The best books about Oxford

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Oxford and why they recommend each book.

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Tower of the Winds

By Weimin He,

Book cover of Tower of the Winds: Works on Paper

Weimin was the university's artist-in-residence recording the restoration of the C18th Observatory and Radcliffe hospital, the bulldozing of the site, and the building of the Maths Institute and Blavatnik School of Government near Jericho. This historic collection of art evokes past, present, and future, and Town and Gown. The artist comes from Manchuria so to me, it represents Oxford as an international city.

This book is only available from the author, email Weimin He for a signed copy for £20 plus postage. 


Who am I?

I was a freelance writer for The Oxford Times for 20 years when it was well respected. For ten of those years, I wrote the Oxford Castaway series in which I cast away inspirational people from 5 continents whose lives have been affected by their time in the city. Even Lord Chris Pattern of Barnes – the Chancellor of Oxford University and former Governor of Hong Kong let me cast him away on Oxtopia! Oxford is still divided between Town and Gown but I stride the two and my husband was an academic at that other Oxford University: Oxford Brookes.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

Sculpting the Elephant is half set in Oxford but mostly in the not-so-well-known, ex-working-class district called Jericho. Opposite the Jericho Tavern where Radiohead started, artist Harry King sets up a business called Deco-rators. Chance encounters can change lives and Harry was catapulted into another world when he encountered Indian historian Ramma Gupta. My story not only crosses TOWN and GOWN but also continents, class, colour, culture, and time. I am interested in lost or forgotten histories so the historical subplot concerns the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and Ashoka who in effect created the religion we know as Buddhism.

Experiencing Oxford

By Ian Davis,

Book cover of Experiencing Oxford

This book is a comprehensive and fascinating look at an elusively handsome city. It shows unknown corners as well as the familiar Spires. History and events feature in attractive informative writing. All balanced by sensitive new imagery from the noted artist, architect, and illustrator Ian Davis. It is a gripping read, stunningly illustrated.

I love the fact that despite my living in Oxford for over 40 years, Ian Davis showed me views I didn’t know and facts I had not learnt. The book is Informative and interesting.

The book's great value is its comprehensive personal view of the City of Oxford, produced in an accessible and affordable format.


Who am I?

I am a photographer based in Oxford who has published books for 40 years. I love to be outside, whether it's enjoying the urban landscape of historic Oxford or the wild beauty of the Scottish hillside. The charm of the natural world and the romance of historic buildings are equal enthusiasms. To capture some essence of this, either by camera or paintbrush is a true skill. And it's not easy! To really create a new view is a constant challenge which is my driving force, in my own books I try for images that are just slightly different, atmospheric, romantic, yet always recognisable. I love to search out others who achieve the same, this is why I love these books.


I wrote...

Belfast, A View of the City

By Chris Andrews,

Book cover of Belfast, A View of the City

What is my book about?

Contemporary coffee table book, a visual celebration of all that is good in this remarkable city today. Beautiful photographs show the energy, diversity, industry, and quality of a great environment. A place of work, life, and beauty. From the river Lagan with its wildlife to the huge cranes and work at Harland and Wolff, from the craic in the vibrant pubs to the landscape of the wild surrounding hills, from the locations of gardens and historic buildings to the locations of Game of Thrones and more.

A book for everyone: Belfast’s citizens, locals, tourists, visitors for work or pleasure.

This is available only direct from the publishers here.

The Midnight Press

By Oxpens Writer's Group,

Book cover of The Midnight Press: And other Oxford Stories

For me, Oxford is the Hollywood of stories and indeed it is now home to The Story Museum. One of the stars of Oxford storytelling was Colin Dexter, whose Inspector Morse novels have spawned three TV series. He was the patron of the Oxford Writers Group and recommended this anthology. It includes stories from Town, Gown, and County so it is a good holiday read while in Oxford or dreaming of the city.

Who am I?

