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!
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.
Now you’ve read our buying guide you’ve hopefully got a good idea of what kind of British history book will be perfect for you. To help you choose your next historical read, we’ve ranked our selection of the top 10 best British history books in the UK!
|Historical Period||Tudor (Henrician court)|
|Focus||The reign of Henry VIII|
|Historical Period||Roman - Present|
|Focus||The history of gay London|
|Focus||The life and world of William Shakespeare|
|Format||Biography, cultural history|
|Historical Period||Late Tudor - Present|
|Focus||The history of the British Empire|
|Historical Period||1952 - Present|
|Focus||Culture throughout the reign of Elizabeth II|
|Historical Period||Late Medieval (14th Century)|
|Focus||Life in Medieval England|
|Format||An imaginary visit to Medieval England|
|Focus||Victorian lives, Victorian London|
|Historical Period||Stone Age - Present|
|Focus||A complete history of Britain|
|Historical Period||Roman - Present|
|Historical Period||Iron Age - Present|
|Focus||A complete history of Britain|
A Short History of England
Black and British: A Forgotten History
History of Britain & Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
Elizabethans: How Modern Britain Was Forged
Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain
1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear
Queer City: Gay London From the Romans to the Present Day
Henry VIII: King and Court
A History of Britain From Its Very Beginnings
A Fascinating Account of Britain's Forgotten History
A Beautifully Illustrated Journey Through British History
Giving Life to the Forgotten Victims of the Ripper
Experience the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Medieval England
A Fascinating Historical Account of Our Present Moment
An Honest and Frank History of Britain as a Player on the World's Stage
A Year in the Life of the World's Favourite Playwright
An Alternate History Full of Liberation and Tragedy
A Dense Yet Highly Immersive Account of England's Most Notorious King
|Historical Period||Iron Age - Present||Roman - Present||Stone Age - Present||Victorian||Late Medieval (14th Century)||1952 - Present||Late Tudor - Present||Stuart||Roman - Present||Tudor (Henrician court)|
|Focus||A complete history of Britain||Black history||A complete history of Britain||Victorian lives, Victorian London||Life in Medieval England||Culture throughout the reign of Elizabeth II||The history of the British Empire||The life and world of William Shakespeare||The history of gay London||The reign of Henry VIII|
|Format||Cultural history||Cultural history||Visual guide||Biographies||An imaginary visit to Medieval England||Cultural history||Cultural history||Biography, cultural history||Cultural history||Biography|
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
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