Here’s a collection of the best and treasured history books that I don’t think I could ever part with. They are quirky and delve into a little known aspect of history making them delightful lazy weekend reading. I hope you can get a hold of them, if you do…please let me know what you think below!
Aside from being a superb reference book, The Book of Symbols is perfect for anyone who has a curious nature, enjoys quirky history and appreciates art and beauty. It is hard to not feel a sense of awe at the beautiful typesetting and illustration along with the evocative and fascinating write-ups. The storytelling is weaves together the Jungian archetypal, the Freudian and post-modern into a cohesive whole. It achieves what most other books can only dream of achieving, an accurate description of the material world we live in, in all of its splendour and wonder.
The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas were Lost and Found A History in Seven Cities is a really great book for curious minds, history lovers and anybody who simply enjoys romping through ancient cities.
Writer and historian Violet Moller brings to life the vibrant and bustling stories of ancient cities of Alexandria, Baghdad, Cordoba, Toledo, Salerno, Palermo, Venice and beyond. Along the way we learn how iconic texts and manuscripts including Euclid’s Elements, Ptolemy’s The Almagest and Galen’s works on medicine and psychotherapy were passed down through generations and via the steady, determined hands of various key people (many who are obscure in the history books). Read more
Medieval Bodies is an incredibly enjoyable read. How medieval people saw themselves and their own bodies in relation to the medieval world could be a boring book, but Hartnell is an exceptionally skilled writer, making for an entertaining and yet erudite read. He deftly shifts between ancient mysticism, religion, politics, medicine, art and culture. Almost every page features amazing full colour illustrations which vividly bring to life beliefs about the body in ancient times.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is a whistle-stop tour of philosophy, humanism, spirituality, evolutionary biology, literature, AI, technology and more.
These weighty topics are tackled deftly and confidently and are interspersed with facts about the most macabre and unusual creatures on the planet.
Author and playful intellectual Caspar Henderson sets out to write a modern compendium of beasts, and show, in the process, that truth is a lot weirder than fiction. Forget about dragons, cyclops and faeries, the world of extant species such as the thorny devil, nautilus and puffer fish are enough to inspire wonder. Read more
Opening Pandora’s Box: Phrases Borrowed from the Classics and the Stories Behind Them by Ferdie Addis
If you are in love with language, storytelling, folklore or classical history then you will love this book. It’s short at only 162 pages, yet Opening Pandora’s Box punches well above its weight in terms of quality with many amusing and shocking stories from classical history to enjoy. You will learn about the quirky origins of many often heard modern phrases such as ‘sour grapes’ and ‘the lion’s share’.
Lost Wisdom is a wonderous and obscure treasure that I found in the library. Written by Compiled by Una McGovern and Paul Jenner in 2009 it is designed to completely wallow in; with beautiful images and areas of interest grouped logically. Lost Wisdom is a part of a trilogy of books that provides us with insight into ways and methods of everyday living, crafts and lore and it glimmers with the shared knowledge of our foremothers and forefathers.
This is a compendium of old wive’s tales and medieval European wisdom that has guided and sustained people for many centuries before modern technology ran the whole show.
Author Alexandra Harris’ debut book won The Guardian’s Book of the Year. It’s no surprise either because this is a far-reaching, expansive book written in an engaging, poetic and erudite way.
Harris casts her curious eye and nimble mind over how weather has been portrayed since ancient times in literature and art in Britain. The prose is tight, imaginative, deliciously inventive. You are swept along as though you’re reading a great fictional novel. This is no prosaic story of a mundane subject. Instead it’s a majestic and all-encompassing history of England as a whole, and it’s beautiful. I relished every page and was sad when it ended. Read more
Are you fascinated and delighted by small things? Then I’ve found the ultimate book for you. In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World by Simon Garfield. Each chapter delves into a miniature world of its own and there is only a tenuous connection between them, but no matter. All is forgiven because learning all about tiny replicas of Eames chairs, tiny models created by the late and great architect Zaha Hadid, and exquisite replicas of Windsor Castle and tiny towns all have their own peculiar and quirky way of drawing you in.
You will also learn about how tiny models of crime scenes were the CSI in the analogue era of crime investigation about 100 years ago. This eclectic assortment of tiny stories about tiny things that changed the world in big ways is a true delight. Read more
Life in a Medieval Castle focuses on Chepstow, a crumbling Norman castle that survived the turbulent Middle Ages and has remained battle scarred but still standing today. Husband and wife historians, the Gieses take us through the full cycle of a medieval year, governed by the rhythms of the harvest and occasionally punctuated by war, invasion and a bad crop. We learn all about how lords and ladies thought about themselves and others, and what they ate, wore, did for pleasure and how they imagined the world to be.
The book is all the more compelling because it’s factual and this adds further weight and colour to the already colourful descriptions of medieval falconry, sumptuous banquet menus, honourable knights, forthright and strong women and the currencies of power that flowed through these iconic castles. The medieval magic and romance of castles isn’t dismantled in this book, but rather is celebrated in all of its imaginative glory and colour. Read more
The Sky Atlas is a treasury and history of some of humankind’s most beautiful maps and charts. Yet this book is more than that, it’s a sparkling and glittering array of sky-bound achievements. It’s a visual history of what it has felt like over aeons to look up at the heavens in wonder.