A very short introduction to the Very Short Introductions series

They’re good: read them.

Now, in a longer form: I used to avoid these books, on the basis that they’d just cover the basics of their subjects, and most of the things I read about are things I’m interested in, and know the basics of.  So: not for me.  I was wrong. Some of these books are really great, short reads.


The thing I’m liking about the Very Short Introductions is, that for things which used to interest you, but which you’ve not been following in a while, they bring you up to speed on the current state of research. I was reading the book on Ancient Egypt, and the author says basically “Have you noticed I’ve not mentioned Tut or Cleopatra?” and my answer is “Ah, that’s why this is so interesting!  He’s not just treading past the big-ticket cultural artifacts.” The author of the one on Ancient Warfare goes hard for the significance of infantry and the importance of training, which is very pleasant given so many historians love individual generals, and cavalry. The Laws of Thermodynamics is wittily written, and keeps tying its theories back not to mathematics, which is where I thought they’d go, but to the construction of 19th Century steam engines.

Over and over I’ve been pleased with these little books, both as sources of information and as recreational reading. So if, like me, you’ve been avoiding them because of their deliberately modest covers, tiny size, and underplayed scope, I’d like to say to you: you, too, have been missing out.