The most recommended books about emperors

Who picked these books? Meet our 34 experts.

34 authors created a book list connected to emperors, and here are their favorite emperor books.
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Book cover of A Monument to Dynasty and Death: The Story of Rome's Colosseum and the Emperors Who Built It

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper

From the list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD.

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

Martha's book list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD

Why did Martha love this book?

A large part of the last book of my trilogy focuses on one character’s involvement in the construction of the Flavian Amphitheater, known today as The Colosseum. As with other complex issues I’ve written about — the Jewish Revolt, social constraints on women, relationships between masters and slaves — I’ve had to make sense of this grandest construction project of the first century. Elkins’ scholarly book helped me get out of the “tourist-in-Rome mindset” and into the “you-are-there-as-it’s-being-built mindset.” I’m currently writing that section, so the jury is still out, but Elkins’ in-depth research and clear exposition provide a good road map.

By Nathan T. Elkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Monument to Dynasty and Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Go behind the scenes to discover why the Colosseum was the king of amphitheaters in the Roman world-a paragon of Roman engineering prowess.

Early one morning in 80 CE, the Colosseum roared to life with the deafening cheers of tens of thousands of spectators as the emperor, Titus, inaugurated the new amphitheater with one hundred days of bloody spectacles. These games were much anticipated, for the new amphitheater had been under construction for a decade. Home to spectacles involving exotic beasts, elaborate executions of criminals, gladiatorial combats, and even-when flooded-small-scale naval battles, the building itself was also a marvel. Rising…


Dynasty

By Tom Holland,

Book cover of Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

Jeremiah McCall Author Of Rivalries that Destroyed the Roman Republic

From the list on exploring the Roman Republic and its collapse.

Who am I?

I am a historian and history teacher in Ohio with a passion for studying the endlessly fascinating Roman Republic. It was a time when many believed the gods walked the earth, when legend and reality mixed. The resulting stories lure us with their strangeness while reminding us of our modern world. For me, no topic in the Republic captures this paradox of strangeness and familiarity more than the political systems of the Republic. Our very ideas about representative democracy come from the Romans. But the legacy is deeper. In Roman politicians’ thirst for votes and victory, their bitter rivalries we can, perhaps, see the dangers of excessive political competition today.

Jeremiah's book list on exploring the Roman Republic and its collapse

Why did Jeremiah love this book?

Dynasty is just a good historical read, one I enjoyed thoroughly. This is the place to go for a readable researched, thoroughly engaging story of the final collapse of the Republic under Caesar and how his heirs ushered in a new political system. The pivotal period where Octavian, adopted son of murdered Gaius Julius Caesar, survived in a cutthroat political and military arena and made himself Princeps, the first emperor, is just fascinating. The subsequent men and women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and all of their political, and sometimes murderous, machinations come to life under Holland’s pen. An excellent choice for navigating imperial politics, often family politics.

By Tom Holland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'This is a wonderful, surging narrative - a brilliant and meticulous synthesis of the ancient sources . . . This is a story that should be read by anyone interested in history, politics or human nature - and it has never been better told' - Boris Johnson, Mail on Sunday

Rome was first ruled by kings, then became a republic. But in the end, after conquering the world, the Republic collapsed. Rome was drowned in blood. So terrible were the civil wars that the Roman people finally came to welcome the rule of an autocrat who could give them peace.…


Caligula

By Aloys Winterling, Deborah Lucas Schneider (translator), Glenn W. Most, Paul Psoinos

Book cover of Caligula: A Biography

Phillip Barlag Author Of Evil Roman Emperors: The Shocking History of Ancient Rome's Most Wicked Rulers from Caligula to Nero and More

From the list on challenge thinking of the Titans of Roman history.

Who am I?

