One of the things going back to school has done is rekindled my interest in history. Growing up, I could sit and listen to my grandfather tell stories all day long. Family history, his travels across the country, stories from the War and Okinawa. Inevitably, something he’d say would spark this rushing curiosity in me, and then we’d find ourselves buried in the World Books* for hours. Decades later and that love of stories hasn’t really gone anywhere.
When we get right down to it, history is really a huge compilation of stories. As soon as someone starts recalling past events, whether they mean to or not, they editorialize. Regardless of the truthiness of historical stories, that’s pretty much what they are. Anyway. My one history class has been so enjoyable, that I actually started plotting out whether it was feasible or not to add it as a second major. It’s not really, if I want to finish on time, so for now I’m sticking with just a history minor.
But, now that those interest is re-sparked, I’m finding myself standing in the historical section of the book store staring with wonder and really testing my financial self control. I know once I find these sections of interest in the campus library, I might just set up camp there and disappear for a few weeks.
Here are a handful of books that have caught my eye recently, in no particular order:
Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate
Ok, so the interest in this book actually has more to do with my Folklore & Folklife class — which is actually a whole lot more about the life aspect than the lore. But regardless, I still find this subject fascinating. This book goes through England’s long history of magic. From the summary: “The Book of English Magic explores this hidden story, from its first stirrings to our present-day fascination with all things magical. Along the way readers are offered a rich menu of magical things to do and places to visit.”
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
I know a little bit about the Plantagent rule of England, but at the same time I can’t really define it either. From just the summary and a little research I see it covers from after the Norman invasion through the Hundred Years War and on to the War of the Roses. It’s got the crusades and the basis of the Robin Hood story with Kings John and Richard the Lionheart. This period lays down some major foundations for modern England.
The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson
Ok, so yes, the History Channel’s Vikings is hugely popular and pretty darn awesome. But my interest is based on more than just that. My (mom’s) family is from Finland, so I’ve always had an interest in anything Nordic or Scandinavian. However, I do acknowledge that this book is definitely riding the coattails of the show’s fame. Anyway. I was sort of bummed to learn there really aren’t any history classes in my school that cover the Viking age. Heck, even my world mythology class cut Norse myth due to “time constraints”. Bah. The Vikings were a complex and interesting society, and so I’ll just learn about it on my own time.
Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather
While my classical cultures class is interesting, I’ve pretty much determined that I’m not all that interested in Greek and Roman antiquity. Like the time after that, the development of Western Europe up through World War II-ish. From what I can tell from reviews and such, it seems this one will cover more of the Scandinavian migration and influence into the rest of western Europe — the barbarian part of title and the aforementioned missing piece from my history class!
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
So if you grew up in the 90’s you’ll be familiar with the animated film Anastasia. This is the story of her and her other sisters — the Russian royal daughters. The last of the Russian royal line, thanks to the revolution that took place during WWI. Rappaport collects letters and diaries, some unseen before, giving more detail and depth to this tragic story. It attempts to show more than just the events that happened, but give an understanding what their life was like. This book won a 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for best History & Biography book.
She-Wolves: The Woman Who Rule England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
So we know about Henry VIII — whether from the song or the Tudors or maybe just the fact that outside Richard & John of the Robin Hood tale he may be the most talked about King of England. Anyway, he had one son, and after he died the only remaining heirs were female, and sole female rule was just not a thing. However, as is the point of Castor’s book, woman have had great influence over the throne. Castor has been praised at being able to write history through the perspective of a storyteller, but yet also keeping with the facts.
Do you have an interest in history? What eras? Any books you’d recommend?
*It really saddens me that people don’t know what these are. I spent hours in these encyclopedias almost every day as a kid. I’m still hoping to inherit either my mom’s or my grandfather’s sets, both from the early 80s and of course outdated now… but nostalgia, you know?