The best books on Nationalism, recommended by Yael Tamir

When we think of nationalism, we tend to think of its extreme varieties. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous in our daily lives that we rarely even notice it, says political theorist and former Israeli politician Yael Tamir. Here, she recommends books to help us better understand nationalism in all its forms and why one ignores its power at one’s peril.

The Best Books on Social Media and Political Polarization, recommended by Chris Bail

Convenient as it is to blame our political woes on the polarizing effect of social media, echo chambers, interference by foreign powers or other shadowy operators, the truth is that human nature and our search for identity and status are more likely culprits. Sociologist Chris Bail, a professor at Duke University and director of its ‘Polarization Lab’, talks us through what social science has to say about the connection between social media and political polarization.

The Best Goethe Books, recommended by David E. Wellbery

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) has been described as ‘the last true polymath to walk the earth’. A defining figure in German literature, Goethe coined the concept of world literature. And his literary and dramatic achievements are matched by his scientific work. David E. Wellbery, Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago and recipient of the Golden Goethe Medal, introduces us to the life and work of Goethe. He explores why figures such as Beethoven and Napoleon were magnetised to him, how Rousseau influenced Faust, and why Goethe’s Faust does not sell his soul to the devil.

The best books on Scientists, recommended by Jimena Canales

Five fascinating books about scientists, selected by historian of science Jimena Canales. She explains how the scientific persona has been constructed throughout history and explores the implicit assumptions about agency, subjectivity, and causality that underlie scientific biographies.

The best books on Goya and the art of biography, recommended by Janis Tomlinson

The art of Francisco de Goya reflects the social and political chaos of Spain in his day, leaving later generations to read into his prolific work—by turns formal and bizarre, official and fantastic—many often contradictory interpretations. Art historian Janis Tomlinson recommends books that disentangle Goya from the retroactive projections of later admirers and situates him in his own time. We also consider what makes for a compelling biography.

The best books on Hieroglyphics, recommended by Diane Greco Josefowicz

Reading the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt reveals much about the worldview of a civilisation that rose to prominence 5000 years ago and flourished for thousands of years. Here, intellectual historian Diane Greco Josefowicz—whose book, The Riddle of the Rosetta, co-written with Jed Buchwald, tells the story of how the meaning of the hieroglyphs was deciphered in 19th century France—recommends the best books to learn more about hieroglyphics.

The best books on The Ghana, Mali and Songhai African Empires, recommended by Michael Gomez

Long before the Europeans arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries, sub-Saharan West Africa saw the emergence of a series of African empires that lasted for centuries and stretched over vast swathes of the continent. They were known as the Ghana, Mali and Songhai Empires. Here, historian Michael Gomez discusses what led to their greatness, what sustained them and why they fell.

The best books on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, recommended by Scott Newstok

The beauty of Shakespeare’s sonnets speaks to us down the centuries, their lines peaking out at us from the titles of famous books or enjoying outings at weddings or other romantic occasions. But they were not always regarded as perfectly-formed jewels, and the relationships they portray not as conventional as many of us presume. Here, Shakespeare scholar Scott Newstok talks us through books that help us learn more about Shakespeare’s sonnets, from the best introduction to the poems for students through to their afterlife and recent creative interpretations.

The best books on Augustus, recommended by Peter Wiseman

Is it possible that Augustus was not the first Roman emperor, but the last of Rome’s great populist champions? That’s what classicist Peter Wiseman argues in his book, The House of Augustus: A Historical Detective Story. Drawing on a lifetime of research and writing on this period, the emeritus professor of classics and ancient history gives a brilliant overview of the Augustan age, and recommends what to read to better understand the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who found Rome in brick and left it in marble.

The Best Books on the Politics of Information, recommended by Henry Farrell

Our political systems evolved in an era when information was much harder to come by. What challenges does our current reality of information overload pose for democracy? How do we even start thinking about these questions? Political scientist Henry Farrell proposes key books for building a curriculum on ‘the politics of information,’ starting with a beautifully written novel.

The Best Books on the Big Bang, recommended by Dan Hooper

Before Einstein, how the universe began was a question for theologians, not scientists. Over a century later, we know much more, but not enough to do more than guess at what happened at the moment of the Big Bang and immediately after. Astrophysicist Dan Hooper, author of At the Edge of Timea book that explores dark energy, dark matter and other things we don’t yet understand—talks us through books about the Big Bang, and questions whether our entire understanding of the universe is about to be turned upside down.

The best books on Learning Economics, recommended by John Quiggin

We live in a society where it’s vital to have a good grasp of economics, but that doesn’t mean you need an economics degree to understand what it’s all about. Australian economist John Quiggin, author of Economics in Two Lessons, recommends books for learning about economics, all accessible to the general reader, and tries to dispel some of the myths about what it is professional economists do.

