TG Tips – Book And Film Recommendations

The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis
― Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

One of the best things about reading and watching – and as a result; learning – about history, is the increasingly impressive quality of the books and films available nowadays.

I never had a history lesson in my life – always avoiding it in school and university (until my Masters). It was not until I started guiding that I realised my tours would be enhanced with at least a touch of history – and I started to devour history books.



I love reading and using what I learn for my work. One thing is essential though – when looking for the quirks and funny tales that history is speed with – often so much more fascinatingly so than fiction, I want it to be well researched and real.

Over the years I have accumulated a list of great reads and ‘watches’ and as more are added I will add them here… They can all be googled or bought on Amazon etc, so I won’t place links as we all have our own sources.

Happy reading and watching.


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANCIENT ROME – Alberto Angela (book). This book is now finally available in English (original Italian of course). Incredibly well researched, it takes place on an ‘average Tuesday’ during the reign of the Emperor Trajan – with Rome at its peak.

Ancient Rome, First Hand...

Ancient Rome, First Hand…

This was a gift from a close friend and I read it in a day. Great section about gladiators for example – which after my experience training to become one, I can certainly vouch for. Great, great read.

POMPEII – Robert Harris (book). I first came across Harris with his book Fatherland – set in a post WW2 world where Nazi Germany won the war. However his novel ‘Pompeii’ in which Marcus Attilius Primus is appointed aquarius – overseer of the waterworks – of this incredible city in the days leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius of 79AD, is an amazing read.

What's That Smoke?

What’s That Smoke?

The Romans did not know what a volcano was and poor Marcus is riding up and down the volcano in an attempt to understand what is happening to the water of the city. Captivating, well researched and one of the best books I know about the site.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE – Umberto Eco (Book AND Film). This might well be my favourite history-esque book of all time and uniquely also a wonderful film adaptation of it to boot.

Great Book AND Film

Great Book AND Film

As a portrait of society and the Inquisition in 14th C Medieval Europe, I think this is simply wonderful. As monk after monk is found brutally murdered in this remote Monastery William of Baskerville (Sean Connery in the film) starts investigation. The book goes into much more theological background than the film, both are great.


VIVE LA REVOLUTION – Mark Steel (Book or Stand-up Show). Sadly and inexplicably this is becoming harder and harder to find. Mark Steel is a stand-up comedian who has written a most amazing account of the French Revolution.

Funny and Factual...

Funny and Factual…

Perhaps the single most entertaining history book I have ever read. This is great for people who know nothing about the Revolution and perhaps more so for those who think they know everything. Frog swishers unite!

THE LONGEST DAY – Cornelius Ryan (Film). Though based on a book, it’s the film it is all about. I often lead tours to Normandy and when doing so, am in the company of Jean-Pierre Benamou, one of the great WW2 experts of his generation. We both agree this is still the best film about the landings of June 44.

'Puppen? Gummi Puppen?'

‘Puppen? Gummi Puppen?’

My love for this film goes back to the days of sitting with my friend ‘Fatman’ in a little Norman village on Juno beach and watching it daily. Great great quotes and perhaps the best introduction to the fighting of the those crucial days ever made.


BEHOLD A PALE HORSE – Fred Zinnemann (Film). I think it might be fair to say many people are unfamiliar with the ‘Maquis’ and certainly the fact they continued to operate long after the ‘end’ of the Spanish Civil War. Made only a few years after these anti-Franco fighters ceased their operations this is a great introduction to a less well known period of history.

Heard of The Maquis?

Heard of The Maquis?

The cast is fabulous and just so sad that once Hollywood made these kinds of REAL films with complex characters and a true plot compared to the nonsense that is churned out today. I lead tours crossed by the Camino de Libertad in the Pyrenees and recommend this to everyone that travels the amazing lands between France and Spain.


THE ALPS – A CULTURAL HISTORY – Andrew Beattie (Book). This boom actually covers not just Switzerland, but without listening it under this heading, the Swiss might (on this list) not get that many entries. This is more of a history book proper than historic fiction. However it is so interestingly written it is nonetheless a page turner.

Otzi and Others...

Otzi and Others…

I love the Alps and hope one day to lead a tour through them highlighting to my guests exactly how the cultural history is so fascinating and how the Alps themselves are much more of a defining feature of this than the geographical borders they transcend. Anyone going to the mountains – read this.


LOOK WHO’S BACK – Timur Vermes (Book). Oh this is indeed clever stuff. Comedy is always the most powerful medium I find and there is nothing more comical than Hitler waking up in modern day Germany only to find how completely things have changed.

He's Back...

He’s Back…

Or have they? I read this book in a day. If there was any doubt over German humour then author Timur Vermes, manages to dispel this also in this funny, sometimes laugh out loud ‘what if’… take on history. I challenge you, as you approach the final pages, not to be wanting Hitler to succeed – scary stuff.


A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE WORLD – Ernst Gombrich (Book). Surely one of the best overview of history books ever written?

'If we want to avoid suffering, we must start with ourselves, because all suffering comes from our own desires'

‘If we want to avoid suffering, we must start with ourselves, because all suffering comes from our own desires’

And the author was only 26 when he did, plus I think he knocked it off in three weeks or something silly. Yet it is perfectly written, succinct and extremely likely to get anyone interested in history. Should be on everyone’s shelves. The Nazi’s banned it for being too pacifist – the author is Austrian I think. The best review appeared in the Wall Street Journal where it was written; ‘Lucky children will have this book read to them. Intelligent adults will read it for themselves’.

MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES – David Macaulay (Book). I remember coming across this during my archaeological days – probably fair to say it was not the favourite of my professors. It always amazed me just how much one can supposedly conclude from what could simply at the end of the day be random occurrences.

Ceremonial Headgear?

Ceremonial Headgear?

In this case, specifically when referred to grave sites and archaeological excavations. Here you can discover the conclusions drawn by Howard Carson when in 4022 he stumbles across a site from the old country of USA – buried in 1985. Just see what he ‘does’ with the toilet seat…

THE TEMPLARS: HISTORY and MYTH – Michael Haag (Book). I read this in a day. Great, concise and covers the fascinating story of the Templars extremely well – I certainly recommend this as a starting point.

It also works well as a narrative for anyone who knows just a little – probably has heard the myths and is somewhat familiar with the legends surrounding this ancient order of fighting monks. It sets out the facts – clearly states where these are absent and the final part of the book is great in terms of myth busting. The only person not to enjoy this will be ardent Dan Brown fans or those who perhaps want to believe in all sorts of conspiracy theories.

BEYOND BELIEF – Two Thousand Years of Bad Faith in the Catholic Church – James McDonald (book). I have been lucky enough to work with James (the author) for two years running as he leads tours through his beloved ‘Cathar Country’ of South West France. One of the world’s leading Cathar experts, this tome is simply a wonderful, in depth analysis of the development of faith in the Catholic church.


Rarely has a book provided me as many ‘eye-openers’ as this. It is pricey, but goodness, it is worth every penny (or cent). Incredible read and tremendous research – it feels like one lifetime cannot have been enough to under earth all the information contained between its covers. Enjoy.

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