History in the Making

My Five Absolute Favourite Books

To my newer readers, I should give a bit of my reading background (and a welcome, hello!). I am a voracious reader, and you will usually find me with several books on the go! I will read anything from most genres, and I am always willing to give a book a chance. Today I am sharing my five absolute favourite books- non-fiction and fiction, classic and contemporary, these are the five books that I can re-read an infinite number of times, and will recommend to almost every single person. If you are looking for something to read for yourself, or for a book to give to someone else, these are a great place to start- here are my five absolute favourite books!

My 5 Absolute Favourite Books

Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, Jennifer Homans

For those of you who are brand new, I have danced my whole life and spend a good amount of my free time either taking class or attending the ballet. What I love about ballet and dance is that anyone can enjoy, no matter what your experience or language is. You can see grand story ballets, technical contemporary pieces, or anything in between! I think that the history of ballet is rather hazy for most people; there might be a king in there, there is probably a Russian, and then the Nutcracker! Jennifer Homans traces the history of ballet from it’s beginnings in the fifteenth century across Europe and into North America, to the present ballets that we see now. Although it is lengthy, it isn’t overwhelming or difficult to follow, and will certainly make your next ballet or theatre experience much more enjoyable!

Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans

From ballet’s origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France’s Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. It was in Russia that dance developed into the form most familiar to American audiences: The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker originated at the Imperial court. In the twentieth century, émigré dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and in Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance.

Jennifer Homans is a historian and critic who was also a professional dancer: She brings to Apollo’s Angels a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. She traces the evolution of technique, choreography, and performance in clean, clear prose, drawing readers into the intricacies of the art with vivid descriptions of dances and the artists who made them. Her admiration and love for the ballet shines through on every page. Apollo’s Angels is an authoritative work, written with a grace and elegance befitting its subject.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

I know that a lot of people will dismiss Jane Austen‘s works, either for being too difficult to read, for being too dull, for being too serious, or any number of accusations. However, Northanger Abbey is a quick read (clocking in at less than 250 pages), is entirely hilarious, and is more than willing to poke fun at itself! Gothic novels are always interesting to read; it is such a pronounced and dramatic genre that you will either typically love them or hate them. Northanger Abbey is a fantastic satire of the gothic genre that gives you the elements that most people love and the humour to bring in everyone else! I think that Northanger is sadly overlooked for Jane’s other novels, but is certainly worth your time.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.

 

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court, Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley is truly my favourite historian; she has a way with writing that makes history entirely accessible without infantalising it or reducing it to mere spectacle. As the Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Lucy gets to spend her days working at Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, and Kensington Palace, amongst other places, so she has an incredible amount of access that the rest of us couldn’t ever dream of. The Georgian Court may not have been so scandalous as the Tudor court was, or as glamorous as Princess Margaret and Princess Diana’s time in the twentieth century, but they were certainly fascinating in their own right. Wild children, the most talented artists, and the most complicated relationships you could imagine- you could get lost in it for hours!

The Courtiers by Lucy Worsley

Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace’s glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II . In the eighteenth century, this palace was a world of skulduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley’s The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life. Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King’s Staircase of Kensington Palace-paintings you can see at the palace today-The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III , and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.

 

The Time of My Life, Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia Ahern is most well-known for PS. I Love You, but I have truly loved several of her novels! The Time of My Life gave me that escape that a lot of us look for in books, and also made me reconsider the way that I think about life. I think that all of us have various points in our life where we become fixated on various things; it might be work, it might be a relationship, it may be a hobby, but we let it consume our lives. Cecelia is a talented writer and I adore that her earlier novels have just the tiniest hint of magic in them, because she uses it so well to make us think about life or love or memories in a completely different way. By turning the protagonist’s life into it’s own character, we get to think of our life as it’s own person who needs to be treated respectfully and fairly. I found this a very clever book that still has a great impact on me to this day!

The Time of My Life, Cecelia Ahern

Lucy Silchester has an appointment with her life – and she’s going to have to keep it.

Lying on Lucy Silchester’s carpet one day when she returns from work is a gold envelope. Inside is an invitation – to a meeting with Life. Her life. It turns out she’s been ignoring it and it needs to meet with her face to face.

It sounds peculiar, but Lucy’s read about this in a magazine. Anyway, she can’t make the date: she’s much too busy despising her job, skipping out on her friends and avoiding her family.

But Lucy’s life isn’t what it seems. Some of the choices she’s made – and stories she’s told – aren’t what they seem either. From the moment she meets the man who introduces himself as her life, her stubborn half-truths are going to be revealed in all their glory – unless Lucy learns to tell the truth about what really matters to her.

