The best books about Westminster Abbey

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to Westminster Abbey, and here are their favorite Westminster Abbey books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission


By Aphra Behn,

Book cover of Oroonoko

Tom Keymer Author Of Jane Austen: A Very Short Introduction

From the list on stories written before 1800.

Who am I?

I’ve been researching and teaching the history of the novel since I was a graduate student in Cambridge in the late 1980s, and along the way, I’ve published trade editions of several classics beyond those recommended here, including Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Richardson’s Pamela, Fielding’s Tom Jones, and Beckford’s Vathek. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from specialist academia and reach a broader community of readers, as I’ve also tried to do in a recent introductory book about Jane Austen. I now teach at the University of Toronto, where I’m blessed with amazing students on two of my favourite undergraduate courses, “The Rise of the Novel” and “Austen and Her Contemporaries.”

Tom's book list on stories written before 1800

Discover why each book is one of Tom's favorite books.

Why did Tom love this book?

“All women together ought to let flowers fall on the tomb of Aphra Behn... in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” The first professional woman writer in England, best known for her scandalous stage comedies during the reign of Charles II, Behn ended her career with a hard-hitting novel about slavery and rebellion in colonial Suriname. It may not be true, as she says when dedicating Oroonoko (1688) to a Scottish nobleman, that “I writ it in a few hours.” But there’s real urgency to Behn’s narrative as she deplores the fate of her enslaved hero, an African prince she likens to “a lion taken in a toil,” while also sounding the alarm about regime change back home in England. 

By Aphra Behn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'We are bought and sold like apes or monkeys, to be the sport of women, fools, and cowards, and the support of rogues . . .'

Spy, traveller and pioneering female writer Aphra Benn's story of an African prince sold into slavery is considered one of the earliest English novels

The Projective Cast

By Robin Evans,

Book cover of The Projective Cast: Architecture and Its Three Geometries

Philip Steadman Author Of Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces

From the list on perspective, optics, and realistic illusion in art.

Who am I?

If I was asked to describe the central theme of my life's work in a phrase, it would be 'geometry in the arts'. I'm an architect originally, now a professor in London, and have always loved drawing and the art of perspective. In the 1990s I became fascinated with the idea that Johannes Vermeer used the camera obscura, an obsession that led to my book Vermeer's Camera. I'm now working on Canaletto's Camera. And I have ideas for yet another book, on perspective, to be called Points of View. I've chosen five books on these topics that I've found most thought-provoking and inspiring.

Philip's book list on perspective, optics, and realistic illusion in art

Discover why each book is one of Philip's favorite books.

Why did Philip love this book?

Robin Evans was a versatile architectural historian and theorist who died too young. This highly original and unusual book, published after his death, is about the relationship of geometry to architecture, and how methods of drawing, including perspective and orthographic projection, can influence what is conceived and built. I admire the way in which Evans, unlike many architectural historians, is able to combine deep scholarship with a working practical understanding of how buildings are made, and how they are used in practice. There has been no other recent writer on architecture with so subtle a mind.

By Robin Evans,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robin Evans recasts the idea of the relationship between geometry and architecture, drawing on mathematics, engineering, art history, and aesthetics to uncover processes in the imagining and realizing of architectural form.

Anyone reviewing the history of architectural theory, Robin Evans observes, would have to conclude that architects do not produce geometry, but rather consume it. In this long-awaited book, completed shortly before its author's death, Evans recasts the idea of the relationship between geometry and architecture, drawing on mathematics, engineering, art history, and aesthetics to uncover processes in the imagining and realizing of architectural form. He shows that geometry does…

The Palliser Novels

By Anthony Trollope,

Book cover of The Palliser Novels

Michelle Cox Author Of A Girl Like You

From the list on upstairs/downstairs historical sagas with mystery.

Who am I?

As the author of a historical/mystery/romance series that has won over sixty international awards in multiple categories, I’m attracted to books that cannot be pinned to one genre. I love sweeping sagas with elements of all three, perhaps because I was so immersed in classic literature as a kid and fascinated by stories of the past. I suspect I may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, I have resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting myself back there. I am, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. 

Michelle's book list on upstairs/downstairs historical sagas with mystery

Discover why each book is one of Michelle's favorite books.

Why did Michelle love this book?

While walking through a Barnes and Noble some thirty years ago, I stumbled upon Anthony Trollope—probably because he took up about three whole shelves. Curious, I chose one of his fifty novels and then another and another until I concluded that he is undoubtedly one of the most underrated authors in the English language. Both of his series—The Chronicles of Barsetshire and The Pallisers—make Downton Abbey look like upstairs/downstairs-lite. Highly recommended! 

