Terry Deary’s favourite history books

Terry Deary is the author of 140 children’s books translated into 32 languages; his Horrible Histories series has sold 10m copies worldwide. As well as completing, on average, a book every six weeks, Terry Deary is currently in training for the 13-mile-long Great North Run to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Relief. The Run takes place on 21 September 2003. If you’d like to sponsor him or make a donation call 020 7840 7887 or email

1. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe by Charles Nicholl

Historical detective work at its best. Not only does Nicholl recreate the Elizabethan underworld in all its chilling seediness, he investigates the murder with the pace and technique of a mystery novelist. In the end he doesn’t quite convince me, but his book should be compulsory reading for all writers of popular history.

2. They Called it Paschendale by Lyn Macdonald

Books like this transcend ordinary literature and provide a service to humanity. Macdonald has collected the testimonies of the men who fought in the first world war and tells the story from their point of view. It’s humanity in the raw and it’s not all bleak.

3. In Search of the Trojan War by Michael Wood

In children’s non-fiction books it’s not enough to inform the readers; first you have to engage them. Michael Wood is above all an engaging writer as well as an erudite historian. Whatever he writes about he brings to life. A rare talent.

4. The English: A Social History 1066- 945 by Christopher Hibbert

When I was at school history was all about the upper classes and their wars. But social history is far more fascinating – it’s the lives and the stories of peasants like me! I learned more about my own country from reading Hibbert’s book than in 12 tedious years of school history lessons.

5. Made in America by Bill Bryson

I am intrigued by words. Bryson’s book is an entertaining and anecdotal history of American English. The book helps you become a connoisseur of fascinating facts: you say tomato, Thomas Jefferson said “tomata”. Not a lot of people know that.

6. Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle by Michael K Jones

Controversial. He reckons the battle of Bosworth Field was not fought at Bosworth Field! I am not convinced (and the Bosworth visitor centre must be worried) but I enjoy the debate. I admire the fact that Jones has the courage to say that Richard III probably DID order the execution of the princes in the Tower. I’ve read a dozen books that argue (unconvincingly) that Richard was innocent.

7. The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity have Changed History by Erik Durschmied

It’s always a pleasure to see history approached from a new direction. Durschmied reminds us that history is not some pre-destined drama like a Shakespeare script. Sod’s law rules. “The world would be a different place if only. . . ” There’s endless entertainment to be had from completing that sentence.

8. Behind the Castle Gate: From Medieval to Renaissance by Matthew Johnson

An academic and serious look at an abstract topic. Not my usual cup of tea, but an insight into the way academics think and write. It also changed forever the way I look at castles and challenges much of what my teachers told me.

9. Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

My favourite historian. Always readable and challenging even when she is writing about an obnoxious woman like Mary. I’m impressed by an intellect that can assimilate and organise such a massive wealth of material and turn it into a cohesive and readable narrative. I cherish my signed copy.

10. Stranger than Fiction: A Book of Literary Lists by Aubrey Dillon-Malone

I’m a sucker for books of fascinating (and generally useless) facts. As a writer I am interested in the lives and deaths, loves and hates, working methods and personal peculiarities of other writers. It gives facts like “Author Erskine Childers was a naval spy in the second world war.” Neat trick. . . since I know he was executed in 1922! Call me a nit-picker. It almost makes me feel like an historian.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/aug/26/top10s.history