I may have written a novel, but I’m still a history professor! Here are some reading suggestions for those of you whose curiosity has been stirred up by the story of Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the hunt for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. All of the titles here are non-fiction, and inspired some aspect of the All Souls trilogy. Many of these titles should be available through your local library, or to order through your favorite online bookseller or local bookstore.
A Discovery of Witches
Magic & Science
I may have written a novel, but I’m still a history professor! Here are some reading suggestions for those of you whose curiosity has been stirred up by the story of Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the hunt for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. All of the titles here are non-fiction, and inspired some aspect of A Discovery of Witches.
Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum. Don’t be put off by the Latin title. This is a collection of English alchemical texts that were gathered by Elias Ashmole. The missing alchemical manuscript that Diana finds in the Bodleian library is not among them, alas, but if you are interested in the subject this is a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious texts that she studies as a historian.
Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species: Books that Changed the World. Browne is not only a great scholar, but a superb writer. A highly-regarded biographer of Darwin, here she turns her talents to writing a “biography” of his most famous book—and one of Matthew Clairmont’s favorites, as well.
Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books. If you are interested in the history of magic and witchcraft, Davies’ description of the development of magical spellbooks will provide insights into how ideas about magic, science, and nature developed over the centuries.
Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Diana Bishop is descended from a long line of witches. You will find out more about some of those witches—the Bishops and the Proctors—while reading this classic interpretation of what happened in Salem in 1692.
Robert Kehew, Ezra Pound, and W. D. Snodgrass, Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours. Matthew is a very old vampire, who has slightly old-fashioned views on love and romance. You might be surprised at the love poetry of his early life, and come away with a whole new appreciation for “old-fashioned.”
Bruce Moran’s Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. This marvelous book is not only deeply learned but extremely readable. Touched with Moran’s sense of humor and his compassion for his subject’s tireless efforts to understand the natural world, you will come away from this book with a new appreciation for the alchemists.
Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism. Diana Bishop is an expert on the enigmatic imagery that is used in alchemical texts. Many are included in Roob’s book, along with other illustrations from mystical and magical traditions.
Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. This scholarly book was important to me as I wrote A Discovery of Witches because it helped me understand how the belief in witches influenced the imagination. Many of the notions we have about witchcraft today have their roots in these terrifying fantasies.
James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Sharpe’s book is an ideal starting point if you are interested in the history of witchcraft beyond Salem or Germany. One of his most controversial arguments focuses on the role that women played as accusers—not just as victims—in the witchcraft trials.
Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals our Genetic Ancestry. I was fascinated by the combination of history, genealogy, and science in Sykes’s work. The book provides an introduction to the study of genetics, and to the legacies that are carried from generation to generation among the population.
The Book of Life
The final volume in the All Souls Trilogy develops many subjects—history, alchemy, genetics—that are introduced in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. Be sure to check my suggestions for further reading for those books, too.
The history of the Voynich manuscript is as tangled and complex as its contents are marvelous and mysterious. A facsimile of this Yale University manuscript is now available, with essays by leading scholars on a variety of subjects. See Raymond Clemens, ed. The Voynich Manuscript (2016).
For more information on Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher, see Daniel Stoltzenberg’s Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity (2013).
An excellent overview of the Ripley Scrolls and their alchemical meaning is available for download online: Aaron Kitch, “The Ingendred Stone: The Ripley Scrolls and the Generative Science of Alchemy,” Huntington Library Quarterly (2015). http://www.docfoc.com/kitch-the-ingendred-stone-the-ripley-scrolls-science-of-alchemy-RADU
If you are interested in why Diana Bishop had the birthroom experience she did in the book, take a look at this edition of Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book: Or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered (1671), ed. with an introduction by Elaine Hobby (1999).
Yale’s Beinecke Library, like the Bodleian, is a treasure trove for book lovers. A peek into that magical world can be found in Kathryn James, An Inspiration to All Who Enter: Fifty Works from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (2013).
Shadow of Night
If you’re interested in learning more about the 1590s, here are some recommended titles:
Liza Picard, Elizabeth’s London: an informative overview of the city, its people, and the main events of the period
John Stow, A Survey of London: historian John Stow (ca. 1525 – 6 April 1605) compiled this contemporary account of the city, its customs, and notable landmarks.
Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d: a sumptuous glimpse into female fashion of the time through the lens of the queen’s wardrobe accounts and a careful examination of contemporary depictions and material remains.
Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress: insights into the construction of period clothing, with suggestions for how to make your own garments.
Francine Segan, Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook: you could read an Elizabethan cookbook, but Segan’s book updates ingredients, measurements, and cooking methods to fit modern kitchens.
Robert Hutchinson, Elizabeth’s Spymaster: an introduction to the dangerous world of subterfuge and intrigue that was the Elizabethan ‘secret service.’
Brian Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe: a lucid yet scholarly introduction to the witch hunts between 1450 and 1700.
If you’d like to understand why I chose to tell Marcus and his story, here are a few titles which will take you beyond the founding fathers, to hear other voices from the American Revolution:
Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal (2015). When you say “American Revolution,” you don’t usually think “Florida.” DuVal’s work shows what we are missing when we privilege New England and Virginia in our narratives of the war. It draws our attention to the Gulf Coast colony of West Florida and the experiences of slaves, women, Native Americans, and British loyalists there who had much to gain — and lose — in the struggle for independence.
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (2008). This winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award makes use of legal documents, letters, diaries, and oral histories to bring to life multiple generations of an enslaved American family. The Hemingses’ relationship to Thomas Jefferson is only one part of Gordon-Reed’s fascinating account.
Fugitives, Smugglers, and Thieves by Sharada Balachandran Orihuela(2018). Orihuela offers a riveting argument about how men and women who existed outside the law opened up a space to conceive of community in radically different ways. Her nuanced readings of the period’s literature will open up further vistas to explore.
A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (1990). Sometimes history gets rewritten because of a single extraordinary find. Such is the case with the diary of an 18th-century Maine midwife, whose life story is told by Ulrich in another Pulitzer Prize–winning book.
The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom edited by Karin Wulf and Susan E. Klepp (2009). Hannah Callender Sansom was a middle-class Quaker woman in 18th-century Philadelphia, locked in an unhappy marriage at a time when women had few legal options. Wulf and Klepp not only offer a rich and detailed context for Callender’s experiences but also provide a full text of her diary, so readers can gain a better sense of the period in all its complexity and shifting ideals.