DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Aug 26 2011

ShareReads: History!

by Jesse M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in history. I can recall hours spent paging through my family’s set of encyclopedias, completely engrossed by the descriptions of the troop movements and battles during World War I or marveling at the intellectual prowess of Leonardo DaVinci and other luminaries of the Renaissance . My fascination with history was further encouraged by my parents, particularly my step-mother, who is both an amateur Civil War historian and genealogist who has traced her descent back to British Royalty. I love reading about the past foundations on which the present is built upon.

While I enjoy learning about history generally, my favorite subjects of examination are ancient and medieval history. Working at a library has given me numerous opportunities to indulge my taste for historical books on these time periods, and for today’s post I’m going to share some of my favorites with you.

Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome is an excellent starting point for students of ancient history. The author examines the civilizations of China, Egypt, Greece, India, Mesopotamia and Rome, taking pains to illustrate the interconnectedness of their histories. The engagingly written, well-organized text is supplemented by a number of maps and timelines which help to further aid the reader in understanding the sweep of historical events. This book is the first in a planned four-volume series covering the history of the world from ancient through modern times; the second volume of the series, The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, is also available through DCPL.

Another fascinating book covering the middle portion of the medieval time period is Storm From the East: From Genghis Khan to Kubilai Khan. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Mongol empire and the khans who ruled it. Replete with maps, diagrams, artwork and pictures, this book is not only an excellent resource for learning about the Mongol empire but also illustrates the impact of their campaigns of conquest on their Asian and European neighbors.

The library also has a number of very fascinating books which examine broad swathes of history through the lens of a specific topic rather than a survey of a time period or geographic location. The Rich and How They Got That Way: How the Wealthiest People of All Time—From Genghis Khan to Bill Gates—Made Their Fortunes tells the tale of how the business of acquiring wealth has changed throughout the centuries, from warfare and plunder, to taxation, to trade and finance, and technological innovation. The author profiles 10 of the richest individuals throughout history, briefly describing the circumstances and personality traits which helped to enable their phenomenal success.

Two other works that follow the same model of discussing history through the lens of a specific topic are Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, both by Mark Kurlansky (author of a number of historical books on a variety of subjects). The books examine the importance of the two commodities and their effects on populations throughout history.

What are some history books you couldn’t put down?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sarah T September 4, 2011 at 11:54 AM

I generally prefer to read my history in the form of historical fiction. I lead a monthly book discussion group, though, in which we strictly alternate fiction and nonfiction from month to month, so I’ve gotten a few doses of “true history” that way in the last couple of years. Two that went down particularly well (with me and with the group as a whole) fell into that “through a specific lens” category: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larsen and “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson. Most folks know about the former by now, I guess; the latter is an interesting look at a cholera epidemic in Victorian London and how it led to breakthroughs in public health and the rise of modern epidemiology.

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