On Monday I published a little gift guide to historical fiction books for you, so today I’m going to talk about actual history – you know, the non-fiction variety that I adore. Some excellent history for the general reader was published in 2011; here are the recommendations that I think would make beautiful gifts.
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Okay, I lied already; this book wasn’t published in 2011, it was published in 2010. But now it’s out in paperback, which means it is the perfect gift for anyone who has enjoyed any manifestation of Cleopatra. This book was sold a bit strangely in that many people thought it was closer to historical fiction, but as an actual biography which peels back the layers to reveal a little bit more of the real Cleopatra, it is an amazing choice.
She-Wolves, Helen Castor
I’ve read both of Castor’s published popular histories and they are both fantastic. This one is a choice for the feminist on your list. It looks back at medieval women in power and examines how history changed to allow Elizabeth, England’s first fully fledged female queen, to reign in peace at last. It demonstrates that women have not been simple chattel throughout history while at the same time acknowledging the difficulties they had and still have in being in power without becoming a man. Brilliant.
Blood Work, Holly Tucker
Not a book for the squeamish, this goes into depth about the history of blood transfusions and a curious mystery surrounding one of the principal players. It’s one of those books I love that uses a single case to illuminate a whole era of history, which is why I recommend it highly. And, like She Wolves above, it doesn’t hesitate in demonstrating how history is still incredibly relevant to our lives today.
The Plantagenets, Derek Wilson and The Age of Chivalry, Hywel Williams
I’ll admit that I haven’t finished either of these books yet, but I’ve been dipping in ever since they hit my mailbox, and in truth they seem to suit that method. These large, beautiful, coffee table books are absolutely perfect for the person who loves history and who wants to show it off. They are both full of beautiful illustrations and provide a surface, top layer view which is excellent for someone who perhaps enjoys World War II history but has never felt the desire to go further back. They are completely gorgeous gift choices – so I couldn’t omit them from this list!
What histories would or are you giving as gifts this year?
I received some of these books for free for review.