Some good books on ancient history
This is a blog prompted by (a very useful) request. I often get asked what I would recomend for a (more or less) beginner in Greek and Roman history -- so what do I say? There are some obvious choices. I reckon most volumes in the Cambridge Companion to... are pretty good, as well as the relevant volumes of the OUP "Very Short Introduction" series (whoops, including my own). Then, there are some obvious recent things, from Tom Holland through Peter Stothard to Charlotte Higgins.
But what if we go back a bit (though no further than the mid-twentith century), to those real gems some people have likely forgetten -- written by specialist with a wider audience in mind:
1) I'd start with M. I. Finley's World of Odysseus, written on the cusp of the decipherment of the ancient Minoan/Mycenaean script, Linear B, in the 1950s. Bits are a little out of date, but it is a wobderfully readable account, by a first-rate historan, of the history written into thre Homeric epics.
next .. from Rome
2) P.A. Brunt's, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic, which despite the title is actually one of the best introductions to the general history of the Repubic that there is; still going strong after 50 years.
3) K. Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, a radical book on Roman history, for those who were not classiciss by training. Aimed at modern historians and sociologists. its first chapter is still the best account of the end of the Republic that there is.
4) P. Cartledge, The Greeks: a portrait of self and others. In my view this is the best book Cartledge has ever written. It looks shrewdly at the dualities of Greek culture: slaves/free; Greek/barbarian etc.
5) G Woolf, Et tu Brute. Declare an interest here, this came out in a series I edited, but I still think it is a great account of the murder of Caesar and why it was so crucial in world history.
6) J. Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes. A brilliant way into classical Athenian culture through diet and sex.
(And if you say that there are no women authors there, NB there are in the series mentioned at the start... Helen Morales, Harriet Flower etc)
You will no doubt have more suggestions. I have left out E. R. Dodds's The Greeks and the Irrational -- in many ways my favourite, but a tough nut for an absolute beginner.