The best books that will change how you see history

The Books I Picked & Why

S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome

By Mary Beard

S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome

Why this book?

There are lots of great histories that are changing the way we see the ancient world, but for an accessible overview of a whole civilization this book is hard to beat. With an eye for the extraordinary and the everyday, and a career’s worth of expertise packed into every page, this is a guidebook to make the foreign familiar. Combining archaeological advances with ancient texts, this book will update those who think they already know something about Roman civilization, challenge those who think they know everything, and amaze those who currently know nothing.


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The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades

By Paul M. Cobb

The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades

Why this book?

A great insight informs every aspect of this excellent book. While few historians today would put the crusades down to mere fanaticism, too many uninformed people still think of the crusades in absurdly simplistic terms of clashing civilizations, cultures, and religions. This book takes aim at that sort of ignorance by telling the history of one of the world’s great historical phenomena in a very accessible way from the perspective with which most readers will be least familiar.


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Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

By Kristyn Harman

Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

Why this book?

If the British empire’s first historians had a knack for anything it was omitting to mention what some of what their predecessors did for the sake of empire. Aboriginal Convicts is one of those books that really challenges us to rethink the stories we have received about British colonization. By tracing the lives of Indigenous people in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand who were sentenced to transportation as convicts this groundbreaking book turns the table on the way we see Britain’s empire in the nineteenth century.


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Travelers in the Third Reich

By Julia Boyd

Travelers in the Third Reich

Why this book?

Brilliantly executed, this stunning book provides a composite firsthand view of history’s darkest turn. Using a suite of interesting travellers in Hitler’s Germany this book perfectly captures the looming ominousness and increasing brutality of this infamous time and place. It also reveals a very human capacity to be misled, prejudiced, or uninterested. This is a book that will open your eyes to the past and make you think hard about the present.


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Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

By Annie Jacobsen

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

Why this book?

From U2 spy planes to Predator drones, this is an eye-opening history with a broad international sweep taking in the cold war, the military-industrial complex, engineering marvels, and profoundly human failures. A fascinating account of American state secrets from the Second World War to the present, this history intimates how the conspiracy mentalism that blights large chunks of America today may be partly the result of a great structural contradiction. This is a compelling history of a superpower that used secrecy to defend democracy.


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