The most recommended classical antiquity books

Who picked these books? Meet our 62 experts.

62 authors created a book list connected to classical antiquity, and here are their favorite classical antiquity books.
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Book cover of Through the Looking-Glass

Peter Cave Author Of Humanism: A Beginner's Guide

From my list on grappling with what it is to be human.

Why am I passionate about this?

Who knows why, but I have always been enticed by absurdities, paradoxes, incongruities — I use them in my talks, articles, and books — of everyday lives, our humanity, and mysteries of our ‘going on.’ Reflections on being human can be triggered by humour such as Cambridge’s Beyond the Fringe and New York’s sitcom Seinfeld — within which I wallow — as well as by lengthy philosophical works and novels. My work draws on bafflements: for example, shampoo instructions “Lather, rinse, repeat” (making shampoo-ing infinite?); Barmaid to Peter Cook, “Bitter?”, reply being “Just tired”— and Samuel Beckett’s “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Yes, I go on.

Peter's book list on grappling with what it is to be human

Peter Cave Why did Peter love this book?

Many of us, when young, read Looking-Glass with Carroll’s first work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it was as an adult, eager to reflect philosophically, that I began to appreciate deep puzzles within our language and consciousness – and these are more prominent in Looking-Glass.  

I taught philosophy for many years  oops, not true, I don’t think philosophy can be taught. Rather, I encourage people to step back and think philosophically by confronting paradoxes, using their imagination, and looking beyond appearances. I often recommend Looking-Glass to achieve a sense of bewilderment and the delicious desire to dig into and question everyday assumptions of living.

By Lewis Caroll,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Through the Looking-Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alice, who is bored, falls asleep in a chair and dream that it happens on the other side of the mirror of the show. The mirror of the world is both the English countryside, a chessboard, and the upside down world, where you have to run very fast to stay put. Alice came across chess pieces (queen, knight) and characters of children's culture of the Victorian era. One finds in this novel the mix of poetry, humor and nonsense that makes the charm of Lewis Carroll. It is better to know the basic rules of chess to appreciate the subtleties…

Book cover of The Life And Strange Surprizing Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer Author Of Wait Softly Brother

From my list on fake autobiographical fiction through the ages.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am eternally fascinated by the way in which a string of words can take on a life of its own. With a mere 26 letters, a good writer can have a reader believe anything. When realist fiction first became a category in the 18th century in England, there was a lot of handwringing over whether readers were being lied to. Of course, they were! That is the point of fiction. My own work has always played with the boundary of realist fiction, fairytale, and truth. I’m interested in the way a story can make meaning—and the more hijinks, the better!

Kathryn's book list on fake autobiographical fiction through the ages

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer Why did Kathryn love this book?

Crusoe is a failed slaver, a reckless son, a bad sailor, a pretty crap boss, a parrot lover and, in all of that, he shows us how damaged and imperfect a system we have inherited.

I love Robinson Crusoe for its audacity. When it was first published in 1719, readers were furious to discover that there was no such person as Crusoe but that, instead, the story was fabricated by one Daniel Defoe, who had recently spent three days in the stockades for seditious libel. I love the insanity of this story, how it wants us to believe that a man spends 28 years on a deserted island and still comes home to England richer than when he left. A flawed novel but our first in English, it is also our first autofiction. 

By Daniel Defoe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life And Strange Surprizing Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a reproduction of a classic text optimised for kindle devices. We have endeavoured to create this version as close to the original artefact as possible. Although occasionally there may be certain imperfections with these old texts, we believe they deserve to be made available for future generations to enjoy.

Book cover of Women's Lives, Women's Voices: Roman Material Culture and Female Agency in the Bay of Naples

Eve D'Ambra Author Of Roman Women

From my list on women in Ancient Rome that cut the clichés.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of ancient art at Vassar College where I teach Roman art and archaeology. I have published widely in the field and traveled extensively in the Mediterranean. My first encounters with Roman art occurred as a child in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where I would stand before Roman portrait heads because their faces seemed stern and grim, yet ordinary and matter-of-fact. I have continued to observe Roman portraits over the years, but admit that I still sometimes find them daunting.

Eve's book list on women in Ancient Rome that cut the clichés

Eve D'Ambra Why did Eve love this book?

It is an anthology of essays that provide a range of topics and approaches to women who lived and worked in these small towns, now spectacularly preserved despite their sudden destruction by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The lives lived here tend towards the gritty, workaday world with studies of women in business and trade, although elite women, public priestesses, also make an appearance. Two that feature women's names scratched on walls (graffiti) and drawings of women etched in or painted on Pompeian walls (by Erika Zimmermann Damer and Margaret L. Laird) argue for women's (partial) literacy and their greater visibility. These essays do much to make the fascinating archaeological material accessible.

By Brenda Longfellow (editor), Molly Swetnam-Burland (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women's Lives, Women's Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literary evidence is often silent about the lives of women in antiquity, particularly those from the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Even when women are considered, they are often seen through the lens of their male counterparts. In this collection, Brenda Longfellow and Molly Swetnam-Burland have gathered an outstanding group of scholars to give voice to both the elite and ordinary women living on the Bay of Naples before the eruption of Vesuvius.

Using visual, architectural, archaeological, and epigraphic evidence, the authors consider how women in the region interacted with their communities through family relationships, businesses, and religious practices,…

Book cover of Behind Closed Doors: Her Father's House and Other Stories of Sicily

Jacqueline Alio Author Of Queens of Sicily 1061-1266

From my list on Sicilian women and their lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Very little has been written in English about Sicilian women. Most of the studies written in English about the women of southern Italy are the work of foreigners who discovered our region in adulthood. While some non-Italian colleagues have produced fine work, my books reflect the perspective of a scholar who, being Sicilian, has been familiar with the region and its people all her life. This is seen in my knowledge of the Sicilian language, from which I've translated texts, and even the medieval cuisine mentioned in my books. Viva la Sicilia!

Jacqueline's book list on Sicilian women and their lives

Jacqueline Alio Why did Jacqueline love this book?

These short stories about ordinary Sicilian women of the early years of the twentieth century bring us a gritty realism that may bring tears to your eyes.

Not only is this great literature, albeit in translation, but it also provides an insight into the history of Sicilian life and emigration. We usually read about this from the American point of view. Here, it is presented from an Italian perspective. In my opinion, it's useful and informative to read both.

Book cover of The Stepsister and the Slipper

Ariele Sieling Author Of Midnight Wings

From my list on Cinderella retellings with a unique spin.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a science fiction and fantasy author with a love of fairytales. I enjoy genre-bending, genre-blending, and new takes on old stories. As a child, I had a book of fairytales illustrated with embroidered illustrations. In high school and college, when I had the opportunity, I always chose to read fairytales—I've even taken classes that exclusively explore fairytales. Now as an author, I’ve leaped feet first into fairytale retellings. My first series, Rove City, features fairytale retellings set in an intergalactic spaceship, and my second series is made up of collections of original fairytales. Next, I’m planning to take the original fairytales and turn them into my own retellings. 

Ariele's book list on Cinderella retellings with a unique spin

Ariele Sieling Why did Ariele love this book?

Lighthearted and fun, this retelling is centered on Cinderella’s stepsister, Charlotte. Charlotte is burdened with the unenviable responsibility of finding a wealthy husband, as their small family is nearly destitute. When they make it to the ball, Charlotte is smart and lucky enough to make an acquaintance with the prince. But Cinderella, aka Blanche, keeps getting in her way. This cute and sweet tale blends fantasy, humor, and a dash of philosophy with its new spin on this classic tale.

By Nina Clare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What if the prince fell in love with the stepsister?

Lady Charlotte needs a rich husband, and fast. Good thing she has plenty of beauty and charm, with no foolish ideas of love to get in the way of her plans. When the chance to catch the wealthiest, most eligible bachelor in the kingdom appears, she will do everything in her power to win such a prize; even if she must break a few hearts along the way. But in the end, it is her own heart that's troubled. Perhaps true love really does exist, but if so, it’s not…

Book cover of Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide

Judith Harris Author Of Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery

From my list on the joys of life in classical antiquity.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a freelance journalist in Italy, I covered, for Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and others, tough topics: terrorism, the Mafia, the heroin traffic which passed via Sicilian laboratories to the U.S. At a certain point I found this overly negative. After taking a course in Rome on archaeology, by chance I was asked to direct a BBC half-hour documentary on Pompeii. In so doing, I realized that it was  time to focus upon the many positive elements of Italian life and history. From that life-changing documentary came this book on Pompeii, on which I worked for five rewarding years. My next book was on historical Venice.

Judith's book list on the joys of life in classical antiquity

Judith Harris Why did Judith love this book?

The late Amanda Claridge, a professor at the University of London, introduces us to the ancient city in the book she co-authored: Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, now on offer as Rome, An archaeological guide. Over time, archaeology itself changes, and today's critics say that her presentation of up-to-date archaeology in Rome equally entrances both tourists and her fellow scholars. She taught at both Oxford and the University of London, as well as at Princeton University in the U.S. 

By Amanda Claridge,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The city of Rome is the largest archaeological site in the world, capital and showcase of the Roman Empire and the centre of Christian Europe.

This guide provides:

* Coverage of all the important sites in the city from 800 BC to AD 600 and the start of the early middle ages, drawing on the latest discoveries and the best of recent scholarship

* Over 220 high-quality maps, site plans, diagrams and photographs

* Sites divided into fourteen main areas, with star ratings to help you plan and prioritize your visit:
Roman Forum; Upper Via Sacra; Palatine; Imperial Forums; Campus…

Book cover of The Other Pareto

Christopher Adair-Toteff Author Of Vilfredo Pareto's Contributions to Modern Social Theory: A Centennial Appraisal

From my list on Vilfredo Pareto’s sociological writings.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was trained as a philosopher and have been a professor of philosophy for more than three decades. Beginning with Plato, I have been persuaded that reason is powerful. I am also a social theorist and have published scholarly books on Max Weber, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Raymond Aron. Yet Pareto’s writings have convinced me that people are most often motivated by interests and passions and then use reasons to justify their behavior. Plato showed people as they ought to be; Pareto showed them as they are. Philosophy is important, but so is Pareto’s social psychology.

Christopher's book list on Vilfredo Pareto’s sociological writings

Christopher Adair-Toteff Why did Christopher love this book?

The Other Pareto contains one of the best accounts of Pareto’s thinking. He provides a fuller context regarding Pareto's place in social thinking. 

Bucolo began with Pareto’s early writings from 1872 and proceeds to provide an explanation of Pareto’s ideas until Pareto’s death in 1923. Bucolo provided massive quotations from Pareto’s writings to support and document his interpretation.

By Placido Bucolo (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

308p hardback with green laminated jacket, as new, dense ink notes to front endpapers, pages clean with bibliography and index, very good

Book cover of Child of the Sun

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers

From my list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I voyaged into the ancient world in the readings of my youth, it led me to realize that the gay-straight divide in modern perceptions of sexuality and relationships is an artifice. It was constructed by the conceit of the ascetic religions that the only legitimate purpose of sex is the production of children within a sanctified marital relationship. In Antiquity, the divide followed a more natural course between the groups who were the sexually active partners (mainly adult men) and those who were sexually passive (mainly women, youths, and eunuchs). My hope is to disperse some of the confusion that the obscuration of this historical reality has caused.

Andrew's book list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity

Andrew Chugg Why did Andrew love this book?

What would happen if a randy teenage boy became Emperor of Rome after winning a pitched battle against a usurper? Would the magisterial traditions and decorum of the office triumph over adolescent hormones or vice versa? Actually, there is no need to speculate about the answer, because it happened in real life and was recorded in several ancient histories that have come down to us. This novel, though billed upon its publication as erotic, is quite closely based on those histories. Clue: the hormonal impulses of teenage boys are quite hard to suppress.

By Kyle Onstott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This brilliant and brutally intimate novel captures accurately the depravity and intrigue of Ancient Rome. CHILD OF THE SUN tells the story of the youth Varius Avitus Hassianus, destined to become Emperor of the Roman empire. Varius spurned women. His erotic longings searched out a very different kind of love. Whatever or whomever he fancied was quickly offered to him. And no man, be he soldier or citizen, dared refuse him. As his perverted passions grew more and more bizarre, even the voluptuaries of Rome recoiled in horror.

Book cover of Ancient Europe from the Beginnings of Agriculture to Classical Antiquity: A Survey

Felice Vinci Author Of The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales

From my list on ancient myths and European prehistory.

Why am I passionate about this?

 I've been fond of the Homeric poems since my youth. I followed classical studies in the high here in Rome, so I studied Latin and Greek before graduating in nuclear engineering. Then, in addition to my professional activity, I've devoted myself to the study of The Iliad and the Odyssey, with their huge contradictions between geography and their traditional Mediterranean setting. The book I published on this topic was translated and published into eight foreign languages (as The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales), and has given rise to many scientific discussions. I also published The Mysteries of the Megalithic Civilization, a Bestseller here in Italy.

Felice's book list on ancient myths and European prehistory

Felice Vinci Why did Felice love this book?

This important volume traces a picture of European prehistory, from the earliest agricultural communities of the Neolithic period to the Roman world. Stuart Piggott, who was a great English scholar of the twentieth century, guides us here to understand the ancient roots of facts and situations that have gradually evolved up to the history we know well.

By Stuart Piggott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ancient Europe from the Beginnings of Agriculture to Classical Antiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘Ancient Europe’ is a readable and copiously illustrated account of man’s material, social, and cultural growth, from the sixth millennium B.C. until the incorporation of much of barbarian Europe within the Roman Empire. Professor Piggott brings together for the first time the scattered archeological evidence for this entire period and presents an up-to-date and comprehensive synthesis of the main lines of the European prehistory. Distinguished by authority and clarity of presentation, the book traces the beginnings of animal domestication and plan cultivation in ancient Western Asia, studies the transmission of these skills (by population movements and assimilation) to the European…

Book cover of Tales from Watership Down

Jeff Fleischer Author Of Animal Husbandry: And Other Fictions

From my list on collections that show what great modern novelists can do with short fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love short-story collections. I’ve read dozens to hundreds of them, starting as a child reading Richard Scarry, and I still make them a regular part of my reading diet. I started trying my own hand at short fiction in 2012 and have since finished more than one hundred stories, including the ones in Animal Husbandry. I’m now working on my first novel after years as a short-story writer, and it gives me additional admiration for how many outstanding novelists are also able to master short fiction. It’s two different skill sets, and the five authors I mentioned here (among many others) excel at both.

Jeff's book list on collections that show what great modern novelists can do with short fiction

Jeff Fleischer Why did Jeff love this book?

While I don’t think it’s possible to have one favorite novel, anytime I need to list just one on an author questionnaire, I usually pick Watership Down; it’s one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read, and one that rewards repeated rereads.

This collection does a great job of expanding the world of that novel, giving side characters more to do and expanding the mythology that permeates the novel, while the stories are memorable in their own right. 

By Richard Adams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales from Watership Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Tales from Watership Down is the enchanting sequel to Richard Adams's bestselling classic Watership Down, which won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Award.

Adams returns to the vivid and distinctive world he created in that enduring work, reacquainting readers with the characters we know and love, including Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Dandelion and the legendary rabbit hero El-ahrairah. These compelling tales include all-new adventures, with the younger generation of rabbits eager to find out about the heroic age that existed before they were born.

Enchanting us once again with stories of courage and survival, the millions of readers…