Three fantastic books I've just read are -
Lady of the Butterflies, by Fiona Mountain. Random House 1999
This is an account of a young girl who grows to womanhood on an estate in the 16th century marshlands of Somerset, England. It sweeps through British history immediately after the English Civil War and shows how a young lady with a passion for the natural world around her is treated differently, sometimes harshly, by a society that does not like and resists change. The tensions between Puritanism, Anglicanism and Catholicism are evident as the young lady frees herself from the Puritanical upbringing she was subjected to.
The Byerly Turk: The True Story of the First Thoroughbred. By Jeremy James. Wakefield Press 2005.
A truly rivetting read. This story traces the story of a horse that became known as the Byerly Turk, one of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred horse breed. In tracing the story of the Byerly Turk, with him first appearing in a diamond and ruby studded harness amongst the ranks of the Ottoman sipahi as a charger at the Siege of Vienna in 1683, the reader is taken for a journey through Europe as Muslim and Christian empires clash. Taken as a prize at the seige of Buda, the horse enters the stables of England's King James II. He is purchased by captain Robert Byerly who enters him into the King's Plate at Downroyal where a win cements the Byerly Turk as a horse of rare stature. Immediately after his win, the Byerly Turk is next a charger in the army of King William of orange as he sets out to conquor Ireland. He faces sabre and cannon at the Battle of The Boyne. After two years of bitter fighting in ireland, where it was said the horses reflexes were so quick he could dodge cannon balls, his owner, now a Major, retires the Turk to stud at Goldsborough Hall, in Yorkshire, where he died at the age of 25 in 1703. The rest, as they say, is history...
Read more here.
Justinian's Flea, by William Rosen.Random House 2006.
A fascinating account of the fall of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. William Rosen's thesis is that the arrival of the Plague was the final undoing of both the Roman and Byazantine Empires as well as the great Empire of Persia. When Persia and Constantinople fell, the way was open for the great conquests of Mahammad and his armies as they marched out of the Arabian Peninsula. The author gives a fascinating account of the inner workings of the Byzantines under Justininan I, his efforts in trying to re-unite Western and Eastern Empires and the constant battle to ward off advances from the enemies to the east. The reader is there when the Hagia Sophia is built, when the Justiniac Code, inherited by modern western nations, is created and when the great General Bellisarius takes the Byzantine armies to save Rome from the Barbarians and then back to Constantinople to ward off the Persians and the eastern hordes. It is a fascinating account of how the Eastern and Western Roman Empires divided and eventually crumpled under the onslaught of human and bacterial enemies. Rosen writes that the decimation caused by the Plague remade the topography of Europe and the Mediterranean, leaving behind 'tidal pools', distinctive regions in which protonations like the Franks, Lombards, Saxons, Slavs and Goths would coalesce and combine to form polities called France, Spain and England.
More on the official web site.