The most recommended books about medieval society

Who picked these books? Meet our 21 experts.

21 authors created a book list connected to medieval society, and here are their favorite medieval society books.
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Book cover of Wine of Violence

Cara Hogarth Author Of My Lady of the Whip

From my list on medieval sexuality.

Why am I passionate about this?

Cara Hogarth emigrated from England to Australia as a child, but always wished she hadn’t. So she studied medieval history at university in order to travel back in time and place. Now that she’s bagged a PhD (on Chaucer’s raunchy Wife of Bath), she prefers to write historical fiction in order to truly immerse herself and her readers in the past. She finds academic history a fantastic inspiration for her fiction writing, but is always seeking out historical novels that hit just the right balance between research, humor, and page-turning plot. Warning: her novels can get quite steamy!

Cara's book list on medieval sexuality

Cara Hogarth Why did Cara love this book?

Wine of Violence is Book One in a medieval mystery series set in an English convent.

No, this is not a salacious romp about monks and nuns getting saucy behind monastery walls. However, sexuality does play a major role in the characters’ thoughts and actions, and in a very believable and relatable way.

The young prioress-sleuth battles against her lust for a handsome priest, who in turn was forced into the priesthood for making love to another man. Oh, and the aged murder victim (also a monk) was found with his severed penis in his hand.

A well-researched mystery, and one of the few medieval-set novels I’ve come across to offer a sympathetic depiction of same-sex love.

By Priscilla Royal,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is late summer in the year 1270 and England is as weary as its aging king, Henry III. Although the Simon de Montfort rebellion is over, the smell of death still hangs like smoke over the land. Even in the small priory of Tyndal on the remote East Anglian coast, the monks and nuns of the Order of Fontevraud long for a return to tranquil routine. Their hopes are dashed, however, when the young and inexperienced Eleanor of Wynethorpe is appointed their new prioress over someone of their own choosing. Nor are Eleanor's own prayers for a peaceful transition…


Book cover of Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

Deborah Niland Author Of Annie's Chair

From my list on to happily lose yourself for hours.

Why am I passionate about this?

Being a children’s illustrator and writer, I have built up a well-loved collection of childen’s books over the years. They must have great drawings and imaginative concepts. They are books I can come back to again and again. The books I have chosen are ones where you can lose yourself in their intricate detailed worlds and forget about day-to-day troubles for a while. These books can also help reluctant readers by enticing them into a visual world first and then into appreciating the written word. 

Deborah's book list on to happily lose yourself for hours

Deborah Niland Why did Deborah love this book?

This book describes and shows what life was like in a 14th-century castle. If you have ever wondered how hundreds of people lived and worked in a castle then this is the book. The mind-boggling detail in the illustrations keeps me poring over them for ages. Each page reveals a cut-away of the castle interior from turrets to dungeons! All the books in this series are incredible in their detail and knowledge.

By Richard Platt, Stephen Biesty (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

History comes alive in this incredible children's illustrated book about castles. Slicing through different areas of a medieval fortress, extraordinary views reveal the people busy inside, and preparing for battle as an enemy army approaches.

Packed with facts, you'll find out what it takes to build a massive 14th-century castle, dress a knight in armour, or prepare a feast fit for a king or queen. From the drawbridge to the dungeon, Cross-sections Castle swarms with the people who keep the castle ticking over - the workers, craftsmen, and servants. And, as you pore over every page, look out for the…


Book cover of God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

Steven Nightingale Author Of Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

From my list on the truth about Spanish history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer who lived in the city of Granada for almost four years, in the uncanny barrio of the Albayzin. The daily blessings of life there are powerful and cumulative, and I wrote a book in honor of such luminosity; and I wrote it, as well, because most of us have been lied to about Spanish history. But the truth, like the poetry of Garcia Lorca, cannot be suppressed. In my sojourn in Spain, and in my visits over the years, I have found Granada to be a treasure-house of stories and poetry; and in flamenco singing, the home of one of the most powerful art-forms of music in the world.