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, John Guy

Mary, Queen of Scots is one of my favourite historical figures, although Elizabeth I and Victoria tend to be much more popular subjects, Mary Stuart was queen essentially from birth and was arguably one of the most well-prepared monarchs in history. She didn’t take her throne by force, and she spent her whole life being educated to be a queen, not kept in a strict schedule or shoved from prison to prison in childhood and adolescence; she received an incredible education and was well-prepared to do her job. What sets this biography apart from other Mary Stuart biographies is that Guy doesn’t simply dismiss Mary for being an emotional and overwrought woman who couldn’t think about anything other than the men in her life, but rather looks at everything together for a balanced survey of her life and reign. (Mary also had one of the most exciting lives of any monarch, and if you aren’t interested in foreign courts, murder plots, and a ragey preacher, I don’t know what you will be interested in!)

Queen of Scots: The Life and Times of Mary Stuart by John Guy

From Goodreads:

In the first full-scale biography of Mary Stuart in more than thirty years, John Guy creates an intimate and absorbing portrait of one of history’s greatest women, depicting her world and her place in the sweep of history with stunning immediacy. Bringing together all surviving documents and uncovering a trove of new sources for the first time, Guy dispels the popular image of Mary Queen of Scots as a romantic leading lady — achieving her ends through feminine wiles — and establishes her as the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I.

Through Guy’s pioneering research and superbly readable prose, we come to see Mary as a skillful diplomat, maneuvering ingeniously among a dizzying array of factions that sought to control or dethrone her. Queen of Scots is an enthralling, myth-shattering look at a complex woman and ruler and her time.

John Guy is a fellow in history at Clare College, University of Cambridge, and the author of several books, including the best-selling textbook Tudor England. (less)

What is the book that you would recommend to every person you met? 

Cheers,
The Historian
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13 thoughts on “My Five Absolute Favourite Books”

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  • You know there are so many books I’d recommend, firstly would be Harry Potter… I think everyone should at least try and read it! But in terms of classics I’d probably say Oliver Twist. I love that book, it’s on my to read list again.

    I’ve never read any Jane Austin. I tried when I was younger and have a collection of 6 of her books here but I’ve not tried again since. Maybe I should give it another go now I’m older. 🙂 Once I’ve finally finished Rivers of London that is!

    • I am surprised at the number of people who haven’t read the Harry Potter series or say they just watched the movies- it isn’t the same!! Not at all! And I find all of Dickens’ work to be a bit of a slog but once you are properly engrossed, you can’t put it down!!

  • I haven’t read that book on ballet–and really should! Have you read McCann’s book, _Dancer_–very interesting but not McCann’s best. The book I would recommend to everyone: probably _Angela’s Ashes_. I didn’t even read memoir before that one. If you read for poetic language–it’s got it; a compelling story–that too; characters to root for–of course. I guess that would be my one. Great post–thanks!

    • I will admit I haven’t read McCann’s Dancer yet!! I am torn on Nureyev, although he was a talented dancer, so much of his life was about his celebrity :/ And I have read Angela’s Ashes, it is a FANTASIC biography! Casual and heartbreaking, all at the same time!

  • I loved Northanger Abbey! Definitely an underrated Austen work. I spent one summer reading all six of her novels (plus Lady Susan), and I was so pleasantly surprised to find that I loved them all as much as I did Pride and Prejudice–except for Emma, which I could have done without, haha. I especially liked the gothic elements in NA since it was a different twist for Austen.

    On another note, The Courtiers looks great!! I love historical fiction.

    • I will admit, the only Austen I haven’t read is Lady Susan- my current plan is to read it while I am in Bath, hunting down the Austen haunts! For me, I think if I had to get rid of one, it would be Mansfield Park- it was just SO DARK, to the point where I didn’t think it felt like she was the author. I can see why Emma wouldn’t be appealing though, it is a very specific and somehow flakey feeling book.

      The Courtiers is actually non-fiction (though it seems like it would be fiction from everything that happens!)!

      • It’s so much fun reading a book that takes place somewhere you’re visiting, or is written by someone who lived in the place you’re visiting! I try to bring books on vacation that match wherever I’ve traveling to. Your plan to read Lady Susan in Bath sounds wonderful!! I need to get there one of these days.

        • The only problem is now I’m hoarding SO MANY history books to read on my UK trip that I won’t have time to do anything 😂 Those are the best reading memories, though!

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