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we recommend...

Selected Letters of Berlioz ed. Hugh Macdonald (Faber, pounds 25). The romantic's Romantic pours out his heart in a series of colourful effusions.

The Five Giants by Nicholas Timmins (HarperCollins, pounds 25). Extraordinarily comprehensive chronicle of Britain's welfare state, full of historical gems.

The Oxford Book of Letters edited by Frank and Anita Kermode (Oxford, pounds 20). Joyous celebration of lettres intimes across the centuries from Thomas More to Groucho Marx via Herbert Henry Asquith.

The Letters of Charlotte Bronte Volume 1: 1829-1847 edited by Margaret Smith (Oxford, pounds 55). The author of Jane Eyre reveals herself as bitingly sarcastic and passionately ambitious.