I never set out to read & write so much about Roman history; it was an accident. I happened to visit Rome when I was young, quite poor and decidedly light on my knowledge of Roman history. Five minutes out of the train station and into the streets and I was hooked for life. I had to know more and started reading. Then I found gaps in the library and started writing. Roman history never stops changing, even thousands of years later. New discoveries, new scholarship, new interpretations, all keep Roman history fresh & exciting. I love sharing what I find. Thank you for joining the adventure.

Phillip's book list on challenge thinking of the Titans of Roman history

Why did Phillip love this book?

Few books challenge conventional knowledge about a historical figure like this one. This might be bad business for me personally. After all, my book about Evil Roman Emperors likes to wallow in the more salacious aspects of Roman history, and this book undermines some of those narratives where Rome’s third emperor is concerned. Winterling’s book takes a deep and critical look at the life of this maligned figure from history. While he stops short of vindicating Caligula, the author does a great job of giving a more complete and nuanced perspective of who he was and what made him tick. Was he truly crazy? Did he really think himself a god? Should his name be inextricably linked with violence and debauchery? Read and find out.

By Aloys Winterling, Deborah Lucas Schneider (translator), Glenn W. Most, Paul Psoinos

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The infamous emperor Caligula ruled Rome from A.D. 37 to 41 as a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. An exceptionally smart and cruelly witty man, Caligula made his contemporaries worship him as a god. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered in gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and committed incest with his sisters. He wanted to make his horse a consul. Torture and executions were the order of the day. Both modern and ancient interpretations have concluded from…


Book cover of Basil II and the Governance of Empire (976-1025)

Jonathan Harris Author Of Byzantium and the Crusades

From the list on Byzantium from superpower to downfall.

Who am I?

I first came across Byzantium when I read Robert Graves' Count Belisarius and studied as much of its history as I could while at King's College London. Later I taught English in Turkey and was able to visit the Byzantine sites of Istanbul, Iznik, and Cappadocia. I now teach medieval and Byzantine history at Royal Holloway, University of London. For those living outside eastern Europe and Russia, Byzantium may appear to be rather remote and exotic: that is part of its appeal! But just because it is strange and different does not mean that we should not try to understand it on its own terms. That is what I have tried to do in my books and teaching.

Jonathan's book list on Byzantium from superpower to downfall

Why did Jonathan love this book?

Basil II, who ruled as emperor from 976 to 1025, is an enigma. On the face of it, his reign was a great success which saw the Byzantine borders extended further than they had been for centuries. Yet no one at the time seems to have celebrated that success and we only know about his reign from accounts written a long time afterward by people who were either too young to remember his reign, like Michael Psellus, or who were not even born. It is this enigma that Holmes grapples with by analysing our most detailed source for Basil’s reign: the historian John Skylitzes who was writing around 1100. Her subtle uncovering of the cultural values that underlie the text reveal Basil not so much as a great conqueror but as a shrewd politician who knew exactly how to get what he wanted as much by persuasion as by force. 

By Catherine Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Basil II and the Governance of Empire (976-1025) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first book-length study in English of the Byzantine emperor Basil II. Basil II, later known as 'Bulgar-slayer', is famous for his military conquests and his brutal intimidation of domestic foes. Catherine Holmes considers the problems Basil faced in governing a large, multi-ethnic empire, which stretched from southern Italy to Mesopotamia. Her close focus on the surviving historical narratives, above all the Synopsis Historion of John Skylitzes,
reveals a Byzantium governed as much by persuasion as coercion. This book will appeal to those interested in Byzantium before the Crusades, the governance of pre-modern empires, and the methodology of…


Nicholas and Alexandra

By Robert K. Massie,

Book cover of Nicholas and Alexandra

Mickey Mayhew Author Of Rasputin and his Russian Queen: The True Story of Grigory and Alexandra

From the list on Rasputin and his Russian queen.

Who am I?

