Sunday, 17 July 2011

History Books Worth Buying

I’m nearly halfway through the third volume of Edward Gibbon’s epic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It’s taken me quite a while (whilst fascinating it’s not the swiftest of reads) so I’ve started having a look at some other history books to buy.

The most obvious is, of course, the box set of volumes 4-6 of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I do tend to buy historical series together (I got all three of John Julius Norwich’s brilliant Byzantium history in short order, and likewise Bob Bennett’s and Mike Roberts’ two books on the Successors).

A lighter read could be Philip Matyszak’s Gladiator: The Roman Fighter’s (Unofficial) Manual. The (Unofficial) Manuals are a new series, presently featuring three books (I have the other two, Legionary, by Matyszak, and Knight, by Michael Prestwich). Although quite light-hearted, they’re crammed with interesting historical facts and are very enjoyable. I think I read somewhere that future releases include Viking and Samurai.

I got Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport, by Fik Meijer, a year ago, and rather liked it. Meijer does an excellent job of being objective and not thrusting modern moral concepts onto the ancient world. However, he did paint such a vivid picture of the plight of gladiators that I found myself shifting my view and feeling rather sorry for them.

A while ago I wrote that Aurelian was perhaps the best Roman emperor, in my view. John White has written a biography (well-rated albeit by a single person) of the Restorer of the World which I will get, sooner or later. It’s not a particularly well-known era or individual, but Aurelian picked up where the Gothic Claudius left off and won a series of victories, which does beg the question as to why he isn’t better known.

There’s another series, which seems to be unnamed, which takes the form of historical travel guides and has titles such as “Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day” (that book happens to be, again, by Matyszak). They’re well-rated and cover quite a number of historic locations, including Athens, Florence, Shakespearean London and Ancient Egypt.

It’s been some time since I read anything about Alexander. (I can recommend TA Dodge’s military history/biography, incidentally). JFC Fuller’s The Generalship of Alexander the Great is a book that I’ll probably get, but not for a while. It seems, from reviews, to be a good but tough read, and given I’ll have read the six volumes of Gibbon before buying it some lighter books in between would probably be welcome.

Similarly, A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to St. Louis, by Professor RHC Davis, was praised by a sound fellow I know and is something I’ll be looking at buying, but given the subject matter is something I’ve read a bit about lately (Gibbon and Norwich) I’ll leave it for a little while.

I’d still say that my favourite part of history is the Second Punic War, followed by Alexander and his Successors, but I am finding the transition from Ancient to Medieval eras more interesting than I thought I would. It seems baffling, now, that I’d heard almost nothing regarding the thousand years of Byzantine history before Norwich’s trilogy.

Anyway, I’ve decided to get Gibbon’s latter volumes, and Gladiator.


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