10 Best History Books | The Independent


Even if the past has remained where it is, this does not prevent the great scholars from constantly returning to excavate the ancient terrain, to study it carefully from all angles and to prick it gently with a stick. As a result, there have been some fantastic history books written over the past couple of years, from Mary Beard’s energetic and fresh look at ancient Rome, to Andrew Roberts’ hugely impressive new study of a certain Monsieur Bonaparte. Here we pick out some recently released page-turners for anyone with a thirst for knowledge.

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1. The English and Their History by Robert Tombs: RRP £14.99, Penguin

At over a thousand pages, it might seem odd to describe this as a compendium of English history, but that’s essentially what it’s all about. There’s not an ounce of fat on it, as Tombs embarks on an epic journey through the ages to find out what it really means to be English.

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2. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard: £9.99 RRP, Profile Books

The charismatic historian breathes new life into ancient Rome – from its beginnings as a small, relatively harmless village, to its fire-breathing heyday as one of history’s most notorious superpowers. It covers 1000 years of galloping civilization and is hugely rewarding.

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3. Headstrong – 52 women who changed science and the world by Rachel Swaby: £12.99 RRP, Broadway Books

Everyone’s heard of Marie Curie, but here are dozens of awe-inspiring scientific pioneers who may have slipped under the radar over the years. Freelance journalist Rachel Swaby tells the stories of 52 remarkable women, each waiting for a moment in the spotlight, like mathematician great Ada Lovelace and DNA science genius Rosalind Franklin.

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4. Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics by Rob Baker: RRP £14.99, Amberley Publishing

A collection of weird, insightful and intriguing stories from Rob Baker’s fabulous London history website, Another Nickel in The Machine. The book celebrates the capital’s history and culture in the 20th century, from socialites to criminals. All stories are presented with great joy and enthusiasm.

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5. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine: RRP £20 Atlantic Pounds

A story of the world told through man’s relationship with the sea, it takes you back to pre-Columbian travel and far beyond. It examines the place of navigation in globalization and how the oceans are not only used to exchange goods, but also to propagate cultures, languages, religions and people.

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6. Stalin’s English by Andrew Lownie: £9.99 RRP, Hodder and Stoughton

This biography of Guy Burgess – the ‘Cambridge spy’, recruited in the 1930s, who passed intelligence to Soviet Russia – is not only an impeccably researched biography, but also an in-depth cultural study and thriller. genuine espionage. , tension that gnaws at the joints. His drunkenness / espionage report sometimes evokes a certain 007.

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seven. Men at War: What Fiction Tells Us About Conflict, from the Iliad to Catch-22 by Christopher Coker: RRP £27.50, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd

LSE Professor Coker has done a study of the myths and fiction of warfare, looking at the archetypes represented and what they can tell us. Among them are the victims, heroes, warriors, survivors and villains of great works by Tolstoy, Homer, Shakespeare and Vonnegut.

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8. David Starkey’s Magna Carta: £8.99 RRP, Hodder and Stoughton

The popular historian made a TV show of the same name, which was essentially adapted for this hard-hitting and concise read, which offers an account of the political events that changed the course of history in 1215. The question is: have- were they as successful as everyone would have us believe? Not really.

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9. Matthew Beaumont’s Night Walk: RRP £20, Verso books

This heavy academic collection looks at life (mostly in London) when the lights go out and the dispossessed take to the streets. From Chaucer to Shakespeare, to the undisputed king of wandering after dark, Charles Dickens, it takes you on dark – but at the same time enlightening – journeys.

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ten. Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts: RRP £12.99, Penguin

While many would struggle to call a man responsible for millions of deaths “great,” it’s hard to argue against this exciting and often inspiring proposition by historian Andrew Roberts. A strategic genius who attempted to take over the world, an emperor in his thirties, and a writer of pretty decent love letters, Napoleon certainly exceeded his goals.

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If it’s a ripsnorting page-turner you’re looking for, go for Stalin’s English. If you’re looking for something to dip into, Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics and 52 Women are perfect and wonderfully digestible. But, if you’re looking for something really meaty and filled with historical references, park the bus and embark on a journey through Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History, which manages to cram buckets of information into practically each sentence, while somehow still elegant and extremely readable.

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