Once again I require awesome history books plz
December 5, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I need to stop reading wikipedia at work, so please give me books instead

In order to assist me in reaching this goal, I will need awesome nonfiction recommendations on the following subjects:

- the French and Indian Wars, including the Beaver Wars
- the Jewish-Roman Wars
- the military of Ancient Rome, specifically anything to do with engineering, logistics, and/or tactics
- something about the Cathars that isn't incredibly dry and tedious

Books only, no podcasts please! Minor hearing impairment + tendency towards distractability = podcast annoyances. (ooh, unless they have transcripts with which I can follow along. But I prefer books.)
posted by elizardbits to Education (16 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
It's not strictly on the military of ancient Rome, but it's about ancient Rome and has a bunch of military stuff, and moreover is a great book:

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

by Tom Holland.
posted by Flunkie at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2012

Response by poster: I should probably mention that I have already read almost everything from my last nonfiction askme.
posted by elizardbits at 12:40 PM on December 5, 2012

If you want the Roman military, would Tacitus be too dull?

Also you mention in your other AskMe that your history was coming from trashy romances. Why not read a non-trashy novel? Wolf Hall is supposed to be really good, although I admit I haven't managed to read it myself yet.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:55 PM on December 5, 2012

For Roman military engineering and tactics, I don't think you can get much better than Ceasar, particularly the Gallic War. All sorts of neat things about bridges and strategy and such. It's generally agreed upon that some of it is clearly inflated, and it's weird because it's written by Ceasar in the third person, but it's still really interesting and gives a good first-hand account.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2012

The Roman Triumph is a great read.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2012

The Peloponnesian War, by Donald Kagan is extremely readable.
posted by bswinburn at 1:14 PM on December 5, 2012

I don't know if all the Ancients are welcome, but how about Anabasis, by Xenophon? He was a Greek mercenary who in 490BCE marched with The Ten-Thousand, a mercenary army hired by Cyrus the Younger. Anabasis is the story of their March through central Persia (at the time reached modern Greece) through Babylonia (now Southern Iraq) and then north to the eastern shore of the Black Sea (Georgia).

(on preview) I haven't read The Peloponnesian War by Kagan, but I have read and enjoyed the works by that author, and TPW was a textbook for a few of my dormmates in college, who said it was an informative read-- I've been meaning to get to that one.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:16 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: Hadrian: Empire and Conflict -- contains really interesting artifacts from the Bar Kokhba revolt. It is a beautiful book, though if you were really only interested in the Jewish artifacts it would probably be worth ILLing or reading that section in an academic library instead.

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations

Rome (Amanda Claridge) (it's sort of like a guidebook to Ancient Rome while moving through modern Rome) because it too is a good look at engineering (especially the urban walls) but also for a quick look at the Arch of Titus and the reliefs of the spoils of the sack of Jerusalem. (There are many websites that go into that in more detail, but I feel like a whole book would be overkill unless you decide you loooove Roman triumphal arches...) Also good for a quick look at Trajan's Column, which shows the military (and their infrastructure) in action.

On Roman Military Matters; A 5th Century Training Manual in Organization, Weapons and Tactics, As Practiced by the Roman Legions
: okay it's a little later but it's a semi-primary source

The Complete Roman Army
: Adrian Goldsworthy is really good at what he does.

Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome: if you fall down the rabbit hole

Roman Britain and the Roman Navy

Not a book but an article (memail me if you would like it:) Simon James on chemical warfare at Dura Europos; comes with interesting depictions of sieges and also some seriously screwed Romans

Actually in general Adrienne Mayor's books are extremely readable; this one, mentioned above, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World seems like it would be of interest.

Greek and Roman Technology: A Sourcebook: Annotated Translations of Greek and Latin Texts and Documents : quick bits of primary sources on a variety of engineering topics, including the military. A good companion to something like The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:17 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Along with Tacitus, you might also try Suetonius (more bitchy and gossipy) and Cassius Dio. Penguin has good translations of both. Also, have you read Josephus yet?

These don't fit your criteria, but they were both great reads:

The English Civil War

The Incendiary
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:19 PM on December 5, 2012

For the Cathars: The Perfect Heresy, by Stephen O'Shea. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it being pretty engrossing, and people I've loaned it to enjoyed it as well.
posted by Janta at 2:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324 is a good read, lots of quotations from the trials.
posted by paduasoy at 2:26 PM on December 5, 2012

Again if you're ok with Greek, Arrian on Alexander is fantastic - it's not quite a primary source, but it's a hell of a lot closer than just about anything else. (I have a huge Alexander the Great thing.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:11 PM on December 5, 2012

Because of my interest in the Cathars, I was recently given a copy of Ockham's Razor: A Season in France in Search of Meaning by Wade Rowland. Though I haven't read it yet (I'm saving it to read over the holidays) the person who gave it to me had read it and enjoyed it greatly. It's part travelogue, part history book, part philosophy discussion, and apparently quite accessible and interesting.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:49 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rome and the Sword by Simon James is a great read.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:40 PM on December 5, 2012

O'Shea has written a second book on the Cathars called The Friar of Carcassonne.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:53 PM on December 5, 2012

Response by poster: OOPS I bought all the books.

Any specific recommendations for translation versions for suggested books not originally in english?
posted by elizardbits at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2012

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