Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521 – 1580
Roger Crowley also wrote Constantinople: The Last Great Siege. That was a good book. But it lacked two things that make this book essential reading, personality and narrative structure. It is as if Crowley went away after Constantinople and read Tom Holland, realised that he could do as well or better and set to. He paints a wonderfully engaging picture of the Mediterranean world and of its rulers, capturing the burdened Phillip II in a few short sentences scattered throughout the book. His real strength though is that his insight stretches to the tensions within the camps and between them, explaining with equal authority the pressure on the Sultan’s commanders and those of the Christian states. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it is just excellent.
Hidden Cork: Charmers, Chancers and Cute hoors (DOI: I commissioned this book)
I love a good non-fiction book that opens up unknown places and interesting little bits of information, digestible if you will. Hidden Cork brings to life many of the characters and crazy people who have populated the history of the city along with the stories of fabulous and forgotten events. Michael Lenihan, who wrote the book, is an absolute charm of a writer who has a deep interest in the topic and a passion that is unrivalled. A gem of a book.
The Gutenberg Revolution
John Man’s short and concise biography of Johann Gutenberg is a joy to read. When I look at how the world is changing for what (firmly tongue in cheek) Cory Doctorow at TOC Frankfurt called The People Of The Book, this is the perfect Christmas gift for the publisher, writer, editor or reader in your life. Man has really fleshed out a character who up until I read his books, was at best a cardboard cut out. Maybe it’s my emerging preference for quality narrative fiction (this list really attests to that) but I’d recommend it to anyone, not just a book fan, but the history fan too.
Like the Sci-Fi & Fantasy section, keeping this section to three is too hard and so I have cheated a little by suggesting two notable exclusions.
The Dictionary of Irish Biography
Yes it is expensive, yes it is beyond what most people would need or want, but it’s very imposing-ness makes it invaluable and essential for those engaged in deep study of Irish history, even as jumping off point.
A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
By Marc Morris is an absorbing account of the life of Edward I, a man most people only know for being William Wallace’s enemy in Braveheart. In fact his life was enormously interesting spanning wars in the Levant, France Scotland and Wales, not to mention a vicious civil war while he was still only crown prince. Morris delivers a stirring narrative too, all told one of the better biographies I’ve read