Sixth Form


History Department LVI Preliminary Reading List

You should acquire at least one of these books, read it during the summer and be prepared to give a five minute presentation on it in the first week of the Autumn term. Your presentation should concentrate both on the content of the book (arguments/interpretations etc.) but should also cover why you found the book interesting and whether you actually agree with what the author has to say.

General History

Edited by Niall Ferguson, Virtual History applies 'counterfactual' arguments to decisive moments in modern history.

What if Britain had stayed out of the First World War?

What if Germany had invaded Britain in 1940?

What if Nazi Germany had defeated the Soviet Union?

How would England look if there had been no Cromwell?

What if there had been no American Revolution?

And what if John F. Kennedy had lived?

Throughout history, great and terrible events have often hinged upon luck. Andrew Roberts has asked a team of twelve leading historians and biographers what might have happened if major world events had gone differently.

Each concentrating on the area in which they are a leading authority, historians as distinguished as Antonia Fraser (Gunpowder Plot), Norman Stone (Sarajevo 1914) and Anne Somerset (the Spanish Armada) consider: “What if?” Robert Cowley demonstrates how nearly Britain won the American war of independence. In her first publication since her acclaimed “Georgiana”, Amanda Foreman muses on Lincoln’s Northern States of America and Lord Palmerston’s Great Britain going to war, as they so nearly did in 1861.

Whether it’s Stalin fleeing Moscow in 1941(Simon Sebag Montefiore), or Napoleon not being forced to retreat from it in 1812 (Adam Zamoyski), the events covered here are important, world-changing ones.

Did Neil Armstrong really set foot on the moon?

Was the United States government responsible for the 11 September attacks?

Should we doubt the accidental nature of Diana's death?

Voodoo Histories entertainingly demolishes the absurd and sinister conspiracy theories of the last 100 years. Aaronovitch reveals not only why people are so ready to believe in these stories but also the dangers of this credulity. This edition includes a new chapter investigating the conspiracy theories that question Obama's legitimacy as president *

In this volume, English historian Richard Evans offers a defence of the importance of his craft. At a time of deep scepticism about our ability to learn anything from the past, even to recapture any serious sense of past cultures and ways of life, Evans shows us why history is both possible and necessary. His demolition of the wilder claims of post-modern historians, who deny the possibility of any realistic grasp of history, seeks to be witty and well-balanced. He takes us into the historians' workshop to show us just how good history gets written, and explains the deadly political dangers of losing a historical perspective on the way we live our lives. This new edition contains an extensive afterword by the author.


British History

Niall Ferguson's bestselling Empire is the compelling story of how the British empire rose to power - and why it finally fell.

Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red and Britannia ruled not just the waves, but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall? Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold-diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity.

American History

On 13 September 1759, General James Wolfe, having led the British troops up the St Lawrence to victory in the Battle of Quebec, died on the Heights of Abraham. Schama examines this death, and how Wolfe was made to die again - through the spectacular painting by Benjamin West, and through the writings of the 19th-century historian Francis Parkman. Schama's second death concerns Parkman's uncle, George Parkman of Harvard Medical College, who disappeared in 1849 in mysterious circumstances and who was rumoured to have been murdered by a colleague. Through these incidents, Schama sheds light on the writing of history, the history of history, and the relationship of "story" to "history".

The Ancient World

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished for ever, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world.

But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society with incalculable consequences for the future. Today, over half the world's population subscribes to one of the various religions that took on something like their final form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god to think or behave in a certain way, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age - though as Tom Holland demonstrates, much of what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe about the origins of their religion is open to debate.

In the Shadow of the Sword explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine. It is a story vivid with drama, horror and startling achievement, and stars many of the most remarkable rulers ever seen.

Cultural History

As epic and ambitious as his first book A People's Tragedy, Figes's Natasha's Dance is a sweeping panorama of Russian culture over the centuries. It takes its title from a scene in War and Peace in which the upper-crust Natasha Rostov, visiting her countrified "Uncle", falls instinctively into the rhythms of a peasant dance. Figes finds in this scene an ideal metaphor for his book's central theme--the perpetual see-sawing between the European cultural ideals of the aristocracy in St Petersburg and an "authentic" Russianess, usually seen as embodied in the peasantry and the country. The great debate in Russian culture has been between those who have seen it as a naturally "Western" society and those who have seen its destiny as lying in the East and its vast hinterland. Around this central theme, Figes has constructed an imposing edifice. The range of his knowledge and the sureness with which he deploys it are very impressive. Whether writing about the music of Stravinsky and Shostakovich or the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the buildings of St Petersburg or the poetry of Akhmatova, he has something new and original to say. The great cultural achievements of Russia often seem, for those who have only a little knowledge of Russian history, like giant mountains suddenly rising out of featureless terrain. Figes's excellent book gives them a context and fills out many of the details of the surrounding landscape.

In The English Jeremy Paxman sets out to find about the English. Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or Welsh, but the English. Why do they seem so unsure of who they are? Jeremy Paxman is to many the embodiment of Englishness yet even he is sometimes forced to ask: who or what exactly are the English? And in setting about addressing this most vexing of questions, Paxman discovers answers to a few others. Like:

Why do the English actually enjoy feeling persecuted?

What is behind the English obsession with games?

How did they acquire their odd attitudes to sex and to food?

Where did they get their extraordinary capacity for hypocrisy?

Covering history, attitudes to foreigners, sport, stereotypes, language and much, much more, The English brims over with stories and anecdotes that provide a fascinating portrait of a nation and its people.

The History of War