Marcus Garvey wrote that ‘a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’ British history is the story of how we and our sceptred isle came to be what we are today, and it’s not just about kings and queens either! History can be viewed through a variety of social perspectives, allowing silenced voices to emerge and discouraging us from repeating past mistakes.
Whether it's the Tudors, or an alternative history of the British empire, British history is a rather broad topic, and there are thousands of books to choose from. That’s why we’ve created this handy buying guide to help you adequately fulfil your thirst for knowledge. We’ve even created a list of 10 of the best British history books in the UK available to buy on Amazon and eBay!
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There are so many ways to approach history. Whether you wish to be a little more informed about a major event of the past, or you want to discover the roots of some of today’s most pressing social issues, there’s a book for everyone. Read on for some tips that’ll guide you in the right direction.
Whether you’re reading for pleasure, or to increase your knowledge, a good place to start is by considering what aspects of history you’d like to become more acquainted with. Here's some inspiration to get you thinking!
Owing to the way that our national curriculum is structured, it’s the distinct periods, often named for the ruling dynasty, that spring to most people’s minds when we speak of history. That's why those discussing specific historic periods are certainly not a bad place to start when considering what kind of British history book might be for you.
Would you like to learn more about smoggy Victorian London, or would you like to go all the way back to our country’s Anglo Saxon origins? Perhaps you’d like to brush up on your knowledge of the Tudors, and the Wars of the Roses that lead to their ascendancy?
If you don’t lean particularly strongly towards any historical period, there are plenty of books that attempt to capture several, chronologically traversing the historical periods from the stone age, all the way up to Britain as we recognise it today.
Perhaps you’d like to narrow down your focus, and rather than learn about an entire historical period, you wish to learn more about a specific event that occurred within it. Luckily, there are plenty of events that have occurred throughout history that more than warrant the dedication of an entire book.
These books are the closest you'll get to experiencing some of these astonishing events for yourself. Unsurprisingly, there are entire bookshelves dedicated to the different aspects of World War II, but you’ll also find plenty of books dedicated to events that occurred over much shorter time periods, such as the gunpowder plot and the great fire of London.
For better or worse, the majority of major historical events could not have occurred without the people responsible for them, and anyone wishing to learn more about British history has a colourful cast of characters to choose from.
Just as many famous figures of modern times have biographies dedicated to them, there are plenty of books that recount the entire lives of some fascinating, and often notorious, historical figures. Time may separate us, but through the power of reading, it’s entirely possible to become well acquainted with figures such as Winston Churchill or Oliver Cromwell.
It’s not all about people and events, and perhaps, rather than by historical period, you’d instead like to view history through a specific social lens. As British society continues to develop its attitudes of acceptance and tolerance towards certain marginalised groups, there now exist many books that shine a light on those previously unheard parts of history.
Rather than look solely at the events that happened on the main stage of history, you’ll instead hear the forgotten, yet equally important, stories of the marginalised whose experiences are nothing short of enlightening.
Winston Churchill said that ‘those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it’, and sometimes the past is the best place to look for answers to some of today’s most pressing issues. As much as we like to think ourselves unique, everything from societal issues such as racism and gender politics, to the way we care for the sick all have their origins in history.
Knowing the origins of our attitudes and opinions is a great way of ensuring that we never take them for granted. It’s remarkable to see how frequently the present moment is mirrored in the past, and when not a matter of concern, knowing this can be a humbling experience.
For some, it’s less about what’s written and more about how it’s written. Those who crave information will find no shortage of history books full of facts and figures, but some people like to digest their history in different ways.
Knowing this, many popular British history books attempt to illuminate history in more novel ways. Some weave together narratives that flow smoothly and engage you as effectively as any great work of fiction, while others enliven their facts and figures by positioning them alongside beautifully illustrated images.
Reading is no longer a solely stationary activity, and audiobooks have opened up a world of reading to those who previously wouldn't have had the opportunity to nestle down with a book. Audiobooks can be enjoyed everywhere and at anytime, whether that's on the daily commute or while washing the dishes, with many history books now available in audiobook format.
eBooks have similarly revolutionised the world of reading, allowing you to carry a virtually unlimited amount of titles on a kindle, or similar device, that weighs less than most individual books. So if you enjoy reading while out of the house, it may well be worth checking if that history book you're intrigued by is available in eBook format.
Checking the number of pages a book has can be handy to get a rough idea of how much of your time you'll need to donate to a book. If you only want a brief overview of a topic, it makes sense to look for a book with a lower page count that won't take you weeks to finish.
On the other hand, if you want to dive deep into a subject, higher page counts can signify extra layers of detail and, particularly where broader topics are concerned, anything less than a high page count may be suspect, suggesting only surface level information.
