The past is a foreign country: this is your guidebook.
If you were to visit Elizabethan England, where would you sleep? What would you eat? Would you know how to be polite? How would you communicate with the locals? Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England answers all these questions and many more.
I'm a big history geek. I love learning about the past customs and practices of bygone times. I find it fascinating to see that, despite the centuries separating us, people living in distant eras were oftentimes very similar to us. And, a lot of times, very different! The difficulty of this kind of interest is that many history books are written in a heavy style that does not encourage reading them for the sheer pleasure of learning. However, it's not the case with this amazing work. Mortimer uses the perfect balance of humor and historical fact to make the book feel like a real guidebook. The style is rich, yet the book is very accessible. You almost find yourself starting to make plans to travel to this fascinating time in history.
Another great aspect of Mortimer's work is that it debunks many myths and misconceptions about this period in history. It shows that the Golden age, like any other era, also had its dark side. Furthermore, since this is a guide intended for the modern traveller, the author constantly makes parallels with the readers and the people of the period, which helps seeing history from a much more personal point of view.
The Time Traveler's Guide is divided into twelve general chapters, ranging from Religion to What to wear, and, let's not forget the very important, What to eat and drink. Each of them is then subdivided into numerous sections, each covering in more details a facet of the main topic. The bite-size information makes it very easy to put down and pick up at any given time. This format also makes it the perfect reference for anyone wishing to write a novel or short story set in Elizabethan England.
This is the second historical travelling guide written by Mortimer, the first one being The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (which I also own and intend to read), and I really hope it won't be the last. I'm all in favor of a Time Traveller's Guide to Victorian England.