Quick memory-lane trip: I first started reading YA regularly in fall 2008, with the Twilight series (and I am one of the rare breed of lit lovers that actually doesn't have anything bad to say about that series, except that Bella was annoying and Jacob could fall in a hole for all I cared) and I've read mostly MG-YA ever since. But before that, I went through about two years of nonfiction history period, and it's been this last reading slump that has rekindled my love of well-written historical nonfiction.
History is, pretty much, utterly fascinating to me, but I've always had a soft spot for Early Modern to Nineteenth Century European history (and American history, of course) and in particular, I've loved royal history. Some of the kookiest, craziest, funniest, grossest characters in the history of man weren't actually *characters* at all - they were entirely real!
And I've always loved reading about them, especially after I got into "The Tudors."
(Note: what I learned from studying Tudor court-England is that they were not all skinny and pretty...in fact, most of them were fat and poxy!)
In particular, there are three books that I want to review/recommend to you. I know that a lot of history books are written like textbooks or WORSE - dissertations, agghh! - but these three are written in such witty, engaging and engrossing detail, it's as if you're reading short stories about crazy-entertaining characters:
Royal Babylon - Karl Shaw
Do you want to know which queen has the unique distinction of being the only known royal kleptomaniac? Or which empress kept her dirty underwear under lock and key? Or which czar, upon discovering his wife's infidelity, had her lover decapitated and the head, pickled in a jar, placed at her bedside?I would have to say that this is my favorite of the three. My copy is so worn, you can see white edges all across the spine and cover edges, but it gives probably the most extensive history of European monarchy. If you have in interest in the British royal family, in particular (or British history, for that matter), you'll want to take a look at this!
Royally dishing on hundreds of years of dubious behavior, Royal Babylon chronicles the manifold appalling antics of Europe's famous families, behavior that rivals the characters in an Aaron Spelling television series. Here, then, are the insane kings of Spain, one of whom liked to wear sixteen pairs of gloves at one time; the psychopathic Prussian soverigns who included Frederick William and his 102-inch waist; sex-fixated French rulers such as Philip Duke D'Oreleans cavorting with more than a hundred mistresses; and, of course, the delightfully drunken and debauched Russian czars - Czar Paul, for example, who to make his soldiers goose-step without bending their legs had steel plates strapped to their knees. But whether Romanov or Windsor, Habsburg or Hanover, these extravagant lifestyles, financed as they were by the royals' badgered subjects, bred the most wonderfully offbeat and disturbingly unbelievable tales - and Karl Shaw has collected them all in this hysterically funny and compulsively readable book.
Royalty's Strangest Characters - Geoff Tibballs
Just as the monarchy has been hereditary in many countries, so insanity has been hereditaryin many monarchs. Here are 2,000 years of crazy kings and potty potentates, including such infamous characters as Caligula and Vlad the Impaler.
I remember staying up all night to read this one - it's a fast but substantial read. This one focuses more on non-European royal history, covering Chinese and Middle Eastern dynasties and African tribal leaders as well. My favorite chapter, though, is the "Foot-in-Mouth Disease" chapter on Britain's Prince Philip :P
A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories of History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes and Emperors - Michael Farquhar.
From Nero's nagging mother (whom he found especially annoying after taking her as his lover) to Catherine's stable of studs (not of the equine variety), here is a wickedly delightful look at the most scandalous royal doings you never learned about in history class.
Gleeful, naughty, sometimes perverted-like so many of the crowned heads themselves-A Treasury of Royal Scandals presents the best (the worst?) of royal misbehavior through the ages. From ancient Rome to Edwardian England, from the lavish rooms of Versailles to the dankest corners of the Bastille, the great royals of Europe have excelled at savage parenting, deadly rivalry, pathological lust, and meeting death with the utmost indignity-or just very bad luck.
If there was one book that I could recommend to you all, it's this one. I absolutely love Farquhar's writing style and think it is absolutely amazing that he can make history (even ancient history) so interesting and fun. I think my favorite expression of his is "macabre comedy of errors." What makes this book different from the others is its inclusion of Roman history and Papal history (yes, those popes...my, my!)
These are three of my favorite history books that deserved some notice on my little book blog :)
I don't know if history is your thing, but I think everyone might find a fascinating tidbit or two in these books - whether you're a history major like me, or a quantum physicist!