The Best Economics Books of 2019, recommended by Diane Coyle

The urgency of the challenges facing society has led to a wonderful supply of books by leading thinkers on a variety of pressing topics. Economist Diane Coyle, a professor at the University of Cambridge and co-director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, recommends her top five economics books of 2019.

The best books on Celebrity, recommended by Sharon Marcus

Why are so many of us fascinated by the lives of celebrities? When did interest in the dark side of celebrity become mainstream? Sharon Marcus, author of The Drama of Celebrity and a professor at Columbia University, recommends books to better understand the phenomenon of celebrity.

The best books on Aphorisms, recommended by Andrew Hui

The unexamined life is not worth living; nature loves to hide; you can’t step in the same river twice. No doubt we’ve all grown up hearing aphorisms, but perhaps we take their importance for granted. Andrew Hui, the author of the first full book on the theory of the aphorism, guides us through the history of the short philosophical saying from Heraclitus to Nietzsche and beyond.

The best books on Thucydides, recommended by Johanna Hanink

The Greek historian and general Thucydides wanted his History of the Peloponnesian War “to be a possession for all time.” In that, he’s been remarkably successful, with his name still echoing in the corridors of power. But what lessons should we take away from his great work? Translator and classicist Johanna Hanink talks us through books to better understand Thucydides and the mythical Athens he lived in and wrote about.

The best books on Architecture and Aesthetics, recommended by Timothy Hyde

What’s at stake when we call a building beautiful or denounce it as ugly? MIT professor Timothy Hyde, author of Ugliness and Judgment, explores five books about the social, political and economic dimensions behind debates that often masquerade as arguments about style, but which deal with matters at the very heart of civil society.

The Canterbury Tales: A Reading List, recommended by Marion Turner

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales not only revolutionized English poetry—they’re also extremely funny and moving. Oxford Professor Marion Turner, who has written the first full-length biography of Chaucer in a generation, tells us about the extraordinary man who wrote them and why we should all read the Canterbury Tales. 

The best books on Dogs, recommended by José Castelló

Next time you look at your cute pooch, remember its DNA is the same as that of a wolf. José Castelló, author of the delightful field guide, Canids of the World: Wolves, Wild Dogs, Foxes, Jackals, Coyotes, and Their Relatives recommends some of the best books to read on dogs and other canids.

The Best Economics Books of 2018, recommended by Diane Coyle

From a book about applying game theory to public policy to an account of how modern management practices were first developed on slave plantations, it’s been another good year for interesting and accessible economics books. Cambridge professor Diane Coyle talks us through her selection of the best economics books of 2018.

The Best Finance Books, recommended by Andrew W Lo

At its worst, finance leads to crises and economic dislocation and, yet, it’s absolutely vital to solving many of the problems society faces today. MIT’s Andrew W Lo introduces some of the best books on finance and explains how it can change the world for the better.

The best books on Capitalism and Human Nature, recommended by Robert J Shiller

“You have to understand people first before you can understand how to devise an economic system for them” argues Robert J Shiller, the Yale economics professor and Nobel laureate. He chooses five books that explore who we fundamentally are, as human beings, and how that will determine the shape of a successful capitalism.

The best books on Spiders, recommended by Lawrence Bee

You don’t have to be a professional arachnologist to study and get excited about spiders—nor do you need to travel away from home. The author of Britain’s Spiders, Lawrence Bee, recommends all the books you need to become an amateur arachnologist.

Best Economics Books of 2017, recommended by Diane Coyle

With an array of intriguing and accessible books coming out, there’s no excuse not to be reading about economics. The ‘Enlightened Economist,’ Diane Coyle, recommends the best economics books that hit the shelves this past year.

The best books on The Politics of Climate Change, recommended by Naomi Oreskes

‘We’re on a path that is going to lead to tremendous destruction and yet most of us are going about our lives as if nothing particularly special is happening.’ The science of climate change is incontrovertible but deniers persist and political and economic solutions continue to be – systematically – frustrated. Time is running out, says Naomi Oreskes

The best books on The Lives of Artists, recommended by Maria Loh

We live in an age obsessed with self-image. Technology has made the ‘selfie’ a ubiquitous form of social currency. Renaissance means may have been very different, but celebrity artists in Medici Florence dealt with many of the issues relating to identity and authorship that we grapple with today. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Master, talks to Five Books about the curated self.

The best books on Cultural Evolution, recommended by Joe Henrich

What role did culture play in human evolution? Why did human brains get so big so quickly? When and why did inequality first emerge in human society? Harvard professor and author Joe Henrich picks some of the best books for understanding ‘cultural evolution.’

The Greatest Romantic Poems, recommended by Gillen D'Arcy Wood

Freud said he owed them everything and even people who have never read a poem in their lives speak their language today. Gillen D’Arcy Wood, Professor of Environmental Humanities and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, explains who the Romantic poets were and recommends five of the greatest Romantic poems.