Mention history as a subject and you may be greeted with groans at the thought of all those dates, or dismissed as irrelevant. Not so - history is humanity's story.
Indeed much of the history that used to be taught in schools early last century was literally that - stories without much basis in fact. Often these were actually the political spin of its time which had entered the public psyche as fact.
Josephine Tey gives the best illustration of this in her classic mystery Daughter of Time, one of my favourite books. A detective confined to a hospital bed starts questioning the supposed crimes of Richard III, a story that went unquestioned by most at the time, and starts to sniff out the truth.
Real historians are the investigative journalists of the past and it is their job to dig out the truth. The result can be a dense tome of interest to only academics, or an absorbing read. I've been checking out the latest good reads. If you are a fan of Wolf Hall or Philippa Gregory you might like to give one of them a whirl.
The Great Sea : A Human History of the Mediterranean
This history of the Mediterranean is the heaviest of the books on this list, literally as well as figuratively at nearly 800 pages. Nevertheless it is full of vivid stories about the people who lived around and traded across the Mediterranean, and interesting sidelights on their history. It might be one to dip into whilst on holiday.
The crusades not only still fire the imagination, they remain politically relevant today due to their imprint on muslim/christian relationships. Critics have called the author a "master of narrative" and this bestseller makes a page turner out of them. Bestseller or not, it is grounded in real academic authority and its authenticity can be relied on.
Violence, pillage and betrayal. This book contains all the elements of a novel and is just as readable. Featuring the grand villain The East India Company and the apparently less than adorable, but much lauded hero, Clive of India. It also explained to me how countries which started out trading with Britain soon found themselves being ruled by them. The answer is simple, the East India Company had their own huge army. You didn't get to say no when they knocked on your door and gave you their sales spiel.
A Short History of London.
I only realised recently that the city of London, as in "he is a financial trader in the City", refers to the location of the original walled area of the Roman city of London. It was small and even though Boudicca sacked it, it was so insignificant in early Norman times it didn't even make it into the Domesday Book. How then did it grow into the great city we now know? This is a readable personal history, by a well known journalist with an interest in its architecture and politics. It covers early times, but is more focused on relatively recent developments.
The King Over the Water
I am very happy to see this on our shelves. The Jacobite era is the part of British history that really confuses me. It is full of the famous and romantic - Bonny Prince Charlie, Culloden, the battle of the Boyne - you can't get more colourful. But it is also bewildering. The Stuarts vs the Hanoverians, Catholic vs Protestant, Scotland vs England and France vs England - it makes my head spin. Fortunately this book is very accessible even described by one critic as "swift and cinematic". I'm expecting it to sooth my furrowed brow.
- Find more historical resources on our history page
- Keep it Cantabrian with Local History
- History and geography posts