I was a freelance writer for The Oxford Times for 20 years when it was well respected. For ten of those years, I wrote the Oxford Castaway series in which I cast away inspirational people from 5 continents whose lives have been affected by their time in the city. Even Lord Chris Pattern of Barnes – the Chancellor of Oxford University and former Governor of Hong Kong let me cast him away on Oxtopia! Oxford is still divided between Town and Gown but I stride the two and my husband was an academic at that other Oxford University: Oxford Brookes.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

Sculpting the Elephant is half set in Oxford but mostly in the not-so-well-known, ex-working-class district called Jericho. Opposite the Jericho Tavern where Radiohead started, artist Harry King sets up a business called Deco-rators. Chance encounters can change lives and Harry was catapulted into another world when he encountered Indian historian Ramma Gupta. My story not only crosses TOWN and GOWN but also continents, class, colour, culture, and time. I am interested in lost or forgotten histories so the historical subplot concerns the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and Ashoka who in effect created the religion we know as Buddhism.

Gaudy Night

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Book cover of Gaudy Night

I admit it. This is my fantasy world: Oxford, complete with sherry, academic gowns, and dinner at the High Table. An English Lord—who falls in love with a mystery writer for her mind. Not only does everyone talks in complete sentences, they actually have something to say. I’m sure I’m not the only kid who grew up dreaming that a career in academia would be just like the one in Sayers’ book. Of course, I discovered quickly enough that the reality was very different, but I still love reading and writing about my childhood fantasy world.


Who am I?

My favorite childhood summertime memory is being allowed to choose a stack of Agatha Christies to take with me to summer camp and on vacation. As I moved on to academia and the “serious” study of literature, I quickly discovered that mysteries are every bit as serious as James Joyce—and are a lot more fun to read. Now that I have turned to writing the stories myself, I enjoy diving into a world of afternoon tea, well-read detectives, and impeccably mixed cocktails, and I love to find readers who want to join me there.


I wrote...

The Brooklyn North Murders

By Erica Obey,

Book cover of The Brooklyn North Murders

What is my book about?

The Brooklyn North Murders is a tart take on gentrification in the Hudson Valley. The small-town traditions of Morgansburg, NY are rapidly being replaced by Brooklyn hipsters, who are determined to turn this sleepy college town into the next Silicon Valley. When a tech entrepreneur dives into a lake in full view of a triathlon crowd and never emerges, it is up to computer whiz Mary Watson and Doyle, the AI bot she has programmed to write mysteries, to solve the impossible crime.  

My Life in Middlemarch

By Rebecca Mead,

Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on the list. I have come to love books that underscore how what we read can be inseparable from the person we become.


Who am I?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.


I wrote...

Letters to Men of Letters

By Diane Charney,

Book cover of Letters to Men of Letters

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to write a letter to an author who has been important to you? I write to the authors I admire, both living and dead, who continue to keep me company. Among these are Kafka, Proust, Nabokov, Camus, Flaubert, Balzac, Leonard Cohen, André Aciman, Christo, and my father. In my 18 letters, I reflect on what these writers have taught me about myself, but also what they can offer the reader. Each letter is part memoir, part intellectual coming-of-age, part reaction to having read, loved, studied, and taught the work of these timeless writers.

As if writing to mostly dead guys weren’t “offbeat” enough, rest assured that there’s plenty of additional evidence for my laying claim to that adjective: “Dear Jean-Paul Sartre, There have been many Jean-Pauls in my life, but you’re the only one in whose bedroom I have slept.”

The Hunting of the Shark

By Bill Heine,

Book cover of The Hunting of the Shark: The Story Behind the Tale That Crash Landed on an Unsuspecting Oxford Suburban Street

The artist John Buckley made this shark to go into the roof of American Bill Heine’s terraced house. I cast both of them away on my mythical island of Oxtopia. They explained that their aim was to feel shock and awe falling from the sky. When American warplanes were leaving nearby Heyford to drop bombs on Libya, they asked what it would feel like to have your domestic world penetrated out of the blue. Not everyone liked the shark and Bill had a six-year battle against bureaucracy. This book tells that story. It is now a TOWN icon but for me, it has both personal and international significance.

