The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

Thomas D. Conlan Author Of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD
By Thomas D. Conlan

Who am I?

I have been fascinated with history in general, and the history of Japan, since I was in junior high when I read a book on the samurai. After attending summer school at Harvard in 1985, I resolved to devote myself to the study of Japan. Since then, I have studied at Michigan, Stanford, and Kyoto before teaching Japanese history at first Bowdoin College and now, Princeton University. Although I primarily research Japanese history, I find scholarship pertaining to medieval and early modern Europe to be fascinating as well. 


I wrote...

Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

By Thomas D. Conlan,

Book cover of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

What is my book about?

This volume provides an overview of Japanese battles, weapons, and fighting techniques and reveals that much of what we had assumed to be true of the samurai has been misremembered or misunderstood. Covering centuries, and exploring the significance of bows, swords, guns, and cannons, this book should be of interest to scholars, students, and those curious about the samurai.

The books I picked & why

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The Tale of the Heike

By Royall Tyler (translator),

Book cover of The Tale of the Heike

Why this book?

A masterpiece. Royall Tyler translates this tale, which had been recited orally by blind monks in the fourteenth century, into beautiful English; the rhythms of the language, its beauty, tragedy, and poetry become accessible to an English-speaking audience for the first time. One of the greatest accomplishments in translation and a must-read for all interested in medieval Japanese warfare and epic war tales.


The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

By William Chester Jordan,

Book cover of The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

Why this book?

In his unsurpassed, informative, and intrinsically interesting study, Jordan reveals how France’s Louis IX settled over a thousand Muslims in France after his first Crusade during the thirteenth century. Jordan writes beautifully and through his careful research, engaging style, and polished prose, a forgotten world that few had imagined to even exist comes vividly alive.  


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Why this book?

A deeply engrossing story, where characters are transported back into time from contemporary Japan to zoos in Manchuria on the eve of Japan’s 1945 defeat. Although the narrative is disjointed, its characters are haunting, and the work is unforgettable. A mesmerizing tale by the greatest living novelist of Japan today.


Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History

By Carlo M. Cipolla, Christopher Woodall (translator),

Book cover of Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History

Why this book?

Cipolla, a brilliant author, shows in this study how economic history and economic concepts can be used to study the past even when they did not exist at the time. Cipolla engagingly explains how economic concepts, even when unrecognized, can be useful tools of analysis. In order to demonstrate this principle, for example, he memorably explains how the clothes used to prevent plague in medieval Europe were effective for reasons totally different than contemporaries realized. Mistaken understandings could still lead to effective actions.  


Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney,

Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Why this book?

All should know more about the sublime work of Jan van Eyck, and his Ghent Altarpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, one of the most masterful works of art ever conceived, was cherished by some, despised by others, and at times highlighted and hidden. Some parts of this work read like a thriller, particularly on somehow survived the end of WWII in an Austrian salt mine, while others read like a mystery, such as when one panel was stolen in 1934 and remains lost to this day.


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