Which history books are ideal to take on holiday, authoritative and yet entertaining? We turned to historian Suzannah Lipscomb—whose most recent book, The Voices of Nîmes, uncovers the lives of ordinary women in Languedoc in early modern France—for her top five.
It’s a golden age for history, with lots of books to choose from that are both serious and scholarly but read like thrillers. Below, Suzannah Lipscomb lists some of her favourites, unmissable books that won’t put your suitcase over the weight limit:
This is a light little book, perfect for holiday reading. Yet despite its short length, it provides a wonderfully rich evocation of Elizabeth I’s reign, in gorgeously turned phrases. Quite simply, a little gem of a book.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild
This is an incredibly powerful, horrifying, and utterly brilliant study of Belgian colonialism of the Congo and the brutality and genocide that followed in its wake. It is riveting and deeply important; a must-read book and the real Heart of Darkness.
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The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II, by Edvard Radzinsky
This tale of the demise of Tsar Nicholas II and his family is superbly written, brilliantly researched, and an utterly enchanting read. It makes the last days of the Romanovs devastatingly vivid and completely unforgettable.
Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, by Saul David
This book tells the amazing story of the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe Airport in 1976. It is a stunning piece of research based on newly-released classified documents and interviews with the participants. And it is so compelling that, having been reading it in a bath that had gone cold, I got out and sat with my hair dripping because I couldn’t bring myself to put it down.
The Return of Martin Guerre, by Natalie Zemon Davis
This book tells the fascinating story of Martin Guerre: a mysterious tale of imposture, love, and honour among sixteenth-century French peasants. It is a brilliant bit of historical detective work and a captivating read that plunges the reader deep into the world of the past. One of my all-time favourites.
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