My Best Books of the Last Two Decades

By , December 31, 2019 9:14 am

You will notice that my list is almost entirely non-fiction. I do not apologize for this at all.

More and more students tell me they don’t read. That I find highly depressing and I want to inspire them to get their minds working! Offline.

Reading does truly take you to new worlds.

Don’t be prehistoric.  Read!



Top 10 Books of 2000-2020

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, 1999 (so I count it as within the parameters as I read the paperback version). I have repeatedly said that this is my favourite book of all time. Given to me by a beloved student, this book is deeply personal yet also historical. It made Galileo, an arrogant yet brilliant guy, one of my favourite characters in history.


Becoming by Michelle Obama, 2018. I especially enjoyed the first part of the book about her childhood in Chicago. She’s candid and thoughtful and has a sense of social history without being ‘historical’. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to her when she was First Lady but I’m very impressed with her now.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 2006. This book got me started on my journey toward veganism. Pollan, a journalist, investigates the American food system and alternatives to factory farming.


Salt by Mark Kurlansky, 2002. One of the first “commodity” books about the history of a thing. The author takes you on a trip shaped around everything related to salt, its making, different types that come from different parts of the world.


Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang, 2013. A book about a very powerful figure (yet highly limited because of being a woman) with good and bad sides. History is complicated – very rarely will we find someone to admire 100%.


Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt, 2009. Ever since I had to compare Hadrian and Trajan in a 2003 course on Roman history, I have had an interest in Hadrian (I chose him as a better ruler than Trajan). He was a complicated fellow, shall we say, who had very good intentions. But he was not nearly as well liked as his predecessor, the wildly popular Trajan.


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard, 2015. A wonderful writer who loves her subject makes for an excellent read. She has humour, ability to make the reader forget the present, and sharp analytical honesty. No wonder I am now on my third Mary Beard book. I hope to review it soon on the blog. She’s also a tv presenter of the most casual nature – I love how she travels to historical and archaeological sites in her high tops.


The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders, 2003. Maybe this too can be seen as a commodity book? It takes every room in a Victorian house and looks at the historical context, weaving in technology and gender roles and expectations. It took me forever to read this dense book but it was worth it!


The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest Symbols by Genevieve von Petzinger, 2017. An anthropologist’s attempt to make sense of the symbols on paleolithic cave walls. It’s very scientific yet also takes some liberties to try to help the reader feel what it might have been like to be part of a paleolithic community.


Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert, 2015. Probably the best researched book I have ever read. This book looks at every angle on cotton and its interwoven history with industrialization, slavery and imperialism.


Fiction (mostly books I read for English credit recovery, but I only listed them here if I enjoyed them)

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, 1996 – I admit that I was sparked to read it by the 2017 tv series. However, I really enjoyed the mix of fiction and fact (real-life letters from the time of the trial of Grace Marks for an 1843 murder north of Toronto).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2008. Much better than the movie! Sure, it’s a young adult novel, but it has sharply drawn, complicated characters.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1937. I originally read this book in grade 10 English class and I can’t say that it had any impact on me then. Reading it now, I see so much more in it – small, meaningful details in the sparsely written descriptions and keen dialogue.


Overall, what does my list say about me?

I’m a vegan historian.


Happy reading in 2020.

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