I can’t explain the fascination with Rasputin, but one hears the name so frequently via the Boney M pop song, so I took that as the inspiration - and the title - of my book. I saw a book about him in Waterstones one day and had to pick it up, even though it was so big it might’ve doubled as a doorstop. But from then I was hooked; I read everything I could, watched more, and researched until I actually went to Russia. And then I research some more!

Mickey's book list on Rasputin and his Russian queen

Why did Mickey love this book?

An undoubted classic and one of the first books - if not the first - to treat the subject of Nicholas and Alexandra and their son Alexei’s hemophilia with a little sympathy.

Massie had a hemophiliac son but his regard for Rasputin as Alexei’s healer still leaves something to be desired.

By Robert K. Massie,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Nicholas and Alexandra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A superbly crafted and humane portrait of the last days - and last rulers - of the Russian Empire.

Complementing his Pulitzer prize-winning Peter the Great, in this commanding book Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of imperial Russia to tell the story of the decline and fall of the ruling Romanov family: Tsar Nicholas II's political naivete; his wife Alexandra's obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin; and their son Alexis's battle with haemophilia.

Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a family tragedy played out on the brutal stage of early twentieth-century…


Constantine the Emperor

By David M. Potter,

Book cover of Constantine the Emperor

Phillip Barlag Author Of Evil Roman Emperors: The Shocking History of Ancient Rome's Most Wicked Rulers from Caligula to Nero and More

From the list on challenge thinking of the Titans of Roman history.

Who am I?

I never set out to read & write so much about Roman history; it was an accident. I happened to visit Rome when I was young, quite poor and decidedly light on my knowledge of Roman history. Five minutes out of the train station and into the streets and I was hooked for life. I had to know more and started reading. Then I found gaps in the library and started writing. Roman history never stops changing, even thousands of years later. New discoveries, new scholarship, new interpretations, all keep Roman history fresh & exciting. I love sharing what I find. Thank you for joining the adventure.

Phillip's book list on challenge thinking of the Titans of Roman history

Why did Phillip love this book?

Constantine has come to be synonymous with the conversion of Rome to Christianity, and in the popular imagination the image often goes no further. I certainly always linked the man with this outcome in my mind. But he was so much more. He was ambitious to the point of revolutionary. He was ruthless to the point of megalomaniacal. He both stabilized the Empire and contributed to the factors that led to its fall. This book helped me understand the whole figure of Constantine, contradictions and all.

By David M. Potter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

No Roman emperor had a greater impact on the modern world than did Constantine. The reason is not simply that he converted to Christianity, but that he did so in a way that brought his subjects along after him. Indeed, this major new biography argues that Constantine's conversion is but one feature of a unique administrative style that enabled him to take control of an empire beset by internal rebellions and external threats by Persians and Goths. The vast record of
Constantine's administration reveals a government careful in its exercise of power but capable of ruthless, even savage, actions. Constantine…


Caracalla

By Ilkka Syvanne,

Book cover of Caracalla: A Military Biography

Alex Gough Author Of Caesar’s Soldier

From the list on biographies of powerful and important Ancient Romans.

Who am I?

I've had a passion for all things Roman since visiting various ancient Roman sites around Britain as a child with school and with my dad. Over the last fifteen years I've been writing novels set in Ancient Rome. I now have ten published Roman historical fiction novels to my name spanning three series, as well as a short story collection and a novella. My Carbo of Rome series, set in the reign of Tiberius, follows a traumatised veteran of the legion as he tries to retire in peace in Rome, but is constantly dragged into the criminal underworld of the poorest parts of the city.

Alex's book list on biographies of powerful and important Ancient Romans

Why did Alex love this book?

Caracalla was described by Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as the “Common Enemy of Mankind.”

But much of what is known about this third-century Emperor was written by Cassius Dio, a Senator who served under him, and hated him. Caracalla certainly committed his fair share of evil deeds, but arguably not to any greater extent than some Emperors who are lauded today such as Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine.

