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10 Essential History Books Written by Women

By Paul Lay | Posted 8th March 2012, 11:35
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Helen CastorIn celebration of International Women’s Day, here are 10 great history books... which happen to be written by women.

1. Veronica Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (NYRB Classics, 2005). More than 70 years old (it was first published in 1938), but still the best history of Early Modern Europe’s bitter sectarian bloodbath by the master (or mistress?) of narrative history.

2. Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (Pimlico, 1992). Another Dame’s masterpiece, this time the erudite, esoteric and influential account of how Ancient art of mnemonics influenced the Renaissance.

3. Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Fontana, 1989). Late Antiquity is one of the most fertile periods of current historical practice, and here is a brilliant study of how a small Jewish sect became one of the world’s great religions by a historian who has also produced excellent surveys of Byzantium and its female rulers.

4. Helen Castor, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled Medieval England Before Elizabeth (Faber, 2011). Now adapted for television, one of our brightest young historians looks at the obstacles placed in the path of medieval female monarchs and how they were overcome.

- Paul Lay interviews Helen Castor

5. Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2001). A magisterial study of divine intervention at a time of profound social change.

6. Amanda Vickery, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (Yale, 2003). A multiple award-winning work by a pioneering historian who has brought serious scholarship to radio and television.

7. Maria Misra, Vishnu’s Crowded Temple: India Since the Great Rebellion (Penguin, 2008). The best single volume account of modern India.

8. Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in 17th-century England (Phoenix, 2002). Popular history doesn’t have to be dumbed down, as the prolific Lady Antonia has demonstrated again and again.

9. Lucy Riall, Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero (Yale, 2008). A brilliantly original work about the great Italian nationalist and his afterlife as a global cultural phenomenon.

10. Gillian Tindall, The House by the Thames: And the People Who Lived There (Pimlico, 2007). A delightful, richly characterful story about a house on the opposite bank to St Paul’s that is not what it seems.

Recommend your own choices in the comments below.


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