Booking through Thursday says: 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.
I don’t recall when my passion for history began, but I remember excitedly running to my desk on the first day of fourth grade so that I could see what my history book looked like. Since then, history has been my ‘thing’. As a story, it comes easily to me, and I regard history books as leisure reading. I suppose it’s no surprise I went for a history degree. History not only allows us to understand the present, but to challenge it. Having seen the way things came to be the way they are allows us to say “Ah-hah, things don’t HAVE to be this way.” We don’t need to be so impressed by the status quo. There’s a history to everything, and the more I study it the more I realize how connected we all are. And of course, BTT is correct in pointing out that history is rife with fantastic stories — and those stories needn’t simply be entertaining. They can inspire us to action, as well.
In response to BTT’s direct questions:
My last history reads were Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne and Unfamilar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, the latter of which takes on the American annexation of Hawaii. Biography-wise, in March I read Howard Zinn’s You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train. The events he witnessed in his life give me hope that positive political change is possible despite power and corruption.
- Pretty much anything by Joseph and Frances Gies. This husband-and-wife team of historians focus on daily life in the middle ages, and their works are completely open to laymen. In fact, I’d wager that their intended audience are people who wouldn’t otherwise read history. I’m, most fond of their Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel; Life in a Medieval City; and Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages.
- 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. One of the best, if not the best, history book I’ve read since starting this blog.
- A Life of her Own, Emile Carles — the true story of a French peasant girl who survived the arrival of industrialism and two world wars. Easily my favorite book acquired through university classes, this completely altered the way I viewed politics.
- On the Shoulders of Giants, a history-of-science series by Ray Spangenburg and Diane Kit Moser. This is a good way to acquire basic scientific literacy, and they wrote it for teen audiences so it’s quite readable.
- And for a larger view, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, which points out the geographic and biological influences in human history, and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which tells American history from the vantange point of slaves, war protesters, and the working man.