History is Not Boring discussion

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History Books that read like Novels?

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message 1: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments History itself is not boring (far from it) but sadly, it's presentation often is.

I have recently watched a couple episodes of 'Who Do You Think You Are?'. I think what I enjoy about that show is that it follows people - for me a good character is what makes a good novel. (Tim McGraw's ancestors rubbed shoulders and were greatly admired by a 16 yr old George Washington!)

It's the human connection I like to hear about and in a way that flows and sucks you in like a good novel would.

Do you have any suggestions for history books that read like a novel?

While I'm open to really any suggestions, topics I already know interest me include the ancient world, the french revolution, the russian revolution, WWII, the gold rush, life on the frontier, medieval britain, scottish history...as you see, i'm pretty open.


message 2: by Chris (last edited Feb 19, 2011 03:42PM) (new)

Chris Fletcher I guess biographies are the most novel-like histories, so the book I would most definately recommend is Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Covering Stalin's early life up until the beginnings of his time in power, it is packed with more action, romance, intrigue and betrayal than most novels - and is all the more interesting because it isn't invented. Whilst it does inform of the wider politics of the times this is essentially a study of his personality.

I had no idea that Stalin (who I previously thought of as a cunning, if almost reserved, character) was such a charismatic, brave and brutal individual. For a taste: throughout the biography Sebag Montefiore compares him with Fagin, Fauntleroy, Casanova, Frankenstein, countless times to a Mafia Don, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe and ... T.S. Eliot's cat :)


message 3: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments My favorite auto-biography was written by Katherine Graham (Owner of the Washington Post, Newsweek) during the Watergate scandal.

Her transformation from doormat housewife to Washington DC power player is riveting.


message 4: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments Chris wrote: "I guess biographies are the most novel-like histories, so the book I would most definately recommend is Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Covering Stalin's early life up until..."


Thank you! This does sound interesting and rather juicy! I noticed this was considered the 'companion' to Montefiore's "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" which I'll also look into.


message 5: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments Manuel wrote: "My favorite auto-biography was written by Katherine Graham (Owner of the Washington Post, Newsweek) during the Watergate scandal.

Her transformation from doormat housewife to Washington DC power ..."


Thanks - I saw this book mentioned earlier today on another thread somewhere on Goodreads. :)


message 6: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments Exactly! My eyes just want to skim over dry text-book-like facts and my brain refuses to retain the information. Presented as a story, however, I become invested in the people involved and want to know more. The challenge, i'm finding, is finding the 'stories' amongst the 'texts'.


message 7: by Jerry (new)

Jerry H | 20 comments Kate wrote: "History itself is not boring (far from it) but sadly, it's presentation often is.

I have recently watched a couple episodes of 'Who Do You Think You Are?'. I think what I enjoy about that show i..."

If you haven't read it yet, might I suggest
Thousand Pieces of Gold the story of a chinese girl sold into bondage in mid-19th century San Francisco. It is a wonderful snapshot of the American west and her fight for survival and eventually dignity. Enjoy


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

"Most appropriate historians for me are those who write men's lives, since they linger more over motives than events, over what comes from inside more than what happens outside." From "On Books" by Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

I prefer history which are more stories but they also generally have a lot more interpretation and therefore are more likely to have an inherent bias. That's why I usually try to read more than one book about an event as there are always many perspectives. The dry books often present more objective information, and therefore are valuable when trying to make up you own mind. Of course, I'm like everyone else, it's easier to have it in a more interesting narrative form.


message 10: by Kim (new)

Kim | 4 comments I recently finished Cleopatra: A Life. Fascinating and never boring. I'd definitely recommend it.


message 11: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (doxamully) | 1 comments I'd highly recommend Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It tells the story of a shipwreck in truly passionate detail and then it tells the story of ingenuity and recovering the wreck. It's very entertaining, bittersweet, and even educational.


message 12: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments I've got this one on order already - i've read a few books on Cleopatra and she is (and that period) i fascinating.


message 13: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments Amanda wrote: "I'd highly recommend Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It tells the story of a shipwreck in truly passionate detail and then it tells the story of ingenuity and recovering the wreck...."

This sounds up my alley too - thanks!!


message 14: by Judith (new)

Judith Starkston | 21 comments Kate wrote: "I've got this one on order already - i've read a few books on Cleopatra and she is (and that period) i fascinating."

You will definitely like Cleopatra: A Life. Pretty amazing what she does with all the conflicting views of Cleopatra.


message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom Foolery (tomfoolery) | 89 comments Twelve Years a Slave: is a book so much like a novel it's been compared to one (Uncle Tom's Cabin). It's a slave narrative written by a free man who was kidnapped and sold South. The Guns of August is pretty good as well, and if you want to take it way back try Heroditus' The Histories. Amazingly readable for something 2500 years old, though it's almost more like a travel log than a novel.


message 16: by Kate (new)

Kate MacKinnon | 8 comments Tom wrote: "Twelve Years a Slave: is a book so much like a novel it's been compared to one (Uncle Tom's Cabin). It's a slave narrative written by a free man who was kidnapped and sold South. [..."

Thanks Tom! I've seen several good reviews for Barbara Tuchman and have requested a couple of her books. The Twelve Years a Slave sounds very interesting (is that the right word for this type of story?) and I'm going to look into that one too. So thanks.


message 17: by Donna (new)

Donna Peake | 25 comments just placed a hold to Cleopatra: A Life at the library.


message 18: by Marian (new)

Marian (gramma) | 98 comments Some authors write their history books to read as one would read a novel. Jared Diamond who wrote "Collapse" and "Guns, Germs & Steel" among others. Erik Larson who wrote "Isaac's Storm" & "The Devil in the white City." Farley Mowat, a Canadian author has some interesting books on the Vikings & other earlier sea-faring societies. Biographies often read like novels.


message 19: by Richard (new)

Richard Foy | 2 comments It's not true history, and it's a little old, but I was mesmerized by it. Clan of the Cave Bear. It takes you to a place you've never been. There are several other books in the series, but this first is the best and delivers the most bang for the buck. Nearly one thousand pages of fascinating revelations. (a close second for me was 'Pillars of the Earth'


message 20: by Sherin (new)

Sherin Punnilath (shery_7) | 2 comments MEN WHO KILLED GANDHI was definitely not boring.Knowing the places mentioned & history of that murder might have helped me,though!:)


message 21: by Sera (last edited Mar 11, 2011 02:14PM) (new)

Sera For Civil War buffs, I recommend James L. Swanson's Manhunt The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson , which was fantastic.

Swanson is an interesting character in his own right. He also recently published another book that I can't wait to read Bloody Crimes The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James L. Swanson .


message 22: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Read Bloody Crimes and thought it was excellent! Shadow Divers is also excellent bringing diving into a World War II mystery when they discover a German U-boat off the east coast of the United States and try to discover the name of the U-boat and the men who are still on it.


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