Ilkka Syvanne, a Finnish history professor, attempts to rehabilitate Caracalla’s reputation, with mixed success. You may not agree with all his arguments and conclusions, but you will learn a lot about a fascinating Emperor.

My own copy is covered with notes and highlights as a vital source for my Imperial Assassin series. 

By Ilkka Syvanne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Caracalla has one of the worst reputations of any Roman Emperor. Many ancient historians were very hostile and Edward Gibbon later dubbed him 'the common enemy of mankind'. Yet his reign was considered by at least one Roman author to be the apogee of the Roman Empire. Guilty of many murders and massacres (including his own brother, ex-wife and daughter) he was, however, popular with the army, improving their pay and cultivating the image of sharing their hardships. Surprisingly this is the first full-length biography of this colourful character in English. Ilkka Syvanne explains how the biased ancient sources in…


Nero

By Anthony Everitt, Roddy Ashworth,

Book cover of Nero: Matricide, Music, and Murder in Imperial Rome

Paul Hay Author Of Saeculum: Defining Historical Eras in Ancient Roman Thought

From the list on for aspiring Roman history buffs.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of Roman history who teaches and writes about the social world of the ancient Romans. I’m drawn to the topic of ancient Rome because it seems simultaneously familiar and alien: the people always “feel real” to me, but the many cultural differences between Rome and modern America prod me to contemplate those aspects and values of my own world that I take for granted. I enjoy the high moral stakes of the political machinations as well as the aesthetic beauty of the artistic creations of Rome. And the shadow of Rome still looms large in American culture, so I find the study of antiquity endlessly instructive.

Paul's book list on for aspiring Roman history buffs

Why did Paul love this book?

Nero always seems to pique the curiosities of every generation of modern readers, and I have likewise been drawn to his story. Was he one of history’s most corrupt monsters, or was he just a failed politician whose reputation was maligned by his enemies?

This book does a responsible job of looking at the ancient sources (quite lurid though their accounts often are) to compose a life of the emperor, so that the reader will (like I was) be entertained without being led astray by sensationalism. I especially appreciated the chapter-length study of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, which was full of fascinating details.

By Anthony Everitt, Roddy Ashworth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A striking, nuanced biography of Nero—the controversial populist ruler and last of the Caesars—and a vivid portrait of ancient Rome

“Exciting and provocative . . . Nero is a pleasure to read.”—Barry Strauss, author of The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium

The Roman emperor Nero’s name has long been a byword for cruelty, decadence, and despotism. As the stories go, he set fire to Rome and thrummed his lyre as it burned. He then cleared the charred ruins and built a vast palace. He committed incest with his mother, who had schemed and…


Septimius Severus

By Anthony Birley,

Book cover of Septimius Severus: The African Emperor

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

Why did Michael love this book?

Writing a good biography is very different from writing a narrative history – they’re different art forms. Septimius Severus is the last Roman emperor about whom we can build up a fully rounded biographical portrait until Julian the Apostate, a century and a half later. In Birley’s meticulous telling, Severus comes across as a transformative political genius, a soldier of great skill -- and a monster of a human being.

By Anthony Birley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this, the only biography of Septimius Severus in English, Anthony R. Birley explors how 'Roman' or otherwise this man was and examines his remarkable background and career.
Severus was descended from Phoenician settlers in Tripolitania, and his reign, AD 193-211, represents a key point in Roman history. Birley explores what was African and what was Roman in Septimius' background, given that he came from an African city. He asks whether Septimius was a 'typical cosmopolitan bureaucrat', a 'new Hannibal on the throne of Caesar' or 'principle author of the decline of the Roman Empire'?


Emperors and Biography

By Ronald Syme,

Book cover of Emperors and Biography

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

Why did Michael love this book?

Ronald Syme was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, and probably the greatest Roman historian. This may seem like one for specialists only, unlike his classic Roman Revolution, but it’s got his distinctive style – florid and lapidary all at once – and is a master class in how to wring valuable information out of poor and deceptive sources.

