/ History books

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Si dH - on 29 Aug 2012
I've decided I'd like to read some history books. I don't know very much history, having not studied it past the age of 13, and am now more interested. A couple of years ago I read 'Empire' by Niall Ferguson and really enjoyed it as well as learning a lot I hadn;' known, so I'm looking for similar things - books that are very readable and interesting (not textbooks!) but also factual and a bit educational.
I'm more interested in political and a bit of military history, possibly some social stuff. I'd prefer something broad rather than too focussed on one specific event, person or place.

What recommendations do people have?
Alan Taylor - on 29 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH: Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is a fun way to look at history.
jockster - on 29 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:
'Quartered Safe out Here' by George MacDonald Fraser is the best war autobiography I have read and recommended.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Quartered-Safe-George-MacDonald-Fraser/dp/0007105932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&...

Cheers, Si
verygneiss - on 29 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

'Europe' by Norman Davies. Quite a broad book (900+ pages), and eminently readable. I read it from beginning to end, and it's just crammed full of interesting stuff, and pretty creative cartography.
john arran - on 29 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk, is a great read covering a part of the world that few of us have much experience of (Central Asia) but as he explains it has always been a pivotal region between Europe, Russia, China and (British) India, and the political shenanigans there in the 18th and 19th centuries are a great basis upon which to build further knowledge of more recent international conflicts and disputes.
dissonance - on 29 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

Francis Pryor Britain BC is good, Britain AD is a tad weaker (not unexpected since BC is his speciality). Possibly at the slightly more heavy end of the spectrum though.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England gets some good reviews for a more relaxed view.

And, while aimed at kids for a light introduction John Farmans bloody history books work for the getting back into it.
Dave C on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:
Here's a few. I've chucked in the Book Depository links as there are summaries of the books at the bottom of each page if you want to know more about them.

A couple of big but great introductions to wider history are these from Susan Wise Bauer - she started off writing history books for children but these two volumes for an older readership are really rather good:
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/History-Ancient-World-Susan-Wise-Bauer/9780393059748
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/History-Medieval-World-Susan-Wise-Bauer/9780393059755

Three books by Daniel Boorstin with a broad brief:
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Discoverers-Daniel-Boorstin/9781842122273
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Creators-Daniel-Boorstin/9780679743750
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Seekers-Daniel-Boorstin/9780375704758

For something more modern you could do worse than Tony Judt's 'Postwar'.
http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Postwar-Tony-Judt/9780099542032

For readability anything by John Julius Norwich is worth a look (The Middle Sea, Venice, The Norman's in the South, Byzantium.)

PS If you're going to read Niall Ferguson then it's worth trying somebody like Eric Hobsbawm just to see how a historian's personal politics can affect their views on history.






Clarence - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

My top three:

Roy Porter, The Greatest Benfit to Mankind - a history of medicine and its effect upon society. Big but very readable.

H.H.Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero - Roman political history from the late republican machinations to the eventual failure of the Augustan reforms.

Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger, The Year 1000 - a snapshot of life in England at the end of the Anglo-Saxon period.
Carless - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

Barrow's Boys is a very readable account of British exploration approx 1810-1850

Have a look here
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barrows-Boys-Fergus-Fleming/dp/1862075026
Ramblin dave - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:
The English Civil War: A People's History by Diane Purkiss is pretty excellent. Makes you realise how little you know about the Civil War beyond the 1066 And All That type "facts" you remember from school.

It's kind of specific to the one "event" (ie the Civil War), but that's a long event with lots of far-reaching roots and consequences. Really good stuff.
Wonko The Sane - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH: Quite light hearted, and not exactly what you've asked for, but I would REALLY recommend downloading the history of the world in 100 objects from BBC Iplayer.
lowersharpnose - on 30 Aug 2012
alanw - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH: If you want something readable then Tom Holland is very good. He's getting a bit of notice at the minute with his latest book 'Shadow of the Sword' about the early period of Islam but I think his previous books were better - 'Persian Fire' about the Greco-Persian wars and 'Rubicon' about Roman history were both excellent.

'The Crusades' by Thomas Asbridge was a fantastic book about a crazy period in history. Told in a very balanced way.

Other authors worth looking at are Alison Weir and Ian Mortimer depending on what period/person you're interested in.

I'd also beware of verygneiss' recommendation of Europe by Norman Davis. I'm currently about a quarter of the way through it. It's absolutely brilliant but daunting given the scale of the task he set himself - there are subjects I've read whole books on that he covers in a paragraph. I think it would be very good to have as a reference book.

I'd add another vote for 'The Great Game' which was great.

almost sane - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:
Another vote for George MacDonald Fraser, both his Flashman books and his autobiographical stuff.

