Need recommendation for historical non-fiction books (multiple subjects)

I was thinking about reading something on the following subjects:

  • William the Conqueror/ The Norman Conquest
  • Charlamagne
  • Hasen ben Sabah and Hashashins (the first assassins)
  • Roman Conquest
  • Indian (feathers not dots) Wars with the white man
  • African Tribal Wars (the modern ones from the 80’s)
  • Earlier Gulf Wars (earlier than Bush the Elder’s. Like the Iraq/Iran War)
  • The Soviet/Afghan conflict.

All over the place on these, I suppose.

The problem is, I am not good at picking out non-fiction.

All too often, I accidentally pick a book written by a nut or liar. I, however, have no idea he is a nut or liar because I am not plugged into the historical community.

I also don’t want to read an account by someone with an agenda. I really just want an accurate, balanced, and approachable account of the story. I am a moderately intelligent person, but I am not looking for works that are purely academic!

Books that focus on the military and political angles of history are right up my alley.

Can any well-read dopers help me out on these or any subjects of a similar nature. I thirst for knowledge.

Go for the originals:

Charlemagne – I don’t know if it’s still in print, but Penguin’s Two Lives of Charlemagne was a great read by contemporariers of the big C – Einhard and Notker the Stammerrer.
Roman Conquests – Caesar’s Commentaries – Penguin has published an edition of de Bello Gallico, and so have a lot of other people. There was even a Classics Illustrated version. Latin-loving geeks read it in the original Latin. Bear in mind that Caesar was writing about himself, and would tend to make himself look good, so get an annotated version that gives you the dirt, too.

Are these books “approachable” ?

Jill Lepore; “The Name Of War” Story of King Phillips War and the beginnings of American identity.
Francis Parkman; “Montcalm and Wolfe”
Barbara Tuchman: “The March of Folly”
Eginhard; “Charlemagne”

And something that is not directly about war, but is set while war is going on all around; “M: The Man who would become Carravaggio” about the counter reformation of the Roman Church in early 1600’s
Also Giles; “Big Chief Elizabeth” about the early attempts at colonization by the English.

Indian Wars. A couple of readable clasics:

Dee Brown, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

Stephen Ambrose, “Crazy Horse and Custer”

Jill Lepore’s book is wonderful. It’s very readable, but she backs it all up with solid scholarship.

A good way to screen out nuts and liars is to look for books published by university presses. A few kooks make it under the radar, but university presses have higher standards in that regard than your average publishing company.

watsonwil, I know this isn’t a time period you specified, but if you’re open to pre-Revolutionary France, then may I suggest “Twilight of the Old Order” by Claude Manceron? Fascinating, sometimes hilarious book full of fabulous tidbits about all sorts of interesting folks, including Beaumarchais, the Chevalier d’Eon, and the Marquis de Sade. Highly recommend it.


This isn’t really within the scope of what you’re looking for but Longitude by Dava Sobol (I think I’ve spelled that right) is a very readable and fascinating bio of the guy who invented a clock that kept accurate time at sea, thus allowing sailors to accurately calculate their longitude. Fascinating story and you can read the book in a weekend.