My Top Ten Historical Books of 2012

It’s getting to that time of year again. You know what I mean I’m sure. That time when I go through all of the books I’ve read this year and pick out my top ten. Now, considering as how this is a history blog it seems pretty obvious that I’ll be picking out the best historical books of the year. I also made it my goal to read 60 books by December 31st and as we speak I’ve read 59…with just 30% left of the one I’m reading at the moment. That’s a heck of a lot of words! It makes me tired just thinking about it. So anyway, here we go!

The Artist, The Philosopher & The Warrior by Paul Strathern
This book is a must read for any one with an interest in Renaissance Italy and follows the lives of three men who were all connected to each other – Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. I’d read some of Strathern’s work before reading this and was highly impressed; this book certainly did not disappoint and is a fantastic introduction to three men who changed the face of the Renaissance.
A Gambling Man by Jenny Uglow
This book has quickly become my bible on the early years of Charles II’s life. It covers the first ten years of his reign and I have to say, Uglow does a fantastic job. Her writing style is almost flawless and she can make even the most dull political event in Charles’ government seem exciting. Most biography’s of Charles concentrate either on his entire reign, or certain events in it such as his relationship with George Villiers or his escape from Worcester and the fact that Uglow concentrates on the first 10 years actually works really well. A fantastic overview of his early reign and a must read for any one interested in Charles II.
Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer
Prince Rupert has long been a favourite of mine, just because he was so…flouncy. The perfect Cavalier really to be honest with his long hair, big hat and rather flouncy clothes. He was also a rather good solider (well, when his troops of horse didn’t muck stuff up in the English Civil War), a pirate, an artist and a scientist. Was there anything this man couldn’t do? This book by Charles Spencer is a really good read and a good overview of a fascinating man.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The majority of you will know that right now I’m not the biggest fan of the Tudors right now. However, I read Wolf Hall last year and absolutely LOVED it, so when this came out I just knew I had to read it. It was also the very first book I ever downloaded onto my kindle. This book is a fantastic read for anyone who loves a bit of historical fiction – I’m not normally a reader of much historical fiction, but this is just a work of genius. Mantel’s writing style isn’t for everyone, but to me the way she weaves the words across the page is nothing short of breathtaking. She tells the story of Cromwell so well, tells us through her brilliant storytelling that he wasn’t as bad a bloke as everyone makes out and in this book we are introduced to Anne Boleyn – and her portrayal of Anne was brilliant, the way Mantel played the characters off against one another was just brilliant. I’m using the word brilliant a lot here, but trust me, this book is…well, it’s brilliant and a must read!
My Dearest Minette by Ruth Norrington
This book is, quite simply, the letters written between Charles II and his sister Minette. And it’s wonderful – the way they wrote to each other both personally and in business terms often had me reaching for the tissues. An excellent book, and perfect for anyone looking to research the relationship between Charles and Minette.
The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev
Up until I read this, I had only ever read snippets about Caterina Sforza’s life. And reading this gave me a new respect for this brilliant woman. She was a wife, a mother and a warrior – she was a woman who would not put up with stupidity and she even took on the infamous Borgia family. Lev even goes so far as to debunk the rumours that in 1488 she raised her skirts above her head and cried that she could make ten more sons! A good read that sheds so much light on a very interesting woman!
The Monmouth Summer by Tim Vicary
This has to be one of the best historical fiction books I have read this year, if ever. It tells the story of a young woman whose lover ends up fighting for the King in the Monmouth rebellion in 1685 while her father, brother and betrothed fight for James, Duke of Monmouth. It’s a fantastic story of how the Monmouth rebellion split friends and family right down the middle. Not only that, mixed in with the politics and the sadness there is a most beautiful love story woven through it. A fantastic book and really well written, highly recommended.
The Bad Popes by Russell Chamberlin
Interested in the history and corruption of the Roman Catholic church? Then this book is for you. Chamberlin gives an overview of a selection of Popes throughout history and just why they were considered bad. And his selection ranges from the earliest popes of the 10th Century (The Theophylact Popes and the infamous Marozia who made sure her family kept the Papal crown and then ended up being locked up in the Castel Sant’Angelo) through to the corruption, Simony and nepotism of the Renaissance Popes (Innocent VIII and Alexander VI being the main ones here). This book really is an eye opener to the corruption of the early church and it’s certainly made me hungry to learn more!
Death in Florence by Paul Strathern
I read this book as a research project for my novel on Savonarola and from the moment I picked it up I was hooked. Yet again Strathern has written a masterpiece, telling the story of Girolamo Savonarola in a gripping and engaging manner. Whilst I have read other books on Savonarola this year none of them have come close to this one. Strathern doesn’t just tell the story of the mad monk, he tells the story of the individuals connected with him and the wider stage in which Savonarola lived and he does it in such an outstanding manner.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
This is a book that everyone needs to read. In a nut shell, it’s Machiavelli’s guide on how to gain power and keep it. It’s definitely not all kittens and rainbows (and to be honest, Machiavelli is the most kittens and rainbows guys in the whole renaissance) – and he makes it clear that if your people start being a bit idiotic after you take power then a bit of cruelty won’t hurt matters. And if they hate you after it, then who cares because they’ll be too scared of you to keep on being idiots. I loved this book, and thought it was a really insightful look into the world of fifteenth century politics. Plus, it kind of made me love Machiavelli even more than I already do.
So there we go. I have read some fantastic books this year and wish I could have listed them all. But these ones have to be my favourites and I shall certainly be going back to many of them. I hope that in 2013 I will read even more brilliant historic books…I just need to find more space on the bookshelves for them…Now I’m off to finish reading Sharon Kay’s “Phantom” – not a book I would normally read but I can’t put it down!
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