If you want to read some of the stuff that history writers use as source materials, then the following are available in English translations and are worth a read. BUT - they are written for a different time and so they are not written as people would write history today.

Herodotus - the histories. A wonderful overview of recent history and of the world as it is today, but written when "today" was about 475 BC, and "recent history" was back to 600BC. Most excellent.

Josephus - the Jewish War. Written about 75 AD. One of the most attractive and repellant aspects of this book is Josephus himself. He is such a self-publicist and has such an obvious agenda to sell that you can see how it distorts his story. An interesting guy to read about, but I most definitely would not want to have spent any time near him, and certainly not rely on him.

The book of Judges and the book of Ruth in the Bible. If you get past the preaching, there are some fascinating insights into life in the Middle East round about the time of the Bronze Age Collapse and its aftermath. The only contemporary source of that time and place I am aware of that focusses on the life of ordinary folk and not just the great kings and high priests.

The journey of Marco Polo.

That should be enough to get you going :)
Trangia - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Alan Taylor:
> (In reply to Si dH) Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is a fun way to look at history.

Agreed
Si dH - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:
Thanks for the recommendations all - loads to go at here!
Si
In reply to Si dH: Andrew Marr's "A History of Modern Britain" fits the bill.
jackcarr on 30 Aug 2012 - 5ac42406.bb.sky.com
In reply to Si dH:

Almost anything by David Landes - The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Revolution in Time and The Unbound Prometheus and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond are very good overviews of why the world is the way it is now.

In terms of a series, there are four books by Eric Hobsbawm which cover the late 1700's to 1991. The last one, the Age of Extremes 1914-1991 was on a reading list for my degree but I read all the preceding ones and they are great reads, even if you don't agree with his left-leaning politics.

Correlli Barnett and John Keegan are both very good military historians, depending on what time period you're after.
Bobling - on 30 Aug 2012
In reply to Si dH:

John Prebble's "Culloden" - fascinating especially if you spend time in Bonnie Scotland.
Shona Menzies - on 01 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

My god get the mind bleach!

Please don't EVER read anything by that imperialist apologist and propagandist Niall Ferguson.

DO YOUR SELF A FAVOUR !!

Get some Trotsky as in The history of the Russian revolution or any of Lenin's works.
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AJM - on 01 Sep 2012
In reply to Shona M:

Whilst he does clearly think that the empire deserves a better writeup than it has had in recent years, I didn't think that spoiled the book, I found it quite readable, and whilst there were some arguments to try and justify or excuse some of the blacker areas of the tale there were plenty of black areas included, so it wasn't only a congratulatory account.

Si, I've had a bunch with me on holiday recently and enjoyed The Ascent of Money by NF also. Trys to put some of the modern financial system into some sort of context by going through the history of things like stock markets and bond markets and the like. Informative if thats the sort of thing you want to learn more about. I also ploughed through a book on the civil war (Civil War: the wars of the three kingdoms I think it was, can't remember the author) in Loup, and whilst it wasn't the lightest of reads I found it very interesting.
Postmanpat on 01 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

The Struggle for mastery by David Carpenter covers the two centuries of British history and norman domination after the conquest. Detailed stuff but fascinating. As much about Scotland and Wales as England.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-History-Britain-Struggle-1066-1284/dp/0140148248

Niall Ferguson is also good. Rumour has it Shona keeps the full set next to her bed.
Woubits on 01 Sep 2012 - cpc9-brad20-2-0-cust10.barn.cable.virginmedia.com

I'm somewhat surprised that nobody has mentioned this yet:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-English-Working-Penguin-History/dp/0140136037/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&...

Utterly essential, IMHO. One of the great books in any field of study.
Shona Menzies - on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Postmanpat:
> (In reply to Si dH)
>
> Niall Ferguson is also good. Rumour has it Shona keeps the full set next to her bed.

No Postie its near my BIN not my bed,and its just to remind people where the garbage goes.
Dr.S at work - on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:
I recently (well a year ago) enjoyed "the last of the free" by James hunter, interesting read about the highlands and islands.

another vote for 'Empire', sorry Shona ;-), but agree that it may be a good example of how the writer can influence the history.

For a bit of a light read I quite like some of the 'counterfactual' history - try "what if?" and "more what if?"
almost sane - on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

"A history of the world in 100 objects" by Neil MacGregor is a really interesting way of approaching history.

Access to the podcasts is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/exploreraltflash/
Or you can buy the book.

Neil MacGregor picks 100 objects from the British Museum and then examines the history that can be gleaned from that object. Sometimes his focus is mostly on the politics, sometimes the human story, sometimes the technology, sometimes the art...
But rather than trying to give a coherent narrative of history, Neil MacGregor's approach gives a series of snapshots which you can take in any order, and which over time builds a set of mental pictures in your head.

