Arts & Culture

15 inspiring books to learn about British history

If you are planning a visit to the UK and still deciding on the tours you’ll take during your journey it can be a good idea to better understand Britain’s history and culture. To sharpen your knowledge regarding the locals and the many places you’ll visit, there are extremely interesting books that can help you fully appreciate the culture of Britain, wherever you’re headed.

Home of Shakespeare, England has always been inspiring writers, so whether you’re looking to read famous authors, learn more about the Kingdom, the green countryside or the Brits, here are a few inspiring books that we selected to give you ideas before you plan your trip to the UK.

The English and Their History – Robert Tombs

If you want to learn more about England, this book, a comprehensive history of England written by Robert Tombs takes you through time to discover what being English means. The author gives the history of the English people and explains how the stories they have told about themselves have shaped them throughout the centuries.

The Queen: Elizabeth II and the Monarchy – Ben Pimlott

As you imagine, you’ll learn a lot about the Royal Family by wandering around the streets of London or if you make your way to Windsor Castle. But this biography will help you understand the history of the British monarchy with The Queen at its centre. Author Ben Pimlott examines the influences that formed her, and the ideas she represents whether social, political or psychological – he also looks at the changing role of Monarchy in the British Constitution and its impact on Britain’s past, present and future public life.

England Under the Tudors – G. R. Elton

Published for the first time in 1955, this book was written by G.R. Elton, one of the most brilliant historians of the 20th century and has taught many students about the difficult history of Tudor England. This book dives into the Tudor period with the historical changes in religion, monarchy, government and arts and is an essential source of information from the start of Henry VII’s reign to the death of Elizabeth I.

The Diana Chronicles – Tina Brown

This is a portrait of Princess Diana written by Tina Brown. This read offers a fresh perspective on the mysterious woman. Family was very important to the Princess and author Tina Brown looks at the various women in her life, zooming on the relationships with her mother, grandmother, hated stepmother, competitive sisters, in-laws, and Camilla Parker-Bowles. 

William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life – S. Schoenbaum

This Schoenbaum biopic covers 400 years of Shakespeare scholarship and provides resources of the world’s greatest Shakespeare collections accessible to all readers. The book is a refined version of the original text and fifty of the original documents were reproduced in a smaller format. Additionally, the author takes us through a murder believed to have occurred in New Place, the house that Shakespeare bought in Stratford in 1597. He also provides a new postscript which includes newly-compiled information from recent research on Shakespeare.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

English novelist and poet, Emily Brontë is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, a classic of English literature, and a must-read when it comes to English history. The story begins in a snowstorm, when Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: the intense passion between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, her betrayal of him and the bitter vengeance he now wreaks on the innocent heirs of the past.

The Book Lover’s Bucket List: A Tour of Great British Literature – Caroline Taggart, Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Lisowiec 

This is the ideal guide for any book and Britain lover. Author Caroline Taggart takes readers to bookish locations all across the UK, explaining their connection to British literature and how you can visit them. Discover authors’ homes and birthplaces like Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon or Jane Austen’s Chawton house and walk in their footsteps as these locations served as an inspiration to write.

Notes From a Small Island – Bill Bryson

This is the story of American writer Bill Bryson who spent over 20 years in North Yorkshire before moving back to the US for a few years. He then decided to take one last trip around Britain and wrote anecdotes about his experiences and love for the country. He compiled funny observations of the nation and the people who live there, and you won’t want to put this book down.

On Roads: A Hidden History – Joe Moran

The UK is a wonderful place to take a road trip, and in this book, British historian Joe Moran shares hidden stories about what roads have meant to the people who have driven them – such as the day trips organised to see the construction of the M1 and the 2.5m Mills and Boons used to build the M6 Toll Road. Blending travel writing, history and social observation, he explores how Britain’s roads started in unexpected places. 

White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Written by Zadie Smith, White Teeth is a gripping and funny novel that explores dealing with friendship, love, and war. Written by Zadie Smith, White Teeth is a gripping and funny novel that explores dealing with friendship, love, and war. The author combines disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing life with humour.

The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame, Gillian Avery, Ron Keith

This is probably the UK’s favourite children’s bedtime story. Written by English novelist Kenneth Grahame and first published in 1908, this classic tale follows the adventures of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger in the English countryside and wildlife. This enchanting book has fascinated children of all ages and should entice your kids to discover England. 

Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics: A Sideways Look at Twentieth-Century London – Rob Baker

Entertaining, this society book explores fascinating stories from London in the 20th century – from the return to South London of local hero Charlie Chaplin to the Miss World competition in 1970 protests. Rob Baker covers the events and personalities that reflect the glamorous, scandalous, political and subversive place that London was and is today. 

Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day – Eric Hobsbawm

Compiled by Eric Hobsbawm, this read describes Britain’s rise as the world’s first industrial world power, its decline from the temporary dominance of the pioneer, its relationship with underdeveloped countries and the effects of all these on the British people.

London Calling: A Countercultural History of London since 1945 – Barry Miles

London has always boasted artists, writers, musicians and fashion designers. Written by Barry Miles, this book explores the counter-culture in the decades following the Second World War – from jazz bars, the 1960s and the Summer of Love to the rise of punk and the early days of the YBAs.

The True History of Chocolate – Sophie and Michael D. Coe

If you are a chocolate lover and plan to come to England, this book will help you understand the nation’s relationship with chocolate. The authors will take you 3,000 years ago in the Mexican jungles and explain the aspects of archaeology, botany and socio-economics. First used as a currency by the Aztecs, in the 19th century, chocolate became food for the masses – until it became a luxury item today. 

Once you get a better idea of the British culture with either of these books, our escapades in and around London should be the perfect addition to your enriching journey in the UK. Check out our day tours from London, where our tour guides will take you and share some incredible secrets.