Study history for any length of time, and you'll be familiar with the importance of 'primary sources', accounts written at the time about the events taking place or the theme you're writing about. Even though every source will have its own bias or perspective and some may be pure fiction, no historian worth their salt is likely to write a book without referring to and relying on them.
What's less often mentioned is how incredibly empowering primary sources can be. You hear the voice of someone writing centuries, maybe even millennia, ago, telling you their story (or interpretation of events) directly. Read primary sources and, on one level, you will know everything there is to know about a subject–because the writing of all subsequent historians will be works of expansion and explanation, using that same material.
Of course, after reading these primary sources, you'll probably want to know a lot more about the person, their time, how accurate their accounts are. But that's the role of a good book: to make you want to read and find out more.
Below, we've listed some of the primary sources that have been recommended on Five Books.
Even if you’ve never studied philosophy, it’s nice to be able to read a few books and get a sense of what it’s all about. Here, we asked our philosophy editor, Nigel Warburton, to talk us through five key works of Western philosophy—many of them in the public domain and available for free as ebooks—and explain why, despite one or two odd conclusions or quirky writing styles, they’ve played such an important role in expanding our understanding of the world.