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History Book Recs

Discussion in 'Books and Anime Discussion' started by BTT, Apr 2, 2020.

  1. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    In this thread, we share recommendations for books related to history: biographies and autobiographies, historical fiction and academic treatises, and more. Discussion on the merits of the recs is also welcome, ideally.

    I'll start us off by sharing what I've read, most of which are biographies written mostly for entertainment and are shared in no particular order:
    • Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleyman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe 1520-1536, by James Reston Jr. A dual biography of both of the titular figures and how they came into conflict, also drawing in Francis I, Henry VIII, and of course the Protestant Reformation. Entertaining to read, and what got me into reading history books in the first place.
    • Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, again by James Reston Jr. Both are fascinating figures, who never met except on the field of battle. Goes into the origin of both men in almost alternating chapters, which sometimes made it difficult who everyone was but was necessary for a complete picture.
    • Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors, again by James Reston Jr. More of the same, set in a different time period and still entertaining.
    • A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre. Almost a thriller at some points, this is a really good book on espionage by the Brits on the Soviets and by the Soviets on the Brits - by one agent at the same time. Really interesting material and well-written.
    • The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, again by Ben Macintyre. The story of Oleg Gordievsky, quite possibly the Russian counterpart to Kim Philby. A John le Carré novel but nonfiction.
    • Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, again by Ben Macintyre. A British criminal and con man is recruited by the Nazis to spy for them. Sometimes reads like a history book, sometimes like a thriller, and sometimes like a farcical comedy. I'd recommend it.
    • The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, again by Ben Macintyre. If espionage isn't your thing, maybe crime is. This guy was probably the closest real life has gotten to James Moriarty, which is saying something.
    • Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France, by Jean-Vincent Blanchard. Tells the story of how a third son named Armand Jean du Plessis, set aside for a military career, became the First Minister of France, Duke of Richelieu, titled l'Eminence Rouge. He's notably portrayed as a villain in the Three Musketeers, and while this book doesn't shy away from showing him in that light if necessary, on the whole it's a balanced, well-told narrative.
    • The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad, by Bobrick Benson. A book mostly about Harun al-Rashid, the Righteous Caliph from the Thousand and One Nights. It's been a while since I've read this book so my impressions are vague, but I remember it being more about culture than endless war, which is always welcome to me.
    • King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild. A book about Leopold II, King of Belgium and his desire to have any colonial possession to rule as a tyrant, and hoo boy did he ever succeed. Taught me more about Belgian history than I learned in class, which is sad but also a reason to recommend this book.
    • The Surgeon of Crowthorne, by Simon Winchester. A book that is, despite its title, about how the Oxford dictionary was formed, which involved a man who participated in the American Civil War, killed an Irishman for no reason, and was shut up into an asylum for the criminally insane and wealthy. An odd combination, but it's well-told and deserves its place on this list.
    • The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation, by Ian Mortimer. A biography of early English king Edward III (1327-1377), son of Edward II and grandson of Edward I the Confessor, who was embroiled in the Hundred Years' War. Set against previous historiography which depicted Edward III as brutal and savage, Mortimer tries to somewhat rehabilitate his reputation to something more true-to-life.
    • The Highly-Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World, by Kennedy Dane. A study of Sir Richard Francis Burton, rake and adventurer, as well as first translator of the Kama Sutra. Set against the disapproving backdrop of Victorian England, this book explores his explorations in India and elsewhere, offering a critical look at his claims and his wanderings.
    • Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist, by Thomas Levenson. Did you know Isaac Newton, the bloke with the falling apple, was also for a while Master of the Royal Mint? He was, and this book tells his entire life story with aplomb, occasionally interleavening it with the story of a contemporary forger and literal penny-pincher. Fascinating stuff.
    • The Flashman Papers, by George McDonald Fraser. Historical fiction made to entertain, and at least for me it wildly succeeded in that. Flashy is a rake, a gambler and an absolute pleasure to read about. Similar to the style of Ciaphas Cain from Warhammer 40k, if you're familiar with that.
     
  2. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Minister of Magic DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

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    The Flashman Papers sounds really interesting. When is it set?

    I am a history neophyte, but I find that I need to know increasingly more about Georgian/Regency England and the Napoleonic war. Do you have any interesting, and relatively more simple/quick reads that you could recommend, or any fiction beyond Hornblower and Sharpe, that you think would particularly cover the European world of 1780s-1830s?
     
