It’s that time of year… summer has (sadly) come to an end, and “back to school” season is upon us. Whether or not you’re actually headed back to school this year, we’ve compiled a reading list full of books on history, culture, and some fiction to kick your brain into gear. Check out a few of our favorites below, and view our entire “Back to School” Reading List here.
The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt
Six thousand years ago ancient Egypt was the cradle of modern civilization. Powerful pharaohs built great cities on the fertile banks of the Nile, and employed thousands of laborers to create lavish tombs and temples such as Thebes and the pyramids of the Giza plateau. The exceptional beauty and scale of ancient Egypt’s antiquities still draws millions of visitors to Egypt’s museums and monuments each year. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt is a celebration of these wonders, from Tutankhamun’s tomb to Cleopatra’s obelisks, from ancient papyrus scrolls covered with hieroglyphs to golden amulets in the form of ankhs and scarabs. The book also uncovers ancient Egyptian life – from the role of women and the form of an Egyptian wedding banquet, to the weights, measures and currencies used in everyday trading – and explores the modern archaeology taking place on the ancient sites revealing the Egyptians’ artifacts and tools.
With a combination of modern, specially commissioned color illustrations and images of Egyptian antiquities and treasures alongside a detailed history of the civilization to put it all into context, the world of the pharaohs is brought to life in vivid detail. For intrigued adults or fascinated children alike, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt provides a wealth of information about the riches of the ancient world.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
“Here lies entombed the renowned King Arthur in the island of Avalon.” — Inscription found at Glastonbury in the late 12th century
King Arthur most probably never existed and if he did we know precious little about him, and yet he is one of the most famous Britons, while Excalibur and Camelot are perhaps the world’s best known sword and castle, and Hollywood doesn’t tire of returning to the world of Arthurian romance – another major movie is to be released in 2016. So, what’s the truth behind King Arthur? How did the legends take hold? And why have they endured for so long?
Long before the Marvel Universe there was the universe of Arthurian romance and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table examines the fact and the fiction behind Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Guinevere, Galahad, among others, as well as the quest for the Holy Grail. Beginning in the 12th century, the book explores what factual basis there is for the tales and how the characters, stories and motifs developed through histories, epic poems and prose tellings. The book also charts the revived interest in Arthurian romance in the 19th century and considers how the tales still hold the popular imagination today.
Illustrated with more than 180 color and black-and-white artworks and photographs and maps, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is an expertly written account of where literature, mythology and history meet.
The Ingenious Victorians
We all know that some of the greatest inventions came from the Victorian age, the successors of which are still with us today. But this book is not entirely about those. It’s more about some of the weird and wonderful inventions, ideas and projects – some successful, others less so – that have largely been forgotten. Where well-known inventions or design concepts are included, it is from a perspective not previously appreciated, with details of the ingenious technology and thinking that led to their introduction and success.
Here you can read how Victorian innovators were responsible for: the world’s largest glass structure; an electric railway with lines under the sea and a carriage on stilts 20 feet above the waves; a monster globe that visitors could enter to see the world’s land masses, seas, mountains and valleys modeled on the interior; cameras disguised as bowler hats and many other everyday objects; the London Underground as a steam railway; safety coffins designed to prevent premature burial; unusual medical uses for electricity; the first traffic lights, which exploded a month after their erection in Westminster; and the birth and rapid rise to popularity of the cinema … as well as many other ingenious inventions.
An Infamous Mistress
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in Parisian gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage à-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history that traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.
The Disappearance of Maria Glenn
Taunton, 1817. What seems a simple newspaper report of “elopement gone wrong” turns out to be a rollercoaster story of crime, coercion, illusory triumph and fraudulent defeat. Barrister George Tuckett wakes to discover that his 16-year-old niece Maria Glenn, reputedly the heiress to West Indian sugar plantations, is missing. He discovers that she has been abducted by the Bowditches, a local farming family, who intend to force her to marry one of their sons. Maria is rescued and Tuckett starts investigating the crime himself, uncovering a complex and disturbing web of lies and impersonation.
At a drama-filled trial that is the talk of the country, four people are sentenced to prison. When a cabal of powerful people in Taunton begin a campaign to destroy Maria’s testimony, her supporters fall away and she is openly vilified. Her enemies have her arrested for perjury and, after a ramshackle trial, she is forced to flee into exile. Yet the story of conspiracy and deception does not end there, as Maria and her uncle were to suffer one final and devastating betrayal.
But was Maria telling the truth? Both sides had given utterly different versions of events during the trial – so it was clear that someone had to be lying.
Jane Austen: Love is Like a Rose
Whereas many aspects of Jane Austen’s life are well known and documented, others are shrouded in mystery. This was not as a result of any action on her part. It was principally because of the actions of her sister Cassandra, who, after Jane’s death, deliberately destroyed numerous letters sent by her to family and friends. Jane’s family and friends have alluded to the fact that, at the turn of the 17-18th century, she fell in love with a person whose identity has remained a mystery. Is it possible, after a passage of more than two centuries, and despite the fact that Cassandra destroyed letters written by Jane at the time in question, for this mystery lover to be identified? The answer is yes. Barrington Court in Somersetshire is one of the National Trust’s most prestigious properties, and evidence is produced for the very first time that this property was Jane’s inspiration for ‘Kellynch Hall’, home of Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion.
Vinny’s Wilderness opens with a divorced teacher returning to her home in south Belfast, where she discovers that her dearly loved, overgrown garden has been bulldozed and unceremoniously dumped in a skip outside her house. What follows are her vivid memories of the previous four months, when she tutored Denzil, a lively, personable young boy.
More interested in the outdoors than engaging in the learning essential to successfully pass the ‘eleven-plus’ exams required to get him into second-level education, Denzil struggles against the constraints and expectations within his rigid family home. As he begins to emerge from his shell, playing with Vinny’s daughter in their chaotic garden, Vinny and Denzil’s mother discover a shared past, and tentatively pick up their friendship after a split during their own time working towards the eleven-plus exams.
Vinny’s Wilderness is a sensitive rendering of childhood friendship, tinged with nostalgia viewed through the emotional intensity of studying for your first major exam. Reminiscent of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, it illustrates how friendship can survive adolescence and in adulthood evolve into the support needed to change your life and become your true self.
At the turn of the twentieth century, colonial wars were being waged across southern Africa. The Scattering tells the story of Tjipuka, the daughter of a Herero chief, whose life is shattered during the brutal Herero wars.
Fed up with the German occupation of their land, the Herero people had staged an uprising that led to extermination orders from a German general: kill every Herero man, and spare neither woman nor child. Having survived the massacre at Ohamakari, Tjipuka flees into the desert with her child. Her husband is presumed dead. From the desolate no-man’s-land of the desert to the death camps on Shark Island and the border of Bechuanaland, Tjipuka has to find the courage – and the will – to survive.
Meanwhile, in the Transvaal, 25-year-old Riëtte is forced into marriage with her brutish neighbor. When he is taken captive and their farm is set ablaze – part of the British scorched-earth policy – she and his daughters are herded into a concentration camp.
The Scattering follows two women’s journeys through history as they wrestle with betrayal, loyalty, hope, and the struggle to survive.