History books that influenced your stories?

KC York

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#1
I did not post this under the "history" forum because I am specifically asking what books about history have influenced the stories you are writing. By which I mean, name a book or two which made you think, "this person/war/family/situation is a great idea/influence/inspiration for what I'm working on!!!!" AND WHY. The “why” part is important to this whole post.

Bonus points if you were inspired particularly by the author’s methodology or approach to the material in a way that gave you some new insight into your own story.

I could give a list but two that directly impacted how I am approaching the major story arc for my current epic fantasy series WIP are these two:

Monuments Men by Robert Edsel: Rereading this one by listening to the audio book. Overall it’s not a well-structured book IMHO, although the story is great (and, I’m sure, that’s why it got a movie deal!). Anyway, listening to it made me change a major factor in my current epic fantasy to revolve more around collectors and hoarders, and the political impacts of that. I previously had a pretty bog-standard Arch Villain Baddy Wizard in mind as the big boss, causing mayhem for the usual blah reasons (wealth, power, immortality, etc. yawn etc.). Listening to this got me to think outside of that box. What if a monster (NOT a dragon, thankyouverymuch) decided to collect magical items not just for their power but because they are a hoarder, craving simply the ownership of them? I was especially inspired by the story of the theft and recovery of the Bruges Maddona – that something so heavy made out of rock (marble) and so treasured by society could so easily disappear and risk being lost forever. *shudders* Now…what if it were also full of powerful magic?!?!?

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan: oh wow I love this book so much! One important take-away from this book for me was that politics are shaped by natural resources, not the other way around. We are often taught to view grand politics as fights for power in the form of land, or marriages, or precious valuables (gold, silk, etc.), but “where does all their tin/oil/building supplies come from?” not so much. At least, for me, it was a major shift in perspective. It not only inspired the huge landscape of the world Dragon’s Grail is set in, but has also impacted how I am envisioning the ripples of disorder that would happen when some trading roads are out of commission, as well as how the access to a specific resource can influence politics of countries/nations thousands of miles away. Frankopan works very hard to contradict the idea of Western Europe as the center of civilization, arguing instead that the “heart of the world” is the Middle East, arguing that the countries of Western Europe are a johnny-come-lately sad-sack crew of nations, and in doing so highlights how every great (by size, history, and reputation) nation believes that they are the center of world. After reading that, my main character’s journey became less “going on adventure” and more “leaving the Heart of the World only to discover there are many, many places that are believed to be the Heart of the World by those who live there…and no one is really very wrong about that.”

Please share the non-fiction history books that have inspired your writing! I’m really looking forward to your answers. :)
 

Brian G Turner

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#2
Ooh, good topic. :)

My grand eye-opener was a massive and lush hardback - a condensed version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Saturn Books:
Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": Abridged and Illustrated: Amazon.co.uk: Edward Gibbon: 9781862220225: Books

What blew my mind were the many, many photos and images - but especially the subsections dealing with Roman daily life, such as how hairstyles and fashions changed over the course of the empire.

I never used to care much for history in school - it was always just politics. What this book did was bring to life the ordinary people of the ancient world, and that completely hooked me.
 

night_wrtr

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#3
Awesome. I have tons of these, especially for some of my short stories, but i'll narrow it down!

The short story I am currently working on was inspired by Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. If you have any interest in Native American history, this book is my primary suggestion. It is not an easy read because it is a heartbreaking book, as it details the destruction of the major tribes through the eyes of Native Americans. My favorite quote from the book was said by Kicking Bird - "I have taken the white man by the hand, thinking him a friend. But he is not a friend."

I decided to use this book as inspiration for a fantasy short story that has a very native american feel and pits the protagonist against an evil sinister race that are slowly eradicating his tribe from the land. Of course, it is fantasy, so I threw in a touch of dragon and a pinch of magic. Another influence was The Journey of Crazy Horse. Another great book, but a far more specific account of one man and his tribe. I loved this book especially because it felt like a novel, getting beneath the legend of the historical character and actually seeing and feeling what he experienced. It influenced the personality of my protagonist.

My novel comes from my love of the The Iliad and The Odyssey. Warfare, ancient social structure, bronze age everything, the gods, fantastic journeys with amazing monsters? Who couldn't get influenced from that? *Edit: I should also give an honorable mention to Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.. I think a lot of people know about Alexander the Great, but this book covers a little his father Phillip II, who I modeled a character on and also goes into the chaotic political atmosphere of that time. Without his father, would we know who Alexander was? Maybe not.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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#4
Well, if we are not talking about historical novels that have influenced me (which would be too numerous to mention), I listed several of the books that I've used for research and (especially) inspiration in these two threads:

1700s, Regency and Victorian world building

Resources for Worldbuilders 7th through 17th centuries

I confess that I am largely interested in how ordinary people lived their lives, and the small details of their day-to-day existence, which I've always felt helps me to get a little bit inside their heads (we can never wholly understand their thought processes, of course, because we can never entirely put aside the assumptions and habits that are so much a part of our own experiences) so that I can at least better understand what they would do and say in the situations that come up in my books. Environment is such a vital factor in shaping how people think, and it goes both way as people shape and react to their environments. Context is so important.

And then there can be really bizarre details that are stranger by far than anything a fantasy writer could imagine, which I am always happy to steal from history and use in my plots.
 

Steve Harrison

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#8
The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (1987) was a big influence when it came to inspiration and research for my novel. It's the story of the 1788 founding of Australia through the prism of the brutal British convict transportation policy. I found this excellent book both fascinating and annoying, the latter due to my perception of Hughes' 20th century moral judgement of a 17th & 18th century penal system very much of its time.

