Five Favorite History Books

Started by Florestan, May 10, 2024, 09:50:38 AM

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Florestan

My list

Theodor Mommsen - Roman History* (easily the best history book I ever read, eminently readable --- the 1902 Nobel Prize for Literature --- with lessons to be learned and warnings to be heeded even today)
Cornelius Ryan - A Bridge Too Far* (as exciting and page-turning as a good thriller)
Joseph Pérez - History of Spain* (fair and unbiased)
Steven Runciman - The Eastern Schism** (balanced and eminently readable presentation of the subject)
A. A. Vasiliev - History of the Byzantine Empire* (erudite and scholarly, yet eminently readable)

* read in Romanian translation

** read in Original English

Your turn.


When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music. — Nino Rota

vers la flamme

I have read far, far too few. But some I read recently and liked were:

Eric H. Cline's 1177 B.C. (about the Late Bronze Age Collapse, a super fascinating period of ancient history for me)
James MacPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom about the American Civil War
Andrew Roberts' Napoleon

Florestan, you have piqued my interest about that Momsen book on Rome. I've been meaning to read up more on the Roman Empire. I also really want to read some of the "primary" ancient historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy etc.

Florestan

Quote from: vers la flamme on May 10, 2024, 10:31:53 AMFlorestan, you have piqued my interest about that Momsen book on Rome.

It covers the history of Rome from the earliest times to Octavian, so technically speaking it's mostly the history of the Roman Republic. It shows in a vivid and convincing manner how and why Rome evolved from a tiny agrarian city-state to an imperialist republic and eventually to an empire proper; and the most interesting thing is that they did all that rather reluctantly. It was not by design, but by snowball effect: once the first, small step was taken (whose immediate goal was explicitly not any expansionist ambition but simply domestic security, economic and military), a chain reaction was triggered which engendered an ineluctable series of further steps and events, each leading by necessity into the next. There are not a few parallels with some present-day states and political-economical or political-military organizations and alliances.

I can't recommend it highly enough.
When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music. — Nino Rota

JBS

William Manchester Alone--the second volume of his projected Churchill trilogy
Alan Guelzo Gettysburg The Last Invasion
John Julian Norwich--History of Venice


Hollywood Beach Broadwalk

Cato

Quote from: Florestan on May 10, 2024, 09:50:38 AMMy list

Theodor Mommsen - Roman History* (easily the best history book I ever read, eminently readable --- the 1902 Nobel Prize for Literature --- with lessons to be learned and warnings to be heeded even today)

Steven Runciman - The Eastern Schism** (balanced and eminently readable presentation of the subject)

A. A. Vasiliev - History of the Byzantine Empire* (erudite and scholarly, yet eminently readable)



The Mommsen is a classic indeed!

The books by Runciman and Vasiliev were required for my History degree in Ancient Greek/Roman/Western Medieval/Byzantine History.

I heard a lecture in Cincinnati by Runciman on Byzantine History ( I do not recall the exact topic, but it seems like it was about an obscure point of contention on a minor topic).

He was a classic Classics professor!  ;)  i.e. Rather distracted at times, talking to the ceiling rather than the audience at times, perhaps very shy (or even evincing Asperger's, hard to say though from just one lecture), and full of details and anecdotes and footnotes!  😇


Anyway, here are some recommendations:

David McCullough: The Wright Brothers

Excellent biography of the brothers!

Victor Hansen: The Soul of Battle and Carnage and Culture

Comparative military history, from ancient to modern times: of great interest are the connections across thousands of years, e.g. how the victories of Epaminondas of Thebes influenced Generals U.S. Grant and William Sherman in the American Civil War.

Arthur Herman: The Idea of Decline in Western History

Note the title: the "idea" of decline, not "decline" itself!

