From all non-fiction out there, I often find history non-fiction the most interesting and, actually, the best written (historians can write!). This is a list of ten history non-fiction books that I wholly recommend, and, yes, my list does gravitate towards medieval history and the history of medicine. I am also excluding autobiographical memoirs, and this list is in no particular order.
“Men are so necessarily mad, that not being mad would constitute another form of madness” (Blaise Pascal). I have read a number of books on the history of psychiatry, but this one is still the one. It is an ambitious, monumental work of eminent French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984), and in it, he examines the changing meaning, perception and treatment of “madness” through the centuries, commenting on many cultural, societal, scientific and political transformations.
This entry cannot be more timely – Martin Scorsese’s film based on this book is currently debuting at the Cannes Film Festival 2023. This is the story of the brutal murders of the Osage people in Oklahoma in the 1920s after oil deposits were found on their land. Corruption and deception are rife, but can an independent police force untangle the web of deception and cover-ups, and ensure justice? This is an entrancing read that will haunt you for days. My first book by David Grann was The Lost City of Z , which I also highly recommend.
November is the “Non-Fiction Reading” month, and I have compiled this list of non-fiction titles I am looking forward to reading in a near future.
Going to Chruch in Medieval England  by Nicholas Orme
I am interested in the history of religion and knowing how prominent the Church was in the lives of people in the Middle Ages, this book will undoubtedly be a very insightful read. It aims to show how churches in England “came into existence, who staffed them, and how their buildings were used, [explaining] who went to church, who did not attend, [and] how people behaved there.” The book explains how the calendar and Church activities existed in unison, and demystifies the English Reformation of the sixteenth century.
The Facemaker: One Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I  by Lindsey Fitzharris
Fitzharris’s debut book The Butchering Art  was an unputdownable history non-fiction that told of British surgeon Joseph Lister and the transformation of Victorian medicine. In this new non-fiction, the author presents the story of one visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War’s injured soldiers, making first contributions to the field plastic surgery. The focus of this account is otolaryngologist Harold Gillies from New Zealand, who is considered to be the father of modern plastic surgery.
Shell-Shock: A History of the Changing Attitudes to War Neurosis – ★★★★
“…They broke his body and his mind/And yet They made him live,/And They asked more of My Mother’s Son/Than any man could give...” (from Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Mother’s Son).
“…Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;/ Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad…” (Siegfried Sassoon, October 1917).
This is an insightful book about the history of “shell-shock”, a type of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by soldiers after a prolonged combat. Anthony Babington is neither a medical professional nor strictly a trained historian, but his book still provides a thought-provoking overview of a very misunderstood illness. From wars described by Herodotus (484-425 BC) to the Gulf War of 1990/91, the account touches on every major war conflict to explain how “shell-shock” and combat stress were perceived and treated through history.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford – ★★★★
“They can do all because they think they can“. Virgil
“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. Sun Tzu
Based on the ancient account The Secret History of the Mongols (dating c. 1227), this book tells of the life of Genghis Khan, his first foreign campaigns and his later conquests of other countries. Although dramatised and sometimes not entirely objective, the book is a very engaging, endlessly fascinating and perceptive account of the world’s most successful invaders. It demonstrates all the reasons for Genghis Khan’s unprecedented success in conquest since, historically, the Mongol army was the one to whom fell numerous countries and millions of people kneeled, as the army started to dominate virtually two continents, including the majority of China, India, Russia, Persia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the South-East Asia.