Nicola Sturgeon used to be a ‘historical fiction geek’. But not any more

To borrow a turn of phrase from this newspaper’s Saturday quiz, what links the following? Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott; The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity by Anthea Callen; Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence; The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth; The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The answer is that all have been named by British prime ministers as their favourite books – by Blair, Edward Heath, Churchill, Thatcher and Gordon Brown respectively. The variety is astonishing and we should rejoice that our leaders aren’t slaves to literary fashion. But can these really be their favourite books? Thatcher’s choosing Freddy Forsyth has the ring of reality. All too easily we can imagine her enthralled by the plot to assassinate a French president and returning to the novel again and again in the hope of a different ending.

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