Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My History of Reading History Books

In a previous post, I wrote about my early reading of science fiction books and how this experience led me to my current reading patterns. Science fiction books were not the only tomes that I read in my early years, however. I also did a lot of history reading.

Unlike science fiction, which I read less frequently these days, I still devote a fairly large percentage of my reading to history. In fact, my current interest in the American Revolutionary period dates back to my youth. Some of my earliest history reading was on this subject.

As I moved into adolescence, my curiosity about history expanded into new areas beyond the Revolutionary era.  Like many young people, much of my interest began to center around World War II and, to a lesser extent, other military conflicts. A fair amount of my reading even involved military history. As I got older, I became less interested in accounts of generals, armies, strategies and tactics. With that, the politics, sociology, human costs, etc. surrounding World War II and other conflicts is still a fascinating subject to me. 

I also delved into other subjects as diverse as the histories of Great Britain, Poland, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, natural and human made disasters, the history of science, certain industries and more. No matter what my interest were at the time, I would always gravitate to a book about the American Revolutionary War era.  

My interest has not been constant. I do recall a time, only a few years ago, where I became so interested in literature that I refrained from history books for several years. Nevertheless, the pull back to humanity’s past was strong enough to bring me back in. 

In the past few years, I have been particularly interested in biographies of the people involved in America’s founding. I have also gotten a lot from books that dig into the philosophical and sociological movements of the time. Authors such as Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn have interested me lot.

Readers of this blog know that I am also intrigued by many other historical subjects. These days, about half of my history reading is devoted to the American Revolutionary era. However, I read all sorts of history books on a wide variety of topics. Like other areas of reading interest, time is the great obstacle here; I am interested in more subjects than I have time to devote to them. 

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in History, but it is through personal reading that I have really shored up my knowledge. I think that in order to understand our current world and to appreciate so many aspects of diversity in such areas as politics, social issues, literature, science, etc., a good grasp of history is indispensable. My interest in our past has impacted my thinking on so many of these subjects. 


The roots of my interests in history go back a long way. Though the areas of my interest within the broad subject of history have somewhat changed, the core of my interest still exists. The seeds that were sowed early have yielded a fertile crop.

40 comments:

R. T. (Tim) said...

Thank you for your interesting posting. You've reminded me of my "roots" in history. I began college ('63) as a history major but did not complete that degree because of (1) Vietnam, (2) re-enrollment in a different college where a different degree program draw like a moth to light, and (3) my 2nd career (is was it the 3rd?) that put me into college classrooms as a teacher of English composition and literature. However, my interests and readings in history remain alive and well. My most recent recommended adventure was Paul Johnson's brief biography of George Washington; a previous highlight as Disease of the Public Mind by Thomas Fleming; and I recommended Peter Ackroyd's fine treatment of the Tudor era which as entitled -- appropriately -- Tudors. Well, I've rambled long enough. I look forward to whatever else you will be posting about history. BTW . . . do you have any interest in that bastard step-child of both history and fiction, historical novels? Wolf Hall is very interesting.

R. T. (Tim) said...

Postscript: please forgive and ignore the numerous errors in my posting above. Yikes!

Mudpuddle said...

science fiction drove my earlier interests as well. butterflylike, however, i have drifted from one fascination to another becoming, as described, a jack of all trades and a master of none. reading has been a constant, though, and has resulted in an eclectic brain crammed with irresponsible and irrelevant facts and opinions. i enjoy history; curiosity about certain events has fueled my erratic investigation of seemingly dis and unconnected events and occurrences. i look forward to more of your historically based posts. tx...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tim - Thanks for the recommendations. They sound good and I will check them out.

I have always been a little uncomfortable with historical fiction. In particular when they involve real persons. With that, perhaps my discomfort does not make perfect sense. After all, Shakespeare's histories were historical fiction. So were many other great works were. Wolf Hall looks to be so good. I want to read it.

No need to apologize, my typos, misspellings and grammar in comments sections are atrocious :)

Brian Joseph said...


Hi Mudpuddle - Despite my interest in history, my read is also all over the place. The advantage in this is that it helps to be well rounded. The disadvantage is that it tends to draw one in too many directions.


With that, I think that it is great to have a brain "crammed with irresponsible and irrelevant facts and opinions."

By the way, do you have a blog?

Gently Mad said...

Hi Brian. I didn't know you had a Bachelor's in History. That's interesting.

I'm a recent comer to history books. For years I limited myself to classical literature with a brief fling in college with science fiction. My husband is trying to entice me back into that genre and I have been reading some of his Philip K Dick and Clifford Simak and also Kurt Vonnegurt.

I am reading more history books now than ever. I think it is a useful and enjoyable past time to gain insight into where we came from.

Thanks for the commentary.

Stefanie said...

That's the hard part, isn't it? To be interested in so many topics you don't have time for all of them. I enjoy a good history book preferably that focuses on a person or movement or subject. For instance, a couple years ago I read Founding Gardeners which is about Washington, Jefferson and Madison and their passion for gardening and how it affected their political views as well as the gardening world. Fascinating!