  3. Mordecai

    Mordecai Drunken Scotsman ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    The Flashman novels are mid through to late 1800s. They're funny, but its also worth being aware that, in terms of language and attitude, they read as if written in the mid to late 1800s and are distinctly un PC in a variety of ways. So, for example, be careful who you loan them to!

    In terms of fiction, if you like Hornblower you may also enjoy Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho series. And there's also the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brien, which Master and Commander the film was based on.

    For a rather different style of novel, give Georgette Heyer a look. Her work is mostly late 1700s, early 1800s, upper class drama and romance.
     
  4. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Thanks! Are any of these novellas (def less than 200 pages, preferably less than 150) ?

    I'm working on a project this year where I want to read a lot of Novellas and I'm looking for recs. For what it's worth I already have around 200 recommended standard fiction ones, so I'm looking for slightly more niche works (like Historical) now.
     
  5. Longsword

    Longsword Professor

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    Storms and Dreams: The Life of Louis De Bougainville: Soldier, Explorer, Statesman by John Dunmore.

    Most people know of Bougainville by the flower that bears his name.

    Bougainville led an extremely interesting life, as a soldier, natural philosopher, statesman and most famously as an explorer of the South Pacific.

    He was present during the last days of New France as a soldier in Montcalm's army in Quebec.

    Trial by Battle: The Hundred Years War by Jonathan Sumption.
    It is the first volume in Sumption's 4 volume history of the Hundred Years War.
    It is a comprehensive work, covering not only France and England but also all the other European players. Despite being an informative work backed by extensive footnotes it flows well and keeps the reader's attention throughout.
    No previous knowledge of the place or the people is required to understand these books.

    I have just finished the first volume.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020
  6. Celestin

    Celestin The Cursed Child

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    The Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines by Donald R. Kirsch, Ogi Ogas. If anyone wants to read history of how humanity discovered various medicines, this is it. A very fun and informative read about this topic and my favourite was how the Pill was invented.

    Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth. Something for people who want to read about the other 1000 years of the Roman Empire's history.

    A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon. A very informative history of how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written within few years after WWII. It involved many fascinating people of various background and ideologies who had very different opinions about this document and learning how they managed to forge something that everyone could agree on makes it even more impressive.

    The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge. William Marshal is definitely a remarkable character who started as a relative nobody and ended up a kingmaker.

    Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe by by John Julius Norwich. It's a join biography of these four people who dominated the Europe in the beginning of the XVI century and how they interacted with each others. It's an unusual approach, but done quite well in my opinion.

    United Nations: A History by Stanley Meisler. In my opinion the UN is rather inactive these days and this book explained the politics behind it and how the secretary-general of the United Nations can be many things depending on a character of a person who is given this position.
     
  7. Khaine

    Khaine Second Year

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    Iron kingdom the rise and downfall of Prussia by Christopher Clark An excellent thorough book on the history of Prussia from the beginnings with Brandenburg to the dissolution after the fall of the Reich. It may get a bit dry on issues like religion but overall gives a really good insight into the history of the Kingdom that would form Germany.

    The vanquished: Why the first world war failed to end by Robert Gerwarth is a book about the various conflicts past the first world war. The book kind of flies all over Europe but it does provide for a nice introductory work for the period as it also names a lot of the less well known conflicts such as the mess around the Hungarian communists.
     
  8. Zeelthor

    Zeelthor Scissor Me Timbers

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    Caesar's commentaries on the Gaulic wars are available just about everywhere and they're very, very interesting, in my opinion. A brilliant piece of history and propaganda at the same time.
     
  9. GiantMonkeyMan

    GiantMonkeyMan High Inquisitor

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    October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Mieville. It's a really accessible, well-written book of one of the most pivotal moments in history. Full of loads of fascinating anecdotes and an excellent and sympathetic view of many of the characters involved. Mieville is a novelist so the writing isn't at all dry or academic.

    The Origins of Capitalism by Ellen Wood. A pretty intriguing look at how the economic system that we live in emerged from different conditions. Takes a critical look at many of the discussions around the subject and gives a deep analysis of the history of the transition from feudal production to capitalism.
     
  10. Xiph0

    Xiph0 Stasi Admin

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    What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe: Didn't know shit about the Mexican-American War or that entire pre-civil war period, picked this up for that, covers the period extremely well and makes you really appreciate President Polk aside from his love of slavery.

    Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynn: Same time period for much the same reason. S. C. Gwynn is just a good writer - I'm dubious of any white person writing Native American history (and this book is all about the Comanche) but it'll suck you in like nothing else.
     
