Jo Mortimer

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Five History Must-Reads

Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities - Bettany Hughes (2017). This is a visceral, sparkling and epic biography of no ordinary city. Hughes writes with a passion for the place, in all its glories - the research that his gone into this tome is testament to this. If I could have kept my eyes open for long enough, I'd have read it in one sitting. Triumphant.


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome - Mary Beard (2016). For such an eminent scholar, Beard has written a remarkably readable text. I was a bit bemused by the acronym (Senate and People of Rome) as a title, proving there's much to learn. Beard makes sure that history has much to teach us when it comes to our current political and social situations. If you like drilling down into the detail, this is the Roman history book for you.

Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London - Matthew Beaumont (2016). Thoroughly enjoyed this, particularly having recently reread London: The Biography (Peter Ackroyd). London's gentrification continues apace, so it's great to read about the more insalubrious side of things. A little male-dominated, but it's a lively read and I learnt a great deal. There's certainly room for a follow-up.

Postwar - Tony Judt (2010). Writing about contemporary history is hard - there are people around who might remember things differently. To succeed, you must approach it like Judt: hold your own line, and don't get diverted from your narrative path. This means reading Postwar alongside other texts, but it's a fine way to begin your search for knowledge.

The Holocaust: A New History - Laurence Rees (2017). I enjoyed precisely none of this book, but I'm glad I've read it. I am grateful to Rees for researching the subject so well and writing it in such a way as to allow no confusion. Understanding the wider landscape of events is so important, as is ensuring that common misunderstandings are dealt with. Exceptional.

HumanitiesJo Mortimer