Steven's book list on the truth about Spanish history

Steven Nightingale Why did Steven love this book?

The perfect book, beautifully written, for anyone who wants to understand Spain and Al-Andalus in the context of medieval European history. Most of us are taught the history of Medieval Europe to the strange exclusion of the brilliant culture of Al-Andalus, but it remains the case that the whole history of Europe cannot be understood without knowing the contributions of the convivencia across a very wide spectrum of subjects—commerce, mathematics, agriculture, philosophy, and medicine, to name a few. 

By David Levering Lewis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Resonating as profoundly today as when it was first published to widespread critical acclaim a decade ago, God's Crucible is a bold portrait of Islamic Spain and the birth of modern Europe from one of our greatest historians. David Levering Lewis's narrative, filled with accounts of some of the most epic battles in world history, reveals how cosmopolitan, Muslim al-Andalus flourished-a beacon of cooperation and tolerance-while proto-Europe floundered in opposition to Islam, making virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, religious intolerance, perpetual war and slavery. This masterful history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the…


Book cover of Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It

Hana Videen Author Of The Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary

From my list on books with a unique perspective of the medieval past.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in medieval history comes from a love of language. My favourite Old English word is wordhord, which refers to a poet’s mental stockpile of words and phrases. My word hoarding (and sharing) started with tweeting the Old English word of the day in 2013. This spread to other social media platforms, a blog, an app, and now two books. I have a PhD in English from King’s College London (my thesis was on blood in Old English, even though blood actually makes me squeamish). I enjoy histories that make me think about the past from a different perspective.

Hana's book list on books with a unique perspective of the medieval past

Hana Videen Why did Hana love this book?

This book is not just a rich and detailed portrait of various times and places throughout the medieval period—it explains how history itself is written, how certain stories are told (and prioritized), and how certain individuals are remembered.

From page 1, Ramirez draws you in with her irresistible storytelling, making historical figures seem like the real people they were. She corrects popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages as well as how history is itself created.

Each chapter begins with a discovery, which is just as dramatic and exciting as the medieval subject matter. I love how Ramirez paints a picture of the past using sight, sound, and smell, drawing on the evidence provided by jewelry, weaponry, coins, manuscripts, and even human remains.

By Janina Ramirez,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE INSTANT SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
LONGLISTED FOR THE CUNDILL HISTORY PRIZE

'Revelatory' GUARDIAN

'A firecracker somehow captured between two covers' LUCY WORSLEY

An instant bestseller and one of the most celebrated history books of the year, Femina reveals the power and influence of medieval women who have been written out of our history. From royalty and religion to fame and fury, see the medieval world - and the women erased from it - with fresh eyes.

'Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended' CAITLIN MORAN

'Femina is a ground-breaking history of the Middle Ages' SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE


Book cover of Daily Life in the Middle Ages

Jody Hedlund Author Of Come Back to Me

From my list on time-traveling back to the past.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved reading time travel stories and gobbled up most of what I could find. Over the past few years, I decided that I wanted to try writing one for myself. After reading the books I’ve recommended along with others (including some having to do with the physics of time), I finally took up the challenge and wrote the Waters of Time series which combines my love of the Middle Ages, romance, and time travel all into one.

Jody's book list on time-traveling back to the past

Jody Hedlund Why did Jody love this book?

Intriguing, little-known facts make this book another way to travel into the past, showcasing everything from eating, cooking, clothing, housing, and relaxing. It provides fascinating details of what everyday life was really like in the Middle Ages, facts that can’t be gleaned simply by watching movies or television programs.

By Paul B. Newman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daily Life in the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although life in the Middle Ages was not as comfortable and safe as it is for most people in industrialized countries today, the term "Dark Ages" is highly misleading. The era was not so primitive and crude as depictions in film and literature would suggest. Even during the worst years of the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome, the legacy of that civilization survived.