  11. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    Finished Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert Massie. I finished his Peter the Great: His Life and World last month or so, and while I didn't like Catherine as much as Peter, it's still an interesting story of Russia becoming a state that was more or less comparable to any European state. Both monarchs definitely lived fascinating lives and Massie tells them with aplomb and grace. Would recommend both, and I don't think the rest of Massie's work can lag far behind.
     
  12. MonkeyEpoxy

    MonkeyEpoxy Fourth Champion DLP Supporter

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    It's a bit above your page preference, but if you're interested in South American history, give The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a try. It about General Simon Bolivar

     
  13. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Thanks! I might still read it, but I'm looking for novellas (max 200 pages usually) for a planned hobby-ist project, not because it's my preferred reading length.

    This sounds amazing but at 248 pages it's too long to use for said project.

    Still looks great though.
     
  14. Garden

    Garden Chief Warlock

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    Plagues and Peoples- especially timely now, basically an exploration of the impact of disease in human history. Older book, from the late 70's, but an amazing read.
     
  15. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    Finished more books, so time to give this thread a shot in the arm.

    The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss, a biography of the father of Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo, and other tales of derring-do. A really good read that goes into the French Revolution with a particular focus on slavery - because its protagonist is, as the title says, black, or at least half. Shows both a rise in black men's rights and then their sharp decline again under Napoleon.

    Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, translated by George Hays. Not technically a history book, but a book by a historical figure who was the Roman Emperor. Hays provides both a good introduction to Stoicism, to Marcus' life, and to what the book actually is: a series of notes written by Marcus to remind himself of core concepts of Stoicism. Hays' translation is fresh and modern. Definitely worth looking at if you've got any interest in Rome or in philosophy.

    By the Sword, by Richard Cohen. A book about swords, duels, and how duels eventually led to modern fencing - as written by a prominent fencer. The first half of the book is older history: the evolution of the sword, how civilization dealt with the duel, what led to it (mostly) disappearing; the second half deals with modern history, about the rise of modern fencing teams like the Hungarians, etc. I'd recommend this to everyone, regardless; the fencing parts were interesting enough to me, and I'm a complete novice to the sport.
     
  16. Arthellion

    Arthellion Lord of the Banned DLP Supporter

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    Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his thesis, Diamond's work is very influential in academia and historical thought. He seeks to answer the question "Why was it the europeans who colonized the West vs. the West Colonizing Europe." It's a fascinating if at times, generic take.

    John Bagnell Bury's Rome Histories
    • A History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (2 vols.) (1889)
    • A History of the Roman Empire From its Foundation to the Death of Marcus Aurelius (1893)
    • A History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A. D. 802–867) (1912)
    • A History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian (1923)
    Bury is a more succinct version of Edward Gibbon, but, I would argue, far less prone to exaggeration than Gibbon. Whereas Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is a masterful work, it at times romanticizes Rome and certain facts to fit his ideals. Bury takes a more scientific approach to Historiography and offers an excellent account of German History.

    War Games: From Gladiators to Gigabytes, By Martin Van Creveld. A history and analysis of War Gaming throughout history. In spoilers is a book review I did for this text.

    Creveld, Martin Van. Wargames from Gladiators to Gigabytes. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    Martin Van Creveld’s Wargames from Gladiator to Gigabytes accomplishes the eccentric endeavor of presenting both a history and an analysis of wargames. The text takes the reader on an in-depth journey from the ancient hunter-gatherers to modern cyberspace. Creveld examines the effect of wargames upon entertainment, military endeavors, politics, and culture throughout history. Through his examination, Creveld argues that wargames provide the benefits of war with “little to no cost” involved; however, the purpose of Martin Van Creveld’s Wargames from Gladiators to Gigabytes goes further than simply making a statement regarding wargames in history. Creveld impresses upon the reader that studying wargames is a necessary task if one truly wishes to understand war in all its facets (8). Martin Van Creveld currently works as a professor of Security Studies in Tel Aviv and is considered by many scholars to be an expert on matters of military history and foreign policy. Creveld takes a journey out of orthodox military history with his foray into the realm of wargames. Despite the unorthodox topic, Creveld’s text on wargames is praised by both notable wargamers such as Professor Philip Saban, author of Simulating War, and more traditional scholars such as Edward Luttwak, author of Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. Martin Van Creveld offers a fascinating academic text on the nature and history of wargames, but the unorthodox nature of the topic causes the author to occasionally rest upon his laurels as an acclaimed expert as opposed to offering concrete research.