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A Short History of England
A History of Britain From Its Very Beginnings
Black and British: A Forgotten History
A Fascinating Account of Britain's Forgotten History
History of Britain & Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide
A Beautifully Illustrated Journey Through British History
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Giving Life to the Forgotten Victims of the Ripper
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
Experience the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Medieval England
Elizabethans: How Modern Britain Was Forged
A Fascinating Historical Account of Our Present Moment
Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain
An Honest and Frank History of Britain as a Player on the World's Stage
1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear
A Year in the Life of the World's Favourite Playwright
Queer City: Gay London From the Romans to the Present Day
An Alternate History Full of Liberation and Tragedy
Henry VIII: King and Court
A Dense Yet Highly Immersive Account of England's Most Notorious King
Focusing on a specific period may provide detail, and looking at history through a specific social lens enables forgotten voices to emerge. But sometimes, you need a brief overview of the whole story.
From the forging of Britain by Saxon invaders, all the way up to recent years, Jenkins weaves together a selection of significant facts and moments in British history to create a highly readable narrative. You won't get everything here, but if you want a concise yet fascinating history of our sceptred isle, this is it!
Our school education ensures that aspects of the British historical narrative are familiar to all of us, but the history of Britain's black population is far too frequently overshadowed by white stories, despite the two being so inextricably entwined. As this book shows, Black history is everyone's history.
Olusoga shines light on some startling historical omissions. For example, it's rarely acknowledged that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in both world wars. It's shocking oversights such as these that mark a need for change, one that this book will surely play an important part in.
The subject of History, reliant as it is on dates and facts, has acquired the unfortunate reputation of being stuffy and a little dull. It's a reputation that's unjustified, and this book is sure to silence the naysayers.
Pages decorated with beautifully coloured illustrations and easily digestible paragraphs lead you chronologically through Britain's history, offering insight intro historical moments from the Stone Age to the present day. It's the perfect guide for those who prefer breadth over depth, and are looking for something that isn't too dense.
Over a century later, the identity of Jack the Ripper remains shrouded in mystery. Despite the fact that we know their names, the lives of the women he murdered have remained just as mysterious, overshadowed by the spectre of the Ripper himself.
This book attempts to redress the balance by bringing the stories of these five women to life, ensuring that they live on as more than just tabloid headlines. Rubenhold shines a light on the the Victorian misogyny that endures to this day in the way we discuss Jack the Ripper.
The so-called 'dark ages' have an unfortunate reputation for being smelly and unsophisticated, but is this really true? Strap yourselves in, as this book takes you on a whirlwind trip to England in the fourteenth century.
This is a highly accessible book that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. Rather than read about history, you'll get as close as possible to experiencing it yourself. You'll receive great advice on everything from where to stay, what to eat, and along with the smells, you'll experience the sights and sounds of Medieval England.
Don't be mislead by the title - this book is not about the Tudor queen, but about our own monarch, whose crowning marked the age of the 'New Elizabethans'. Have you ever wondered how future generations might perceive us? This book has the answer.
Marr's work shines a light on the monumental events and remarkable people that our nation has been witness to over the past seven decades. With figures as varied as David Attenborough, David Olusoga, and The Beatles all receiving due recognition, this is truly a book for the ages.
We have a somewhat complicated relationship with empire here in the UK, perhaps as it seems responsible for everything that's great and not so great about Britain. This book demonstrates that, regardless of your feelings, imperialism is undeniably interwoven into the fabric of our society.
Rather than solely recount events that occurred on British soil, Empireland tells the story of how our small island has interacted with and conquered much of the world. Far from weaving an Anglocentric narrative, Sanghera instead gives voice to the many different people who have, for better or worse, become part of the British Empire.
So little is known about William Shakespeare that any biography must resort either to wild speculation, or a list of rather uninspiring facts that fail to satisfy our image of the transcendent playwright. Shapiro's book sits somewhere in the middle, creating a fascinating account of one of our country's most tumultuous years and weaving it together with the little we know for sure about Shakespeare's life.
The result is a captivating book that fills in the blanks, making highly educated guesses as to how Shakespeare might have responded to these historical events, and how they might have informed his plays.
Contemporary attitudes of acceptance towards people of different sexualities continue to progress, and one could be forgiven for thinking that we are living in a revolutionary age. This book proves otherwise.
Ackroyd recounts a queer history that spans thousands of years, and reveals that our increasing acceptance is not particularly novel, as attitudes have fluctuated in an 'endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure' for thousands of years. It's a rich history full of liberation and tragedy, making this book an essential read for everyone.
The Tudors are an integral part of the British school curriculum, so most people know at least a little about Henry VIII. This book is for those that want to go beyond the beheadings and the separation with Rome.
It's rather dense, so perhaps not suited to those looking for a brief summary. But for those with an invested interest in Old Coppernose, it's the definitive chronicling of his life from coronation to death, and the closest you'll get to spending time with the king himself.
It's always a good idea to expand your understanding of the world and its cultures. If reading about history has given you a thirst for knowledge, we’ve got plenty of articles that’ll help you find some equally fascinating books!
Whether you’re looking to fill the gaps in your knowledge or you’re a history buff looking to learn even more about your favourite historical period, we hope our buying guide has helped you find a book that’ll keep you riveted when learning about our nation’s past.
Author: Ben Willimett
No. 1：Simon Jenkins｜A Short History of England
No. 2：David Olusoga｜Black and British: A Forgotten History
No. 3：DK｜History of Britain & Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide
No. 4：Hallie Rubenhold｜The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
No. 5：Ian Mortimer｜The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
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