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...

Roman Woman: Everyday Life in Hadrian's Britain

By Lindsay Allason-Jones,

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.

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).

Come, Tell Me How You Live

By Agatha Christie Mallowan,

Book cover of Come, Tell Me How You Live

Why 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.


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

By Diane Janes,

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

Why 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.


Felbrigg: The Story of a House

By R W Ketton-Cremer,

Book cover of Felbrigg: The Story of a House

Why 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.


Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

By Shirley Abbott,

Book cover of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

Why 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.


Life and death in Spitalfields, 1700-1850

By Margaret Cox,

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

Why 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.


3 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rural poverty, funerals, and murders?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rural poverty, funerals, and murders.

Rural Poverty Explore 7 books about rural poverty
Funerals Explore 11 books about funerals
Murders Explore 339 books about murders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, Murder on the Orient Express, and A Siege of Bitterns if you like this list.