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The Ten Best History Books

Today’s issue of The Independent  lists their selection of the Ten Best History books:

  1. Necropolis: London and Its Dead By Catharine Arnold
    From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the current approach of metropolitan society towards death and bereavement — including more recent trends to displays of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This fascinating blend of archaeology, architecture and anecdote includes such phenomena as the rise of the undertaking trade and the pageantry of state funerals; public executions and bodysnatching. Ghoulishly entertaining and full of fascinating nuggets of information, Necropolis leaves no headstone unturned in its exploration of our changing attitudes to the deceased among us
  2. Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe By Adam Zamoyski
    The dramatic and little-known story of how, in the summer of 1920, Lenin came within a hair’s breadth of shattering the painstakingly constructed Versailles peace settlement and spreading Bolshevism to western Europe.
  3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West By Dee Brown
    First published in 1970, this extraordinary book changed the way people thought about the original inhabitants of America. Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1860 and ending 30 years later with the massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, it tells how the American Indians lost their land and lives to a dynamically expanding white society. It is a truism that “history is written by the victors”; for the first time, this book described the opening of the West from the Indians’ viewpoint. Accustomed to stereotypes of Indians as red savages, many white people were shocked to read the reasoned eloquence of Indian leaders and learn of the bravery with which they and their peoples endured suffering.
  4. A People’s History of the World By Chris Harman
    From earliest human society to the Holy Roman Empire, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, from the Industrial Revolution to the end of the millennium, Chris Harman provides a brilliant and comprehensive history of the planet.Eschewing the standard histories of “Great Men,” of dates and kings, Harman offers a groundbreaking counter-history, a breathtaking sweep across the centuries in the tradition of “history from below.” In a fiery narrative, he shows how ordinary men and women were involved in creating and changing society and how conflict between classes was often at the core of these changes.While many pundits see the victory of capitalism as now safely secured, Harman explains the rise and fall of societies and civilizations throughout the ages and demonstrates that history never ends.
  5. Empires of the Sea: the Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 By Roger Crowley
    Empires of the Sea” shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453, it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire – and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.
  6. Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945 By William I Hitchcock
    The traditional image of Europe in 1945 is of grateful civilians showering soldiers with flowers and dancing in the streets. In reality, liberation was an extraordinarily violent and chaotic process. Using first-hand accounts, Hitchcock describes the catastrophic effects of invasion on Northern France, Belgium and Holland, the huge civilian death tolls from indiscriminate bombing, with towns destroyed and crops burnt. He shows that the motives and behaviour of the Allied forces were far from noble; they frequently abused power and authority, looted homes and sexually assaulted women. Hitchcock also writes about the discovery of the major concentration camps, and the often shocking lack of empathy shown by its liberators. Lucid and compelling, Liberation explores the paradoxes of ‘the good war’, its glories and its horrific human costs.
  7. The Ascent of Money: a Financial History of the World By Niall Ferguson
    Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance.
  8. Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing By Katherine Ashenburg
    ‘I return to Paris in five days. Stop washing.’ So wrote Napoleon to Josephine in an age when body odour was considered an aphrodisiac. In stark contrast, the Romans used to bath for hours each day. Ashenburg’s investigation of history’s ambivalence towards personal hygiene takes her through plague-ridden streets, hospitals and battlefields. From the bizarre prescriptions of doctors to the eccentricities of famous bathers, she presents us with all the twists and turns that have led us to our own, arbitrary notion of ‘clean’.
  9. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town By Mary Beard
    The ruins of Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius in AD 79 offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman empire. This book will rise to the challenge of making sense of its remains.
  10. Henry: The Virtuous Prince By David Starkey
    The first installment of the highly anticipated biography of Henry VIII, written by one of the UK’s most popular, established and exciting historians. Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne, ‘Henry: Virtuous Prince’ is a radical re-evaluation of the monarchy’s most enduring icon. Henry VIII was Britain’s most powerful monarch, yet he was not born to rule. Thrust into the limelight after the sudden death of his elder brother, Prince Arthur, Henry ascended the throne in 1509, marking the beginning of a reign that altered the course of English history. David Starkey gives a radical and unforgettable portrait of the man behind the icon; the Renaissance prince turned tyrant, who continues to tower over history.

Posted by on January 27, 2009.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: books, history, lists, review, UK

3 Responses

  1. I’d nominate “A People’s History of the United States.”

    by joey on Mar 12, 2009 at 5:21 pm

  2. where is the official history of modern man ” Guns, germs and steel’?

    I guess a nod to joey’s choice of united states and people blah.. above…

    by nixon on Mar 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

  3. No list is complete without Barbara Tuchman, my favorites ” A Distant Mirror” and “The Guns Of August”.

    by Thinking on Apr 5, 2010 at 10:19 am

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