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History Books

The easiest way to build a library that reflects your past and personality is with the help of the storied British bookshop Heywood Hill. 

Heywood Hill in Mayfair

Empty walls in a new house always create a rather enticing conundrum. Do you buy more artwork? Do you fill them with photographs? Cover them in expensive wallpaper? Or do you hanker after something more old-fashioned, more thought-provoking and arguably more enduring? If so, then you should really get some books. 

The easiest way to build a library that reflects your past and personality is with the help of the storied British bookshop Heywood Hill, whose capable staff promise to hunt down every rare first edition in circulation, pick out the best of the newly published novels and find the most striking of coffee table books. 

“There’s something very intimate about our bookshop,” says Nicky Dunne, managing director of Heywood Hill and the son-in-law of the Duke of Devonshire, who owns the Mayfair-based store. “We’ve often been described as the biggest little bookshop in the world, because even though we have thousands of customers in 60 countries, we take the time get to know each and every one of them, so we can understand exactly what they’re interested in, be it 19th century Italian poetry, German Expressionism, Brutalist architecture or spy novels.” 

It doesn’t hurt that Heywood Hill has the kind of intellectual and aristocratic past you only find in cities like London. It was opened in 1936 and Nancy Mitford joined the team soon afterwards, working at the bookshop throughout the war—and later immortalising it in The Pursuit of Love. John Le Carré was another fan who referenced his favorite bookshop in his fiction, setting a major scene there in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

“Yes, we do have a rich, lovely past,” says Dunne. “It’s all so English and I find that is what all our customers have in common, a love of English literature and England itself,” says Dunne. “And we have some wonderful stories about themdiplomats who have proposed in the shop through a book inscription, grandparents who have created literary legacies for their grandchildren. It shows how important books can become in the fabric of our lives.” 

To create a library that fits into the fabric of your life, Dunne will enlist of some the most famous authors of our time to help Jung Chang, a close friend of his, recently created a list of recommended books on modern China. “I think it’s wonderful that so many foreigners love our bookshop,” says Dunne. “A third of our customers are in the US and we’re expanding into Asia now. Ever since Nancy Mitford worked here we have been an important destination for people around the world looking for honest advice on what to read and what to collect.” 

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Time Issue, June 2016. To subscribe contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.