I have been listening to the podcasts and haven't finished yet, but I really like it.
John2 - on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Clarence: I can't believe that you recommended From The Gracchi to Nero. Even the ancient history master at my school, whose nickname of Crumb understated the desiccated nature of his personality, admitted that that was a dull and badly written book.
Gordonbp - on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Alan Taylor:
> (In reply to Si dH) Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is a fun way to look at history.

But pretty fanciful and not particularly "historic"....
Yrmenlaf on 02 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

I'm quite passionate about pre-Conquest England, so I'd commend 500AD by Simon Young (purports to be a report by an expedition sent by the Pope to investigate the state of these islands)

Also, nothing wrong with original material: An Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede of Jarrow (written in about 735AD) is good, and very accessible.

Y.
Rob Davies - on 16 Sep 2012
In reply to Shona Menzies:
> Get some Trotsky as in The history of the Russian revolution or any of Lenin's works.

I'm just curious to ask someone who has actually read this stuff: Do the books published under Vladimir Ilyich's name actually give any significant role to Trotsky? I'm just guessing that by the time they were written Trotsky had become an unperson.

Daithi O Murchu - on 16 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

The Civil War A Narrative by Shelby Foote

a superb piece of writing

3 volumes about 2700 pages ( about the American civil war)


The crucible of War by Fred Anderson ( about the 7 years war and fate of British empire in North America)

about 700 pages
dave frost - on 16 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH: The secret hunters was apparently well researched but don't think its based on actual historic fact. Its a good read though, as are Ranulph Fiennes' other books.

Cheers
Dave
Dave C on 17 Sep 2012
In reply to Daithi O Murchu:
> (In reply to Si dH)
>
> The Civil War A Narrative by Shelby Foote
>
> a superb piece of writing
>
> 3 volumes about 2700 pages ( about the American civil war)


Seconded, a masterpiece and one of the greatest works of American history.
Postmanpat on 17 Sep 2012
In reply to Rob Davies:
> (In reply to Shona Menzies)
> [...]
>
> I'm just curious to ask someone who has actually read this stuff: Do the books published under Vladimir Ilyich's name actually give any significant role to Trotsky? I'm just guessing that by the time they were written Trotsky had become an unperson.

You may have to wait from some time to hear from Shona who it would appear has become an "unperson" herself. But Trotsky was unpersoned by his rival Stalin after Lenin's death.
Bruce Hooker - on 17 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH:

I'm rereading volume 1 of Churchill's "A History of the English Speaking Peoples". In four small volumes and they are as readable now as when they were written 70 years ago.

Another book which has always seemed an ambitious one is "The Penguin History of the World" by J M Roberts, even in 1150 pages it seems good going, does what it sets out to do.

For older and free books, anything by Tacitus, the one about the conquest of Britain and the ones about the decadence of Rome come to mind and for British history, the work of Nennius, Gildas, Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are all to be found free on the Medieval Sourcebook http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.asp.
wbo - on 18 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH: Most of Lenins work that I read was pre revolution and I don't recall any mention of Trotsky at all. I have read Trotskys Permanant Revolution, and wouldn't recommend it to anyone - if you're not already interested enough to look for it yourself you'll find it unreadable - the same is true of Vladimir Ilyich and Marx himself in all honesty. I have a whole pile of unreadable stuff at home.
As mentioned the Great Game is very interesting, and if you like recent military history Gary Sheffield writes digestible, sensible things. Norman Davies 'Europe' also gets a like from me as well even tho' it does go a bit fast. It was the only book I took with me on a five week trip to Australia some years ago.
Bjartur i Sumarhus on 18 Sep 2012
In reply to Si dH: I have based all my knowledge on Japanese in the 1600's and sailing navigation of that same period on reading Shogun. It's never let me down.

Am currently reading I Claudius. Historical fiction again. Very enjoyable
In reply to wbo: Some of the Marx and Engels stuff is readable. I had to read big chunks of Capital Vol. 2 for my degree though, and remember it being rather heavy going to say the least, although I do find Marx writes clearly - it's just very dense and very long. It was easier than any of the Kant I tried reading though!
Rob Davies - on 21 Sep 2012
In reply to Game of Conkers: Funny, I found I, Claudius unreadable as Graves seems to want to cram in all the period detail he had ever read - but his biography Goodbye to All That is brilliant book.
Bruce Hooker - on 21 Sep 2012
In reply to Rob Davies:

There's a sequel called "Claudius the God" IIRC. I enjoyed both of them but years ago at school.
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