Top 5 ancient beach books

Everyone knows that summer is the time to lie on a beach with a good book in hand. Here’s my list of five books to lighten your summer holidays. Breakfast beer optional.

5. Alfred Duggan

In Alfred Duggan’s Winter Quarters two Celtic nobles are hunted by a vengeful goddess across much of the world during the end game of the Roman Republic. Alfred was proud to have visited every site he wrote about in his books, some of which are still on the tourist trail today.

4. Julian by Gore Vidal

Gore Vidals’s gossipy Libanius and Priscus tell us the story of Julian the Apostate, the great fourth century philosopher-emperor who turned his back on Christianity and attempted to restore traditional paganism.

3. Anathemata by David Jones

David Jones’ poetry is a high modernist mix of myth, history, Catholicism and welsh. Not for everyone lying on a beach this summer, it rewards close rereading and focus. A perfect book on a trip to the wilds of North Wales or the flatlands of Normandy.

Joint 1. Memoirs of Hadrian

Marguerite Yournecar’s Memoirs of Hadrian is the autobiography of the emperor Hadrian. Not so much interested in court intrigue, it tells of his inner life. Enthused with melancholy, it is perhaps better suited to an autumn-winter beach like Lansing.

Joint 1. I, Claudius

Robert Graves’ classic sword and scandal bonkbuster. Was there ever a family like the Julio-Claudians for extravagance, double crossing, and tyranny. The way we read about this period of Roman history mirrors our present conditions. Graves wrote in the thirties during the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. It might be too topical a book to read on a beach today but is still a must read.