It’s the second week of November and that means that we are on our second topic of Nonfiction November! This weeks topic is hosted by Kim! Here’s what we are discussing this week: Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask for some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of nonfiction books on a topic you’re curious about.
I’ve decided to Be the Expert on a topic that is near and dear to my heart: medieval Europe, specifically medieval England. I’ve already talked about, in my last post for this event, one of my favorite books, The Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman. Although this book is mostly about France, it is a great introduction to the late medieval period, which is the era I am personally most interested in. But I won’t go on as I’ve already mentioned this book in my previous post. Here are some other books about medieval history, specifically English history, that I have either enjoyed or learned a lot from.
• Anything by Alison Weir. Most of her books are in the form of a biography about a king or queen from the period (although she does also write historical-fiction- which I won’t go into not only because this is Nonfiction November but also because I haven’t read any of them!). I particularly enjoy her biographies of the women who lived during this time- her Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England and Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess are both, in my opinion, highly readable and informative. She has also written a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. Besides biographies, she has also written The Wars of the Roses which explains a highly complex and intriguing time in English history. If you like later history, such as the Tudors, she has written many wonderful books about Elizabeth of York, King Henry the VII and his children’s reigns, and Mary, Queen of Scots which I also enjoyed but won’t go into detail as I am trying to keep my focus for this post on medieval English history. In case you couldn’t tell, Alison Weir is probably my favorite nonfiction author and it is a goal of mine to have read- and to own- every book she has written.
• As I said, I especially like to read books dealing with women in the past. In a subject such as medieval history, ordinary women are of course mostly invisible; we overwhelmingly mostly have evidence in the form of documents, letters, etc relating to women of a higher status; and the most information we have on medieval women is, of course, on medieval queens. A wonderful, fabulous book on the subject is She Wolves: The Woman Who Ruled England before Elizabeth by Helen Castor. I loved this book! Castor tells of the lives of various influential queens who lived before the crowning of Elizabeth I. The lives Matilda, Isabella, Eleanor, and Margaret of Anjou are all discussed in a thoroughly readable and enjoyable manner. I read this book before I began blogging- I enjoyed this book so much that I wouldn’t mind reading it again and writing about it for you all!
• I also have a great interest in Arthurian legend and Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur’s Chronicler by Christian Hardyment is an interesting take on the life of Sir Thomas Malory, of Morte Darthur fame. Hardyment spent years researching this book and it shows. What scant evidence in written record we have of Malory paints him a criminal and rapist and yet, through her digging, Hardyment comes to a different conclusion, decidedly against the popular conception of Malory and his character. This is a greatly interesting book with a unique take on Malory- although I will be the first to admit that I do not know how Hardyment’s conclusion was received by other researchers.
• Lastly, if you are interested in daily life in the middle ages, I would recommend Daily Life in Chaucer’s England bu Jeffery Singman. This is a very basic book but it provides all sorts of everyday information that I found fascinating: what people ate, what games they played, what songs they sang, what clothes they wore and what objects ordinary people would have had in their house. Because of the lack of records of ordinary men and women from the era, the peasant and his family is just that- a nameless entity- in most books on the medieval era. We just don’t have the sources and information to trace the individual lives of these people. But through archaeology we do have access to all sorts of material information, which Singman uses to great advantage here.
• I lied! I have one more. I recently finished The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas that was put together by the National Geographic Society (you can read my review here). This is a great overview of the medieval world and, although it is not focused on England, is a great beginners place to start if you are interested in exploring the era. I confess that I found some the writing rather dry but it is a great introduction. If you are looking to just start reading about the medieval world I would recommend this one above the others I have just talked about: it sticks to basic facts but its most important feature is, in my opinion, its pictures. There is at least one picture on each page, all full color, of paintings, cities, archaeological finds, tombs, churches, maps, documents. The images of this book really bring this time of history alive and will, I think, capture anyone’s attention who likes history and make one eager to learn more about, to me at least, a most interesting time.
Ok, I’m done, I swear! I tried to pick a variety of books on different topics that were not too academic in the hope that one of them might grab your interest. I have read more on the subject (although I have more books that I wish to read on medieval England then I have currently read) but, if you have an interest in a specific topic dealing with medieval England, the Tudors, or Arthurian legend/history and are looking for books, I think I am well enough read in these areas to offer recommendations! If you have any questions please ask away!
Thanks Kim and Leslie for hosting this event; it gave me an excuse to ramble on a topic that I hardly ever tire of talking, and of course, reading of!