The best books about England

233 authors have picked their favorite books about England and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

By Naomi Tadmor,

Why this book?

At the heart of the Reformation in England was an insistence that people be allowed access to Scripture in their own language, but translation was invariably a selective and creative process. Tadmor brilliantly shows how the translators of the Hebrew Bible (‘Old Testament’) remade the ancient world in the image of contemporary Tudor society, editing out many references to slavery and polygamous marriage, and merging together distinct forms of political governance through consistent reference to the authority of a ‘prince’. The findings are eye-opening, and the book should be required reading for modern biblical fundamentalists.

From the list:

The best books on the English Reformation

Book cover of The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

By Peter Stone,

Why this book?

Stone looks specifically at the evolution of the Port of London from Roman times to the present day. His enthusiasm for London’s history is evident on every page. The book is well-paced, accessible, and combines a broad chronological sweep with interesting side-stories which help to bring the pages to life. Clear maps showing trade routes and the growth of London’s dock complex greatly help the reader.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of Witch Hunting and Witch Trials

Witch Hunting and Witch Trials

By C L'Estrange Ewen,

Why this book?

This was the book that got me started over thirty years ago, and which I still turn to today. It’s an absolute mine of information, specifically relating to the written indictments for witchcraft which survive in great numbers for the Home Assize Circuit – that is, the courts that heard felonies in south-eastern England.

Ewen doesn’t provide much in the way of analysis. There is a substantial, very useful, introduction, but the really incredible thing about this book is how Ewen managed to comb through the archives, then held in the Public Records Office in London, and find almost all…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Britain and Europe

Book cover of Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England

Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England

By Alan Macfarlane,

Why this book?

Originally published in 1970, this was another foundational text for me and other witchcraft scholars of my generation.

It grew out of Macfarlane’s doctoral thesis focusing on Essex, which had been supervised by Keith Thomas, whose own great book, Religion and the Decline of Magic (much of which dealt with witches), came out the following year. Even then, the historian Macfarlane was on his way to becoming an anthropologist – a transition visible on every page of this fascinating book.

But its overriding character is that of a work of sociology. Social science models helped to impose interpretative order on…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Britain and Europe

Book cover of The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

By Christian Wolmar,

Why this book?

With a razor sharp eye Wolmar (author of many other excellent books on railway history) concentrates his focus on the machinations of the establishment of the world's first railway built under the ground. Overcoming the travails of unbuilt fantasy concepts, the Victorians fear of the dark, finances and the problems of running steam trains in tunnels, London's City Solicitor Charles Pearson, managed to get the first route, the Metropolitan Railway, built and opened by January 1863. Wolmar unpicks the struggles to expand the line, private capitals, a rush to build more lines and the eventual nationalisation of the system in…

From the list:

The best books about subways and urban trains

Book cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John Le Carré,

Why this book?

It’s simply a great and well-crafted story and one that grabbed me well before I knew I wanted to write. British agent Alec Leamas is burned out and believes the Cold War is over for him, but then he’s given a chance at revenge by posing as an East German defector. All the while, Western espionage methods aren’t looking any morally better than the enemy’s, and Leamas feels it. No heroes here, just underdogs and survivors—a revelation at the time. A classic for so many reasons. 

From the list:

The best novels about underdogs on a doomed mission

Book cover of The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

By Jennifer Worth,

Why this book?

I think many Americans didn’t even realize midwives were still “a thing” until the emergence of the award-winning British television series, Call the Midwife. That series is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoir, which details her experiences as a young woman who moves into a convent and becomes a midwife in the slums of London’s East End. Like the other firsthand accounts I’ve mentioned here (Martha Ballard’s diary; Peggy Vincent’s memoir), this book humanizes birth, and reminds us of the important role midwives have played in making mothers feel safe and empowered in a wide variety of times and settings.

From the list:

The best books on the history of childbirth

Book cover of Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

By Philip Hoare,

Why this book?

A biography of an extraordinary building: the biggest hospital ever built, to contain the casualties of Britain's biggest and worst wars from Crimea to World War Two. Perhaps the most original work of medical historical writing in the English language, as the ghosts of the nurses, doctors, and their broken shell-shocked patients haunt its pages and its writer through his family connections.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

Book cover of Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence: The Bishop of Brownism's Life, Writings, and Controversies

Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence: The Bishop of Brownism's Life, Writings, and Controversies

By Scott Culpepper,

Why this book?

This is the biography of one of the most disruptive figures in the separatist movement. It brings to life the turbulence of the life of the Netherlands settlers more vividly than generalisations about conditions in Amsterdam, and Leiden can do. Johnson was the most extreme and dogmatic of the English separatists. He led a congregation in London in the 1590s, was exiled, made an abortive attempt to set up his own colony in Nova Scotia, then joined the separatist community in Amsterdam. There he fell out with the established leadership and created a split in the English community. The vivid…

From the list:

The best books on the background of the Pilgrim fathers

Book cover of A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical Investigation

By Philip Kerr,

Why this book?

THEME: Technically, this is not really a work of science fiction per se, even though it takes place in London 2013, twenty-one years before the book's publication. So it explores aspects of the future through a journey into the head of a serial killer and to the heart of murder itself. In the book, London at that time was a city where serial murder has reached epidemic proportions. To combat this raft of murders, the government has created a test to screen people for a predisposition to commit violent crimes. Tested at random, a man is shocked to hear that…

From the list:

The best psychological thrillers that will make you think

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