Monday, November 27, 2006


Biographies have always been a favorite of mine. I learn a lot from them, but there's still enough of a story to keep it interesting. Here are a few good biographies on ancient and medieval figures: two men and seven women.

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium, by Paolo Cesaretti
*** (moderate)
$27.50 at ISBN: 0865652376
She wasn't born an empress: she was the youngest of three daughters of an animal tamer who d
ied when she was young. She and her sisters had to work as actresses, and probably as prostitutes to survive, a reputation which would follow her for decades. She got her "big break" when she met a Carthaginian millionaire named Hecebolus, who hired her as a courtesan and brought her to Carthage (on the coast of modern Algeria). It didn't pan out, and he fired her. So stranded on the African coast with no money, she didn't know anyone, and she didn't speak their language; from this unlikely situation arose one of the greatest female rulers of all time.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir
$13.50 at ISBN: 0802136834
*** (moderate)
Early in his reign, H
enry was given honors by the Pope as defender of the Catholic Church. By the end, he left the church fragmented forever. But this fun to read work barely concerns Henry it all, focusing almost entirely on the women in his life, two of whom he beheaded. Katherine of Aragon, his first, has a story as thrilling as Theodora's: sent to England from Spain to marry, her first husband dies and leaves her in poverty. Her second marriage, to Henry, seems like happily-ever-after, until he meets Anne Boelyn and decides that "til death do us part" doesn't need to apply to royalty. Six fascinating ladies who all handle the same man in different ways. Anne of Cleves is my favorite: she takes the money and runs. You go, girl!
Nero, by Richard Holland
$11.99 at ISBN: 075092876X
** (pretty easy)
One of the most maligned politicians in history, depicted as a megalomaniac and a brutal tyrant. But how true are these images? He became emperor of Rome when he was sixteen. At first, everything was terrific while he let his chief advisors Burrus and Seneca run the government and pursued a life of leisure. But when Burrus died and Seneca retired, an indulged madman finds himself in control. The man who killed his wife, his mother, and w
ho began the persecution of the Christians comes to light in a story that reads as easily as a novel.
Charlemagne, by Derek Wilson
$26.00 at ISBN: 0385516703
**** (pretty challenging)
Was he an illiterate warlord, or an unappreciated genius? The leader who unified France, creating the largest empire in Europe since the fall of Rome, but who never learned to write and whose nation would prove as fleeting as it was impressive. Partly a biography and partly an overview of life in the ninth century, this is a fascinating and thorough look at one of the towering figures of the middle ages, and it manages to hit its target in under 300 pages.

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