History reading list

For prospective students

Student reading in the Library

Studying in King's Library

We advise you to read the History page thoroughly. For reading and preparation advice, you will find the following sections particularly helpful:

Do also keep an eye on the subject resources, which provide more general guidance and examples for developing your academic interests.

For offer holders

Please contact Dr Mark Smith, Director of Studies in History regarding language and period paper options detailed in this section.

We are looking forward to welcoming you at King's. Meanwhile you may be wondering how best to continue your studies until you start the Cambridge course.

This is an ideal time to enlarge your general reading, both in history and in other fields. You will find various suggestions about reading in the list below. Do not be alarmed by its size. No-one will expect you to have read more than whatever may seem interesting and relevant to your initial choice of papers over the course of the year. Do, however, bear in mind the need to begin thinking about general questions of method and historical interpretation. In this connection, the selection of books suggested in the last section of this list contain items that should complement your reading around particular periods or themes.

When you come into residence you will be told in detail about the history course. In the meantime, you can get a good idea of what the study of history at Cambridge involves from the History Faculty website.

You will be able to study a language in your first year, either from scratch or building on what you may have done at either GCSE or A level (or equivalent). This is something we strongly encourage. To enable us to fix up language teaching, please could you write and let me know by 1 May 2017 which language you would like to study (French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Russian) and the level you have reached (zero, GCSE or A level). Please see my contact details and also further information.

In your first term here you will be studying the political and constitutional history of one of the five specificed periods of British history. See the list of Part I options. I should like to know by 1 May 2017 at the latest, which of the five periods in British political history you want to study as well as which language you wish to study.

I also need to know the names and numbers of the periods of British Economic and Social History and European History that you would like to take in the Lent and Easter terms. It is probably better to take the European History paper in the Lent term and the Economic and Social History paper in the Easter term. It is also worth thinking about taking parallel papers in British political and British economic and social history.

I need this information so that I can arrange supervisions for you when you arrive in October. In case you should want to do some reading in order to get an impression of a period with which you are not familiar, please find below a short list of introductory books.

If you have any queries about this or any other matter, don't hesitate to contact me:

Mark Smith, Director of Studies in History, contact details

English History: suggested introductory reading

(Select a period according to your interests)


  • S Reynolds: Kingdoms and Communities
  • J C Schmitt: The Holy Greyhound
  • J Holt: Robin Hood
  • F Barlow: The Feudal Kingdoms of England 1047-1216
  • D Douglas: The Norman Achievement
  • D Douglas: William the Conquerer:The Norman Impact on England
  • R Hilton: Bondmen Made Free
  • G Holmes: The Later Middle Ages 1272-1485
  • J R Lander: Conflict and Stability in 15th Century England
  • R W Southern: The Making of the Middle Ages
  • A Gurevich: Categories of Popular Medieval Culture
  • S Shahar: The Fourth Estate: Women in the Middle Ages

Early Modern

  • C Russell: The Causes of the English Civil War
  • P Laslett: The World we have lost
  • J H Plumb: The Growth of Political Stability in England
  • J C D Clark: English Society 1688-1832
  • K Wrightson: English Society
  • J Brewer: The Sinews of Power


  • E P Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class
  • E J Hobsbawm: Industry and Empire
  • P Clarke: The Keynesian Revolution in the Making
  • P Clarke: Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900-1990
  • M. Desai: Marx's Revenge

Classical Narrative Histories

  • Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Livy: Histories
  • Macaulay: History of England
  • Tacitus: Annals
  • Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution

NB: You may not again have the leisure and inclination to read some of these, so you should certainly do so now if possible.


  • Balzac: Lost Illusions
  • Cervantes: Don Quixote
  • Conrad: Nostromo
  • Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment;The Brothers Karamazov
  • George Eliot: Middlemarch
  • Henry James: The Bostonians
  • Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain
  • Solzhenitsyn: Cancer Ward
  • Stendhal: The Red and the Black
  • Tolstoy: Anna Karenina;War and Peace
  • Turgenev: Fathers and Sons
  • Zola: Germinal

Studies of particular societies and epochs

Particularly useful for widening your sense of the range of historical enquiry:

  • J Bossy: Christianity in the West 1400 - 1700
  • F Braudel: The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the World of Philip II
  • E Genovese: Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made
  • E Hobsdbawn: Primitive Rebels
  • J Levinson & F Schurmann: China: An Interpretative History
  • K Thomas: Religion and the Decline of Magic
  • E P Thompson: Whigs and Hunters
  • J Womack: Zapata and the Mexican Revolution
  • P Woodruff: The Men who ruled India
  • N Davis: Society and Culture in 18th Century France
  • C Ginzburg: The Cheese and the Worms
  • D MacCulloch: Reformation

Works of General Interest

Those marked with an asterisk will be particularly useful for thinking about general historical problems:

  • N Bloch: The Historian's Craft
  • R G Collingwood: The Idea of History*
  • M Foucault: Madness and Civilisation*
  • E H Gombrich: Art and Illusion
  • C Geertz: The Interpretation of Cultures*
  • J Keegan: The Face of Battle
  • G Lichtheim: Marxism
  • A D Lovejoy: The Great Chain of Being
  • A Macintyre: A Short History of Ethics
  • Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities
  • Barrington Moore: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy
  • W H Walsh: In Introduction to the Philosophy of History
  • Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism*
  • J Tully & Q Skinner: Meaning and Context*
  • J Scott: Gender and the Politics of History
  • A Hirschman: The Passions and the Interests*

Reading lists | For offer holders | Undergraduate study