Every chapter in Medieval Bodies (W.W. Norton, $29.95) could be its own book, but art historian Jack Hartnell does a fantastic job of presenting facts, analysis, and context in a way that is both detailed and succinct. This book is more than just a look back at medieval medical practices; it connects arts, stories, and religious thought of the era to paint a rich picture of how bodies and their functions were perceived at the time. Hartnell successfully demonstrates that the Middle Ages were quite far from the mistaken idea that they were purely a time of darkness, pain, and poor dental hygiene. He is a great advocate, versed in both art history and the scientific practices of the time. The volume is also richly illustrated, making it one of the most beautiful and unusual histories published this year.
After the success of The Templars, Dan Jones—my favourite British historian—is back with yet another captivating and astonishing history lesson. In The Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars
for the Holy Lands (Viking $30) he takes us back a millennium, exploring the reasons behind, and retelling the events of, the biggest conflict between Christianity and Islam in history. Jones has a way of recounting the story as if he was there, making the centuries fall away into a vivid, immediate painting of that distant era. He quickly pulls you into the narrative and you find yourself immersed in the lives of crusaders, slaves, royals, and ordinary people from both sides of the wars. Well researched and brilliantly told, informative and entertaining, Crusaders will have you turning the pages, and it will make you wonder: have we learned anything in the centuries since the events he chronicles, or are we just repeating the past, fighting the same wars for the same reasons?
In illuminating and compelling narrative histories including the acclaimed Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days, and Citizens of London, Lynne Olson has deftly explored the multi-faceted political history of the World War II-era. Her new book, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (Random House, $30), tells the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909-1989), who in 1941 became the only woman to lead a French Resistance organization. In charge of the Alliance, a vast network of some three thousand spies and secret radio operators, Fourcade was instrumental in procuring some of the war’s most valuable intelligence. The Alliance’s effectiveness drove the Nazis to hunt down its agents relentlessly, and they killed hundreds of members. They captured Fourcade twice—she escaped both times, and survived the war and occupation to become active in French politics. Olson’s dramatic account, which includes a history of the role of the Vichy government, details on just how MI6 used the intelligence the Alliance gathered, and extended the stories of Fourcade’s associates, introduces a brave and unconventional woman who deserves to be better known.