to colonise their enormous, newly conquered eastern lands at the same time as enforcing penal servitude, the bureaucratic establishment barely grasped that brutalised, half-starved men would not make dependable and self-reliant colonisers.

Voices from the “Jungle” edited by Marie Godin (Pluto Press, £14.99). These “Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp” are a collection of vivid accounts by the inhabitants of this once-notorious camp. They illustrate what drives people to flee their own countries and put themselves into the hands of smugglers and people-traffickers. Although the “Jungle” is no more, new refugee camps spring up wherever desperate asylum seekers collect together. The book reminds us that behind the statistics are human beings longing for a normal, stable life.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection