The best classical antiquity books

Who picked these books? Meet our 50 experts.

50 authors created a book list connected to classical antiquity, and here are their favorite classical antiquity books.
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Courtesans and Fishcakes

By James Davidson,

Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Andrew's favorite books.

Why did Andrew love this book?

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

By James Davidson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex.

Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style.

This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights - especially fish - fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians' careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes.

James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented…


Child of the Sun

By Kyle Onstott,

Book cover of Child of the Sun

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Andrew's favorite books.

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.


Women's Lives, Women's Voices

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

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

Who am I?

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

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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,…


The Roman Salute

By Martin M. Winkler,

Book cover of The Roman Salute: Cinema, History, Ideology

T. Corey Brennan Author Of The Fasces: A History of Ancient Rome's Most Dangerous Political Symbol

From the list on fascist propaganda.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of Classics at Rutgers University, where I’ve taught since 2000; before that, I spent a decade on the faculty of Bryn Mawr College. For three years I served on the staff of the American Academy in Rome, a somewhat frenetic experience that prompted me to shift my focus from ancient Roman history to the history of the city of Rome. Since 2010 I’ve been managing a private family archive in Rome, that of the papal Boncompagni Ludovisi, which covers the period from the early 1400s to the 1940s. Now completely digitized, the archive has much new material to offer, not least on the era of Mussolini, including resistance to his regime.

T.'s book list on fascist propaganda

Discover why each book is one of T.'s favorite books.

Why did T. love this book?

The raised-arm salute is the most distinctive gesture of 20th-century Fascism and Nazism; in the 21st century, it still thoroughly shocks when spotted. Its origin? Though the so-called “Roman salute” has been widely supposed to date back to classical antiquity, Winkler in a meticulous study demonstrates that it is a modern creation, an anachronism that first consistently cropped up in theatrical contexts (stage and early motion pictures) in the 1890s. Though nonsensical from a historical point of view, “it does make political and ideological sense”, argues Winkler, “to all those who see in the Romans a model for power and might and for glorious conquest of others.” More generally, the book is essential reading on the origins and evolution of Mussolini’s theatricality.

By Martin M. Winkler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The raised-arm salute was the most popular symbol of Fascism, Nazism, and related political ideologies in the twentieth century and is said to have derived from an ancient Roman custom. Although modern historians and others employ it as a matter of course, the term “Roman salute” is a misnomer. The true origins of this salute can be traced back to the popular culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that dealt with ancient Rome: historical plays and films. The visual culture of stage and screen from the 1890s to the 1920s was chiefly responsible for the wide familiarity…


The Golden Ass

By Apuleius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Book cover of The Golden Ass

Hal Johnson Author Of Apprentice Academy: Sorcerers: The Unofficial Guide to the Magical Arts

From the list on magic not to let your parents catch you reading.

Who am I?

The only thing I love reading more than books about myth and legend are books you’re not supposed to read. George Bataille once wrote that if you ever caught him producing a book that he risked nothing to write, you should throw it away, and I take that to heart. Every book should be dangerous, because only danger makes you think. I hope every book I’ve written is, in some sense, dangerous, although of course I also hope my readers do not get ripped to pieces by the devil. That’s a little too dangerous. 

Hal's book list on magic not to let your parents catch you reading

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Why did Hal love this book?

Not necessarily the world’s first novel (the world’s first novel is probably lost) nor even the world’s first great novel (that would be Petronius’ Satyricon, which you should also not get caught reading), The Golden Ass is definitely the world’s first great novel that has survived through the centuries intact.

It’s the story of a man who tries just one time to dabble in magic and accidentally turns himself into a donkey. The poor guy has a bunch of adventures as he tries to figure out how to, you know, stop being a donkey.

That doesn’t sound so bad, but no one’s ever going to let you read a book with the title The Golden Ass. It just means the golden donkey! There’s nothing filthy about it! But no one will believe you!

By Apuleius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written towards the end of the second century AD, The Golden Ass tells the story of the many adventures of a young man whose fascination with witchcraft leads him to be transformed into a donkey. The bewitched Lucius passes from owner to owner - encountering a desperate gang of robbers and being forced to perform lewd 'human' tricks on stage - until the Goddess Isis finally breaks the spell and Lucius is initiated into her cult. Apuleius' enchanting story has inspired generations of writers such as Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Keats with its dazzling combination of allegory, satire, bawdiness and…


The Ancient City

By Peter Connolly, Hazel Dodge,

Book cover of The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome

Nigel Rodgers Author Of The Colosseum From AD80 To The Present Day

From the list on daily life in ancient Athens and Rome.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by ancient Greece and Rome since I first saw Italy and Greece as a teenager, revisiting them whenever I can. I studied ancient history at Cambridge University and have written eight books about it, most recently The Colosseum. After living in Paris, Rome, and London, I am now based in Wiltshire in southwest England, almost within sight of Stonehenge. There is a small megalith outside my own house.

Nigel's book list on daily life in ancient Athens and Rome

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Why did Nigel love this book?

This book has the best illustrations of the two main cities of antiquity that l have ever seen. Besides superb photographs (all in colour) of the ruins today, they include Peter Connolly’s brilliant reconstructions of buildings of all sorts: houses, palaces, baths, temples, forums, hippodromes, theatres, amphitheaters, insulae (blocks of flats), bars and aqueducts, plus styles in furniture, clothing, and hair. All are shown in colourful detail, many with cutaway illustrations that recreate city life of 2000 years ago with wonderful vividness. They are complemented by Dr. Hazel Dodge’s lucid, informative text. The first part covers Athens at its democratic peak under Pericles around 434BC, the second Rome at its imperial zenith some 500 years later, when it was the greatest city on earth.

By Peter Connolly, Hazel Dodge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Ancient City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Superb, detailed reconstructions of buildings provide the starting-point for a vivid exploration of these two great cities and the lives of the people who inhabited them. Peter Connolly's illustrations and reconstructions have a unique authority, with their blend of superb draughtsmanship, imagination, and meticulous research. The text appeals to a wide spectrum of readers, from young adults to professional historians.


The Gentleman's Bottle Companion

By P. Harris Publishing,

Book cover of The Gentleman's Bottle Companion: A Collection of Eighteenth Century Bawdy Ballads

Morgan Wade Author Of Bottle and Glass

From the list on frontier life in 19th century Canada.

Who am I?

When I moved to Kingston, Ontario, Canada in 2001 I was amazed to find how this city, unlike many North American cities, has preserved and celebrated its past. It’s in the architecture, the streets, the fabric, and the soil. As someone with a deep love of reading and exploring history, I immediately began to research my new home. I didn’t discover the sort of bloodless accounts often taught in school, replete with dates and facts. This history simmers and boils; full of tales of pirates and officers, gadflies and ne’er-do-wells, countless plucky frontiersmen and women. There is enough raw material for a thousand novels. 

Morgan's book list on frontier life in 19th century Canada

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Why did Morgan love this book?

Bottle and Glass is set in actual, historical Kingston taverns from the early 1800’s. It is said that there was then a drinking shop in town for every seventh male adult and one visitor claimed that two thirds of the people he passed on the road were drunk. In 1812, when Kingston had a population of less than four thousand, it had about eighty taverns.  So, the Bottle Companion, published in 1768, is a perfect pairing. It is filled with all manner of ribald drinking songs and saucy lyrics, paeans to drink and revelry; it helps set the tone for what early 19th century life was really like. A number of characters in Bottle and Glass, at particular moments of high spirits and ever-expanding mayhem, belt out selections from the Companion.   

By P. Harris Publishing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gentleman's Bottle Companion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Rembrandt

By Emmanuel Starcky,

Book cover of Rembrandt

Alan Pierce Author Of An Artist's Odyssey: Chasing Ghosts, Masters & The Business of Art

From the list on Maestros of the art world and prisms of thought.

Who am I?

I first started art when I was nine years old, but my art journey really started after seeing the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s work at age 14. This experience changed my life and from there, I continued on with fourteen years of formal art education. The book details my experience and journey as a student, instructor, and professional artist over a thirty-year time period across three continents. I wrote An Artist’s Odyssey to help young artists or artists transitioning into art as a profession to help them avoid the pitfalls of the art world and supplement the necessary business acumen required to make a sustainable career in the art world.

Alan's book list on Maestros of the art world and prisms of thought

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Why did Alan love this book?

Rembrandt is a fascinating journey through Rembrandt’s paintings and also his lesser-known (to the general public) prints. It’s also a chronological roadmap of his works from his early years until his final period.  Watching his progression and the mastery in his latest period was a true learning process of how ‘less’ can be ‘far more.’ In the works displayed in the book, Rembrandt shows his skill at wringing every last bit of functionality out of each color in a very limited palette and also the cornucopia of atmospheric density he played with so masterfully to push and pull the viewers’ eye.  

By Emmanuel Starcky,

Why should I read it?

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


Free Speech in Classical Antiquity

By Ineke Sluiter (editor), Ralph Rosen (editor),

Book cover of Free Speech in Classical Antiquity

Paul Anthony Cartledge Author Of Democracy: A Life

From the list on freedom and freedom of speech in Ancient Greece.

Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.

Paul's book list on freedom and freedom of speech in Ancient Greece

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Why did Paul love this book?

Coincidentally this scholarly collection of essays appeared in the same year as my 2nd Book Pick. The original versions of the papers were delivered at ‘Penn’ (the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Rosen’s home) at the second ‘Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values’ (Leiden being Prof. Sluiter’s base). Free speech had two distinct terms and expressions in ancient Greece, one more expansive than the other. Parrhesia could be understood as frankness of expression, not necessarily political. Isegoria, on the other hand, was narrowly political and applied only to adult male free citizens: it’s best translated exactly as equal freedom of public political speech. One reviewer of the collection picked up on the existence of a rivalry between an official/state version of historical facts and the—more truthful—version given by an individual writer, explicitly referencing Salman Rushdie.

By Ineke Sluiter (editor), Ralph Rosen (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Free Speech in Classical Antiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book contains a collection of essays on the notion of "Free Speech" in classical antiquity. The essays examine such concepts as "freedom of speech," "self-expression," and "censorship," in ancient Greek and Roman culture from historical, philosophical, and literary perspectives. Among the many questions addressed are: what was the precise lexicographical valence of the ancient terms we routinely translate as "Freedom of Speech," e.g., Parrhesia in Greece, Licentia in Rome? What relationship do such terms have with concepts such as isegoria, demokratia and eleutheria; or libertas, res publica and imperium? What does ancient theorizing about free speech tell us about…


Book cover of Through the Looking-Glass

Peter Cave Author Of Humanism: A Beginner's Guide

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Peter's favorite books.

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 Last of the Winnebagos

S. Kirk Pierzchala Author Of Echoes Through Distant Glass

From the list on human determination to survive in the face of doom.

Who am I?

My imagination has always been captivated and fired up by reading traditional myths and fairy tales, as well science fiction. Growing up in the ’80s, I was particularly steeped in cinematic masterpieces such as Bladerunner and The Road Warrior, but I also loved reading classic sci-fi, as well as British literature, particularly the Brontes and Jane Austen. I enjoy and write speculative fiction because I believe it offers some of the best, creative ways to explore the timeless, universal truths underlying the human experience. Whether that exploration happens in subtle scenes of interpersonal interactions, or in the epic events woven in threads of dark and light across the tapestry of history, it’s all valuable and relevant.

S.'s book list on human determination to survive in the face of doom

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Why did S. love this book?

I really loved Willis’ multilayered presentation of the narrator’s past and present. Masterfully, Willis creates a deceptively simple, haunting setting, where the common but painful event of the loss of a pet becomes a symbol for the banality of extinction itself—whether of a species or entire culture. Made me think about how, even though inevitable, loss never gets easier.

The Last Great War of Antiquity

By James Howard-Johnston,

Book cover of The Last Great War of Antiquity

Stephen Morillo Author Of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

From the list on about medieval warfare globally.

Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!

Stephen's book list on about medieval warfare globally

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Why did Stephen love this book?

This book is, to me, the Platonic Ideal of scholarly military history. Howard-Johnston examines a somewhat obscure but vastly important war between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire that lasted from 602 to 628 and left both empires vulnerable to the new Islamic power that was about to emerge in Arabia. His narrative is lively, his knowledge of the sources is unmatched, his interpretations masterful, and he exposes the inner workings of the book regularly in philosophical comments on the job of the military historian, causation in history, and the problems of source interpretation. That it took him longer to write than the war itself lasted is also one of my favorite pieces of historian-author trivia!

By James Howard-Johnston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Great War of Antiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The last and longest war of classical antiquity was fought in the early seventh century. It was ideologically charged and fought along the full length of the Persian-Roman frontier, drawing in all the available resources and great powers of the steppe world. The conflict raged on an unprecedented scale, and its end brought the classical phase of history to a close. Despite all this, it has left a conspicuous gap in the history of warfare. This book aims to finally
fill that gap.

The war opened in summer 603 when Persian armies launched co-ordinated attacks across the Roman frontier. Twenty-five…


Book cover of Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity

Guy D. Middleton Author Of Women in the Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Palaeolithic to the Byzantines

From the list on real women in the ancient Mediterranean.

Who am I?

I wrote Women in the Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Palaeolithic to the Byzantines when my partner and I found out that we were having a daughter. I finished it just as daughter number two appeared! I wanted to write something they could connect with easily as young women to share my lifelong passion for Mediterranean history. I grew up inspired by my local landscape of castles and ruins, trips to Greece, Michael Wood documentaries, and lots of books. I studied ancient history and archaeology at Newcastle University and later got my PhD from Durham University. I’ve written on various aspects of the ancient world in journals, magazines, websites, and my previous books.

Guy's book list on real women in the ancient Mediterranean

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Why did Guy love this book?

Sarah B. Pomeroy’s book on women in antiquity was a landmark study when it was first published some fifty-odd years ago in 1975.

It remains important both for its discussion but also because of its place in the history of the study of women in the ancient world. Pomeroy works from literary and archaeological evidence to explore the lives of Greek and Roman women from the Bronze Age to women of the early Roman empire, with a particular focus on classical Athens and Rome.

It is erudite and readable, and, despite its age, deserves a place on any ancient history buff’s bookshelf. It was the first book on the subject that I bought when I was an undergraduate student and has been a great foundation for further study.

By Sarah Pomeroy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What did women do in ancient Greece and Rome? Did Socrates' wife Xanthippe ever hear his dialogues on beauty and truth? How many many women actually read the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides? When pagan goddesses were as powerful as gods, why was the status of women generally so low? Why, in traditional histories, is half the population effectively invisible?

This unique and important book spans a period of 1500 years - from the fall of Troy to the death of Constantine. It examines all the available evidence - literary and archaeological - and reconstructs the lives of women from…


The Far-Distant Oxus

By Katharine Hull, Pamela Whitlock,

Book cover of The Far-Distant Oxus

David Long Author Of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

From the list on adventure stories for young readers.

Who am I?

Although as an adult I very much prefer true-life adventures to fictional ones – it’s why I wrote Heroes and Rescue, as well as Survivors – many of the most enjoyable books I read as a child were fictional accounts of daring and danger, mostly if not entirely centred on children with whom I could identify. I found them inspiring and still do, and can’t help feeling that if after nearly 50 years I can still remember so many of the details – and, trust me, I really can - the authors of these five must really have known what they were up to. I really hope no one will be put off them because of their age because I feel they have genuinely stood the test of time.

David's book list on adventure stories for young readers

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Why did David love this book?

A personal favourite of Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome, the book does for Devon and ponies what he did for the Suffolk, the Lakes, and sailing. The authors were teenagers themselves when they wrote it, which is still hard to believe, and they took turns writing alternate chapters. The result is a  classic tale of adventurous children on holiday, and one which draws the modern reader in immediately. Interestingly it was Ransome who found the girls their first publisher.

By Katharine Hull, Pamela Whitlock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Far-Distant Oxus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Far-Distant Oxus Abridged Edition


Book cover of European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages

Albrecht Classen Author Of Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World: Epistemological Explorations, Orientation, and Mapping in Medieval Literature

From the list on the labyrinth of life through a medieval lens.

Who am I?

I'm a medievalist with a focus on German and European literature. Already with my Ph.D. diss. in 1987, I endeavored to explore interdisciplinary, interlingual connections (German-Italian), and much of my subsequent work (119 scholarly books so far) has continued with this focus. I have developed a large profile of studies on cultural, literary, social, religious, and economic aspects of the pre-modern era. In the last two decades or so, I have researched many concepts pertaining to the history of mentality, emotions, everyday-life conditions, and now also on transcultural and global aspects before 1800. Numerous books and articles have dealt with gender issues, communication, and historical and social conditions as expressed in literature. 

Albrecht's book list on the labyrinth of life through a medieval lens

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Why did Albrecht love this book?

This is the most seminal study ever written regarding western culture, highlighting the connections and shared tropes and topoi from classical antiquity to the early twentieth century. Curtius demonstrates an enormous command of Latin and vernacular literature from all of Europe and knows how to draw significant lines from culture to culture and from period to period.

By Ernst Robert Curtius,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published just after the Second World War, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages is a sweeping exploration of the remarkable continuity of European literature across time and place, from the classical era up to the early nineteenth century, and from the Italian peninsula to the British Isles. In what T. S. Eliot called a "magnificent" book, Ernst Robert Curtius establishes medieval Latin literature as the vital transition between the literature of antiquity and the vernacular literatures of later centuries. The result is nothing less than a masterful synthesis of European literature from Homer to Goethe. European Literature and the…


Book cover of The World of Late Antiquity

Michael Kulikowski Author Of The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy

From the list on Rome in the third century.

Who am I?

I grew up playing with toy Roman legionaries, marveling at Roman coins, and poring over diagrams of Roman military equipment and their astonishing feats of engineering, went back and forth between wanting to be a medievalist or a Classicist and ended up settling into the study of the late Roman empire and the way it completely transformed its Classical heritage. Along with writing books on that period, I love writing on much wider ancient and medieval themes in the London Review of Books and the TLS.

Michael's book list on Rome in the third century

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

The third century is the least known era of imperial Rome, but it’s also the hinge between a world that still had distant roots in the city-state that Rome was under the republic, and the world empire it had become. So many changes took place in the hundred or so years between Septimius Severus (r. 193-212) and Constantine (r. 306-337) that it’s impossible to understand later European, North African, and Middle Eastern history without considering them. Peter Brown was one of the first people to recognize that to understand the late Roman empire and early medieval Europe all the way up to Mohammad and Charlemagne, you had to understand the third century. This book inspired a generation of scholars to broaden their horizons to understand the Roman empire in all its colorful diversity.

By Peter Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

These centuries, as the author demonstrates, were the era in which the most deeply rooted of ancient institutions disappeared for all time. By 476 the Roman empire had vanished from western Europe; by 655 the Persian empire had vanished from the Near East. Mr. Brown, Professor of History at Princeton University, examines these changes and men's reactions to them, but his account shows that the period was also one of outstanding new beginnings and defines the far-reaching impact both of Christianity on Europe and of Islam on the Near East. The result is a lucid answer to a crucial question…


Dante in Context

By Zygmunt G. Barański (editor), Lino Pertile (editor),

Book cover of Dante in Context

George Corbett Author Of Dante's Christian Ethics: Purgatory and Its Moral Contexts

From the list on Dante and his religious world.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by Dante since my first years at university. For me, reading Dante was the beginning of a journey, opening up a rich world of theology, philosophy, art, literature, science, and culture. As Professor of Theology at the University of St Andrews, I especially enjoy facilitating students’ first encounters with Dante, and seeing how Dante so often leads them, also, to a deeper appreciation of some of the greatest thinkers and makers of our civilisation, from Aristotle and Virgil to Aquinas and Giotto. 

George's book list on Dante and his religious world

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Why did George love this book?

Some of the most original scholarship on Dante in the past fifty or so years has been historical and contextual. This research enables us to understand Dante’s texts more fully in their own immediate contexts, of course, but it also reflects the fact that many readers of Dante become increasingly interested in the wider contexts – ethical, political, philosophical, theological, economic, literary, cultural, etc. – that Dante’s own poetic masterpiece opens up. In thirty chapters, the collaborative volume Dante in Context exemplifies the best of this historical and contextual work, and provides an invaluable introduction to the world of Dante.   

By Zygmunt G. Barański (editor), Lino Pertile (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the past seven centuries Dante has become world renowned, with his works translated into multiple languages and read by people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. This volume brings together interdisciplinary essays by leading, international scholars to provide a comprehensive account of the historical, cultural and intellectual context in which Dante lived and worked: from the economic, social and political scene to the feel of daily life; from education and religion to the administration of justice; from medicine to philosophy and science; from classical antiquity to popular culture; and from the dramatic transformation of urban spaces to the explosion…


The Last Days of Pompeii

By Edward Bulwer-Lytton,

Book cover of The Last Days of Pompeii

Judith Harris Author Of Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Judith's favorite books.

Why did Judith love this book?

Edward Bulwer Lytton's influential 19th century novel The Last Days of Pompeii was inspired by a painting he had seen in Milan. He immediately rushed to Pompeii, where his book was published in 1834, by coincidence exactly when Vesuvius erupted. It became an immediate success and is still being published. As Benjamen Disraeli wrote that November, "A trembling spectator, I watched the artists till I was overcome by the phantasma, and was glad to find myself once more in the solitude of my armchair." Available in economic form. The book became an immediate success and is still being adapted to today's media.

By Edward Bulwer-Lytton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was a prolific novelist, poet and playwright in his day; in modern times, his work is considered much as Lovecraft described: “large doses of turgid rhetoric and empty romanticism.”

Originally published in 1834, "The Last Days of Pompeii" itself was probably the first novelization of the catastrophic event.  The city was rediscovered in the mid-1700s and archaeological excavations followed soon after.  Bulwer-Lytton was inspired to write his novel by the painting The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Briullov, painted in the early 1830s.

"The Last Days of Pompeii" tells the story of the Athenian Glaucus, his…


Medieval Sensibilities

By Damien Boquet, Piroska Nagy, Robert Shaw (translator)

Book cover of Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

Barbara H. Rosenwein Author Of Love: A History in Five Fantasies

From the list on the history of emotions.

Who am I?

I am a writer, teacher, and researcher who has always been interested in my own emotions and those of others. But I decided to write about the emotions of the past only after I became a historian of the Middle Ages. My discoveries began with the early medieval period. Now I enjoy looking at the full sweep of Western history. I have come to realize that at no time did we all share the same feelings nor evaluate them the same way. Instead, we live and have always lived in “emotional communities” with others who share our feelings—and alongside still others who do not. I hope my booklist will pique your interest in this new and exciting field.

Barbara's book list on the history of emotions

Discover why each book is one of Barbara's favorite books.

Why did Barbara love this book?

All who are convinced that the Middle Ages was a barbaric period in which emotions were on the whole angry and violent will quickly change their mind as soon as they pick up this book. It shows that, far from being a stagnant interlude between the richly emotional worlds of classical antiquity and our own age, the period we call the Middle Ages was in constant emotional ferment, drawing above all on the implications of Christ’s passion and what it meant for human sensibilities.

By Damien Boquet, Piroska Nagy, Robert Shaw (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What do we know of the emotional life of the Middle Ages? Though a long-neglected subject, a multitude of sources - spiritual and secular literature, iconography, chronicles, as well as theological and medical works - provide clues to the central role emotions played in medieval society.

In this work, historians Damien Boquet and Piroska Nagy delve into a rich variety of texts and images to reveal the many and nuanced experiences of emotion during the Middle Ages - from the demonstrative shame of a saint to a nobleman's fear of embarrassment, from the enthusiasm of a crusading band to the…


Selected Stories

By Anton Pavlovich Chekhov,

Book cover of Selected Stories

Richard Ned Lebow Author Of Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas

From the list on people who want to become short story writers.

Who am I?

My childhood, very much shaped by World War II, led me the study of international relations and political psychology. I have written numerous books on conflict management and prevention, and also on ancient Greek thinkers and writers, and the elusive nature of knowledge. In recent years I have begun to explore these themes in fiction. This shift has been exhilarating and liberating and provides me the opportunity to present the tragic understanding of life and politics to a larger audience.

Richard Ned's book list on people who want to become short story writers

Discover why each book is one of Richard Ned's favorite books.

Why did Richard Ned love this book?

Chekhov is a master storyteller who conveys important insights into human nature with remarkable parsimony. Chekhov also provides contemporary readers with a certain detachment as he wrote in the nineteenth century and in Russia. Ancient Greek playwrights understood that distant settings provided analytical clarity to contemporary problems and also made people understand their universal nature. Chekhov also serves these aims.

By Anton Pavlovich Chekhov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With an Introduction and Notes by Joe Andrew, Professor of Russian Literature, Keele University.

Anton Chekhov is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of short stories. He constructs stories where action and drama are implied rather than described openly, and which leave much to the reader's imagination.

This collection contains some of the most important of his earliest and shortest comic sketches, as well as examples of his great, mature works. Throughout, the doctor-turned-writer displays compassion for human suffering and misfortune, but is always able to see the comical, even farcical aspects of the human condition.

Chekhov sees…