Each month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’
The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.
The theme for April is one that I struggled with on account of never, ever, ever, reading this type of book.
I’ve got to be honest – I’m really hoping you don’t need much of an explanation on this one!
Let’s go to my favourite place (Wikipedia) for a definition shall we?
History is the study of the past as it is described in written documents. Events occurring before written word are considered prehistory. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organisation, presentation, and interpretation of information about these events.
Wikipedia also says:-
History can also refer to the academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse a sequence of past events, and objectively determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them.
We are also told:-
Stories common to a particular culture, but not supported by external sources (such as the tales surrounding King Arthur), are usually classified as cultural heritage or legends.
I guess that’s where our folklore creeps in er… folks but it doesn’t count as history due to lack of empirical evidence.
There are multiple facets of history listed including (but not limited to); geographical, military, social, cultural, world, environmental, and gender.
I am writing this blog post in the year 2019.
From the first recorded word to today there’s been a lot of stuff happening. What’s crazy is when you think that a lot of what happens today will one day be our history and what will happen tomorrow will also be our history.
Events that we have experienced will one day be historical events and there will be some future person saying, “I wish I could speak to someone who has a first hand account.”
I get very wistful when I think of people that lived through the First and Second World Wars getting older. My grandad was a child in London during the Second World War and he told us so many stories about The Blitz and of being an evacuee child.
His stories were historical stories to me and my brothers but to him they were memories.
There are a ton of history books out there. Some of which would have been written after years of research and some of which would have written after years of interviewing witnesses. Sometimes both.
If you pick a time in history then there’s likely to be book about it somewhere.
In 2018 the History Extra selected 36 titles of history books that were released that year. I did a random number generator and picked the 5 titles that were churned out. Have a scroll through below!
It’s a bit of an eclectic mix which is what you get when you look at history. There’s only one that tickles my fancy and that’s Invisible Agents (Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain) but that’s because I have an interest in women in history.
This is based off of the ‘Popular History Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 10,000 entries. Wowsers! The top ten are: –
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
- The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- 1776 by David McCullough
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption byLaura Hillenbrand
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Night by Elie Wiesel
I’m not a massive history reader (I’m getting into historical fiction but that’s a different category) and so I don’t know a lot of these at all.
The ones that I’ve heard of are The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (which I have read) and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. That’s it.
Even when I move up the list beyond the top ten I don’t recognise a great deal although two of the ones that leap out are two that I have on my TBR.
My usual question: What do I think?
History is often filled with tragedy which may be why I don’t often enjoy reading it.
People do horrible things and people often have horrible things done to them. Good historical fiction allows you to understand the atrocities but I think I enjoy the safety net of ‘fiction’ that they provide.
History books don’t do that so I tend to stay away from the painful ones.
Looking at the top ten I can see there are several themes; there is one African History book and two Scientific History books but the most popular topics seem to be World War II (3x) and American History (4x).
Out of the list above I think I would only be interested in reading The Devil in the White City which appears to be about an American serial killer (gosh, I’m grim). If I leave the top ten and venture upwards I come across Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, both of which I already have on my TBR.
I found that some historians and researchers, although they know their stuff and are passionate about their area of expertise, don’t always present the narrative in a way that’s enjoyable.
Yes, I appreciate that a true historical account shouldn’t contain fiction but history can be interesting and so should be written in the same way. I also appreciate that some people will find certain historical events incredibly interesting while others really won’t. Much like fiction, interest in historical events is also incredibly subjective.
Well I really haven’t read much at all! The Diary of Anne Frank is an incredibly moving read that has always stuck with but I genuinely can’t think of much more.
The best history books ever (in my humble opinion) are these ones:-
I also really enjoy these:-
Do you read a lot of history? What time periods/ events/ focus are you most interested in?
I think I have a creepy fascination with real life historical murders and a not so creepy fascination with women in history.
Aside from those topics I don’t know if anything else appeals but then there’s so much to be explored so I could be missing out on some wonders!
Let me know your thoughts and I’ll see you in May for another ‘Book Theme’ – topic TBC!