Lord Black is Deputy Chairman at Telegraph Media Group and Patron of Conservatives in Communications

My life-changing book now sits rather forlornly on the bottom of the bookshelf. I haven’t opened it for very many years – writing this article propelled me to do so – yet even the sight of its spine, with an orange flash at the top and a sketch of Queen Elizabeth I nestling below, brought the memories instantly  back.

“Looking at History” was a book written for children to explain “the everyday lives of ordinary people from the [time] when they lived in caves until the present.” Published in 1955 by A&C Black (no relation) its author, R. J. Unstead, was a prolific writer of books which sought to entice young people into the joy and importance of history. That’s what it did for me, and for which I shall ever be grateful to him. 

The truth though is that I didn’t actually read it myself. Every night – when I was two, or perhaps three – my Mother would sit by the bed and read it to me – the Romans, Tudors and Stuarts, Queen Victoria, Churchill. I can hear her still unfolding the past to me. What that book did was to instil into me a fascination with history which has guided my life – through school, Cambridge and into politics. 

Years later, my Mother also unveiled to me the magic of music when she introduced me to the wonder of Schubert – another life changing experience. 

It makes me pause to think. It’s sometimes not so much the book that changes your life – but who reads it to you. 

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This piece was written for The House Magazine.

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