John Lewis-Stempel's reading list

John Lewis-Stempel is born and bred Herefordshire. After years working as an academic, he returned to farming, working the land his family have lived on for over 700 years near the England-Wales border. 

He won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing in 2015 for his book The Private Life of an English Field and again in 2017 for Where Poppies Blow, a look at World War I soldiers and their relationship with nature. 

He is, by all accounts, one of the most prestigious chroniclers of the natural world in Britain. But what does he read for pleasure?

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier

I read Le Grand Meaulnes sitting in exactly the France profonde in which Alain-Fournier’s 1913 coming-of-age novel is set. It’s part fable, part love story (the greatest ever?), part requiem-in-advance for lost idealism – the author himself was killed in the Great War. And it is wholly fabulous. I think ‘Classic’ is bandied about too easily, but Le Grand Meaulnes is worthy of the word.

Under Occupation by Alan Furst

My thriller loyalty lies with Furst’s spy stories set in Europe in the thirties and forties. In Furst’s latest, the Resistance plot turns efficiently, but the real genius lies in his faultless evocation of period Paris. Furst by name, first by acclaim.

Complete Works by John Clare

Clare, the ‘peasant poet’, was the tribune of the English countryside: through him, nature spoke. I love, with the adoration of a disciple, Clare’s tender words towards his fellow creatures. More, in his verses, you can see the countryside how it once was – nature-rich. Clare’s poems are route maps – not to the past, but to the future.

A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin

‘What did you do in the war, Mummy?’ Won it, is the answer. Parkin’s history of the Battle of the Atlantic focuses new, original light on ‘the backroom girls’ of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, who found clever ways to protect counter-Allied convoys from the U-boat menace. In an ‘Up Yours, Hitler’ gesture, the WATU team christened their best tactic of evasion ‘Raspberry’. A salute to them.

Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

The Scandinavian author’s account of beetles, bugs and creepy-crawlies – ‘the ones who run our world’ – bit me, and would not let go. It is revelatory, it is fascinating, and it is easy on the page. More importantly, it has made me look at insects with appreciation... even Scutigera coleoptrata, the centipede with whom we share our house.


John Lewis-Stempel’s latest book, The Private Life of the Hare, is out now. 



  • The Private Life of the Hare


    ‘To see a hare sit still as stone, to watch a hare boxing on a frosty March morning, to witness a hare bolt . . . these are great things. Every field should have a hare.’

    The hare, a night creature and country-dweller, is a rare sight for most people. We know them only from legends and stories. They are shape-shifters, witches’ familiars and symbols of fertility. They are arrogant, as in Aesop’s The Hare and the Tortoise, and absurd, as in Lewis Carroll’s Mad March Hare. In the absence of observed facts, speculation and fantasy have flourished. But real hares? What are they like?

    In The Private Life of the Hare, John Lewis-Stempel explores myths, history and the reality of the hare. And in vivid, elegant prose he celebrates how, in an age when television cameras have revealed so much in our landscape, the hare remains as elusive and magical as ever.

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