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.
I. History of Madness [1961/2009] by Michel Foucault
“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.
II. Killers of the Flower Moon  by David Grann
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.
Continue reading “Top 10 History Non-Fiction I Read” →
Medicine & Society in Later Medieval England  – ★★★★
“Magic was…an integral component of medieval medicine”, tells us historian Carole Rawcliffe in this book on the state of medicine in later medieval England. And, not only magic. Religion, astrology and even art were all tied up in the practice of medicine in the Middle Ages, and this non-fiction sheds much light on how the medieval society in England viewed illness, and its diagnosis and treatment. What was the difference between the medieval professions of physician, surgeon, apothecary and barber? Why the state of medicine in England at that time lagged behind other European countries? What was the general attitude towards women connected to the practice of medicine? And, what methods were used when no proper methods of anaesthesia and sanitation were yet available to the medical personnel? Relying much on the contemporary accounts, Rawcliffe proves to be an expert guide on these questions and many more, and her book is a scholarly, but also highly readable, journey into England’s medieval past.
Continue reading “Review: Medicine & Society in Later Medieval England by Carole Rawcliffe” →
Yoshida Kenkō (1283 – 1350) was a Japanese Buddhist monk and poet, best known for his posthumously published collection of short statements and essays known as Essays in Idleness or The Harvest of Leisure that demonstrate the essence of the Way in Buddhism, including the realisation of the Impermanence of All Things and the Transience of Life. Drawing from folklore and classics, Kenkō also provides short morality tales, pointing out the dangers of pride and greed, and advocating temperance in life and moderation in all things that are not necessities to life. He shares his thoughts on the beauty of nature, aesthetics, nostalgia, life at court, and on Japanese poetry, festivals and architecture. Most of his self-professed “ramblings” are either delightful or deeply profound and I am sharing some of them here:
“It is most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met”.
“In all things, the beginning and end are the most engaging. Does the love of man and woman suggest only their embraces? No, the sorrow of lovers parted before they met, laments over promises betrayed, long lonely nights spent sleepless until dawn, pinning thoughts for one in some far place, a woman left sighing over past love in her tumbledown abode – it is these, surely, that embody the romance of love“.
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Awhile ago I wrote a post on Florence, Italy, one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in the world, and I thought I would follow it up now with a post on Siena, a medieval town in Tuscany that is situated some seventy kilometres away by car or one and a half hour ride by train from Florence. One of the reasons I love Siena is that it retained its medieval landscape; it is rich in history and its citizens still practice traditions dating to the twelve century. One legend says that Siena was founded by Remus’s sons Senius and Aschius, who hid there from their uncle Romulus (Remus and Romulus are infamous twin brothers that are characters in the legend on the founding of Rome). Even Siena’s symbol is a she-wolf, that is often pictured caring for Romulus and Remus. One other piece of information is that Siena was founded by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BC as Sena Julia. In this post, I will briefly describe Siena’s main sights, and comment on the culture of the place. Apart from the header photo, all photos in this post are mine (again, excuse my phone camera). Continue reading “Siena, Tuscany” →