Who are your favorite historians?

I’ve been here three weeks and I’ve never started a thread before, so here goes. I got the idea for this when I and Maeglin were debating the merits of the Durants on another thread.

Anybody who’s published a history book with an actual publishing company, counts as an historian for purposes of this thread.

Some of my faves, in no particular order:

Ian Kershaw. The ‘Hitler Myth’ is a very incisive study of how Nazi propaganda worked, especially because it carefully compares the myths the Nazis were trying to promote with the myths they actually and sometimes unintentionally promoted. Kershaw’s biography of Hitler before WWII isn’t as good, because Kershaw tends to make arguments contrary to his own evidence, but it’s still a massively well-researched book.

Paul Murray Kendall. Just for his biography of Richard III. One of the best-balanced portraits of a man and his time that I’ve encountered.

Will and Ariel Durant. I’ve certainly read more by these two than by any other historian. They have a warm sense of humor, a compassionate outlook, and a sense that history is not all politics, wars and killing.

Martin Blumenson. For his work on The Patton Papers and the Encyclopedia of World War II. His selections from Patton’s memoirs show a true insight into what that twisted genius was like.

Although not primarily a historian, I found Isaac Asimov’s “Guide to the Bible” to be very informative.

I also liked Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

James Burke, writer of The Day The Universe Changed, connections, The Pinball Effect and the Axemakers Gift. All very good books. He also does a show of the Day the Universe Changed and Connections.

I’ve read a number of history books but none have been as intersting as his. Though I do like M. O’Kelly (sp?) Early Ireland as well.

• Stanley Loomis. His trilogy on the French Revolution is the best stuff I’ve ever read on the subject. He only wrote one other book—wonder what happened?

• Claire Tomalin. She’s written wonderful bios of Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield, Mrs. Jordan (though I didn’t care for her book on Mary Wollstonecraft).

• Suetonius. His unexpurgated “Twelve Caesars?” Woo-hoo!

• Kevin Brownlow. Both his books and documentaries on silent film are priceless.

Contemporary historians in no particular order.

Eleanor Searle - Her Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power is downright awe-inspiring. With good-humored impunity she trashes fifty years of prevailing Norman scholarship and presents a fascinating picture of the rise of one of the most effective communities in the Middle Ages.

Caroline Bynum - How could I not mention my own teacher. Holy Feast, Holy Fast and Jesus as Mother are both magnificent. Her erudition knows no bounds. Her books, in the words of the medieval intellectual historian John Murdoch, are like sunsets and sex: you just have to experience them. Of course, he was talking about Scholasticism. The analogy works nevertheless.

Roger Bagnall - Yes, another of my teachers. Anything he writes on Roman Egypt is authoritative.

Although I could easily pick another medievalist, I’m going to have to go with Ronald Syme. I don’t think anyone else in the 20th century had such a profound and sensitive understanding of Tacitus.

Ancient Historians in no particular order.

Tacitus - He needs no introduction.

William of Malmesbury - Witty, insightful monastic historian of the 12th century. A real pleasure to read.

Orderic Vitalis - Same with Orderic, though the latter’s understanding of human psychology is virtually unparalleled in medieval history.

Polybios - Tough, technical, and nitty-gritty. Polybios wasn’t trying to impress people with his style, but he was trying to explain the rise of the Roman empire from complete obscurity. He is sharp, cynical, and has a real eye for human weakness.


Charles Beard … I’m not saying he’s the best historian, but he is my favorite because it was while reading “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution” that I realized (a) history wasn’t just a bunch of names and dates, and (b) that it was possible to read two historians with two opposing views of a particular topic, and still come away with something valuable from each.

Paul Johnson-His “MODERN TIMES” is refreshingly free of the pseudo-scientific analysis so common in the Marxist/anti-American historians that are currently so popular. he is the first modern historian who objective, as opposed to those who are pushing the marxist dialectic.

Page Smith - his “People’s History of the United States” made American history so accessible and so readable that I just began investing in the Easton Press editions of it. 16 volumes, but definately worth it.


