My Year as an Armchair Anglophile
After signing up for Reading Challenges yesterday, including the British History Reading Challenge, I started compiling a list of books I might read in advance of our hoped-for trip to England in the fall, using notes I’ve gathered for the last couple of years and the Book Lust series by Nancy Pearl.
In order for my husband to be as interested in this trip as I am, we’ve decided to make a theme of The Scientific Revolution, The Age of Enlightenment, and The Industrial Revolution. This covers the eras of history from the restoration of the Stuart monarchy through the Georgian era (including The Regency) into Victorian times, the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s.
So, I’m looking for suggestions of places to see in England and books to read that will help us explore those times. I have a huge list of books, so I’m hoping for help to whittle it down to the best of the best — I can maybe read 20 books on this topic this year, probably fewer since many of these are chunksters (that I can count for the Chunkster Reading Challenge). I’m also looking for additions, books I’ve missed that I shouldn’t.
Some sweeping histories (fiction and non):
London by Edward Rutherfurd
London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
Albion: The Origins of English Imagination by Peter Ackroyd
Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The Systems of the World (Baroque Cycle series) by Neal Stephenson
Newton by Peter Ackroyd
The Great Fire of London by Peter Ackroyd
The Illustrated Pepys by Samuel Pepys
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton
His invention so fertile: a life of Christopher Wren by Adrian Tinniswood
The Clockwork Universe : Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the birth of the modern world by Edward Dolnick
The Illustrated Longitude by Dava Sobel
Greenwich Time and the Longitude by Derek Howse
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
Empire of the Seas : how the navy forged the modern world by Brian Lavery
Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
London Journal by James Boswell
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life by Janet Todd
adding The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court At Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley as recommended by Karen Irving of After the Kids Leave and because it’s on Becky’s list for this challenge at Becky’s Book Reviews.
What Happens in London by Julia Quinn (and other Regency Romances — who is your favorite author?)
London Under by Peter Ackroyd
Dickens by Peter Ackroyd
Dickens’s London by Peter Clark
I think Bletchley Park might be a fitting postscript to our exploration of early technology and would give me an excuse to read these two books:
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
For travel planning and dreaming, travel memoirs are always helpful, so these are on the list:
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth
England As You Like It by Susan Allen Toth
Which of these books have you read and enjoyed? What books are you reminded of that should be added to this list?
A great list of books. I think I’ve read the book on Mary Wollstonecraft and really liked the book. She lived an unconventional life for her era.
Peter Ackroyd has written many books on Great Britain. I have a book in my TBR pile which is his newest book: Tudors: The History of England From Henry VIII to Elizabeth I.
Sorry but I’ve only read the book about Mary Wollstonecraft.
Thanks! Good to know the Wollstonecraft biography is a winner!
After reading Paris by Edward Rutherfurd last year, I am anxious to read London, which has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. Should you choose to read that one, let us know and perhaps we can schedule a virtual read-along(?)
I have taken two groups of students to London in the past and will be taking another group in 2015. It is a fabulous adventure – and a day trip to Oxford is highly recommended!
Thanks! I hadn’t realized that Oxford was close enough to London to make it a day trip. I always imagine places in Europe as farther apart than they are. Have you heard the joke that in Europe 500 miles is a long distance and in the United States 500 years is a long time? Did you go to Oxford on the train?
Yes — let’s do a group read of London by Edward Rutherfurd. Maybe in February?
If you time it right and get to Oxford early enough, you might also want to consider taking a bus from Oxford to Blenheim Palace – the grounds and the house are both gorgeous, and it’s Winston Churchill’s birthplace.
What a great year of reading you have ahead of you- and hopefully a great trip too…. I haven’t read any of your titles, but I have read one of Peter Ackroyd’s other books, it was great. You don’t have any Austen I notice, if you go to Bath you’d have to include something by or about her. I look forward to seeing what you choose.
You’ve got a great list of books!
Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors is superb. Georgette Heyerdahl is the all-time queen of Regency romance.
Thank you for posting this list, there are many I would like read being am Armchair Anglophile myself!
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This is such an exhaustive list, and I applaud you on the way you’ve decided to focus on certain arenas for your trip. Marvelous. I never thought of traveling in that manner. Keep us posted!
I would definitely recommend a day or two in York – it’s such a delightful medieval city (even though this is a bit past your timeline). I’ve always leaned more towards the Tudors and Plantagenets so I’m not sure how many recommendations I can provide on the book front. However, I notice you have London by Rutherford up there. He also has one called Sarum which is about the area around Stonehenge and Salisbury, and I took a one day bus trip from London which involved stops at Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedrale – anyway if you are interested in any of those sites, that novel might not be a bad read, either. I didn’t want to rent a car so the bus trip was a convenient way for me to hit all three of those, even if I don’t always enjoy being on someone else’s timeline. I’m also not sure how cost efficient those types of day trips/tours are for more than one traveler.
Thanks for the great suggestions! I’ve read Sarum, so I definitely would enjoy that bus trip.
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What a great list. I had to “pin” it.
I love reading books before big trips too to learn about where I’m going especially when you’ve got a theme for your trip. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you visit the places when you do that as I recently did on a trip to Normandy with a WWII theme (of course!). I felt much more focused on the sites I was visiting and it turned out to be a wonderful trip, as I’m sure your trip to England will be.
From your list I’ve read (well listened to) ‘Notes From a Small Island’ and all I can say is Bill Bryson made me want to visit every single one of those towns and cities he mentioned in it. He made them all seem like the ultimate tourist destination. I’m looking forward to reading some more of his books and some of the ones you’ve listed in this post.
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