Who's your favourite popular historian?

wilfredrostron says in the Starkey thread "Like people on ROF would acknowledge a good historian anyway."

I'll start...

Helen Castor

Suzannah Lipscomb

Dan Jones

Jill Lepore is my current favorite. Her survey of US history is surprisingly readable, and her book on Wonder Woman is fascinating.


Good Lord, is Helen Castor famous? I knew her at Cambridge.

I can't imagine Castor as a popular historian, too dry.

I like Bettany Hughes.


K8 Williams chatted me up on the Tube once, before she was properly famous.

John Julius Norwich

Bettany Hughes

William Dalrymple


Oh, if we're talking all-timers then yes of course Lord Norwich. Legend.

Dan Snow

Lucy Worsley

Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Big Bernie Cornwell

Starkey's good. He can be a bit of a pugilist, but that's his point.

Clearly Alice Roberts although she’s not strictly a historian.

Bettany Hughes on BBC yesterday explained Socrates through the medium of leaning forward while wearing a loose top.  As popular for the masses historians go, she was quite compelling.

Certainly more so than AJP Taylor.

Diarmaid MacCullock for his brilliant Thomas Cromwell biography. Or Ian Kershaw for his Hilter biography which is an excellent analysis of evil. 

Julius Norwich defo for everything

Steven Runciman for his history of the crusades and Sicilian Vespers, absolute ledge

Diarmaid Mac for his History of Christianity

CV Wedgewood for her 30 Year War

Max Hastings for his Korean War, best amongst his many others (but I'm yet to read a few, including his Vietnam war)

But absolute stand-out winner:

Martin Middlebrook for everything, in particular The Argentine Fight for the Falklands, the battle for Hamburg, The First Day on the Somme, The Kaisers Battle, Convoy, Berlin Raids, The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission

If I could be a historian, I would be Martin M for his attention to critically important detail, Steve R for his mastery and understanding of humans, and Julius N for picking out the true narrative across centuries.        


Sorry, should have added Robert k Massie, Dreadnaught: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the First Worlds War.  Now there's a book that explained how not to fall into the Thcydides Trap, absolutely genius.

AJP Taylor has a shout, but his Origins of the Second World War is a disgrace.  He wrote it far too early before the source material from the Reich was available, and when the facts did come out anddisproved all his premises he doubled down on utter bullshit to become a Hitler apologist.

Beevor for his History of the Spanish Civil War (still the best popular book on the conflict), but fails for all his other overly populist stuff thereafter     

Caesar, his Conquest of Gaul, actually quite a readable author and his explanations of events are easy to follow centuries later. Perhaps though its more autobiography than history so shouldn't count.

Nobody giving Tom Holland a mention then?


I sat at a wedding next to Susannah Lipscomb About 10 years ago and fell in love. Totally gorgeous eyes, medieval hair and a rather naughty laugh. Turns out we were born in the same road (in Barnes, London) but 10 years apart. My wife pretty much bollocked me all the way home and for a few days more then has reprised the bollocking again each time she has been on TV since. 

I think AJP grudgingly admired hitler for the sheer force of his personality as you might Ghengis Khan.  I don’t think it is fair to say he was an apologist I don’t think he sought to justify his actions

Sandbrook is a great answer.  Daily Mail friendly but not an affront to historiography.  That seems a pretty good definition of popular historian.


he genuinely is good. sometimes a little transparently controvertialist. good tho. he can write, and he likes to look at the minutae of life. the way he told the eighties as the decade not so much of thatcher as of delia smith was inspired.

His books are genuinely very good.  Certainly on the 70s his “all the politicians were dubious” is more convincing than the reappraisals.  I have a book of essays which aim to prove that the Heath administration was something other than poor.  It is unconvincing.

The only thing you could say in Heath’s favour is that he was a policy guy, achieved his lifelong policy goal 

David Kynaston is at the serious end of popular history but his series on postwar Britain are brilliant - wish he’d write more of it

Hasn’t Kynsaton mined his era - interesting and an enjoyable read  but it’s history by dates rather by analysis.  Unlike Hennessy he does his own research though.

Only two historians have ever won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Theodor Mommsen and Winston Churchill.  And both are worth reading for their style, rather than their history (Mommsen had such a mancrush for Caesar that his History of Rome stops in 44BC). 


One of the best I've read is Billy Ruffian by David Cordingly.  Didn't think that a history of the early 19th century Navy would be that gripping, but it was a total page-turner. 

Sumption on the Hundred Years War is superb. 

John Adamson The Noble Revolt about the lead up to the Civil War equally good though represents a certain view. 


Not sure calling Kynaston 'history by dates' is entirely fair. His 4 volume history of the City of London has plenty of colour.

Plus one thumbs up for Sumption's Hundred Years War and MacCulloch's Thomas Cromwell.


Would have though David Irving was more up your strasse tbh

Goose, I've been meaning to read Mitter's book on China's war with Japan during WWII. I take it you would recommend?

The easiest casual read from ancient history is Suetonius.  As secretary to Hadrian, he had access to the Imperial records.  Until he was sacked for spilling too many secrets.