So my first #20BooksOfSummer book is done and dusted, and I’m quite relieved, as I do have a bit of a reading schedule going on this summer! I have a few review books on their way and some more NetGalley wins. So I think I’m going to alternate 20Books books and non-20Books books for a bit and see how that goes. Gulp. Anyway, here’s Book 1.

William Sitwell – “Eggs or Anarchy”

(10 June 2017; The Works)

A biography of Fred Marquis, later Lord Woolton, covering his whole life but concentrating on his time as World War II Minister of Food. It’s full of fascinating details about how food supply and rationing worked from the controlling rather than consuming side, so acts as a good complement to all those social history books we read about coupons and queuing.

It turns out that Woolton’s enemy wasn’t only Hitler, but much closer to home; although he was appointed by Chamberlain, it was Churchill who was his boss for most of his time in the Ministry, and Churchill assumed he was going to fail and also proved an annoyance in his dislike of going over details and his dislike, in fact, of rationing (I mean, no one likes it, obviously, but he was very against it, even when it was clearly the sensible thing to do). We also get lots of detail on the whole Ministry’s evacuation to Colwyn Bay (including a special extra railway halt for Lord Woolton to descend), and the Tube trains that delivered food supplies to the people sheltering in the underground bomb shelters. I also didn’t realise that people ate out a lot more than they did in peacetime, often at the British Restaurants that Lord Woolton invented and his wife, Maud, went around opening – all interesting stuff.

In other surprises, I had no idea that there was only one type of cheese that was allowed to be produced (Government Cheddar) until the end of rationing in 1954, which apparently set the indigenous cheese producers right back. Is this correct? The internment of “aliens” is of course better known, but I’d not really thought about the massive effect on hotels and restaurants, who often had Continental European maitre d’s and staff.

Simon and Karen will be pleased to note a cameo from Beverley Nichols, who was sent to interview Lord Woolton. Unfortunately, our hero didn’t get a very good impression of the writer (of novels, gardening books and mysteries, according to the author):

It’s amazing to see what poor specimens of mankind these popular writers are.

Apart from a few typos, this book was good and well-done, my only reservation being the slightly odd ordering of the end sections. The War finishes and Lord Woolton moves on, but then we get quite a lot about the health of the nation and sugar taxes now, plus a double epilogue covering the experiences of two shopkeepers during the War (which is very interesting), before we get back to the end of Lord Woolton’s life. This does feel a bit confusing in what is otherwise a competent book on a less well-known topic.

This was Book #1 in my 20 Books of Summer 2018.

True to my plan, I’m currently reading my Iris Murdoch readalong book, the (thankfully) very short, “The Italian Girl”, which is a cracking read so far. Then it’s on to “The Athletic Brain”. If you’re doing 20 Books, how are you getting on? If not, what are you up to instead?