| | Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife by Bart D. Ehrman What it is: an accessible and thought-provoking look at historical conceptions of heaven and hell across continents, cultures, and faiths.
Topics include: the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homeric Hades, Plato's views on the idea of an immortal soul, and what the Bible actually says about the afterlife.
About the author: Noted biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman is the author of numerous books about early Christianity, including Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Before the Gospels.
| | Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor What it's about: the life and legend of Joan of Arc, the devout peasant girl who galvanized a divided France to defeat their English occupiers and later became a Catholic saint.
What sets it apart: rather than a biography, this history of the Hundred Years' War examines the "Maid of Orléans" as a social force, from the circumstances that allowed for her ascent to the later attempts to control her legacy.
| | The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff What it's about: the road to and fallout of the notorious witch trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
Read it for: the analysis of the social, political and religious forces that created the perfect circumstances for paranoia and superstition to spiral out of control.
Author alert: Guggenheim fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff has also written biographies of historical and cultural notables such as Cleopatra, Vera Nabokov, Benjamin Franklin, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
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