Favourites

I spent much of my childhood reading Jean Plaidy’s wonderful historical novels; it was through her books that my love affair with history began.

When I later studied history at school and university, I was gratified to find how startlingly accurate her books were. I hadn't just been reading fun books - I had been learning about history!

The best history writing should be accessible and immersing, guiding the reader through an unfamiliar world. Here are some of the books - histories and historical novels - that have left a lasting impression on me.


Peter Ackroyd
London: The Biography
This is a wonderful sweep of London’s history, exceptionally readable and informative.
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Noel Barber
Lords of the Golden Horn
Barber tells the strange and often murderous story of the Ottoman Emperors. It is brilliantly written, and gives an insight into a life of intrigue and scandal behind the walls of Topkapi palace.
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Charles Freeman
The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason
Here, Charles Freeman charts the rise and crystallisation of Christianity as a world religion and the ensuing conflict between faith and reason.
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Ian Morris
Why the West Rules -  For Now: The Patterns of History and what they reveal about the Future
In this stunning and authoritative sweep of 15,000 years of human history, Ian Morris explores the differences in development between east and west - and poses thoughtful insights into what the future holds.
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Barbara Tuchman
A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous Fourteenth Century
The Fourteenth Century was not just a period of knightly heroics and chivalry. It was, Tuchman argues, the darkest of times, marked by crusades, plague, war, famine and unstable government. Here Tuchman draws striking parallels between this cataclysmic century and the twentieth century.
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Alison Weir
The Princes in the Tower
Alison Weir’s wonderful history of the fate of the young sons of Edward IV – the princes in the tower – is a murder mystery. Who really orchestrated their death? Was it their uncle, the ‘villainous’ Richard III, or were they murdered by someone else?
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Anya Seton
Katherine
This vivid historical novel tells the story of the extraordinary Katherine Swynford, mistress then third wife of John of Gaunt, sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer, and ancestress of the Tudor dynasty. Through the vehicle of her heroine, Katherine, Anya Seton brings the world of medieval England to life.
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Hilary Mantel
A Place of Greater Safety
Hilary Mantel brilliantly places the reader at the very centre of the French Revolution, as she follows the fortunes of three of its protagonists: Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins.
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Gore Vidal
Julian
In Julian, the reader is transported to Fourth Century Rome, to an Empire that had recently embraced Christianity and a new emperor’s struggles to take it back to the old religion.
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Allan Massie
Augustus
This beautifully written novel tells us of power struggles in ancient Rome, and the empire’s brutal transformation from republic to monarchy.
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Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco’s novel is a gripping medieval murder mystery.
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Gabriel Ronay
The Tartar Khan's Englishman
At the beginning of the thirteenth century the Mongolian Tartar Khan ravaged Europe and nearly obliterated Christendom. This fascinating and brilliantly told true story tells us of one of the most important figures - an Englishman - in his entourage.
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