By Anthony Trollope,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Palliser novels ( six 6 volumes in 1 slipcase )

This Sunrise of Wonder

By Michael Mayne,

Book cover of This Sunrise of Wonder: Letters to My Grandchildren

Edward Picton-Turbervill Author Of Talking Through Trees

From the list on to rewild the mind.

Who am I?

I did a master's in Environmental Policy, and at the end of that year, I thought, "this is all very well, but there’s no point designing these policies if no one wants them." My response to the environmental crisis is to try to open people’s eyes to the beauty and wonder of Nature. If you pay close attention, you start to develop an expansive sense of the ordinary: Creation is stranger, more mysterious, and more wonderful than we can imagine. This in turn helps us to love the world more deeply, and we tend to look after things that we love. 

Edward's book list on to rewild the mind

Discover why each book is one of Edward's favorite books.

Why did Edward love this book?

This book was given to me by an Anglican priest in Valparaiso, and it’s probably been the single biggest influence on my thought of anything I have ever read. It is a series of letters from Mayne to his grandchildren, explaining his view of the world. It’s a bit quieter than Annie Dillard’s exuberant sense of enchantment, but no less filled with wonder. It’s packed full of quotations from other authors, gleaned from a lifetime’s reading. The title is a quote from GK Chesterton, "At the back of our brains, there is a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life is to dig for this sunrise of wonder." 

By Michael Mayne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Parson's Porch Books is excited to announce the publication of the new American edition of Michael Mayne's This Sunrise of Wonder. This Anglican classic will captivate readers with its warm humanity and endearing and pulsating spirituality. Michael Mayne, one of the greatest Anglican priest-writers, was Head of Religious Programmes, BBC Radio; Vicar of Great St. Mary's (the University Church), Cambridge; and Dean of Westminster Abbey. His last book, The Enduring Melody, was published a few days before his death in October 2006. He was also the author of A Year Lost and Found, Learning to Dance, and Pray, Love, Remember.

Marriage A-La-Mode

By John Dryden,

Book cover of Marriage A-La-Mode

Richard Scholar Author Of Émigrés: French Words That Turned English

From the list on just how much English owes French.

Who am I?

I have long been struck, as a learner of French at school and later a university professor of French, by how much English borrows from French language and culture. Imagine English without naïveté and caprice. You might say it would lose its raison d’être My first book was the history of a single French phrase, the je-ne-sais-quoi, which names a ‘certain something’ in people or things that we struggle to explain. Working on that phrase alerted me to the role that French words, and foreign words more generally, play in English. The books on this list helped me to explore this topic—and more besides—as I was writing Émigrés.

Richard's book list on just how much English owes French

Discover why each book is one of Richard's favorite books.

Why did Richard love this book?

This is a sparklingly funny play. I love its contemporary freshness, its fleetness of foot, and its irreverence. It satirizes the fashion for all things French among London’s social climbers. It sugars the pill of all that satire by bringing a fast-paced plot to a comic ending of marriage and reconciliation. It taught me that writers in seventeenth-century England like the play’s author, John Dryden, were importing words and ideas from France as they sought to trace a middle way between a servile mimicry of French culture and an insular rejection of it. 

By John Dryden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marriage A-La-Mode as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dryden's audiences in 1671, both aristocratic and middle-class, would have been quick to respond to the themes of disputed royal succession, Francophilia and loyalty among subjects in his most successful tragicomedy. In the tragic plot, written in verse, young Leonidas has to struggle to assert his place as the rightful heir to the throne of Sicily and to the hand of the usurper's daughter. In the comic plot, written in prose, two fashionable couples (much more at home in London drawing-rooms than at the Sicilian court) play at switching partners in the 'modern' style. The introduction of this edition argues…

Book cover of The Mystery of Charles Dickens

Rosemary Poole-Carter Author Of Only Charlotte

From the list on readers who act out novels in their heads.

Who am I?

Make-believe is my vocation, calling to me since earliest childhood. Not too surprising, for I was raised in a Southern Gothic household, simmering with mendacity and thwarted desires. Back then, I plotted stories for my dolls and scribbled plays of love and murder for backyard productions with the neighbor girls. Living and schooling were necessary preparation for the next story or play. To this day, while truly embracing my lived-life with passion and wonder, I still make sense of it, in part, through make-believe—an act that is both solitary and collaborative—writing dialogue for actors to interpret and novels for readers to perform in their own active imaginations.

