Having reviewed Rowse’s Oxford in the History of the Nation, being familiar with the place and plotting a return later this year, I thought it might be good and helpful to recommend three books to possess for a trip to Oxford.
If I had to recommend one book, it would be the Blue Guide: Oxford and Cambridge by Geoffrey Tyack. It is a very practical and portable tour guide. But it does not focus on the touristy or the trivial but on the architectural history of the place and of Cambridge. It has been a great help to me in knowing what to see and what I am seeing. Get the 2004 edition and do take it with you to Oxford (or Cambridge). Yes, I think 2004 is the most recent edition. Don’t let that worry you; Oxford tends to change very slowly.
I also recommend another book by Tyack, Oxford, An Architectural Guide. It is not a tour guide per se; it is organized chronologically. So one may find it mentions a college in several chapters as it builds, tears down, and builds through the years. Also, it is not as portable. I know I am not taking this one with me. But it is the best architectural history of Oxford I’ve come across. It is very helpful in seeing how Oxford grew and developed through the centuries. And it is very readable. But its size and format is not as practical for touring as the Blue Guide. I recommend reading it before you go. And perhaps take notes of items you want to remember when in Oxford.
The third book I recommend is very different. Written by Jan Morris, it is entitled simply Oxford. Very well written and often lightly humorous, it is a pleasure to read. It does contain some little known corners of Oxford to find and explore. But what I find most outstanding about Morris’ book is how it captures the atmosphere of Oxford. For example, when in the Autumn of 2007 I drifted into a malaise as gloomy as the cold, damp and shortening days, I thought, “Morris told me it would be like this!”
The 2001 edition is small and very portable, so you can take it with you if you like, perhaps to read on the plane. I won’t be taking it with me this time, but intend to read it once again, for the third time I think, before I leave.
Do you have must-read books about Oxford? Feel free to let us know in the comments.