Suko said...

Very interesting post about your history of reading history! History-wise, I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies, and historical fiction. I learn a lot when I read history in this manner.

Mudpuddle said...

umm, no... ;i'm just a free lancer; hope that's okay...?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Mudpuddle - Absolutely OK :) I just wanted to visit your site if you had one.

Based on your comments it sounds as if you would make a great blogger!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - It is the curse of folks who are interested in many things.

I had heard about Founding Gardeners. It is great when history books look at the past in unusual ways that that one seems to.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I really love the science fiction authors that you mentioned. I am glad that you are enjoying them.


Understanding where we came from helps me to understand the world that we live in now.

Brian Joseph said...

Ho Suko - As my posts over the last few years indicate, I have gotten a lot out of historical biographies.

James said...

Your interest in history is not surprising although I did not know you had majored in it in college. I share your interest and have read quite a few books of history over the years. I guess my interest began at an early age as I remember being fascinated by both the history of kings in the Old Testament and the history of the kings of England. More recently I've found some of the best history in areas like the classics (Thucydides and Herodotus) and memoir (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom). I also have enjoyed the histories of Tony Judt and Niall Ferguson.

Maria Behar said...

Fascinating post, Brian!

I greatly enjoyed reading about how your interest in humanity's past has helped you form your opinions, as well as increase your knowledge of, such varied subjects as politics, social issues, literature, and science. It's unfortunate that there just isn't enough time to get to all those utterly interesting books you'd like to read.... I think that most of us bookworms have this same problem....sigh.... In my case, the problem is compounded due to the fact that I'm a slow reader.

I had no idea that you had a Bachelor's in History! AWESOME!! This is a subject that everyone should really read more of, at least to some extent. History tells us humans more about ourselves. It obviously has an undercurrent of psychology.

As you know, my own knowledge and reading of historical books is woefully inadequate..... I tend to go off on flights of fantasy, whether it's to places like Middle Earth, or schools of magic, where apprentice wizards battle evil Dark Lords.... Alternatively, I have visited other galaxies, as well, although I haven't been out of this solar system in a very long time....lol.

How interesting that you have a picture of a book about Cleopatra included in your post! That's one era of history I should really investigate. When I was around 10 or 11, I suddenly became fascinated by Egyptian hieroglyphs, and wrote secret messages using them. Who did I send them to? A friend of mine at the time -- Louis. We used to play spy! Lol.

I must really attempt to include some history books in my reading. I should especially read something about the American Revolutionary period. After all, the reason I am enjoying the freedom I'm enjoying is due to the great leaders and fighters of that period in the history of this great country!!

Thanks for whetting my 'historical appetite'!! Have a TERRIFIC weekend!! :)

Priya said...

I have to admit, I have never read a lot of history books - I used to watch documentaries on History Channel a lot and love historical fiction, I enjoy certain memoirs and biographies, but never proper history books. Any history knowledge I have comes from Wikipedia. I would like to pick up a history book though. I like the sound of some of these recommendations in the comments, especially Peter Ackroyd, whose Dickens bio I really liked... Great post. It's very cool that you have a BA in History!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Priya - I think that biographies can make for fine history. A lot of my recent history reading has been comprised of them.


There are actually a lot of really good documentaries that were made for television out there.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria - As we both keep alluding to, we have such limited time and there are so many things gto read.

That is a great story about your use of hieroglyphics!

That book is Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra. It was phenomenal. My commentary on it is below:

http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/2012/07/cleopatra-life.html

There are so many great books on theAmerican Revolution. I have not read everything listed here, but I ere read many of them-

https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/12/essential-american-revolution-library/

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I also went through a period where I was fascinated by the English Royal line. Like you I remember reading the Old Testament chronologies of Royalty and thinking how much history there is out there. I guess great minds think alike :)


I agree, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a superb book.

Maria Behar said...

Hi, again, Brian!

Just wanted to let you know I've gone to the link you posted above, and there are so many interesting books there I'd love to read! I have bookmarked it for easy future reference.

As for the book on Cleopatra, I do remember your excellent review. I need to read this book myself.

Thanks for the information!! Hope you're enjoying your Saturday!! :)

Deepika Ramesh said...

I am in awe of your fascination for history, Brian. Perhaps after school, I didn't read history at all. Even historical fiction seems daunting to me. I once had to interview a great historian, when I was in journalism. I was beating myself up for not having read his books. I must try at least one book this year. Thank you for inspiring, Brian. :)

HKatz said...

I appreciate the fact that you can focus on a historical era for some sustained period of time. I still haven't done that. I always bounce around. It's probably not the best way to learn. When you say that you're "interested in more subjects than I have time to devote to" I totally understand.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - It is a really neat list.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Deepika - One cannot be interested in everything.

