History is a deep, twisted labyrinth filled with strange turns and false starts, so if you’re looking for must-read books for history buffs, it’s important to think about accuracy. You’ll want your reading to be detailed and precise about your subject matter. In that respect, here are five tomes that value facts just as much as fun.
Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses by Regine Pernoud
There are endless biographies about Jeanne d’Arc, the famous heroine of the Hundred Years’ War who was burned at the stake after leading the French army through a series of victories. But questions still remain about her identity, her quest and even her sanity. Did she really have visions from God? Did she really lead military troops as a teenage girl? Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses seeks to answer these questions by offering excerpts from historical documents that talk about Joan. Instead of being dazzled by myths and legends, you’ll read the real-world accounts of friends, neighbors, soldiers, kings and court reporters who knew Joan.
The Mammoth Book of King Arthur by Mike Ashley
With more than 700 pages filled with charts, footnotes and family trees, The Mammoth Book of King Arthur lives up to its sizable title. Not only does it unpack Arthurian mythology by taking an academic view of Arthur and who he might have been, but it also provides context for the general state of Britain in the fourth and fifth centuries. You’ll learn about the Saxons, Picts and Romans and how they might have affected scholars like Gildas, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth; you’ll be given several potential “candidates” for the real-life Arthur, including war generals and folk heroes. All in all, this book is essential reading for King Arthur fans who want to know the man as well as the myth.
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln is one of the most notorious in American history, but there’s one gray area in history books that doesn’t get covered with the same attention and precision as the infamous play: the escape of John Wilkes Booth. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer seeks to correct this knowledge gap by providing an hour-by-hour look at the period between April 14 and April 26, 1865. John Wilkes Booth led police through forests, swamps and cities as he desperately evaded capture, and with this book, you’ll learn all of the “how”s and “why”s of his flight.
The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer
The Borgias family went down in history as a ruthless, conniving and even incestuous clan that dominated renaissance Italy like the mafia. However, modern-day scholars are realizing that much of the Borgias’ bad press came from their enemies, and new efforts are being made to understand them without the influence of slander and propaganda. The Borgias: The Hidden History delves into this notorious family and offers a glimpse of what they might’ve really valued, accomplished and championed.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
This lively book is a great “starter package” for readers who are interested in the origins of the universe but lack the technical knowledge to make sense of highbrow scientific concepts. Bill Bryson covers everything from the oldest human skeletons to the dangers of black holes, and he does it with funny, entertaining observations that invite readers to learn more through their own research. If you’re looking for a crash course in atoms, quarks, photons, space flight and the Big Bang Theory, try A Short History of Nearly Everything.
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These are just five must-read books for history buffs. Those who don’t understand it are doomed to repeat it, and reading about it is an excellent way to broaden your knowledge and learn from those who came before you.