The best books that show how people in different periods or cultures lived their lives

Lindsay Allason-Jones Author Of Roman Woman: Everyday Life in Hadrian's Britain
By Lindsay Allason-Jones

Who am I?

I am an archaeologist, mostly working in the Roman period. Until I retired in 2011, I was the Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture at Newcastle University, having previously been the Director of Archaeological Museums for the University. My working life started by specialising in identifying those small items which come out of every excavation, but more and more I became interested in what those artefacts told us about the people who lived on the site. Reading books about peoples’ lives in other cultures and periods provides insight into those people of the past for whom we have little documentary evidence.

I wrote...

Book cover of Roman Woman: Everyday Life in Hadrian's Britain

What is my book about?

The year is AD 133. Hadrian is Emperor of Rome and all its vast empire, including Britannia. The greater part of that island has long been under imperial rule and the Roman legions control most of the land, quelling uprisings and building new forts and towns. Around the fortress of Eboracum (now known as York), a bustling garrison settlement is developing, while along the north-west frontier of Hadrian's empire, the legions are completing the construction of a mighty wall. Introducing us to this world is Senovara, born into the Parisi, a local tribe whose customs have been little changed by Roman rule. But she is also the young wife of Quintus, a veteran of the 6th Legion Victrix. Settling in Quintus's home is both bewildering and awe-inspiring for Senovara as she seeks to adjust to Eboracum's cosmopolitan environment, come to terms with new customs and reconcile their cultural differences. Senovara finds that daily life in the settlement can be harsh; a constant struggle to provide her family with fresh food, water and warmth. Yet there is much enjoyment to be had as well, at the public baths or with new friends. There is also the excitement of religious festivals and in the regular news from the frontier, and peril in the form of a deadly fever which sweeps through Eboracum, forcing Senovara and her children to flee to her brother in the countryside.

Roman Woman
is an immersive, compelling narrative which gets to the heart of what life was like for everyday people in Roman Britain.

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The books I picked & why

Come, Tell Me How You Live

By Agatha Christie Mallowan,

Book cover of Come, Tell Me How You Live

Why did I love this book?

The title sums up what archaeologists are trying to do when they excavate a site. In this short book, Agatha Christie provides ‘an inconsequent chronicle’ of five archaeological field seasons in Mesopotamia in the 1930s, in the course of which she gently and wittily reveals a picture of the British working abroad between the Wars – a way of working that now seems as distant as the period she was uncovering.

By Agatha Christie Mallowan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Come, Tell Me How You Live as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Agatha Christie's personal memoirs about her travels to Syria and Iraq in the 1930s with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan, where she worked on the digs and wrote some of her most evocative novels.

Think you know Agatha Christie? Think again!

To the world she was Agatha Christie, legendary author of bestselling whodunits. But in the 1930s she wore a different hat, travelling with her husband, renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan, as he investigated the buried ruins and ancient wonders of Syria and Iraq. When friends asked what this strange `other life' was like, she decided to answer their questions by…

Book cover of Death at Wolf’s Nick: The Killing of Evelyn Foster

Why did I love this book?

Everybody who has read this extraordinary book seems to have an overwhelming urge to discuss it with other people. It tells the true story of the murder of a young woman in 1931 in northern England, a death for which no-one was ever brought to trial. This is not just an unsolved mystery but deftly reveals what life was like in a north Northumberland town in the 1930s, as well as exposing how chaotic and class ridden policing was at the time.

By Diane Janes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death at Wolf’s Nick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In January 1931, on a lonely stretch of Northumberland road known as Wolf's Nick, flames rose up into the night sky from the neighbouring moorland.

Beyond help, Evelyn Foster lay engulfed in flames near her burning car, desperately hoping to be found by a passing vehicle.

With her last breath, she described her assailant: a mysterious man with a bowler hat who had asked her to drive him to the next village, then attacked her and left her to die.

What followed was a remarkable effort by some members of the police to track down Evelyn's killer while other members…

Felbrigg: The Story of a House

By R W Ketton-Cremer,

Book cover of Felbrigg: The Story of a House

Why did I love this book?

Although this is the story of a house from the early 17th century to the 1960s, it offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the four families who lived there in turn as they won and lost fortunes, married well and badly, and survived the events of history.

By R W Ketton-Cremer,

Why should I read it?

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

Book cover of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

Why did I love this book?

A wittily written, powerful evocation of women’s lives in Arkansas from the 1930s to the 1980s, the history of how they got there and what made them such strong women. This is a revelation of family myth and tradition told fondly, yet with piercing pragmatism, in a way that provides insights into how we can understand women’s lives at all periods and in all places.

By Shirley Abbott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Reflects on the experience of growing up female in the South, explaining the meaning of the southern heritage, the southern notion of the feminine ideal, and the reasons why southern women leave their roots.

Book cover of Life and death in Spitalfields, 1700-1850

Why did I love this book?

Excavations in the Crypt of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London in 1984-9 uncovered 1000 skeletons, of which 387 were in coffins with inscribed plates giving the names and ages of the deceased. A mixed team of specialists were able to analyse the bodies and follow up the documentary evidence to reveal extraordinary details of life, dentistry and funerary practices between 1729 and 1859 in this historically rich part of London.

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