Great Histories/Biographies Written Before ~1930

I’m currently reading William H. Prescott’s outstanding History of the Conquest of Mexico. The book was written in 1843, which made me realize that - excerpts from Tacitus and Herodotus notwithstanding - I’ve almost never read histories or biographies that were written more than fifty or sixty years ago.

I’m not sure why: I read fiction from all different eras. Is this true for anyone else? Does older non-fiction go out of style because new research is thought to supplant it? That must be part of the story, but it’s not the best excuse: I started at least two modern books about the conquistadors but gave up due to poor writing. Prescott’s writing, on the other hand, is excellent, and I’ll gladly take his pacing and prose over a more up-to-date author’s.

So what other classic works of history/biography should I be aware of? (I’m arbitrarily picking pre-1930 as the definition of “classic”.) Gibbon I know about, but I’m not quite ready to tackle the complete “Decline and Fall”. Other suggestions?

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

The Early History of Rome

There’s a dude named Boswell. Wrote a book about a dude named Johnson. Might be worth checking out.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay. Published in 1841 and still a great read.

What’s with all the current events in this thread? Herodotus: The History. Written before 1930, still a great read. If you liked (or hated) 300, read the original!

The Baburnama is kind of interesting. It often reads like a travelogue, but offers a bit of insight into the interests of a well educated Central Asian warlord in the early 16th century.

Herodotus is a hack. :wink: If you want ancient history done right, read Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.

Theodore Mommsen’s “The History of Rome”

Which it in fact is (considering his life). Though I perfer his great grand sons’seffort. On the other hand, I am surprised the US Grant’s famous
memoirs have not been mentioned.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon is regarded as the all time classic of history-writing, to the extent that I’m very surprised it’s taken 10 posts for anyone to mention it.

I mentioned it in the last line of the OP! :slight_smile:

Thanks for all the good suggestions so far.

Herodotus makes for some very entertaining reading.

So you did, and I missed it. My apologies.

If you really want interesting history, with all the scandalous gossip about the rulers, read Procpius’ Secret History or Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars.
Gof knows there are plenty of classic histories from before 1930. My collection of classics (mainly Penguin Classics) includes Two Lives of Charlemagne, Tacitus, Chronicles of the Crusades, Bede’s History of England, Bernal Diaz’ Conquest of New Spain (one of Prescott;s sources), and a host of others besides the aforementioned Herodotus, Thucydidies, and Gibbon.
For biographies, of course, there’s Plutarch