Expert’s view

Simon Thurley: my five best books 

The architectural historian chooses his five favourite books

Simon Thurley is an architectural historian and former head of English Heritage. His latest book, Palaces of Revolution: Life, Death and Art at the Stuart Court (William Collins £25), is out now.

Life in the English Country House, a Social and Architectural History by Mark Girouard (1978) 

One of the most influential history books of my lifetime, which turned the study of buildings away from questions of style to ask how people used them. It is still in print after more than 40 years, which is an achievement in itself. Yale University Press £25

God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain by Rosemary Hill (2007) 

This is the best biography of a single architect that I know, and an authoritative and witty portrait of the mentality of his age. It would be hard to make up the life of Augustus Pugin, so extraordinary was it, but luckily Hill did not have to, and the truth is stranger than fiction. Penguin £19.99

Henry “Chips” Channon: The Diaries (Volume 1) 1918-38 edited by Simon Heffer (2021)

On my bedside right now is the 800-page-plus intimate thoughts of the social butterfly and politician Henry Channon. I’m not sure I like the man, but his honesty makes for compelling reading. I’m now awaiting volume two, just published. Hutchinson £35

The Last Royal Rebel by Anna Keay (2016)

I admit that I wept at the tragic end of this biography, which brings to life the Restoration court and appalling shenanigans of the bigoted Duke of York, the future King James II. James, Duke of Monmouth, the beautiful and clever bastard son of Charles II, so nearly was a great national hero – but came to a grisly end. Bloomsbury £10.99

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1849) 

I think I have now read all of Dickens’s novels and this is not only his best, but I think the greatest work of Victorian fiction. It combines gripping storytelling, which you just don’t want to end, along with brilliant social observation. Penguin £7.99

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