The best books for history enthusiasts
There are certainly among you, dear readers, people who are passionate about history, whether at school or afterwards, having watched series such as Rome, Vikings or Game of Thrones. But among all the many history books out there, which ones should you choose? To help you, here is a selection of ten history books, on various and varied subjects, simple and pleasant to read, and very well researched.
- LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CASTLE – FRANCES & JOSEPH GIES
This book, written by the English medieval couple Frances and Joseph Gies, takes you on an extraordinary journey to medieval times. The authors focus on the famous castle of Chepstow, on the border of Wales and England, but also on famous French and English castles, to give us a vivid portrait of life and exciting details about life in a medieval castle. You will learn the codes of conduct, but also the sexual codes, the role of honour, the initiation processes of knights, their occupations, their leisure activities. A reference book, which inspired George R.R. Martin to write his famous saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, from which the Game of Thrones series is based. A must read.
- The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society – PIERRE-FRANÇOIS SOUYRI
If you are a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke or Akira Kurosawa’s films, run and buy this book. Pierre-François Souyri, Professor of Japanese History at the University of Geneva and former director of the Maison franco-japonaise de Tokyo, delivers here a fascinating and enjoyable history of Japan. This book is intended to make you experience the Japanese Middle Ages, from the 12th to the 16th century. You will follow both the social conflicts which tore the Land of the Rising Sun and the new cultural forms which emerged, and which gave birth to what we call “traditional Japan”. Reading the chapter “Splendour and Misery of the Muromachi Century” will make you perceive Princess Mononoké, Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, in a different way, while chapter 13, which serves as a conclusion to the work, puts into perspective the points of convergence and divergence between the European and Japanese Middle Ages. A fascinating book!
- The Crusades Through Arab Eyes – AMIN MAALOUF
Amin Maalouf is well known to lovers of historical novels for his sublime Samarkand. But the Franco-Lebanese Academician had already made a name for himself before, with a historical essay that would forever change our vision of the Crusades. As everyone knows, our vision of the Crusades has often been fragmented, with the Historians of the 19th and first half of the 20th century often excluding the Arab point of view from their study, to focus on European chroniclers. Maalouf proposes here, on the contrary, to give a voice to Muslim chroniclers. The sieges, massacres and sackings are described with great force. But more than the descriptive force of the work, more than the research work, it is the thought developed by Amin Maalouf that fascinates the most. The author develops the idea that it is the capacity of Westerners to organise themselves in the East around the notion of law in order to legislate precisely the transfer of power, which allowed the West to “dominate” the East, despite the Eastern victory in this period of conflict. An extraordinarily rich book, to be read as a matter of urgency.
- Women of the Celts – JEAN MARKALE
Although the Celtic peoples are less well known by most people than the Scandinavian peoples, they are nonetheless just as interesting. Although Jean Markale was not a historian by profession, he dedicated his life to the discovery of this civilisation and culture. Although some of his books have been strongly criticized, La femme celte remains a reference work on the subject to this day. In it, Jean Markale develops the idea that Celtic matriarchal societies have forged Celtic identity up to the present day. However, if you would like to read a more conventional book, I strongly recommend reading Graham Robb’s On the Ignored Paths of the Celtic World.
- WINTER IS COMING: THE MEDIEVAL ROOTS OF GAME OF THRONES – CAROLYNE LARRINGTON
This is the history book for fans of the Game of Thrones series. Published in 2015 in England, and in April 2019 in France, this book written by medieval historian Carolyne Larrington will take you on a journey of discovery of the historical roots of Game of Thrones. Carolyne Larrington takes you on a true journey through Westeros and Essos, revealing in the process all the erudition and invocative power of George R.R. Martin, who brought together the War of Two Roses, the Glencoe Massacre and the ecclesiastical military corps.
- THE AGE OF THE VIKINGS – ANDERS WINROTH
If you are a fan of the Viking series and The Last Kingdom, this reading should satisfy you greatly! Anders Winroth draws on the latest archaeological research to create a striking portrait of a civilisation which, although appreciated because it was popularised by popular culture and romantic culture (Wagner), in the end remains not so well known because it suffers from false stereotypes. Anders Winroth dismantles these preconceived ideas one by one, in chapters that are both very easy to read and yet very well documented. A particularly enjoyable read, which I recommend to everyone.
- 1789: SILENCE TO THE POOR! – HENRI GUILLEMIN
No one in France has spoken as well about the French Revolution (and the revolutions that followed) as Henri Guillemin. This major historian, who knew, with his tone of voice alone, how to capture your attention, is the author of this brilliant book. Guillemin’s thesis is simple: the Revolution of 1789 was not one revolution, but two revolutions. A bourgeois revolution (a false revolution, he says), represented by the Girondins and Danton, and an authentic revolution, embodied by Robespierre and his allies, who attacked the very foundations of the bourgeoisie. If the ideological basis is obvious (this is a book that François Bégaudeau would not have disavowed), the fact remains that by its evocative force, it sheds light on history as well as the present. A book I highly recommend.
- THE TRUE FACE OF THE MIDDLE AGES – NICOLAS WEILL-PAROT
The Middle Ages suffer from a very bad reputation, as we all know. But in order to go beyond preconceived and erroneous ideas, I highly recommend this book, written under the direction of Nicolas Weill-Parot, which deals with various issues, such as medicine, hygiene, the place of women and foreigners in the Middle Ages. A fascinating book, which describes, better than any other (except Jacques Le Goff), the medieval period.