The best books on the Middle Ages

84 authors have picked their favorite books about the Middle Ages and why they recommend each book.

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Growing Up in Medieval London

By Barbara A. Hanawalt,

Book cover of Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History

I learnt so much from this book when I was writing my biography of Chaucer. It is hard to find out information about childhood in history, and yet it is impossible to try to understand a society if we don’t know how children were brought up, what games they played, how they were educated, what adolescence was like. This book tells us about all those things. You can find out about how children learnt to read, what happened to orphans, the opportunities for pre-marital sex. Looking at a wide range of historical records and literary texts, Hanawalt pieces together a remarkably complete picture of medieval childhood. Looking at causes of death, for example, tells her where male and female children spent their time and what they were likely to be doing (boys were more likely to be outside). And archaeological finds reveal what kinds of toys children played with. Fascinating…


Who am I?

Marion Turner is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University where she teaches medieval literature. Her critically-acclaimed biography of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer was picked as a Book of the Year by the Times, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the TLS, and has been hailed as ‘an absolute triumph,’ and a ‘masterpiece.’ It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the English Association Beatrice White Prize, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize.


I wrote...

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

What is my book about?

An acclaimed biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English writers. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the circulation of his writings, Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination. From the wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence, the book recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

By Christopher De Hamel,

Book cover of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

One of the great thrills of researching medieval history is getting the chance to handle original documents up close, as I have had the good fortune to do a few times. Christophe de Hamel is a palaeographer, a manuscripts expert who has travelled the world to examine some of the most precious handwritten works that still survive. As his title hints, De Hamel treats these artefacts as personalities, and his no-nonsense decipherment of priceless treasures is like listening in on a wise and witty conversation.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

By David Horspool,

Book cover of Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

What is my book about?

The extraordinary rediscovery of Richard III’s body in a Leicester car park reignited interest in the last of the Plantagenets. David Horspool’s book steers a tricky course between those who would like to recast Richard as a hero and those who believe Shakespeare’s black legend. Horspool brings the Wars of the Roses to life, as well as tracing the afterlife of Britain’s most controversial monarch.

Making a Living in the Middle Ages

By Christopher Dyer,

Book cover of Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520

For me, this isn’t a book that I read cover to cover; it is a book that I very frequently refer to when I want information. This is my go-to book when I want to check how much a labourer was paid, and what that money would buy, for example. It is an economic history and, as such, helps you to understand the fundamentals of how medieval society worked and was put together. So you can find out not only about the life of an aristocrat, but about the life of a peasant, free or unfree, and about life in the countryside as well as life in towns or in great households. It covers almost 700 years of history, so it also demonstrates how much changed across this long and varied period – starting hundreds of years before the Norman Conquest, and ending in the reign of Henry VIII, when…


Who am I?

Marion Turner is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University where she teaches medieval literature. Her critically-acclaimed biography of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer was picked as a Book of the Year by the Times, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the TLS, and has been hailed as ‘an absolute triumph,’ and a ‘masterpiece.’ It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the English Association Beatrice White Prize, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize.


I wrote...

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

What is my book about?

An acclaimed biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English writers. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the circulation of his writings, Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination. From the wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence, the book recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan.

Valkyrie

By Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir,

Book cover of Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World

In the “traders vs. raiders” approach to Viking history, women stay home and look after the farm while the men go off on adventures. Three books published in the 1990s by Judith Jesch and Jenny Jochens brought the lives of these women out of the shadows, showing how vital their role was.

In Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World, Jóhanna Kristín Friðriksdóttir brings these early studies up to date. With her mastery of detail from the Icelandic sagas, Friðriksdóttir follows an ordinary Viking woman from birth to death. She tells stories of women who are bold and successful, others who are battered and victimized.

She hopes to introduce us, she says, “to the diverse and fascinating texts recorded in medieval Iceland, a culture able to imagine women in all kinds of roles carrying power.” Like the mythical valkyries of her title, these are “women who decided.” To learn…


Who am I?

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of seven books about Iceland and the Viking Age, including The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, and the award-winning Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths. Her books combine extremes: medieval literature and modern archaeology, myths and facts. They ask, What have we overlooked? What have we forgotten? Whose story must not be lost? A former science writer and editor at a university magazine, she lives on a farm in northern Vermont and spends part of each summer in Iceland.


