Thursday, February 10, 2011

Books That I Have Read

[Edit: It might be noted that I have made some changes to this entry. This is because a correspondent has notified me of an error, and furthermore one snidely expressed. I apologise.]

So here's something self-indulgent: the twenty best historical monographs that I've ever actually read that have listings in one of my  text file bibliographies. I was going to do something a little more strenuous and go for a top twenty list, but I'm in the midst of moving those over to a more sophisticated format. (Not that sophisticated: the Word2007 Source file system. I sure hope that Microsoft delivers a better version of this that I can transport the data to soon!) So I'd have to hunt down and retype a bunch of titles that deserve to be here. This suggests that the next list should be the even more interesting and eclectic "20 best historical monographs that aren't in my textfile bibliographies for some stupid reason."

I'll get right on that.

The List

Barker, Thomas Mack. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna's Second Turkish Siege and Its Historical Setting. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1967. One old fashioned military history. Because it's awesome.

Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l’epoque de Phillippe II. 2nd ed. Paris: Librairie A. Colin, 1966. Only one Braudel allowed.

Cochrane, Eric. Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527-1800: A History of Florence and the Florentines in the Age of the Grand Dukes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973. More old-fashioned historiography, and more plainly obsolete; but still a nice read.

Gerhold, Dorian. Road Transport Before the Railways: Russell’s London Flying Wagons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Does it sound interesting? It is. If it doesn't sound interesting, you need to read it even more.

Edgerton, David. England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation. Houndmills, Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1991. The anti-Barnett!

Friedman, Norman. British Carrier Aviation. London: Conway, 1991. It's no gem of the historiographic art, but it reveals that every book on this reasonably important subject published before him was literally just all made up. I know that a great many theses claim this in their introduction, but it's true here.

Gordon, G. A. H. British Seapower and Procurement Between the Wars: A Reappraisal of Rearmament. London, Macmillan, 1983.

Gunsberg, Jeffery A. Divided and Conquered: The French High Command and the Defeat of the West, 1940. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1979. A polemic in the best way. Open this book while listening to Mireille Mathieu's version of the Marseillaise.

Hounshell, David. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

James, John. The Paladins: A Social History of the RAF Up to the Outbreak of WWII . London: MacDonald, 1990. It is beyond amazing how one writer can transform a field of study by good use of such a basic research tool.

Jones, D.W. War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough. London: B. Blackwell, 1988. Like Gerhold above, this belongs on the list because of the sheer power and originality of its insights.

Rollason, David. Northumbria, 500--1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. This isn't an endorsement of everything Rollason has to say. I'm going to pick and choose here. But wow.

Schabel, Ralf. Die Ilusionen der Wunderwaffen: Die Rolle der Düsenfleugzeuge und Flugabwehrraketen in der Rüstungspolitik des dritten Reiches. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1994. Pretty definitive. I think it might have been translated, too.

Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. London: HarperCollins, 1995. Now that I better understand the context of this work in archaeological and urban planning theory it impresses me a little less. A little.

Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. The one absolutely necessary book to come out of the Edinburgh School.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. London: Penguin, 2006.

Van Kley, Dale. The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560–1791. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. Did you know that there were more pro-Jansenist pamphlets circulating in France in the months (and years) before the Revolution than pro-republican? Van Kley explains why it matters. A lot. We're still waiting for someone to do the same for the American Revolution, although I gather that Clarke has started.

Waldron,Arthur. The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth. Cambridge and New York: Canto, 1992; originally Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Outside my field, but then I am trying to write a history of the world.

Walker, Mack. German Home Towns: Community, State, and General Estate, 1648-1871. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971. Another ancient classic.

Wheatcroft, Andrew. The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire. London: Viking, 1995. A conceptual departure on par with Schama. 

And... wow. Not a single woman on the list. I'm tempted to go back and add Sylvia Van Kirk, Alison Weir and Pamela Kyle Crossley, but none of them are in my textfiles, so would properly belong on the list of best books that I have read that aren't in those files. (Which is coming, eventually.) Besides, in the eternal recursion that is liberal guilt, it feels more honest to acknowledge the initial trend and the apparently ineradicable gender bias that it signifies.

I might have stood on the argument that as a military historian I tend to like quintessentially boy books. But that's silly on two grounds. In the first place, the Van Kirk, Weir, and Crossley books answer a "boy" question better than any "boy" answer I've ever seen, something I should probably start discussing soon.  More importantly, haven't I already summoned Marianne to the defence of La Patrie? Now there's a military historian's approach to papering over contested gender identities in a nutshell. 


  1. Even as someone with an interest in interwar military procurement I found the Gordon a little dry, whereas _The Rules of the Game_ is an all-round tour de force...

  2. And, see, I didn't like _Rules_ at all, whereas his first book, dry as it was, went places you just don't see many other historians going.

  3. Fair do's - now if only someone could do a nice synoptic work on all three services...

  4. That would be awesome. At some point we might even come to understand how we got here.