Alix and Nicky

By Virginia Rounding,

Book cover of Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina

Mickey Mayhew Author Of Rasputin and his Russian Queen: The True Story of Grigory and Alexandra

From the list on Rasputin and his Russian queen.

Who am I?

I can’t explain the fascination with Rasputin, but one hears the name so frequently via the Boney M pop song, so I took that as the inspiration - and the title - of my book. I saw a book about him in Waterstones one day and had to pick it up, even though it was so big it might’ve doubled as a doorstop. But from then I was hooked; I read everything I could, watched more, and researched until I actually went to Russia. And then I research some more!

Mickey's book list on Rasputin and his Russian queen

Why did Mickey love this book?

A great overview of the relationship between the tsar and his wife, if not entirely sympathetic all of the time; still, she’s a wonderful writer - and yes she provided the foreword for my book so I am biased!

It also contains many nuggets and tidbits overlooked in various of the other works I mention.

By Virginia Rounding,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Few characters in history are as fascinating or controversial as Nicholas and Alexandra. From their passionate love to their horrifying execution, they are alternately viewed as innocent victims of Bolshevik assassins or blamed for causing the Revolution themselves. Much has already been written about their lives. But acting as a curator of the many conflicting histories, acclaimed author Virginia Rounding offers a different kind of biography, with an intimate look that probes the souls of these unforgettable figures, and tells the story of their passion and its consequences for Russia. Through newly revealed letters and diaries, Rounding explores the Empress'…


Marcus Aurelius

By Anthony Birley,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

Donald J. Robertson Author Of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

From the list on modern books on Marcus Aurelius.

Who am I?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.

Donald's book list on modern books on Marcus Aurelius

Why did Donald love this book?

Although some people assume we don’t know much about Marcus Aurelius, the truth is that we probably know more about him than most other ancient philosophers, and certainly, there are several modern biographies of Marcus Aurelius but the best is this one by the British historian, Anthony Birley. Birley adopts a scholarly approach but he also keeps quite a tight focus on the events of Marcus’ life. (Frank McLynn’s biography is more widely-read but ranges more freely over topics such as the Roman empire’s economy.)  

By Anthony Birley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Marcus Aurelius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor who ruled the Roman Empire between AD 161 and 180, is one of the best recorded individuals from antiquity. Even his face became more than usually familiar: the imperial coinage displayed his portrait for over 40 years, from the clean-shaven young heir of Antonius to the war-weary, heavily bearded ruler who died at his post in his late fifties.
His correspondence with his tutor Fronto, and even more the private notebook he kept for his last ten years, the Meditations, provides a unique series of vivid and revealing glimpses into the character and peoccupations of this…


Justinian II of Byzantium

By Constance Head,

Book cover of Justinian II of Byzantium

David Alan Parnell Author Of Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian

From the list on introducing yourself to the early Byzantine Empire.

Who am I?

Many students are still taught that the Roman Empire ended in 476 AD. To the contrary, the Roman Empire survived and flourished through the Middle Ages up to the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The Roman state was incredibly long-lived and resilient. Modern historians often call its medieval incarnation the Byzantine Empire. I have devoted my professional life to studying these medieval Romans (or Byzantines) and to telling others about them. I teach courses at my university, write books, consult for documentaries, appear on podcasts, and engage on Twitter. The early Byzantine period was a time of both continuity and immense change and I find it endlessly fascinating.

David's book list on introducing yourself to the early Byzantine Empire

Why did David love this book?

After reading Turteltaub’s Justinian, I was determined to discover whether the details of the life of Justinian II which were included in that work of historical fiction were history or fiction.

This book, the first full treatment of the emperor’s life in English by a modern historian, was where I turned. The book is short and engaging and is an excellent example of rehabilitation.

