Books of the Year 2013

We ask some of our leading historians to tell us about the books that they have found most stimulating over the past 12 months.

Fete at Bermondsey by Joris Hoefnagel c.1570JUDITH FLANDERS

‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ is right up there with ‘Who was Jack the Ripper?’ For far too long academics have scarcely troubled to respond to the doubters’ it-was-the-earl-in-the-library-with-a-candlestick version of literary Cluedo, but now editors Paul Edmonson’s and Stanley Wells’ Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (Cambridge University Press) have produced a satisfying response. From contributions on the local Stratford idiom that peppers Shakespeare’s plays, through manuscript analysis, to (my favourite) the theatrical craft that enabled small casts to successfully double roles, the book is thorough, rigorous, scholarly – and a lot of fun.

Every bit as exhilarating was my discovery of Mary S. Hartman’s 2004 book, The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past (Cambridge University Press). Hartman takes demographers’ identification of the northwestern European marriage pattern – where couples married late, were relatively equal in age and lived in nuclear households – and builds a thesis to suggest that this single demographic precipitated the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism. Subversive it certainly is. And persuasive.

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