Who am I?

I was a freelance writer for The Oxford Times for 20 years when it was well respected. For ten of those years, I wrote the Oxford Castaway series in which I cast away inspirational people from 5 continents whose lives have been affected by their time in the city. Even Lord Chris Pattern of Barnes – the Chancellor of Oxford University and former Governor of Hong Kong let me cast him away on Oxtopia! Oxford is still divided between Town and Gown but I stride the two and my husband was an academic at that other Oxford University: Oxford Brookes.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

Sculpting the Elephant is half set in Oxford but mostly in the not-so-well-known, ex-working-class district called Jericho. Opposite the Jericho Tavern where Radiohead started, artist Harry King sets up a business called Deco-rators. Chance encounters can change lives and Harry was catapulted into another world when he encountered Indian historian Ramma Gupta. My story not only crosses TOWN and GOWN but also continents, class, colour, culture, and time. I am interested in lost or forgotten histories so the historical subplot concerns the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and Ashoka who in effect created the religion we know as Buddhism.

The Princess Who Hid in a Tree

By Jackie Holderness, Alan Marks (illustrator),

Book cover of The Princess Who Hid in a Tree: An Anglo-Saxon Story

This is the story of Frideswide and the creation of Oxford as a place of learning told for young children. Our grandchildren are weaned on superheroes and I would like them to know the stories of heroes and heroines from the past as well.

Who am I?

I was a freelance writer for The Oxford Times for 20 years when it was well respected. For ten of those years, I wrote the Oxford Castaway series in which I cast away inspirational people from 5 continents whose lives have been affected by their time in the city. Even Lord Chris Pattern of Barnes – the Chancellor of Oxford University and former Governor of Hong Kong let me cast him away on Oxtopia! Oxford is still divided between Town and Gown but I stride the two and my husband was an academic at that other Oxford University: Oxford Brookes.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

Sculpting the Elephant is half set in Oxford but mostly in the not-so-well-known, ex-working-class district called Jericho. Opposite the Jericho Tavern where Radiohead started, artist Harry King sets up a business called Deco-rators. Chance encounters can change lives and Harry was catapulted into another world when he encountered Indian historian Ramma Gupta. My story not only crosses TOWN and GOWN but also continents, class, colour, culture, and time. I am interested in lost or forgotten histories so the historical subplot concerns the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and Ashoka who in effect created the religion we know as Buddhism.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

By Patti Callahan,

Book cover of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is the improbable love story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. And, at the novel’s onset, their coupling truly feels improbable. While in an unhappy marriage, Joy is very much married. She has young children. Joy has health issues. Joy and C.S. Lewis are separated by a body of water. Yet, Joy is also a very tenacious woman, which also included Joy inserting herself into conversations and places women at that time didn’t frequent. I wholly respect how Joy creates a new life for herself.


Who am I?

I’ve written ten books for children and adults inspired by women throughout history, ones about American outlaws, war-time heroes, resistance groups, and activists. I enjoy learning, researching, and shining a spotlight on the women who shape our world today. In A Betting Woman, the presence of three names for a single woman intrigued me. I wondered how one name bled into the next and how life winded to a seemingly unappealing nickname, given to Eleanor after she’d taken a man’s last dime during a card game. Still, Eleanor kept the moniker for over a decade as she carried on. I hope you’ll enjoy her story, along with the other strong women featured on this list!


I wrote...

A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache

By Jenni L. Walsh,

Book cover of A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache

What is my book about?

Born Simone Jules, reinvented as Eleanor Dumont, and largely remembered as Madame Moustache, A Betting Woman is a historical novel inspired by the tumultuous life, times, and loves of America’s first professional croupier of modern-day blackjack, bringing to life an intrepid and entrepreneurial real-life woman who lived on her own terms.

