Today we have a special guest post by longtime Brainery teacher Andrew Coletti, author of the blog Pass the Flamingo, all about about ancient food. Andrew has rounded up some of his favorite books for history buffs, and we hope they'll inspire you!
Here are Andrew's recommendations!
The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford (2010)
I pretty much fell in love with Mongolia and its history after reading this book. Weatherford has written several books about Genghis Khan, but this one focuses on the oft-forgotten women of the Great Khan’s family: leaders and schemers, warriors and wrestling champions, and the queen called "the Wise" whose invasions necessitated the Great Wall of China.
Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland (2005)
An account of the Greco-Persian Wars, the 5th-century BCE culture clash whose reverberations are still being felt today, this is one of the first books that got me excited about history. Holland’s description of the ancient world is as sweeping, epic and fantastical as Tolkien’s descriptions of Middle Earth, but he’s not shy about the gritty details, or pointing out connections to our modern biases and struggles.
The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal by Hubert Wolf (2013)
Long-suppressed court records found in a Vatican archive reveal a bizarre and shocking tale of murder, sex and corruption in a 19th-century Roman convent. The beautiful and twisted young abbess Maria Luisa is an unforgettable villain, and I’m still waiting for this story to be made into a movie.
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (1997)
The history of the codfish and the continent-spanning industry it created, complete with recipes and some sobering stats about our changing oceans and their threatened resources. Kurlansky’s other history books Salt and The Basque History of the World are also fascinating, and there is a high degree of crossover between them (the Basques were for centuries the world’s major suppliers of salted cod).
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang (2013)
The much-maligned Cixi rose from a low-ranking concubine to become the power behind the throne in the final days of Imperial China (sometimes literally, as she would sit behind a curtain while listening to the government meetings of her figurehead Emperors). She’s not the most sympathetic figure, but she is fascinating, and this book portrays her best human qualities: her political genius, her love of beauty and art, and her grand vision for China’s future.
The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome’s Decadent Boy Emperor by Martijn Icks (2011)
Another biography that aims to shed new light on a historical figure with a bad reputation: the teenaged Roman Emperor Elagabalus, whose opulence, perversion and cruelty put Caligula and Nero to shame--or did they? Manipulated by his relatives, slandered by his enemies, and later canonized as a rock star-like visionary, the real Elagabalus emerges from beneath the hearsay and hyperbole.
News from the Empire [Noticias del imperio] by Fernando del Paso (1987)
This book is technically historical fiction, but it’s my absolute favorite example of that genre, so I felt compelled to include it. It tells the story of Maximilian and Carlota, the young 19th-century nobles who ruled, very briefly, as Emperor and Empress of Mexico, before being abandoned by their allies and succumbing to a tragic fate. Global events like the French invasions of Mexico and the outbreak of WWI are illustrated through the personal tragedies of their most powerful players. From chapter to chapter, Del Paso’s dreamlike prose drifts between writing styles, perspectives and points of view, anchored (if that’s the right word) by the ravings of the institutionalized former Empress.
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