#1 Edited by Thrillhouse87 (276 posts) -

When I was a kid I did not care much for history class, I remembered what I had to pass tests, then forgot it right away after. Now that Im older I kinda wish I had payed more attention, both because I feel I should know more history than I do, and because it is starting to interest me, so I would like to ask if anyone know any good books I could pick up. It could be about pretty much anyone/anything, and it would be nice if they were somewhat entertaining and accessible for a newbie like myself (but not dumbed down or too simple either)

#2 Edited by HH (865 posts) -

If This is a Man by Primo Levi - a hugely talented writer who was interned in Auschwitz

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore - Stalin growing up as a street thug and political gangsta

both good reads, both a big deal re the 20th century.

#3 Edited by erhard (490 posts) -

If you want to learn about the American Revolution, The Glorious Cause is the book to read. Perhaps not very accessible, though.

#5 Posted by Fattony12000 (7968 posts) -

#6 Posted by Fredchuckdave (7415 posts) -
#7 Edited by HypnoToadBrwowrowrow (1698 posts) -

There's a book called something along the lines of "hunting the dragon lady"

Seemed really interesting, haven't read it myself.

#8 Posted by Rebel_Scum (928 posts) -

Well (based around historical events) fiction wise there is only one answer, War & Peace.

Otherwise if you like WW2 read anything by Stephen E. Ambrose.

I don't know any books about him but read up on Garibaldi. Probably the best historical figure never to have a movie made about him.

#9 Edited by Fattony12000 (7968 posts) -
#10 Posted by Capum15 (5137 posts) -

Gerald Astor had some pretty good WWII books. June 6, 1944: The Voices of D-Day, The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It, A Blood Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It, are easily some of my favorite books.

Going to also pick up Operation Iceberg: The Invasion and Conquest of Okinawa in World War II and Crisis in the Pacific: The Battles for the Philippine Islands by the Men Who Fought Them sometime soon.

All those are basically stories told from the perspectives of guys who were there. Armor, airborne, infantry, engineers, etc.

#11 Posted by Captain_Insano (1737 posts) -

I'm a History Teacher at a High School, Ancient History is my main passion. Depends on what you're interested in. My main area is Ancient Rome, specifically Rome of the late republic. I finished my Masters of History last year and am actually looking at pursing a PhD in the depiction of historical events in video games.

The best Historical Fiction series I've ever read (because it pretty much sticks to the facts) is Colleen McCullough's The Master of Rome series. There's about 7 of these, each 1000 pages long but they cover the time period in immense detail and are fantastically written.. They can be a bit intimidating and the latin terminology and plethora of Roman names can through people off, but once you get into them they're fantastic.. Pompeii by Robert Harris is another good fictional account of the last day of Pompeii. If you're after an easier to read (but not 'Rome for Dummies), non-fiction account, I recommend:

  • Anything by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • Rubicon by Tom Holland
  • From the Gracchi to Nero by H.H. Scullard
  • The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (an easy to read and wonderful primary source)
  • I Claudius by Robert Graves

I would really avoid things like Conn Iggulden and that ilk, those are really crappy Rome fictions (kind of like the premise of Ryse: Son of Rome)

I also second Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast. He is a bit over dramatic and uses ridiculous analogies and hypotheticals but he makes it interesting. 'The History of Rome' podcast by Mike Duncan is also great and easy to follow (theres 142 of these, each from 13 to 30 min long, but they're really accesible).

#12 Edited by casper_ (915 posts) -

i liked donald kagan's history of the peloponnesian war . it forms a solid narrative and is a good alternative to reading thucydides who can be pretty dense. his yale lectures on greece are also available on youtube i think.

like the others in this thread i like mike duncan. he has a really casual tone which can be a good thing or a bad thing i guess.

i enjoyed the rome one but his new one "revolutions" is really great. not really into this dan carlin guy though...

#13 Posted by ch3burashka (5591 posts) -

Guns Germs and Steel is a good all-around book on the history of history.

#14 Posted by CreepingDeath0 (249 posts) -

If you want something that reads more like a traditional novel than a lot of the stuff recommended here, then some of Bernard Cornwell's books are pretty great. Fictional character with their own fictional motivations and stories that take place during real world events. 100 years war, Napoleonic wars, American Civil War etc.

Great books, and amazingly well researched. If his stories ever do deviate for some reason from actual historical events he is usually pretty upfront about the changes and why they were made as well.

I also second Stephen E. Ambrose. Best way to read easily digestible information about World War 2.

Hmm... everything historical that I read is war related :/

#15 Posted by Atlas (2567 posts) -

I cannot recommend I, Claudius by Robert Graves enough.

Also Bernard Cornwell writes accessible, entertaining historical books about various subjects; he's most famous for the Sharpe series about a rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, but my favourite works of his are the Warlord Chronicles (a somewhat historical account of the legend of King Arthur with some fantasy elements), the Saxon Stories (a much more historical account of 9th century Saxon Britain, the Viking invasions, and Alfred the Great), and Azincourt (Battle of Agincourt). He's also written a book set in the American Revolution, but I haven't read it.

And as a final recommendation that isn't based on literature, play Crusader Kings II. It gives you a chance to actually live in the history a bit (you can play/recreate historical events such as the Norman invasion of England, the Turkish invasion of Anatolia, the Crusades, the Mongol conquests etc.) and if you're like me it'll lead you to a lot of Wikipedia pages and various other repositories of historical information. It also gives you a good sense of the geography, which is good if you find just looking at maps to be a bit dry. The Europa Universalis series is also excellent for this.

#16 Posted by Mechanical_Ape (272 posts) -

If you're looking for something that's entertaining as well as educational, I can't recommend Sarah Vowell enough. She's one of my favorite authors and you can't go wrong with any of her books. In particular I'd recommend The Wordy Shipmates or Assassination Vacation. Her books tend to focus on a very narrow aspect of history, but she approaches the subjects from angles that few others do.

#17 Edited by HH (865 posts) -

@atlas said:

I cannot recommend I, Claudius by Robert Graves enough.

his autobiographical account of life in the trenches of WW1 - Goodbye to All That - is also pretty great.

#18 Edited by fetchfox (1498 posts) -

@thrillhouse87: @fattony12000: I came here to promote the same brilliant man. Listen to him, he's bloody brilliant (linkedylink).

And on a side note for that avatar (to @thrillhouse87)... "jeg har autografen til forfatteren på russebuksa mi, M er en konge serie".

#19 Posted by ervonymous (1299 posts) -


#20 Posted by ryanwhom (291 posts) -

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about 70 percent fiction but its an interesting look into the baked in traditional values of our future overlords.

#21 Edited by Killerfridge (324 posts) -

The French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert is a very very good narrative retelling of said revolution. It reads like a novel and the period is fascinating.

#22 Posted by Fredchuckdave (7415 posts) -

@ryanwhom: According to Moss Roberts its 70% historical actually, which is more historical than Herodotus.

#23 Posted by Thrillhouse87 (276 posts) -

thank you for all the suggestions, I will check them out.

#24 Posted by hermes (1778 posts) -
@fetchfox said:

@thrillhouse87: @fattony12000: I came here to promote the same brilliant man. Listen to him, he's bloody brilliant (linkedylink).

Me too. Seriously, check it out. Some of their series (like the mongol invasions and WW1) are just jaw dropping.

In terms of books, I recommend Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger. The diary of a World War 1 German foot soldier. Because of the format, it can be a little hard to get into, but its still a fascinating take on that conflict without any of the romanticism.