The best books on British and Irish history for readers interested in a wide range of topics

Why am I passionate about this?

I have a Ph.D. in British history and have taught a variety of courses on the topic for the past 40 years. Since first visiting Scotland on a study tour in 1981, I have been to Britain and Ireland both multiple times and have spent extended periods of time there. From Shakespeare to the Beatles, from the Norman Conquest to the Second World War, from Roman Britain to Brexit, I have found each period of British and Irish history endlessly fascinating and sharing my passion with students and readers has been one of the great joys of my life. 


I wrote...

The History of Britain and Ireland: Prehistory to Today

By Kenneth L. Campbell,

Book cover of The History of Britain and Ireland: Prehistory to Today

What is my book about?

The History of Britain and Ireland: Prehistory to Today is a balanced and integrated political, social, cultural, and religious history of the British Isles. 

Written in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall demonstrations, The History of Britain and Ireland examines the history of Britain and Ireland at a time when it asks difficult questions of its past and looks to the future. Campbell places Black history at the forefront of his analysis and offers a voice to marginalized communities, to craft a complete and comprehensive history of Britain and Ireland from Prehistory to Today. This book is unique in that it integrates the histories of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, to provide a balanced view of British history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Kenneth L. Campbell Why did I love this book?

If you are looking for a suspenseful non-fiction book on British history that reads like a novel and you won’t want to put down, this is the book for you.

I knew the basic outlines of the story of Kim Philby, a double agent inside Britain’s MI6 secret service spying on behalf of the Soviets. It turns out there is so much more to the story, told in a fascinating way by well-regarded author Macintyre in a book that would defy belief if the author had made up the details of Philby’s story for a novel.

This book will lead you to question how well we can ever really know someone, while also teaching you much about Britain’s involvement in the Cold War and the history of the post-war world.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked A Spy Among Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War.

Philby's two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone, and then discovered they had not known him at all. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery, class and conscience; of an ideological battle waged by men with cut-glass accents and…


Book cover of The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Phoenix Park Murders That Stunned Victorian England

Kenneth L. Campbell Why did I love this book?

The late nineteenth century is key to understanding the modern relationship between Britain and Ireland and no book does a better job of defining and exploring that relationship than this one.

The author deftly transitions between Charles Stewart Parnell, the Land War, and the Home Rule movement in Ireland on the one hand and Prime Minister William Gladstone, Queen Victoria, and British parliamentary politics on the other. The central focus, though, is on a murderous conspiracy that had long-range implications for both Britain and Ireland and includes a detective story to solve the murders that could have come straight out of the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The book also includes the story of the informer whose attempts to escape retribution constitute an adventure story in its own right. 

By Julie Kavanagh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Irish Assassins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF THE TIMES' BEST HISTORY BOOKS OF 2021

'The tale of the Phoenix Park murders is not unfamiliar, but Kavanagh recounts it with a great sense of drama... Kavanagh's account reminds me of the very best of true crime.' The Times (Book of the Week)

On a sunlit evening in l882, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, Chief Secretary and Undersecretary for Ireland, were ambushed and stabbed to death while strolling through Phoenix Park in Dublin. The murders were carried out by the Invincibles, a militant faction of republicans armed with specially-made surgeon's blades. They ended what should have…


Book cover of Black Tudors: The Untold Story

Kenneth L. Campbell Why did I love this book?

If there is any one book that has changed the way I view early modern British history, Kaufman has written that book.

Kaufman has written a series of mini-biographies here of Black residents of Britain during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that predate Britain’s involvement in the slave trade and demonstrate just how wide-ranging the Black British experience was during this period. The book challenges many preconceptions, especially the association of Blacks with slavery that really only emerged in England after the Tudor period.

The stories of the individuals featured in this book have much to teach us, not only about this early period, but about the Black contribution to British history in general and the need for historians to write them back into that history.

By Miranda Kaufmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Tudors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018

A Book of the Year for the Evening Standard and the Observer

A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England...

They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any…


Book cover of The Making of the English Working Class

Kenneth L. Campbell Why did I love this book?

Having first read this 1963 classic of English historiography in graduate school, Thompson’s masterpiece gets better every time I re-read it.

Although primarily considered a work of social history, I love the way Thompson interweaves political, cultural, intellectual, religious, and social history throughout the text. This book focuses on the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and shows the resilience of conservative ideas during a period shaped by the Industrial, American, and French Revolutions, as well as the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath.

In an age when many books go out of date within a decade or two, this classic will likely endure and be read 200 years from now for the insights it provides into working-class culture during one of the outwardly bleakest periods of labor history. 

By E.P. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Making of the English Working Class as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty years since first publication, E. P. Thompson's revolutionary account of working-class culture and ideals is published in Penguin Modern Classics, with a new introduction by historian Michael Kenny

This classic and imaginative account of working-class society in its formative years, 1780 to 1832, revolutionized our understanding of English social history. E. P. Thompson shows how the working class took part in its own making and re-creates the whole-life experience of people who suffered loss of status and freedom, who underwent degradation, and who yet created a cultured and political consciousness of great vitality.

Reviews:

'A dazzling vindication of the…


Book cover of Bosworth 1485: The Battle that Transformed England

Kenneth L. Campbell Why did I love this book?

Also published as Bosworth 1485: The Psychology of a Battle, this is one of my all-time favorite books on military history. Like Josephine Tey’s historical novel, The Daughter of Time, Jones challenges the Shakespearean and Tudor versions of Richard III’s reign.

Unlike Tey, Jones does not completely exonerate Richard for the murder of his nephews, but nor does he regard the future Henry VII in any more favorable of a light. What I liked best about this book is the way in which Jones humanizes the historical participants in the Wars of the Roses to a degree usually reserved for historical novels.

The reader will finish this book with a better understanding of the human factors, complexities, and contingencies of late medieval history—indeed of history in general. 

By Michael Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bosworth 1485 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On August 22, 1485, at Bosworth Field, Richard III fell, the Wars of the Roses ended, and the Tudor dynasty began. The clash is so significant because it marks the break between medieval and modern; yet how much do we really know about this historical landmark?

Michael Jones uses archival discoveries to show that Richard III's defeat was by no means inevitable and was achieved only through extraordinary chance. He relocates the battle away from the site recognized for more than 500 years. With startling detail of Henry Tudor's reliance on French mercenaries, plus a new account of the battle…


You might also like...

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

Helena P. Schrader Author Of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went to Berlin after college, determined to write a novel about the German Resistance; I stayed a quarter of a century. Initially, the Berlin Airlift, something remembered with pride and affection, helped create common ground between me as an American and the Berliners. Later, I was commissioned to write a book about the Airlift and studied the topic in depth. My research included interviews with many participants including Gail Halvorsen. These encounters with eyewitnesses inspired me to write my current three-part fiction project, Bridge to Tomorrow. With Russian aggression again threatening Europe, the story of the airlift that defeated Soviet state terrorism has never been more topical. 

Helena's book list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift

What is my book about?

Stopping Russian Aggression with milk, coal, and candy bars….

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians will starve unless they receive food, medicine, and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour, and children’s shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in the West. Until General Winter deploys on the side of Russia...

Based on historical events, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader delivers an…

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

What is this book about?

Fighting a war with milk, coal and candy bars....

In the second book of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series, the story continues where "Cold Peace" left off.

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians in Hitler's former capital will starve unless they receive food, medicine and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour and children's shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Wars of the Roses, the economy, and espionage?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Wars of the Roses, the economy, and espionage.

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Espionage Explore 570 books about espionage