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Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.
Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

When I do get real with my readings, I always turn to history. In college, I majored in chemistry, but unbeknownst to most of my friends and now the co-workers, I was a classics minor. I read several historical biographies of Cicero for ancient Roman history class. The most recent historical fiction/biography I read is the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall about Thomas Cromwell during restoration England. It’s dramatic and historical. I also have a penchant to incorporate history into vacation trips. I read about histories of the monuments from The Civilization of Angkor by Charles Higham on the plane, then used the book as a handy guide when I touched down in Cambodia. On another trip through Malaysia, Somerset Maugham’s memoir/historical autobiography, The Gentleman in the Parlour became the perfect companion. Although I wasn’t much of a gentleman’s reincarnate that Maugham was, I certainly saw Malaysia and its people through his eyes. The recent trip to Paris I followed the insouciant footsteps of Edmund White through The Flâneur, although I contrived to wander without adhering to an agenda. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, resonated by the film Midnight in Paris also put Paris in a literary perspective for me.

11 Responses

  1. I just finished read David McCullough’s ‘The Greater Journey’, all about Americans in Paris in the 19th century. Loved it. As much as I enjoy history, I try to make myself read 3 or 4 good history books every year, so that I don’t only read fiction. I also love biographies, which is history I suppose.

  2. I love history, and I always find it crushing when my friends reject history books I recommend because…well, history is dry and boring and can’t match up to a novel. I try to read a few books of military history a year, and lately I’ve been getting more into books like “The Devil in the White City”, that have a clearer, almost novelistic narrative.

    I love the idea of reading “A Moveable Feast” and then watching “Midnight in Paris”…I may have to do that.

  3. Mmmm, I hadn’t really thought about A Moveable Feast as a contender for this question. Isn’t it a bit debatable whether or not it’s fiction or non? I don’t care; either way it’s one of my favorites. ;O)

  4. If Jame Michiner writes History, then I’ve read one. And yes! I have read Gary Jennings The Journeyer, about the travels of Marco Polo. But both of these are a long time ago. don’t remember the last time I read a history book

  5. I am so happy you brought up this topic…I love a good memoir / biography and sometimes have a hard time convincing my friends that they are viable, entertaining alternatives to fiction…after all it is the “real deal”. Some of my personal favorites are “The Tender Bar” by JR Moehringer, “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer & “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand.

    Though not a “historical biography ” as such I would also greatly recommend Horst Faas’ “Requiem, by the Photojournalists in Vietnam and Indochina”….amazingly haunting images.

  6. Hi,
    Just stumbled on your blog, lots of interesting reviews here! I had been thinking of reading Wolf Hall and then forgot to actually do it. Thanks to your post I will read it now 🙂

  7. I’m fascinated by history. You might enjoy Balzac’s “Catherine De Medici”, Edmund White’s “Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel” and Ha Jin’s “War Trash”

  8. I am reading Europe: a History by Norman Davies at the moment. Am taking it slowly as it’s a huge book, and I’m reading smaller fiction books at the same time. Really enjoying it though. I did a history degree and by the end of it I wanted to read anything but history books, but more recently I’ve started to enjoy them more.

  9. Forgot – another good one I read recently was Britain’s Gulag, a book about British atrocities in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion. Really good use of archives and other sources to tell a compelling and little-known story.

  10. I’m behind and catching up, but I enjoy your blog very much and thought I could answer this.
    I do enjoy History books very much as well.
    This year, I have read so far:
    1) A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, by Barbara W. Tuchman: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/a-distant-mirror/
    2) The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/my-review-of-the-worst-hard-time/ [on the Great Depression]
    3) The Greater Journey, by David McCullough [fabulous]: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/my-review-45-the-greater-journey/
    4) Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America, by Jim Murphy – not reviewed yet
    5) Johann Sebastian Bach, by Rick Marschall: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/my-review-43-of-johann-sebastian-bach/

    Emma @ Words And Peace

  11. oh and of course Wolf Hall!!: I was considering it more as historical novel, not sure actually why: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/review-63-wolf-hall/
    Emma @ Words And Peace

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