I wrote...

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

What is my book about?

Brown lays to rest the hoary myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrates the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors. In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.

Viking Age Iceland

By Jesse L. Byock,

Book cover of Viking Age Iceland

Almost everything we know about the Vikings—their gods and heroes, their history and myths, their values and fears—comes from texts written down on parchment in medieval Iceland. Yet the Icelandic sagas and Eddas are biased. They explain very little about the Vikings in the east (and get wrong much of what they do describe). Their world is not the Viking World, which stretched from Constantinople to North America, but Viking Iceland.

Jesse Byock brings all this material together in Viking Age Iceland. First published in 2001, this immensely readable book is a classic that has not yet been bettered. It should be on every Viking enthusiast’s shelf.


Who am I?

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of seven books about Iceland and the Viking Age, including The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, and the award-winning Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths. Her books combine extremes: medieval literature and modern archaeology, myths and facts. They ask, What have we overlooked? What have we forgotten? Whose story must not be lost? A former science writer and editor at a university magazine, she lives on a farm in northern Vermont and spends part of each summer in Iceland.


I wrote...

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

What is my book about?

Brown lays to rest the hoary myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrates the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors. In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.

The Long Ships

By Frans G. Bengtsson, Michael Meyer,

Book cover of The Long Ships

Something of a forgotten classic, this used to be the most widely read novel in Sweden. Though not strictly a book about English history, the story describes the impact of the raids of the Northmen on England through the eyes of our protagonist, Red Orm, and details his adventures in Moorish Spain, Ireland, Sweden, and the Byzantine Empire. This is a classic tale of exploration and discovery that also manages to present us with a very believable view of the late 10th-century world, especially that of Anglo-Saxon England during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. If you enjoy high adventure and have any interest in the Vikings and the culture that bore them this is an excellent addition to your library.


Who am I?

We know so little about early English history that it’s a period often ignored by novelists who prefer to set their tales in eras that are a little more fleshed out and familiar to their readerships. This is a shame as, though much has been lost, there is still plenty to discover, and England’s ‘dark age’ offers us a rich seam of untold stories. By combining research, scholarship, and imagination an author can strike a literary light that will illuminate even the darkest corner.


I wrote...

Leofric: Sword of the Angles

By Stephen Arnott,

Book cover of Leofric: Sword of the Angles

What is my book about?

Denmark, AD 520. Fearing invasion, Cynefrid, the King of Angeln, summons a muster of fighting men to his eastern stronghold. Thegn Eadwig and his nephew, Leofric, answer the call, but they quickly become embroiled in the intrigues of the kingdom and a violent encounter leads to Leofric being charged with murder. This bloody act heaps ruin on Leofric and his family, and he is forced to flee to a remote sanctuary where he recovers his strength and plans the revenge that will ultimately reclaim his birthright.

Song of the Vikings

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

The very fact that we have written records of the Viking myths, other than Runestones, is thanks to Icelandic historian, poet, and politician Snorri Sturluson. His Icelandic Sagas inspired many writers, including Tolkien and Lewis. In her biography of this influential medieval writer, Ms. Brown not only tells us about Sturluson’s life but also summarizes much of his writing and puts it into context with Norse fables. If you’ve ever wondered how much of the Viking stories were historical facts and how much of it is Sturluson’s imagination, this is a great book to read.


Who am I?

I grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology steeped in Viking history, which fueled my interest in Norse mythology. For example, Uppåkra, the largest and richest Iron Age settlement in Scandinavia, is only a few miles from my childhood home. When my seventh-grade history teacher noticed my fascination with the Viking myths, he started recommending me books. Ever since, I’ve read extensively about the Norse pantheon, and its stories inspire my own writing. I’ve also taken several research trips to historical Viking settlements in Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.


I wrote...

A Wolf's Hunger: A Sexy Fated Mates Paranormal Romance

By Asa Maria Bradley,

Book cover of A Wolf's Hunger: A Sexy Fated Mates Paranormal Romance

What is my book about?

Wolf shifter and billionaire Arek Varg is the alpha of all the Western Packs. His ancient Odin medallion allows him to connect with his packs’ magic and lead his wolves as a cohesive unit. With war brewing between the four major shifter coalitions, the last thing he needs is a mysterious woman stealing his relic.

