The best books that changed my view of history

Prit Buttar Author Of The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944
By Prit Buttar

Who am I?

"History can become a dull and uninteresting subject, but the stories of the past are far more interesting and inspiring than the very best fiction. These stories tell us about how our world came to be, and the paths that our predecessors travelled; and they show us that, despite the decades and centuries that separate us, they were driven and inspired by the same factors that drive and inspire us today." Prit Buttar was a doctor, first in the British Army and then a GP, until retiring in 2019. Less than a year later, he volunteered to go back to work during the current pandemic.


I wrote...

The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944

By Prit Buttar,

Book cover of The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944

What is my book about?

A detailed and engrossing account of the final year of fighting in Ukraine during World War II, making use of the extensive memoirs of German and Russian soldiers involved in the fighting, as well as partisans behind the German lines, to bring the story to life.

By the end of 1944 the Red Army was poised on the very frontiers of the Third Reich. How had the once-unstoppable, mighty Wehrmacht faltered so disastrously? Certainly it had suffered defeats before, in particular the vast catastrophe of Stalingrad, but it was in 1944 that the war was ultimately lost. It was no longer a case of if but rather when the Red Army would be at the gates of Berlin.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Anabasis (The Persian Expedition)

By Xenophon,

Book cover of Anabasis (The Persian Expedition)

Why this book?

There’s no substitute for reading about events by someone who was there. This book is about a largely forgotten incident, when 10,000 Greek mercenaries became involved in an attempt by Cyrus the Great to seize control of the Persian Empire from his brother. When Cyrus’ bid failed, the Greeks found themselves far from home and surrounded by foes; they then marched through Mesopotamia and modern-day Turkey to the Black Sea coast, where they were able to find ships that took them home to Greece.

It’s a tale of adventure and struggle, and sheer determination not to give in. It’s also a great example of how the author of such a work can find themselves faced with the difficult task of describing their own role in events. In the second half of the work, Xenophon gives increasing prominence to his personal leadership and suggestions. Regardless of any elements of self-promotion, it’s a tale of an epic march through adversity – a great example of how history can often be every bit as tense and exciting as fiction.

Anabasis (The Persian Expedition)

By Xenophon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anabasis (The Persian Expedition) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Widely considered the most famous work of the professional soldier and writer Xenophon, “Anabasis” is a true tale of dangerous adventure in ancient Greece. Though advised not to join the army of 10,000 by his friend Socrates, Xenophon does set out with Cyrus the Great in that man’s attempt to gain the empire of Persia from his brother. When this leader is killed in battle, however, the army loses cause and direction, and the result is a ‘marching republic’ in which the remainder of the army must fight their way home. Through endless miles of hostile territory where their foes…


Eleanor of Aquitaine

By Alison Weir,

Book cover of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Why this book?

History rarely gives a prominent place to women, and this is perhaps particularly true of medieval history. To have left such a huge mark, Eleanor must have been a truly extraordinary woman. It is the combination of her formidable nature with the equally formidable Henry II that makes her marriage to the great Plantagenet ruler such a remarkable story. Alison Weir’s book is a treasure, full of interesting anecdotes that bring the star-studded cast of Eleanor, Henry, and their sons Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John to life.

This book is an outstanding introduction to a fascinating period of English history, as an impatient, innovative king – sometimes aided by, and often hindered by, his wife – attempted to impose his will upon a stubborn and obstructive church and his rebellious sons.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

By Alison Weir,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of a truly exceptional woman and provides new insights into her intimate world. 

Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons.

Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many…


This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War

By Bruce Catton,

Book cover of This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War

Why this book?

I picked up this book while on a study course in the United States – I was based in Washington DC and intended to visit some of the nearby Civil War battlefields, and decided that I needed to know more about the conflict. It was perhaps the first American history book I had read, and immediately I was struck by the very different style of writing when compared with European works.

For a single-volume account of a terrible conflict that did so much to shape the United States, this is probably unmatched. The people involved, from those in high-level political positions to the men and women caught up in the fighting, are brought to life in an unforgettable way.

This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War

By Bruce Catton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Hallowed Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic one-volume history of the American Civil War simultaneously captures the dramatic scope and intimate experience of that epic struggle, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Bruce Catton.
 
Covering events from the prelude of the conflict to the death of Lincoln, Catton blends a gripping narrative with deep, yet unassuming, scholarship to bring the war alive on the page in an almost novelistic way. It is this gift for narrative that led contemporary critics to compare this book to War and Peace, and call it a “modern Iliad.” Now over fifty years old, This Hallowed Ground remains one of the best-loved and…


Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Book cover of Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

Why this book?

This is an unusual book, in that it is effectively a biography of a city – known through the years first as St Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, and now once more St Petersburg. As he tells the story of the city that Peter the Great built in a desolate swamp, Lincoln brings together many of the different strands of Russian history and the strong-willed people who tried, with varying degrees of success, to direct that history in directions of their choosing. For anyone intending to visit St Petersburg, reading this book beforehand is an absolute must – it will make the experience of being there so much more valuable. If there is a flaw, it is that Lincoln sadly died when St Petersburg was perhaps at its lowest ebb following the end of the Soviet Union; it would be fascinating to know how he would have assessed the city as it has reinvented itself yet again in more recent years.

Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sunlight at Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For Russians, St.Petersburg has embodied power, heroism and fortitude. It has encompassed all the things that the Russians are and that they hope to become. Opulence and artistic brilliance blend with images of suffering on a monumental scale to make up the historic persona the late W. Bruce Lincoln's lavish biography of this mysterious, complex city. Climate and comfort were not what Tsar Peter the Great had in mind when he decided to build a new capital in the muddy marshes of the Neva River delta. Located 500 miles below the Arctic Circle, this area, with its foul weather, bad…


The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge, and India's Quest for Independence

By Anita Anand,

Book cover of The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge, and India's Quest for Independence

Why this book?

If there was any single episode that doomed British rule of India, it was the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, when General Reginald Dyer ordered his men to open fire on unarmed civilians in a walled park from which there was only one exit. One of those in the park was a man named Udnam Singh, and the dreadful massacre led to Udnam spending the next 21 years patiently seeking an opportunity to assassinate Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant-governor of Punjab who was responsible for the killing.

Any book that deals with such an emotive subject as this could easily get lost in partisan assertions on behalf of one side or the other, but Anand meticulously remains both even-handed and engaged with the human beings in her story. As an example of how to tackle such a potentially explosive topic, this book is simply outstanding.

The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge, and India's Quest for Independence

By Anita Anand,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Reads like something from a thriller...colourful, detailed and meticulously researched' Sunday Times
'Gripping from start to finish' Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
'Remarkable and brilliantly researched non-fiction thriller...focussing on one extraordinary story that had never been properly told before' William Dalrymple, Spectator

Anita Anand tells the remarkable story of one Indian's twenty-year quest for revenge, taking him around the world in search of those he held responsible for the Amritsar massacre of 1919, which cost the lives of hundreds.

When Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, ordered Brigadier General Reginald Dyer to Amritsar, he wanted him…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in St. Petersburg, the American Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about St. Petersburg, the American Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln.

St. Petersburg Explore 24 books about St. Petersburg
The American Civil War Explore 232 books about the American Civil War
Abraham Lincoln Explore 67 books about Abraham Lincoln

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Devil's Brood, and Mistress of the Art of Death if you like this list.