Justinian II received a bad reputation from his contemporaries and successors, and Head shows how they had incentive to portray the emperor in this way and offers a more sympathetic take on his life. This is a classic example of the difficulties modern historians face in trying to evaluate the sources we have for the Byzantine Empire. 

By Constance Head,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the first complete book on the Emperor Justinian II, who despite having had one of the most colorful and tempestuous careers of any historical figure, remains largely enigmatic. Ruler of the great Byzantine Empire from 685 to 695, Justinian was deposed by the usurper Leontios, who severed the emperor's nose in a brutal warning to him never again to return to Constantinople. Defeated, disfigured, and alone, Justinian wandered among barbarian tribes beyond the far borders of the Empire. Finally, after 10 years in exile he gathered together an army of Bulgar mercenaries and returned victorious to Constantinople where…


Napoleon

By Philip Dwyer,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

Peter McPhee Author Of Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

From the list on understanding the French Revolution.

Who am I?

I have spent much of my adult life studying the French Revolution with students who, like me, are engrossed by the drama, successes and tragedies of the Revolution, and the scale of the attempts to arrest or reverse it. Why and how did an apparently stable regime collapse in 1789? Why did it prove to be so difficult to stabilize a new order? How could claims to “liberty” and “equality” be balanced? And why was there a period of “terror” in 1793-94? When the Revolution was finally over, how had France and other parts of the world been changed? The answers to those questions remain open and continue to fascinate. 

Peter's book list on understanding the French Revolution

Why did Peter love this book?

Napoleon Bonaparte brought a decade of revolutionary upheaval to an end when he seized power with the army in November 1799, but he had been made a general by the Revolution and was one of its most celebrated soldiers. The Revolution opened up opportunities for this Corsican “outsider” which would have been impossible before the Revolution: he grabbed them. Dwyer’s prize-winning account of Napoleon’s checkered rise to power at the age of thirty is also a gripping narrative of the unpredictability and drama of the revolutionary decade. It reveals the making of a man whose brilliance, military genius, and vision was qualified by his cynicism, cruelty, and vanity. 

By Philip Dwyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Napoleon Bonaparte's rise to power was neither inevitable nor smooth; it was full of mistakes, wrong turns and pitfalls. During his formative years his identity was constantly shifting, his character ambiguous and his intentions often ill-defined. He was, however, highly ambitious, and it was this ruthless drive that advanced his career. This book examines the extraordinary evolution of Napoleon's character and the means by which at the age of thirty he became head of the most powerful country in Europe and skilfully fashioned the image of himself that laid the foundation of the legend that endures to this day.


The Silvered

By Tanya Huff,

Book cover of The Silvered

Ju Honisch Author Of Obsidian Secrets

From the list on combining fantasy with “the past”.

Who am I?

History and legend: The actual past and all the myths and stories that ride along with it. I have an M.A. in history and have always been interested in old folklore and myth. So I write fantasy novels set in the 19th century. The flair is steampunk-ish, the setting strictly historical – except for the fact that magic and mythical creatures exist. Magic is taught in Arcane Lodges, mythical beings can be pretty much anything: vampire, body-snatcher, werewolf, dryad, nymph, etc. My first novel Obsidian Secrets (Das Obsidianherz) won the Deutscher Phantastik Preis. Wings of Stone of the same series won the SERAPH as the "Best Fantasy Novel" at Leipzig Book Fair.

Ju's book list on combining fantasy with “the past”

Why did Ju love this book?

I love Tanya Huff’s style of writing as much as I like her wonderful ideas.

The heroes and heroines in her novels are so well crafted you almost feel you know them personally, which to my mind is the key to a good read. 

The Silvered has Steampunk elements. It is, however, set in an invented world that shows some resemblance to our 19th century. The book is a thrilling fantasy novel combining Steampunk with magic: I love the combination.