Former museum curator Dr. Laney Marconi fell from grace due to a scandal based on false accusations. She now reclaims stolen items for insurance companies, using her witch powers that manipulate parallel dimensions. When a routine case turns into a disaster of epic proportions, she needs to evade the sexy shifter she stole from long enough to figure out who set her up.

The Map of Knowledge

By Violet Moller,

Book cover of The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found

A lively account of the ways in which the philosophical and medical ideas of the Greeks were transmitted to Rome, the Arab world, and medieval Italy. What Plato, Aristotle and Galen had said was often changed and even lost on the way, and only partially recovered in Renaissance Italy. A vivid reminder of the influence of the Greeks over many centuries.


Who am I?

Vivian Nutton is an emeritus professor of the History of Medicine at UCL and has written extensively on the pre-modern history of medicine. He has lectured around the world and held posts in Cambridge and Moscow as well as the USA. His many books include editions and translations of Galen as well as a major survey of Greek and Roman Medicine, and he is currently writing a history of medicine in the Late Renaissance.


Galen: A Thinking Doctor in Imperial Rome

By Vivian Nutton,

Book cover of Galen: A Thinking Doctor in Imperial Rome

Galen of Pergamum, a Greek doctor in ancient Rome, is a fascinating figure, doctor to several Roman Emperors, a prolific writer, an overbearing egotist, a medical genius, an acute observer, and intelligent thinker, whose influence lasted for a millennium and a half. I have tried to explain the complexities of a man whose writings still provoke admiration or dissent, but rarely allow neutrality.

Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity

By M. Lindsay Kaplan,

Book cover of Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity

In the European Middle Ages—the millennium-long era in the West after antiquity and before the modern period—Christianity was the first and last authority for all sources of knowledge and forms of reasoning.  This important book shows in great detail how medieval Christian theology produced arguments and rationales that enabled racism against Jews during the centuries of the long medieval period.


Who am I?

I’m that infamous medievalist who wrote the big book on medieval race. It took 20 years of thinking and research, and a whole lot of writing, but now people are convinced that there was, indeed, such a thing as race and racism between the 11th and 15th centuries in the West (aka Christendom/Europe). I'm Perceval Professor of English and Comparative Literature, with a joint appointment in Middle Eastern studies and Women’s studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


I wrote...

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages

By Geraldine Heng,

Book cover of The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages

What is my book about?

I take readers on a journey from North America (where Greenlanders and Icelanders had a lot to say about Native Americans) to Europe (where Jews were racialized, and “Gypsy” became the name of a slave race), to the Middle East (where Muslims were the international enemy in the killing fields of holy war) to Africa (where blackness was seen as the color of sin and the devil, and Ethiopians were deemed a population of sinners) to the Eurasian steppes and China (where Mongols evolved, in the western mind, from subhuman beings to the representatives of the greatest empire on earth). Along the way, I show readers why all this still matters today.

The World in the Viking Age

By Søren M. Sindbæk (editor), Athena Trakadas (editor),

Book cover of The World in the Viking Age

This well-written and well-illustrated book tells the story of Vikings, their ships, travels, and trade in the context of the global history of the ancient World – reaching from the Atlantic to China and from North Norway to Africa. The Vikings were far from the only great seafarers, warriors, and tradesmen of their time. They were part of far-flung networks, which also traded ideas. Contemporary travel accounts and recent archaeological investigations and finds are important components of this attractive book, written by international specialists.


Who am I?

Else Roesdahl has a life-long passion for Vikings. She is emerita professor of Medieval Archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and has travelled all over the Viking world and taken part in many excavations. She has also organized major international Viking Exhibitions and published academic as well as popular books, for which she has been awarded several prizes.


I wrote...

The Vikings

By Else Roesdahl,

Book cover of The Vikings

What is my book about?

The Viking Age is shot through with the spirit of adventure. For 300 years, from just before AD800 until well into the eleventh century, the Vikings affected almost every region accessible to their ships, and left traces that are still part of life today.

Far from being just wild, barbaric, axe-wielding pirates, the Vikings created complex social institutions, oversaw the coming of Christianity to Scandinavia, and made a major impact on European history through trade, travel, and far-flung consolidation. This encyclopedic study brings together the latest research on Viking art, burial customs, class divisions, jewelry, kingship, poetry, and family life. The result is a rich and compelling picture of an extraordinary civilization.

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