By “History,” I don?t just mean ?books about war? though to be honest that does form a major portion of my historical reading. There are many well-written history books to be found these days, far removed from the dusty text books that may have been inflicted on you at school. History is a fascinating subject, the trick is to find an author both knowledgeable and able to write in an informative and engaging style. Luckily there re a lot of these around right now. If you?ve never looked over the history section of your local bookshop, I encourage you to do so. There are a few specialist shops selling only history books, if you look around, you may discover there?s one near you. If you?ve never delved into history before, trust me—you won?t be disappointed. There are some things that you just can?t make up, and historians are always willing to tell you about them.
While history isn?t the only kind of non-fiction you?ll find on the shelves, when I buy non-fiction, it tends to be a history book.
The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History
Don?t be mislead by the title; this is not dry text book. Okay, it?s a textbook, but it?s not dry. Colin McEvedy writes a history covering the period of 362 to 1483. It?s not a global history, but rather covers and area from Iceland in the west to Lake Balkhash in the east, and south to the Sahara and across to the Arabian Sea. The story charts the slow recovery of Europe from the ashes of the Roman Empire, the rise, fall and rise again of Islam, plus the fate of various kingdoms and empires that rose up in the period, only to vanish again. It?s an engaging read mainly because McEvedy looks at social and trade aspects, its not just one long chart of who defeated who in what year. He explains it better than I can, in his introduction; ?It is a marvellous catalogue of vices and follies, cunning and credulity, greed, ambition and achievement. Plus a cast of thousands. Don?t miss it.? That?s good advice.
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
In the late 11th Century, the last bastion of civilisation found itself under attack. The last refuge for classical Greek philosophy, for learning, science and art was under threat. The threat was a bunch of iron-clad illiterates on a holy mission to smite the infidel and steal their land. Amin Maalouf?s history of the crusades is a good read, since he quotes from many contemporary sources, both Christian and Muslim, to illustrate his points. If all you?ve ever read before are jingoistic tales of noble heroes, which I?ve noticed are becoming more common on the shelves these days, then this book is the perfect antidote. Like all the other books in this list, the tale is well told and will keep you turning pages right till the end.
The Devil?s Horsemen
Forget Rommel and Patton. It?s in the Mongols that we see the origin of mobile warfare. In the thirteenth century, only circumstance prevented them ruling an empire stretching from China to the Atlantic. As things stood they ruled from China to the Carpathians, and almost to the shores of the Mediterranean. James Chambers gives a good account of their tactics, lifestyle, and society and gives an uncompromising picture of the brilliant, merciless warriors.
Normandy, Dunkirk, Iwo Jima, Tobruk, Kokoda. These were just sideshows. What we call World War 2 was nothing less than a bitter struggle to the death between Germany and Russia. Stalingrad was but one battlefield in that war, yet it encapsulates the entire conflict. Anthony Beevor tells a long story, but does not just retell the story of the combat. A great many individuals have their own mention here, both German and Russian, their own lives and actions caught up in the maelstrom of war. If I could only recommend one book in this area, I would recommend Stalingrad.
How long ago does something have to have taken place in order for it to be called history? An open question, but this book certainly could fall into the ?books about war? category rather than the history category. Anthony Swofford?s tale of his involvement in the 1991 Gulf War is as engaging as it is pertinent. In peacetime soldiering is humdrum, in the lull before combat it?s the same, but now each man must confront his own fears about death, which could come at any time. Even in combat there?s no real excitement, more desperation as the Marines come under attack not from the Iraqis but from their own forces.
Next column will be a wrap up, featuring your suggestion plus a few of my own, since I left a few things out! After that, I will get back to writing about those computer games we all love so much, I promise.
The Ninth Circle was written from 2002-2006, by David Kay, and with 58 installments it was the longest running column in Diabloii.net’s history. The Ninth Circle covered computer gaming, RPGs, fantasy novels, the gamer’s life, and other related issues. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Diii.net.