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner

By Daniel Defoe,

Book cover of The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner

Good historical novels concentrate on gaps in the historical record, and use fiction to fill them – and in doing so, they illuminate the facts. Robinson Crusoe, the first historical novel in English (some claim the first English novel), used the story of a fictional sailor who left home in 1651 and returned in 1687 to show how the mental world in which his character grew up, riven by confessional conflict and civil war, differed from the mental world of his readers, in which colonies and capitalism had combined to produce great wealth. 

Among more recent works of fiction set in the 17th century, I particularly enjoyed Günther Grass, The meeting at Telgte (1981), set in Germany in 1647; and Iain Pears An instance of the fingerpost (1997), set in Oxford in 1663. Both include real historical figures.


Who am I?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.


I wrote...

Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

By Geoffrey Parker,

Book cover of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

What is my book about?

Global Crisis examines how a fatal synergy between climate change and human inflexibility eradicated one-third of the planet’s human population and unleashed an unparalleled spate of wars, invasions, and revolutions. Personal accounts and scientific data alike show how extreme weather disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests, bringing hunger, malnutrition, forced migration, and disease, and then, as material conditions worsened, precipitated economic chaos, political anarchy, and social collapse. 

Although humans played no part in causing this episode of climate change, they still suffered and died from the primary effect: a 2ºC fall in global temperatures. The fact that today we face an increase of 2ºC will not reduce either the extreme weather events associated with changes of this magnitude, or the adverse consequences for humanity. My book has a moral: where climate change is concerned, in the 21st century as in the 17th century it’s better – and cheaper – to prepare than to repair.

After Such Kindness

By Gaynor Arnold,

Book cover of After Such Kindness

A teasingly insightful glimpse of the Victorian Oxford of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the two protagonists – and yet they aren’t! Yes, there is an Oxford University don with a penchant for photography, and yes his favourite subject is a ten-year-old local girl, and yes the text is scattered with subtle Wonderland and Looking-Glass references, but this is otherwise a quite different, very cleverly contrived, story. Structured as the inner thoughts of the main characters, After Such Kindness engagingly explores the dilemmas posed by the unusual friendship between a mature clergyman bachelor – Arnold convincingly captures Carroll’s playful sense of humour – and an inquisitive and trusting young girl, while sustaining a lurking sense of foreboding through to a thought-provoking finale.

Who am I?

I am an Oxford local historian, and the only Oxford guide endorsed by the Lewis Carroll Society. I have helped shape Oxford’s annual Alice’s Day since the first one in 2007, and have participated in French, Dutch, Canadian, Brazilian and British TV and radio documentaries, most notably for BBC 2 and BBC Radio 4. My interest is mainly the many Oxford realities which are hidden away within the apparent fantasy of the ‘Alice’ books, an angle which has enabled me to lecture on this internationally famous topic as far away as Assam in India. Subsequently, my appreciation of Carroll’s versatility as a mathematician, photographer, inventor, diarist, and letter writer has grown steadily over the years.


I wrote...

Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

By Mark Davies,

Book cover of Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

What is my book about?

An appraisal of a world-famous Oxford story from a new angle: the fundamental influence of the River Thames in the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll (the Christ Church don Charles Dodgson) entertained Alice Liddell and her sisters (the daughters of the Dean) with impromptu stories on rowing trips over seven summers, and it was on the river that the story of Alice had its birth.

Alice in Waterland sets the Oxford scene by combining excerpts from Carroll’s diaries and both Alice books with contemporary images, memoirs, and fiction on a literary journey of discovery along some ten miles of the picturesque river of which ‘the merry crew’ were all so fond. The book also sheds new light, and corrects some long-standing misconceptions, on the real places, people, and events which stimulated Carroll’s extraordinary imagination. "This is a splendid book." Philip Pullman

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