By Tanya Huff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Empire has declared war on the were-ruled kingdom of Aydori, capturing five women of the Mage-Pack, including the wife of the Pack- leader. With the Pack off defending the border, it falls to Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen-she a low-level mage, he younger brother to the Pack- leader-to save them. But with every step into enemy territory, the odds against their survival grow steeper...


Book cover of Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome

Catharine Edwards Author Of Lives of the Caesars

From the list on Roman emperors behaving badly.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Romans and particularly by the ways they wrote about themselves. A Professor of Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London since 2005, I regularly take part in BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, discussing topics such as Roman decadence. Later generations look back on ancient Rome as mired in luxury and sexual misbehaviour—but that’s because the Romans themselves were constantly accusing one another of terrible vices. What can these claims tell us about Roman society? That’s a question that I’ve often returned to in many years of university teaching—and writing books, such as The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome.  

Catharine's book list on Roman emperors behaving badly

Why did Catharine love this book?

This provocative analysis of the sex lives of Roman emperors invites us to reflect on the relationships between emperors and the favourites who were objects of their sexual desires. Vout looks at gossipy anecdotes in Suetonius’ imperial biographies, as well as poems celebrating the eunuch Earinus (of whom the emperor Domitian was said to be enamoured) and statues of the beautiful youth Antinous (beloved of the emperor Hadrian). Why were Romans so interested in the objects of imperial desire? What did it mean to be the emperor’s lover? And what can this material tell us about the way Romans imagined imperial power? 

By Caroline Vout,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The relationships between Roman emperors and their objects of desire, male and female, are well attested. The salacious nature of this evidence means that it is often omitted from mainstream historical inquiry. Yet that is to underestimate the importance of 'gossip' and the act of thinking about an emperor's private life. In this book Dr Vout takes the reader from Rome, and Martial's and Statius' poems about Domitian's favourite eunuch, to Antioch and dialogues in praise of Lucius Verus' mistress, to the widespread visual commemoration and cult of Hadrian's young male lover, Antinous. She explores not the relationships themselves but…


Nero

By Richard Holland,

Book cover of Nero: The Man Behind the Myth

Humphry Knipe Author Of The Nero Prediction

From the list on Nero (the man and the myth).

Who am I?

The deeper I looked into Nero’s history the more references I found to astrology about which I knew nothing except that it was a “pseudo science”. Then an idea hit me like the proverbial lightning bolt. It didn’t matter that astrology was mere superstition. All that mattered was that Nero and his contemporaries believed in it. Nero’s birthday and time are known so it must be possible to re-create his horoscope. With this mysterious wheel in hand, anyone familiar with ancient astrological lore should be able to make some very intelligent guesses about what Nero’s astrologer would have been advising his imperial client on perhaps a daily basis.

Humphry's book list on Nero (the man and the myth)

Why did Humphry love this book?

Written by a veteran London Times journalist this exciting book reads like a fast paced thriller. What I found most interesting is his detailed description of Nero’s most notorious action, the murder of his mother. He writes “It is in the realm of abnormal psychology that an explanation may lie.” He is clearly unaware that what best explains the spooky full moon melodrama played out on a cosmic stage was the blind faith both Nero and his mother had in astrology (see Nero's astrology chart here). 

By Richard Holland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Richard Holland's biography looks at Nero from a different perspective and encourages readers to see the man rather than the monster.


The Last Tsar

By Edvard Radzinsky,

Book cover of The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II

Jennifer Laam Author Of The Romanov Heiress

From the list on the last Romanovs.

Who am I?

A proud native of Stockton, CA, Jennifer Laam resides in California with a temperamental tabby cat named Jonesy. Her other works of historical fiction are The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), cooing at Baby Yoda, or obsessing over House Targaryen. 

Jennifer's book list on the last Romanovs

Why did Jennifer love this book?

Radvinsky is a celebrated Russian playwright and historian. Raised in the Soviet Union, when information about the last Romanovs was repressed, his unique take on the tsar’s life makes this both a fascinating history and thoughtful meditation on what Nicholas II represents to Russians.