This book covers diet, cooking, housing, building, clothing, hygiene, games and other pastimes, fighting and healing in medieval times. The reader will find numerous misperceptions corrected. The book also includes a comprehensive bibliography and a…


Book cover of Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time

K. Patrick Fazioli Author Of The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

From my list on the use and abuse of the medieval past.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood fascination with the distant past was sparked by hours of leafing through The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World and countless viewings of the “Indiana Jones” movies. Today, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at Mercy College and an archaeologist specializing in the eastern Alpine region during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The author of three books and numerous scholarly articles, my research interests include ceramic technology, social identity, and the appropriation of the medieval past by modern ideologies.    

K.'s book list on the use and abuse of the medieval past

K. Patrick Fazioli Why did K. love this book?

When I first read this book as a graduate student, Kathleen Davis’s ability to draw unexpected connections—between political power and temporality, feudalism and imperialism, medieval and postcolonial studies—melted my brain (in a good way). It’s not easy to do justice to her complex argument in a few sentences, but basically she shows how early modern jurists deliberately relegated certain ideas (servility, absolutism, religiosity) both to Europe’s medieval past and the present of the nonwestern world in order to justify imperial expansion, colonial domination, and even chattel slavery. A dense critique of both medieval historiography and postcolonial theory, Periodization and Sovereignty isn’t a breezy read but it’s well worth the effort.     

By Kathleen Davis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Despite all recent challenges to stage-oriented histories, the idea of a division between a "medieval" and a "modern" period has survived, even flourished, in academia. Periodization and Sovereignty demonstrates that this survival is no innocent affair. By examining periodization together with the two controversial categories of feudalism and secularization, Kathleen Davis exposes the relationship between the constitution of "the Middle Ages" and the history of sovereignty, slavery, and colonialism.
This book's groundbreaking investigation of feudal historiography finds that the historical formation of "feudalism" mediated the theorization of sovereignty and a social contract, even as it provided a rationale for colonialism…


Book cover of The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Robert Bartlett Author Of Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe

From my list on a look at medieval Europe as a whole.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had an interest in the Middle Ages as long as I can remember. In boyhood, this took the form of model knights, trips to castles, and a huge body of writing about an imaginary medieval country called Rulasia. Later it was disciplined by the study of the real medieval world, in particular by finding an ideal subject for my doctoral dissertation in Gerald of Wales, a prolific and cantankerous twelfth-century cleric, whose writings on Ireland and Wales, on saints and miracles, and on the Angevin kings (Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and John), were the ultimate inspiration for my own books on medieval colonialism, the cult of the saints and medieval dynasties.

Robert's book list on a look at medieval Europe as a whole

Robert Bartlett Why did Robert love this book?

Huizinga’s book was first published more than 100 years ago, in 1919, but it retains its value as a sparkling and original evocation of the world of late medieval Europe: its values, its thought, its violence, and – one of its great strengths - its visual arts. This last is not surprising, since the author’s main focus is on the Netherlands and northern France, where oil painting, the realistic portrait, and the landscape began in European art. The book has been translated into English more than once, with significantly different titles: in 1924 as The Waning of the Middle Ages, then – 72 years later! - as The Autumn of the Middle Ages. In 2020 there appeared yet another version - Autumntide of the Middle Ages. The book is ever young.

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton (translator), Ulrich Mammitzsch (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is a portrait of life, thought and art in 14th- and 15th-century France and the Netherlands. Regarded as an historical classic by many scholars, it has also been criticized and incorrectly translated. This edition corrects changes made by other translators to the original Dutch text of 1919. For Huizinga, the 14th and 15th centuries marked not the birth of a dramatically new era in history - the Renaissance - but the fullest, ripest phase of medieval life and thought. However, his work was criticized at home and in Europe for being "old-fashioned" and "too literary". Franz Hopman adapted, reduced,…


Book cover of Medieval Iberia, Second Edition: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources

Hussein Fancy Author Of The Mercenary Mediterranean: Sovereignty, Religion, and Violence in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

From my list on capturing the paradoxes of medieval Spain.

Why am I passionate about this?

