A Case for Historical Non-Fiction

You all know we LOVE books here at The Cool Table . We re-read books together for Hangoutlander, speak often of what we are reading and we even have our own book challenge for 2020. We love books here & there – we love books everywhere! However, there is one book genre I feel could use a little more love: Historical Non-Fiction. Specifically the books of Ross King.

Hear Me Out…

We all love to read/watch the Outlander series, The Hobbit and all things Tolkien, Game of Thrones and The Crown, right? I know we love the intrigue and drama that the fiction element brings. But, what if I told you the intrigue and drama already exist? All of it, IRL.

No, I’m not trying to take you back to school, just trying to broaden your horizons a bit.

I’m Making a Case for Historical Non-Fiction.

Brunelleschi’s Dome

I was first really introduced to GOOD, historical non-fiction in my intro to architectural history class. It was recommended reading, which meant required if you wanted to pass. The author, Ross King had a way of weaving words and written accounts from the time in a way that didn’t seem sterile or academic. I felt like I was reading a novel. There was tragedy, triumph and laughter. Most of all there was a relatability to his text.

I am not, nor will I ever be, Fillipo Brunelleschi, renaissance genius, but somehow King kept me engaged almost as a voyeur. There I was there, in fifteenth century Florence during the building of the dome for the Duomo. I was behind the scenes of the politics of jury selections common in the day for art & architecture. SO MUCH DRAMA. I was there, laughing when Brunelleschi lost his bed in a flood, lost marble in the Arno River and evolved into an architectural genius the likes of which had not been seen since Ancient Rome. So, it was like an episode of Friends.


Leonardo and the Last Supper

While visiting Milan, I was able to visit Leonardo DiVinci’s The Last Supper.  In the gift shop, I saw this book and IMMEDIATELY knew I had to read it. We all have a basic understanding of Leonardo DiVinci. He, like Brunelleschi, was a Renaissance genius, artist, engineer and inventor. The time he spent in Milan, however is lesser-known.

This book goes into the court of Ludovico Sforza and how DiVinci came to Milan to make weapons of war for Sforza, but painted the famed fresco for him instead. Once again, King drew me in with family dysfunction likened to that of a soap opera. The bat-shit crazy real stories will have you going “WUT?” Like this description of a Sforza cousin: “Giovanni Maria Visconti, Fillips Maria’s older brother, trained his hounds to hunt people and eat their flesh.”. Oh, hay! Ramsay Bolton. Again, the insanity and hilarity of it all often had me forgetting I was reading a book of historical fact and not a novel.


The Last Judgement of Paris

I listened to this book on Audible.  I thoroughly loved Tristan Layton‘s astute and VERY British telling of the debauchery of 19th century Paris. From the Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874, the rise and fall of Napoleon III and the changing of the guard in the Paris art scene. This book is FULL of bourgeoisie, bohemians and vagabonds. It’s the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll of the time.

Through eyes of the artists themselves, mainly Jean Louis Ernest Meissioner and Édouard Manet and their friends, wives, parents, courtesans and lovers, a beautifully woven depiction of the period is made. Specifically, unique, cheeky moments are peppered throughout. Although this is the most recent King book I’ve “read”, I’m ready to journey through his other iterations of history.


If you’re clever, you can knock-off SEVEN books from our 2020 Book Challenge!

Find more Ross King books here.

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