So, when my brother made a comment that directly inspired my novel, what interested me was how those brutal and brutalised convicts with nothing to lose might cope in the present day and Hughes' work provided a vivid picture of their world and mind-set. The novel turned out to be an adventure in the Hornblower tradition, but my exposure to The Fatal Shore helped ground the work in 'reality.'
 

Toby Frost

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#9
I’ve been influenced by a lot of trivia that I’ve read about, which tends to make its way into the writing in a very distorted form: the robot tomb guardian in End of Empires was inspired by a primitive automaton called Tippoo’s Tiger, for instance, and at least one character is based on a particularly mad explorer/soldier. I also find that you can get a lot from looking at old pictures: Breughel and Bosch spring to mind, as well as some very weird alchemical drawings, but this would depend on the era.

The big book for me, though, is called War and Society in Renaissance Europe, by J.R. Hale. It’s hardly the lightest read, but it includes a lot of behind-the-scenes details: how countries were run, how armies were assembled, equipped and paid for, the problems caused by war besides people literally killing one another, and so on.
 

The Big Peat

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#10
Okay the first book isn't about Military History. Arguably its not about History at all. I almost don't want to tell you about it in the same way McDonald's won't let you see them make Secret Sauce and I'm a big enthusiastic believer in sharing the wealth writing wise. It just contains a lot of great ideas expressed in a way I don't see often used.

The book is Comparative Mythology by Jaan Puhvel and its a round-up of the major points in all the Indo-European religions that are believed to come from a common Indo-European heritage, drawing heavily on Georges Dumezil's research (and his books are very useful too). Its just choc-a-bloc full of possible ur-mythology, tiny details you might have never known, and theorising about the meaning and structure behind the myths. Just a fantastic book for a fantasy author to have.

Back to military history, and John Keegan's The Face of Battle is a very good look at how people at major historical battles might have felt and what they might have experienced. Very solid primer in that respect (and also creeping cultural change).

Less historical, but Generation Kill is one of the more convincing looks inside a military unit I have come across and incredibly entertaining in its own right.

The Art of Warfare in the Middle Ages by Jan Verbruggen is my current bible on the subject although I dare say there's something that's come out in the last 10 or so years that has superseded it.

Also finally (for this post...) is Thomas Asbridge's The Greatest Knight, a biography of William Marshal that is very useful in examining the rise of chivalric culture.
 

thaddeus6th

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#11
Abridged version, Brian?!

O, tempora, o mores!

Illustrations do sound nice. And the full version is a mite hefty (4,000 pages of small text. If anyone's thinking of getting it, I'd suggest ensuring it has the footnotes, which are extensive. The Everyman edition includes them).

Big Peat, I've read that biography and really enjoyed it. Astounding there isn't a film about Marshal.

For myself, Sean McGlynn's By Sword and Fire, which examines medieval morality (mostly battlefield), was incredibly useful (also severe, do not buy if you're remotely squeamish). I wanted to ensure, for Kingdom Asunder, that I was pitching the brutality/mercy at the right level. This really paid off, because two beta readers (who didn't always agree) both praised a scene which focused on the moral question of what to do with men who have sworn loyalty to a man, turned their coats, but then surrendered.

Should they be forgiven (merciful and might encourage more to do likewise), or executed (a stern response and indicates their lord will not forgive betrayal)?
 

Brian G Turner

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#12
Abridged version, Brian?!
I only bought it for the pictures. :)

But I did end up buying the complete Gibbons after, which of course led into Tacitus, Suetonius, Thucydides, and all that crowd.

20 years later and I'm still voraciously reading the history of daily life.

Oops. And have already bought a couple of books recommended on this thread ...
 

KC York

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#13
I only bought it for the pictures. :)

But I did end up buying the complete Gibbons after, which of course led into Tacitus, Suetonius, Thucydides, and all that crowd.

20 years later and I'm still voraciously reading the history of daily life.

Oops. And have already bought a couple of books recommended on this thread ...
Related, this is all one reason I loved Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror -- honestly the medieval era does not hold a huge amount of interest to me, I usually prefer the "ancients" when it comes to history but so much of that book was about the as-lived lives of the people, both rich and poor. I really enjoy history books that layer that up into a complex tapestry of history. One reason I shy from military histories in general is they tend to isolate the wars/battles from the political and social context, which is great if you are mainly interested in war-college kind of studies of battles, but not what interests me!

A Distant Mirror showed me how populated even the barest bones of history can be -- and, I truly fault her for my habit of creating so MANY characters in stories. Sure, my main character might just need to buy some bread, but hey, that breadseller is an immigrant from a distant kingdom and his wife is a midwife and they have stories to tell about their journey through the high, cold mountains to safety!!!! ...er, what was I saying? heh. Thanks, Tuchman. All her fault!
 

Foxbat

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#14
Two books more than any others have influenced my writing. The first is Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and the other is Elie Wiesel's autobiograpical novel Night. Both show just what human beings are capable of, and themes influenced by them often pop up in some form in my stories.
 

thaddeus6th

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#15
You *started* with Gibbon? Thou art a lunatic :p I'd read quite a bit before attempting to crack that nut.

Incidentally, Ian Mortimer's A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and Philippe Contamine's War in the Middle Ages are both very interesting and useful too. Although it's worth remembering Contamine is French and perhaps a little biased towards the effectiveness of heavy cavalry over archers...
 

Martin Gill

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#16
Less historical, but Generation Kill is one of the more convincing looks inside a military unit I have come across and incredibly entertaining in its own right.
I'd put that on the list for anyone who wants to write modern or sci fi military for the interaction between the squaddies and the attitudes of the officers and their motivations for danger close bombardments, etc. Follow it with Nathan Fick's "One Bullet Away" which is Lt. Fick's personal account. I'd also recommend "Kaboom" (can't remember the author) for a similar view from another squad leader.
 

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