Hussein Fancy is a Professor of History at Yale University where he teaches medieval history with a particular focus on medieval Spain and North Africa. His research, writing, and teaching focus on the entwined histories of not only Jews, Christians, and Muslims but also Latin and Arabic in the Middle Ages. He has traveled and lived extensively in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Hussein's book list on capturing the paradoxes of medieval Spain

Hussein Fancy Why did Hussein love this book?

I have used this collection of translated primary sources for over a decade to teach students. It covers the whole period of medieval Spain, from the arrival of Muslim conquerors in 711 to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and allows one to confront for themselves the paradoxes of coexistence, collaboration, and violence that characterized this place and period. A thoughtful introduction precedes each document.

By Olivia Remie Constable (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For some historians, medieval Iberian society was one marked by peaceful coexistence and cross-cultural fertilization; others have sketched a harsher picture of Muslims and Christians engaged in an ongoing contest for political, religious, and economic advantage culminating in the fall of Muslim Granada and the expulsion of the Jews in the late fifteenth century. The reality that emerges in Medieval Iberia is more nuanced than either of these scenarios can comprehend. Now in an expanded, second edition, this monumental collection offers unparalleled access to the multicultural complexity of the lands that would become modern Portugal and Spain.
The documents collected…


Book cover of The Making of the Middle Ages

David Horspool Author Of Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

From my list on to show you why medieval isn’t an insult.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been fascinated by medieval history ever since I played hide and seek around Welsh castles as a boy. At university – a medieval invention, of course – I was able to sit at the feet of some of the finest historians of the Middle Ages, experts like Maurice Keen and Patrick Wormald. As a writer, I have tackled medieval subjects like Alfred the Great and Richard III, as well as the history of English rebellion. I have come to realise that the Middle Ages could be cruel and violent, just like our own time, but that they were also a time of extraordinary achievements that form the foundations of the world we live in.

David's book list on to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

David Horspool Why did David love this book?

This was the first book to open my eyes to the strangeness and sophistication of medieval life. To an English reader, its focus on the European Middle Ages is revelatory, as is its concentration on writers and travellers rather than kings and knights. At the time he wrote the book, the brilliant Richard Southern was hospitalized with tuberculosis. The book seems to be a distillation of a lifelong passion, which, fortunately, he was able to pursue for another four decades.

By R.W. Southern,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A distinguished Oxford historian presents an absorbing study of the main personalities and the influences that molded the history of Western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century, describing the chief forms of social, political, and religious organization.
"A book of rare value."-Sidney Painter, American Historical Review


Book cover of Off to Be the Wizard

Arthur Slade Author Of Dragon Assassin

From my list on fantasy to tickle your funny bone.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the back of my ragged edition of The Fellowship of the Ring is a picture of JRR Tolkien smoking a pipe. Even at a young age, I thought, “That’s what I want!” No, not the pipe. Though it would be cool to have it sans tobacco. I wanted to have my picture on the back of a book that was filled with fantasy characters, adventure, good, evil, magic, and elves. Since that time I have been writing books and chasing after my own characters and epic tales. So I’m thankful for that first inspiration.

Arthur's book list on fantasy to tickle your funny bone

Arthur Slade Why did Arthur love this book?

What if there was a computer program that reduced every single thing in the world down to a set of numbers? Sounds mathematically boring. But what if by changing one number you could suddenly be six feet tall? Or levitate? Martin Banks has, by spending far too much time on the internet, discovered that program. And made himself rich. Which gets the authorities snooping around and next thing you know he’s fleeing to the middle ages, where several other mathematical types have taken up residence. They know the secret of the program and have made themselves wizards. And Martin becomes a wizard in training to learn these skills. Which is all well and fine, until one wizard starts to turn evil. I am a geek. I admit it. And this send up of geek culture had the perfect geekish vibe for me.

By Scott Meyer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Off to Be the Wizard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An io9 Can't Miss Science Fiction and Fantasy title in March 2014.

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little "tweaks" have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.

What could possibly go wrong?

An American hacker in King Arthur's court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers,…