Gillian Tindall's Celestine: the story of a French village (Minerva, £7.99) is a modest little book, well on its way to becoming a modern classic. Starting with the discovery of a cache of letters written by admirers of the daughter of the local innkeeper in the obscure village of Chassignoles, Tindall recreates the social and political life of the small community from the 1850s to the Great War. Before the coming of the railway, places like Chassignoles were far more isolated - still almost medieval - than their English equivalents. Tindall charts its gradual assimilation to the modern world in vivid, often heart-breaking detail. Sadly she rather loses sight of Celestine herself, but fills her canvas with individuals and families over three generations. Celestine is the history of real people sensitively recreated from the most ordinary records. I recently recommended it to a friend's book group: it is the only book they have read which they all loved.
John Campbell's 'Margaret Thatcher: vol. II, The Iron Lady' is published by Cape.