By Edvard Radzinsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edvard Radzinki, the leading Russian playwright, offers a portrait of Nicholas and Alexandra's marriage and an account of the final days of the Russian royal family's arrest, imprisonment and regicide. The opening of long-closed archives has allowed the author to make discoveries and reach new and revealing conclusions. His hitherto uptapped sources include three participants in the shooting, Radzinki reveals Lenin's role in the execution and has seen the actual telegram in which the order for the murder was given and there is the outstanding question: were the Tsarina and the daughters allowed to escape?


Peter the Great

By Robert K. Massie,

Book cover of Peter the Great: His Life and World

Neal W. Fandek Author Of Peter Pike and the Murderous Mormons

From Neal's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Reader Traveler Runner History nut Hiker

Neal's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Neal love this book?

Peter the Great is a fascinating look at an entire vanished world. The court intrigues, the military campaigns, and the foibles of royalty are all very fine and good, but it’s the author’s evocation of daily life among serfs, royals, Muscovites, Poles, and Swedes that makes this so readable.

Massey also takes the time to explain the shifting geopolitical outlooks, the Ottoman Empire in decline, the Swedish Empire in ascent, and the Polish Empire in chaos, which are at once so distant and so close to today’s geopolitics.

Russia hasn’t changed much in 300+ years. So, can we learn from the past? A more apt question would be, do we want to? It would seem not. We believe the past doesn’t apply to us, which is why we fail to predict and react to the predictable. Russia was a great empire, even a glorious one, which we may have forgotten,…

By Robert K. Massie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Pulitzer prizewinning biography of Peter the Great, the ruler who brought Russia from darkness into light. Against the monumental canvas of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and Russia, Robert K. Massie unfolds the extraordinary story of Peter the Great. A volatile feudal tsar with a taste for barbaric torture; a progressive and enlightened reformer of government and science; Peter the Great embodied the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Russia while being at the very forefront of her development. Robert K. Massie delves deep into Peter's life and character, chronicling the pivotal events that transformed the boy star into a national…


Master and God

By Lindsey Davis,

Book cover of Master and God

Rosie Lear Author Of A Quenchless Fire: The Second Sherborne Medieval Mystery

From the list on historical detectives exploring fact and fiction.

Who am I?

As a great reader from birth, I love books. I am a retired teacher of English literature and love history, particularly the medieval period, inspired by my love of Chaucer. I found my chosen authors entertaining, informative, and able to lead me into my happy place, unaware of my surroundings whilst reading. I read very fast, however, and none of them write fast enough for me so I started to write my own books. Words have the power to move, to excite, to console, to entertain. I hope anyone reading my chosen list will enjoy and may feel like exploring my own books.

Rosie's book list on historical detectives exploring fact and fiction

Why did Rosie love this book?

This lengthy story covering many years is set in Ancient Rome, during the reign of the despot Domitian. It follows two particular characters—a young hairdresser who has clients at the Imperial palace, and the scarred soldier devoted at first to the service of the Emporer.

The historical facts of Domitian’s reign of terror are very real and are set against the hard lives of our two main characters, the passion, the love, and sometimes the hate are very powerful.

Lyndsey Davis writes with humour, honesty, and some fine knowledge.

I have read this book over and over again, each time learning more and enjoying it freshly each time.

By Lindsey Davis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Afflicted by classic paranoia, the self-styled Master and God sees enemies everywhere. As he vents his suspicions, no one is safe.

A reluctant hero, Gaius Vinius Clodianus is hand-picked for high rank in the Praetorian Guard a brave man striving for decency in a world of corruption and deceit.

Flavia Lucilla, tending the privileged women at court, hears the intimate secrets of a ruler who plays with the lives of his subjects as if he were indeed a careless god.

In the dark shadow of Domitian's reign, Clodianus and Lucilla play out their own complex tale of resilience, friendship and…