TVHE bleg: Good history books

Hi everyone,

We haven’t done a bleg in a while – so I think its time to bring up a new one.  I’m wondering what good history books are out there.  They can be about any period in history, focused on any part or portion of a historical incidence, the key is that they provide a good descriptive discussion of whatever it is.

  • If you’re interested in US political history I have the following that you’re more than welcome to borrow, on Abe Lincoln:

  • Shout out to Sheehan’s ‘Bright and Shining Lie’ and Runciman’s History of the Crusades.

  • steve

    the standard nz history one is the penguin history of nz by michael king. I personally think its quite good but I have heard differing opinions. see

  • The Life and Times of Martin Luther
    by J.H. Merle D’Aubigne (online version)

    Very interesting from several perspectives.
    1. Church history and theology (why I’m reading it)
    2. It’s a key point in moving from the middle ages to modern separation of church and state
    3. Interesting to read in the light of modern blogs and twitter – i.e. how ideas were debated (flame wars aren’t new!).

  • Two books by Norman Cohn:

    “Europe’s Inner Demons”, about the great European witch-hunt of the 16th and 17th century

    “The Pursuit of the Millennium: revolutionary millennarians and mystical anarchists of the middle ages”

    Both focus closely on their subjects but say a lot about core beliefs/behaviours in Western culture, even in these mostly post-Christian times. Plus he’s a terrific writer.

  • Miguel Sanchez

    I recently read “Empire of Wealth” by John Gordon Steele. It’s very rah-rah America, but then you can hardly argue with the results.

  • David Hume’s complete multi-volume History of England. The smartest Scottish person ever (consequently smartest person ever) provides excellent history through the Glorious Revolution. Has taken us a couple years of bedtime reading, but we’re almost done the Civil War…lousy Parliamentarians and their loony Puritan supporters….

  • Andrew Coleman

    If you liked Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”, you should read one of the books it is based upon: Alfred Crosby’s “Ecological Imperialism” (1986)

    This is an explanation of why Europe managed to colonise the New World – and to a lesser extent, why the Viking attempts to colonise Newfoundland failed, as did the crusaders attempt to colonise the middle east. While it makes the case for the unintended horrors of new germs released upon New World peoples, one of the more interesting theses concerns why New World diseases didn’t affect Old world peoples nearly so badly, and why European plants (weeds) spread in the New World much more than the New world plants spread in Europe. There aren’t many books which ask if the botanic dominance of the humble dandelion can be linked to the rise and fall of empires.

    Three bonuses for NZ readers: a lengthy chapter on NZ (he spent a year or two here while writing the book); a brilliant exposition of how the early navigators learnt to cross oceans given unhelpful oceanic wind patterns; and the story of how some of the Canary Islands were over-run by over-fecund rabbits immediately after their European discovery in the fifteenth century. If only some of our pakeha ancestors had read their history books before concotting their hare-brained schemes to introduce rabbits here.


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