Dan Jones has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most captivating and lively historians, proving that well-researched historical narratives need not be dry and impenetrable. Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors (Viking, $30) is his best work to date. It has the advantage of dealing with a fascinating and often ill-used subject, but Jones elevates the Templars above conspiracy theory histories to uncover the fascinating history within, from their military campaigns, Outremer Crusader states, their financial acumen and extensive properties, to the knights’ eventual downfall. This volume is possibly the most comprehensive modern history of the Templars, told by an incredibly talented chronicler and interpreter of facts and sources. It is a must-have for any history bookshelf.
Long before the city of lights became a nostalgia factory, Paris was a vast, teeming organism where all hustled and mixed company for business or pleasure. His subjects are rag-pickers, artists, sex workers, addicts, criminals, cops, merchants, shopkeepers, political agitators and the streets they prowled. These were folks who lived dangerous yet resourceful lives. With this masterwork, Luc Sante secures his place as one of the greatest historians of the underclass. He allows us to learn the truth about our past so that we may better serve our future.
Paris has long held a special place in the imagination as a city of beauty and glamour. There is a tendency in literature, film, and art to give the city a romantic aura. But behind that surface another Paris has long existed, a gritty place with its hidden corners that lie a world apart from the dream city of tourists’ imagination. Focusing on the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, The Other Paris documents that world—a world of crime, drugs, drinking and violence; of poverty, labor revolt, anarchism and socialism; and of cabaret, popular entertainment, sex, and prostitution. Using literary works, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and contemporary photos and illustrations, Sante brings to life a way of life that was ever near the lives of wealth and style shared by the elite, even if kept apart from them. Sante never patronize those whom he discusses, and he does not romanticize the harshness of the life gone by. But his work is a reminder that in past times, the poor at least had claim to the streets they inhabited. Today, poverty and wealth again sit side by side, but in Paris as elsewhere, those without are pushed away, undermining even “high” culture. Sante has produced a book documenting that loss, alongside documenting resilience.