Rosemary's book list on readers who act out novels in their heads

Discover why each book is one of Rosemary's favorite books.

Why did Rosemary love this book?

Dickens created a panoply of over-the-top characters scripted for dramatic and comedic acting out in readers’ heads and in Victorian parlors where parents read his books aloud to their families. Dickens, too, could not resist acting his part as the famous author portraying his characters. With his vast talent and imagination and his theatrical inclinations, he toured himself to exhaustion performing his works before crowds of transfixed fans. This page-turner of a biography delves into a series of mysteries in the novelist’s life, including that of his public readings, which may have contributed to the curious circumstances of his death—all the while, revealing Dickens as a visionary artist as intriguing as any of his literary creations.

By A. N. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Book of the Year in The Times & Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Spectator, Irish Times and TLS.

'Superb' Daily Mail, 'Book of the Week'

'Brilliant' The Times, 'Book of the Week'

'[A] vivid, detailed account' Guardian, 'Book of the Week'

'Hugely enjoyable' Daily Telegraph

'Fascinating' Spectator

Charles Dickens was a superb public performer, a great orator and one of the most famous of the Eminent Victorians. Slight of build, with a frenzied, hyper-energetic personality, Dickens looked much older than his fifty-eight years when he died. Although he specified an unpretentious funeral, it was inevitable that crowds flocked to his…


By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

ffiona Perigrinor Author Of Life in a Medieval Gentry Household: Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk, C.1360-1435

From the list on medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage.

Who am I?

I didn’t enjoy my first degree in Modern History and Political Science and it took twenty-five years and another MA in Women’s History, Gender, and Society, before my enthusiasm was rekindled. I’ve always believed it’s important to know where we come from, as well as the history of our country, and I don’t just mean wars, laws, and politics – but the lives of ordinary people, men, women, and children, because finally, we discover that our hopes, aspirations, and challenges are not so very different to the people who lived 500 years ago. I’m also passionate about the reality of women’s lived experience in all periods of history.

ffiona's book list on medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

Discover why each book is one of ffiona's favorite books.

Why did ffiona love this book?

I love this book despite feeling frustrated by the excessive detail. Turner brings Chaucer’s cosmopolitan world and diverse literary works to life by focusing on places and spaces significant to him. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Households, where Chaucer was sent to serve in his adolescence, like many of his contemporaries, as page-boy, valet, entertainer, general factotum. I also learnt about his international travels, as a diplomat, prisoner of war, member of Parliament, and the sadness of his unfulfilled private life.

The last two chapters recount Chaucer’s final year living in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, his sudden death, relatively obscure burial, subsequent reburial in Poet’s Corner, and elevation as Father of English Literature, which Turner controversially challenges, placing him in a European cultural background.

By Marion Turner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this 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

Geoffrey Chaucer is often called the father of English literature, but this acclaimed biography reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. 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…

Richard III

By Annette Carson,

Book cover of Richard III: The Maligned King

Philippa Langley Author Of The Lost King: The Search for Richard III

From the list on Richard III by the writer who discovered his grave.

Who am I?

I am a British writer/producer with a 30-year interest in Richard III (1452-1485). A visit to Bosworth Field, the penultimate battle of the Wars of the Roses changed my life irrevocably. This haunting place captured my imagination and with it the story of the last Plantagenet monarch who died fighting in this small corner of Leicestershire for crown and country.

Philippa's book list on Richard III by the writer who discovered his grave

Discover why each book is one of Philippa's favorite books.

Why did Philippa love this book?

This is a compelling and comprehensive study of Richard III’s reign. Annette Carson examines the events as they actually happened, based on the evidence of the original sources. In place of assumptions so beloved of traditional historians, she instead dissects motives and actions in light of the historical facts. Carson dares to investigate areas where historians fear to tread, raising many controversial questions and encouraging readers to think again.

By Annette Carson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 2012 Annette Carson formed part of the team that discovered King Richard III's mortal remains, verified in 2013 by forensics including DNA matching. In response to the recent upsurge of interest, her 2009 paperback has been updated with details of the discovery plus new illustrations, and a larger typeface for easier readability. Carson's premise is that for centuries the vision of Richard III has been dominated by the fictional creations of Thomas More and Shakespeare. Many voices, some of them eminent and scholarly, have urged a more reasoned view to replace the traditional black portrait.

This book seeks to…