These books make the perfect gifts for the history and biography lovers in your life—share a sense of adventure and wonder with these fascinating reads.

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Silk Roads: Peoples, Cultures, Landscapes by Susan Whitfield

“It is a joy to wander through almost 500 pages of stunning photographs illustrating the landscapes, people and cultures of the Silk Road.” —British Museum Magazine

Give the gift of exploration (without leaving the house), with traveller and curator Susan Whitfield’s Silk Roads.

Centered around the dramatic landscapes of the Silk Roads, this beautiful volume honors the great diversity of medieval Afro-Eurasian cultures. Each section—from steppe to desert to ocean—includes maps, a historical and archaeological overview and thematic essays by leading scholars worldwide, as well as sidebars showcasing objects that exemplify the art, archaeology and architecture of the Silk Roads.

King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne by Janet L. Nelson

King and Emperor takes on the compelling suspense of good detective work as well as good history.”—The Wall Street Journal

Charles I, often known as Charlemagne, is one of the most extraordinary figures ever to rule an empire, and often portrayed as a man of many parts — a warlord and conqueror, a judge who promised “for each their law and justice,” a defender of the Latin Church, a man of flesh and blood.

But how much do we really know about the personality and the inner motives of this historical figure?

Janet L. Nelson, Professor Emerita of Medieval History at King’s College London, writes this new biography of Charlemagne as a sort of detective story, prying into and interpreting fascinating and often obdurate scraps of evidence, from prayer books to skeletons, gossip to artwork:

“Charles, by contrast, left very few letters or other personal reminiscences giving direct access to his thoughts, experiences or intentions. The material is difficult, sometimes treacherous: I have often been conscious of skating on very thin ice.

Difficult is not impossible. Evidence for the personal can come in unexpected genres: royal charters, for instance, employed symbols, metaphor and rhetoric as codes which can be cracked, as can the actual code known as Tironian notes, or Carolingian shorthand.”

And from these bits of evidence, Nelson is able to sketch Charles’ experiences: how he lost his first milk tooth, his adolescence and learning to fight in the 760s, the rivalry between Charles and Carloman, his first visit to Rome on Easter 774, and much more.

Charlemagne’s successors—even to the present day—have struggled to interpret, misinterpret, copy, or subvert his legacy. Janet Nelson gets us as close as we can hope to come to the real figure of Charles the man as he was understood in his own time.

“A deeply learned and humane portrait . . . King and Emperor is a masterpiece of historical writing and a robust step toward filling the gap in our historical imagination left by the passing of Rome.”—New York Review of Books