With that, there are so many diverse subjects within the broad subject of history. Maybe you can zero in on a topic that particularly interests you.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - Though I try to aim my focus on specific areas in both the long term and the short term, I am only partially successful. I am also all over the place at times.

Stephen said...

With an interest in the Revolution, have you read much of Joseph Ellis' work? He has done biographies on Jefferson, Washington, and company, but has books like "Founding Brothers" and "The Quartet" that dwell on how the personal relationships between these men had political importance.

I've been a history nut since 4th grade on, cutting my teeth on Albert Marrin and Stephen Ambrose...these days I still read it heavily, but my favorite discoveries are books that deliver a sense of what it was like to live in different ages. Two recent examples, for instance -- "The Horse in the City", and "Living Downtown" both concern 19th century America, but one was on the social, economic, and urban role of horses as transport, and the other examined residential hotels, being a social history.

The problem with reading history is that the more you read, the more other little stories appear, so it's perfectly possible to spend one's life running from one period to another, to say nothing of the fact that every portion of the globe has a literary/cultural UNIVERSE of its own. I could spend my life reading different areas of British history, but there's the whole of Europe, and the middle east, and Asia...! I know what I'd do with immortality. :p

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - I have read Elisss's Washington and Jefferson Biographies. I agree that they are excellent. I want to read d "The Quartet" next.


"The Horse in the City"and "Living Downtown" sound really good. I guess that you can also classify them as micro histories. Such books can be so interesting and informative.

As you point out, there is so much to read and one book leads to another. One can never get to it all in a single lifetime.

Tracy Terry said...

Always great to learn a little more about my fellow bloggers. To read of what makes them tick and why.

I know just what Stephen means when he comments 'The problem with reading history is that the more you read, the more other little stories appear. Having just read one novel I'm biting at the bit to learn more of another character who though they only made a brief appearance captured my interest.

Interesting as always, thanks Brian.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tracy.

It seems to be common theme with us bookish folk. The more we read the more books we want to read.

thecuecard said...

Nice post Brian. Your interest in history throughout all of your posts shines through. I too got my B.A. in History but I agree I probably have retained more from nonfiction readings since then. Your knowledge of the American Revolution period is quite impressive! I admit to reading more popular history books now such as books by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough and that sort. Enjoyable but not too deep.

So many books, so little time said...

After reading/following your blog for so long Brian I often say I need to read up on so many new topics (to me), history is a huge one that I really want to visit. I applied for World Book Night again and one of my choices was for Band Of Brothers by Stephen E Ambrose, I actually got it. So I am planning on reading it so I know how to answer any questions on it.

Have you read it?

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

P.s I believe it was on tv too but I haven't seen that either xxx

Harvee Lau - Book Dilettante said...

History is fascinating. I can understand your love for these books!

ebookclassics said...

History has always been an area I want to read more about and learn, but I can't seem to get around to which is not really a good excuse. I'm inspired by this post and it also makes me think of my father-in-law who is very interested in the history of war, particularly WWII. He welcomed me to take any of his books (he has hundreds), but I quickly became overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. Maybe not knowing where to start is probably part of the problem.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - One thing about history is that there are so many directions one can go.

If I had to make one blind recommendation of World War II history it would be Stud Terkel's The Good War. It consists of short personal accounts of individuals throughout the world. It consist of their accounts of the war,


The Bookworm said...

Hi Brian. From reading your blog for the past few years, I do know you have a special love of the American Revolutionary War era and of history. "I am interested in more subjects than I have time to devote to them"...that is always the way isn't it?

It is nice while reading about a certain time period/person, then another person or topic will come up and you want to know more about that as well. The last history non-fiction I read was about Marie Antoinette and it captivated me and made me want to read more about the time period. I ended up visiting The Met Museum when her portraitists work was on display.
For a while I was really into the Tudors/King Henry VIII in particular and read up on that and watched PBS documentaries, programs and films as well.

Great post about your history and love of it! Enjoy your weekend.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida.

One thing keeps leading to another with me :)

I have read about Marie Antoinette's life in other histories. It seems so tragic. I am considering reading a seperate biography myself.

The Tudors period is another period that is fascinating. Once again I need to learn more!

Documentaries and television programs are another great resource for history buffs.

Heidi’sbooks said...

Hi Brian, I haven't posted or responded in a while, but I've been continuing to read your posts. Thanks!

I was initially drawn to your blog because you love history and literature. It's a great combination. My daughter is thinking about majoring in history. I think she should major in communications because she has a great talent in that area. But, who could complain about history. :)

I'm going to read through your comments again and find that list of recommended reading on the Revolutionary War.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Heidi - We all get busy. I am really pressed for time myself these days.

I think that your daughter would not do badly with either communications or history,. They are both worthwhile.

Here is a link for some great his books on the American Revolutionary era.

Caroline said...

I agree, if you want to understand today's world, you need to know some if its history. I don't read as many books about history as you do but I have topics I always return to. French, British and German history mostly.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I think that one almost has to have a few favored history topics. There are just tool many directions that one can go in otherwise.