    Creveld takes a chronological approach to the text for the most part until taking a topical approach in the last chapter regarding the role of women in wargames. The chronological approach allows for a structured reading and allows the reader to possess some familiarity with the context of what is being discussed; in contrast, if Creveld had taken a topical approach it might have left readers unfamiliar with wargames in general to flounder. His argument is clear as he pulls examples of wargames from numerous cultures and eras of history. Creveld reveals his expertise in military history as he discusses the Roman attitude towards the Greek preference for athletics and games: “about a century later we find the statesmen and orator Cicero describing the exercises which the Greeks took as useless for the purpose of military training (18).” Creveld examines the attitude of the Roman attitudes towards the Greek athletics in order to examine ancient views on wargames. Whereas the Greeks viewed success at the games as an example of the highest glory, the Roman’s viewed these games as unsuitable for training for warfare. Creveld’s insight points to a conflict that he desires to resolve within his book: are wargames useful for actual war? He answers this question decisively when he gets to the history of Germany and wargames. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book, Creveld takes an in-depth look at the role of wargames and how they developed in Germany. From the Kriegspiel to other hex based games, Creveld masterfully shows how the use of wargames influenced the development of the Germanic armies in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book points specifically to how certain scenarios that were gamed, such as the invasion of east Prussia by two Russian armies, became reality when those attacks did come. Creveld points to both the success of proper wargames in Germany, but also the results of poorly gamed scenarios such as in Japan’s scenarios of battling the USA in World War II. Ultimately, Creveld hammers home the importance of wargames to civilization.

    If there are any weaknesses to the text, it can be attributed to Creveld’s status as an expert. Creveld has a tendency to make statements without providing proper sources such as in his chapter on women. While he does offer numerous sources and facts, he might stretch these facts in order to make his point. His statements in this chapter might be colored by bias considering he wrote a book in 2013 named The Privileged Sex in which he argued that it is men who are oppressed throughout history as opposed to women. Supporting the thesis in that text might color his ability to offer an unbiased approach in this text.

    In the final analysis, Martin Van Creveld’s Wargames from Gladiator to Gigabytes offers an innovating look into the nature of wargames and their role in history. Should his argument be considered by military minds, it is like to result in far more wargame scenarios being gamed out by the various militaries of the world; furthermore, as a renowned scholar, Creveld offers legitimacy to the study of wargames as a legitimate academic endeavor.
     
  17. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    I've always thought the definite version of Byzantine history is John Julius Norwich's Byzantium: a Short History. It's a condensation of his massive three-volume series on Byzantium and obviously loses something in facts and depth, but not in readability of the prose or general excellence. It's also got the advantage of being written in 1998 and not a century ago.

    While this topic has seen a momentary flare-up of interest, this is also technically a history book: Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets, written by David Simon (also known from The Wire). Absolute page-turner with serial true crime that actually really happened, a really lively style, and just generally fantastic journalism and writing. Studies a year in the life of one of Baltimore's squads of homicide detectives, more specifically 1988.
     
  18. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    Read more books, so I'm giving this thread another shot in the arm. I promise it's not just to brag.

    First on the list is John Julius Norwich's Absolute Monarchs: a History of the Papacy and France: A History from Gaul to de Gaulle. Both are wider looks at the growth of a particular state over nearly two thousand years. In a similar line, of course, the aforementioned history of Byzantium, and he also has one about Venice. Given the generally giant mounds of history to wade through for the subject, I can only admire Norwich's deft hand in writing.

    Second is a history of the Norman Conquest, appropriately titled The Norman Conquest, by Marc Morris. An interesting look at an event which was utterly crucial to forming Britain as we know it today but about which comparatively little is known. The book therefore has to incorporate a wide range of sources, not all of which are dependable and which also includes the Bayeux Tapestry. That might sound boring (it previously did to me) but it's a good read nonetheless.

    I'm currently working my way through The Fears of Henry IV: England's Self-Made King, by Ian Mortimer (who also wrote the book Edward III: the Perfect King, mentioned by me earlier in the thread.) Consider this a rec for that as well. I think I'll move away from European history after this, maybe with James Romm's Ghost on the Throne or maybe In Search of Modern China.
     
  19. Dekazon

    Dekazon Squib

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    It's a pop history trilogy punctuated by flavourful purple prose, but pop history nonetheless. Certainly not close to definitive, even in its own day. Ostrogorsky would have taken that title back then.

    If you're looking for a modern survey history style work on Byzantine history, something more rigorous like Treadgold's History of Byzantine State and Society or Gregory's A History of Byzantium, part of the Blackwell series, are what would be considered presently definitive.
     
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