Barbara Tuchman and Stephen Ambrose, whose work seems to be much more readable than that of many historians.

Howard Zinn

Al Thorn.

He was my high school History and Philosophy teacher and I can wholeheartedly say that he is the best man I have ever known.
He and History had a profound, mystical understanding.

I forgot to add that he never published a book, but I didn’t have the mettle to resist posting about him.
I loved him as much as you can love anyone you never see outside of classes. And I’m not sure how I can convey this fully, but he didn’t just teach us history, he showed us how to use history as a window into our own souls. I think that is more precious than anything I could have gleaned from a book.

I definitely agree with Paul Murray Kendall (who wrote the first biography of Richard III I ever bought).

I also second Tacitus, Suetonius and Issac Asimov (his history of the world was well written and entertaining).

Others not yet mentioned: Roman Historians Michael Grant and Ivar Lissner.

Also Thomas Costain, whose fine series of books on English History (four books, covering William the Conqueror through Richard III) got me hooked on my favorite historical period. I strongly recommend “The Last Plantagenets” for anyone is interested in The Wars of the Roses.

Anyone here ever hear of Richard B. Bernstein?

Howard Zinn for American history – his People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present; and Declarations of Independence are great books and should be required reading.

For ancient history, Tacitus for his facts, Livy for his readability (despite the myths and fictions). Suetonius is good for the latter years of the Republic.

I second the Durants.

Did I miss something? Or can it be you mention Tacitus and not Herodotus, the father of history?

16th-century British Reformation historians (yes, writing a doctoral dissertation does really narrow your scope).

Diarmaid MacCulloch–almost frightening in his intelligence, wrote the definitive biography of Thomas Cranmer. The authority on 16th-century English religious thought.

Christopher Haigh–the English Reformation “skeptic,” who argues that the Reformation was an unpopular movement. Broke the orthodoxy that the English Reformation was a “reformation from below” (A.G. Dickens)

Maria Dowling–wrote only one book, Humanism during the Reign of Henry VIII, but it’s a model of how to make a difficult subject easily understood.

Ronald Hutton–a social historian whose The Fall of Merry England tells you more about how people lived in 16th-century England than any dozen other books.

Keith Thomas–wrote the monumental Religion and the Decline of Magic, which does for popular religious thought what Hutton does for social history.

Felicity Heal–my supervisor. Hi, Dr. Heal!

Clive Holmes–Dr. Heal’s husband, and perhaps the funniest historian around.

John Guy–wrote the best overview of 16th-century English history, Tudor England. Also an interesting lecturer.

Daniel Beaver–my supervisor at Penn State. Another historian of the theology of the Reformation. A very sharp thinker.

Christopher Marsh–has written excellent studies of unorthodox religious groups of the late 16th-century. One to watch out for during the coming years.

Alec Ryrie–the least well-known of this group because he was a fellow student who only graduated last year. A sharp thinker on politics and religion during the reign of Henry VIII, he is now lecturing at Warwick University. Has written some very good articles.

J. F. Mozley–the late historian who wrote Coverdale and His Bibles, without which I probably would not have chosen my dissertation subject.

There are more where those came from, which probably tells you (1) the English Reformation is a popular subject, and (2) it’s an over-subscribed subject. Hence my working as a database administrator :frowning: (In my defence, two of my other fellow students who could have been on this list have gone into academic administration. It’s not an awesomely profitable subject, history.)

*Duke, did you ever run across Jasper Ridley? When I was writing my thesis on Calvinist economic doctrine, I read what seemed a pretty good biography of John Knox by him.

When did Christopher Haigh write? I remember the Durants considered the Reformation as imposed from the top down in England, and that the English as a whole remained largely Catholic in thought and sympathy at least until the Gunpowder Plot. Were they adopting Haigh’s ideas here?


“Predatory kinship”; it’d be hard to think of a more accurate term for Plantagenet family relations! Maybe I’ll have a chance to read that one someday.