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Everyday Stalinism

Fascinating stories from those who lived through the mass murders, the mass deportations, and the overarching terror.
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Karl Henning

Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

JBS

Quote from: JBS on May 10, 2024, 02:05:32 PMWilliam Manchester Alone--the second volume of his projected Churchill trilogy
Alan Guelzo Gettysburg The Last Invasion
John Julian Norwich--History of Venice



Decided on the remaining two of my five books

Simon Schama--Citizens [the subject is the French Revolution]

John Maxtone-Graham--The Only Way To Cross [depending on your view, either niche or a light diversion]


Hollywood Beach Broadwalk

San Antone

Shelby Foote - The Civil War: a Narrative History (3 vols.)
Richard Taruskin - The Oxford History of Western Music (5 vols.)

Karl Henning

Quote from: JBS on May 10, 2024, 03:28:49 PMSimon Schama--Citizens
yes, great stuff.

I remember also enjoying a couple of Barbara Tuchman titles: The Guns of August and The March of Folly (From Troy to Vietnam) I don't know how well it holds up, but I remember being engrossed by The Arms of Krupp, basically the saga of the military-industrial complex from Bismarck's Prussia to the Third Reich.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Karl Henning

Quote from: San Antone on May 10, 2024, 04:17:55 PMShelby Foote - The Civil War: a Narrative History (3 vols.)
Loved his substantial contribution to Burns' film!
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Jo498

I am not sure I completed 5 "real" general history books. Two I remember are Tuchman's "A distant mirror" (not liked by more recent real medievalists, I think, but I found it fascinating) and "The guns of august". I started but didn't get far (still stuck in the Balkan "prelude") of "The sleepwalkers". I have a bunch of Tom Holland's more popular ones, so far I only finished "In the shadow of the sword" and most of "Millenium". I read more popular stuff decades ago as a teenager but don't remember specific titles.

The Mommsen is a classic, I would not have thought that it was that readable but I should try. Another German language 19th century classic (and I think I have this on the shelves but not read) is Jacob Burckhardt's on the Culture of Renaissance Italy

Herodotus is quite readable. My Greek teacher would say "it reads like a tabloid" (but he said that also about Homer, IIRC, where it certainly is not true); the real Classical tabloid is rather Suetonius on the Roman Emperors. In any case, I don't really count the stuff we read in extracts at school for rudiments of Classical education as it's too long ago and with the possible exception of Herodotus I never read them complete in translation.
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos, dans une chambre.
- Blaise Pascal

ultralinear

Most of the history I read tends to have rather a narrow focus and wouldn't really be recommendable to a general readership - except maybe something like this:


 :)

SimonNZ

#12
I can't even begin to think what my five favorite history books might be.

Instead of doing that I'll pick five books I've posted about on GMG and quite possibly thought were the best books I read that year.

Frank Dikotter - Mao's Great Famine
David Halbersram - The Coldest Winter
Richard Evans - The Third Reich In Power
David Halberstam - The Fifties
Robert Caro - (any volume from his Lyndon Johnson series, but I'm going to pick volume 2, even knowing that it's volume.3 "Master Of The Senate"  that's had all the praise)

Yup, two by David Halberstam. Two even better than his The Best And The Brightest, which was also brilliant.

SimonNZ

Quote from: Florestan on May 10, 2024, 09:50:38 AMMy list

Theodor Mommsen - Roman History


I've been on the lookout for that since you mentioned it some time back, but with no luck.

But I just discovered that Audible has it available to me as an audio...at something close to 100 hours.

drogulus

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SimonNZ

Just remembered another recent best-history-reads-of-the-year:

Richard Shirer's mammoth book on the fall of France, Collapse Of The Third Republic

imo even more impressive than his much more famous volume on the Third Reich

Florestan

Quote from: Jo498 on May 11, 2024, 12:54:42 AMThe Mommsen is a classic, I would not have thought that it was that readable but I should try.

There are some rather dry and technical chapters, for instance those about Roman coins and Latin linguistics, but as a whole Mommsen's writing is stylish and has real literary merit and skills. 
When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music. — Nino Rota

Florestan

Quote from: San Antone on May 10, 2024, 04:17:55 PMRichard Taruskin - The Oxford History of Western Music (5 vols.)

Oh yes, a big + 1 to this.
When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music. — Nino Rota