The best books on Ukraine and Russia, recommended by Serhii Plokhy

Thousands of people have been killed since 2014 in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, in a war that has been rife with disinformation, misleading narratives and false flag operations. Here Serhii Plokhy, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University, recommends books to better understand the conflict, from an introductory work by an eminent historian to the latest work of some of Ukraine’s leading novelists.

The best books on World War I, recommended by Jonathan Boff

It’s been 100 years since World War I ended, but there is still very little consensus about what caused it, or what its consequences were. Historian Jonathan Boff talks us through the latest books and best modern interpretations of World War I.

The best books on American History, recommended by Brent Glass

Which are the best books on American history? Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the world’s largest museum devoted to telling the story of America, chooses five standout books in a crowded field.

The best books on Global History, recommended by Maxine Berg

From the Indian cottons that were traded around Asia and Africa in the Middle Ages, to the global dominance of the blue-and-white pottery of Jingdezhen, historian Maxine Berg introduces five books that transformed our understanding of the past millennium and are significant milestones in the development of the vibrant field of global history.

The Best Books on the American Civil War, recommended by Drew Gilpin Faust

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner. Here, Drew Gilpin Faust, a leading historian of the American Civil War and former President of Harvard, recommends the best books to read about the conflict between North and South that tore the United States apart from 1861 till 1865 – and beyond.

The best books on Native American history, recommended by Jennifer Graber

That US expansion was predicated on the violent dispossession of Native people is a key aspect of American history that is finally getting the attention it deserves among historians. Here Jennifer Graber, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, highlights books by Native scholars and writers that focus on their experience.

The best books on The Venetian Empire, recommended by Georg Christ

The Venetian Republic was one of the mightiest empires of early modern Europe, with its Terraferma dominions on land and a maritime empire, the Stato da Màr,  that stretched across the Mediterranean. Its unique strength lay in long-distance trade and, as historian Georg Christ explains, in some ways, it resembled a company more than a state. Here, he recommends books to better understand the Venetian empire, what it was and how it grew.

The best books on The Dutch Golden Age, recommended by Maarten Prak

The Netherlands witnessed a flourishing in the late 16th and first half of the 17th century, leading the world in technology, commerce and the arts, particularly painting. Historian Maarten Prak recommends five books to help you understand why the Dutch Golden Age saw the invention of stock exchanges and why it produced Rembrandt, too.

The best books on Maoism, recommended by Julia Lovell

While researching Maoism, China expert Julia Lovell battled against two incorrect assumptions: “firstly that Maoism is a story of China; and secondly that Maoism is a story of the past.” Here she recommends five books for coming to grips with the global, still-relevant impact of Maoism.

The best books on Alexander the Great, recommended by Hugh Bowden

Alexander the Great never lost a battle and established an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. From the earliest times, historians have argued about the nature of his achievements and what his failings were, both as a man and as a political leader. Here, Hugh Bowden, professor of ancient history at King’s College London, chooses five books to help you understand the controversies, the man behind the legends, and why the legends have taken the forms they have.

The best books on The Middle Ages, recommended by Hannah Skoda

Oxford medieval historian Hannah Skoda chooses her top five books on the Middle Ages, explaining why she finds the whole idea of their ‘middleness’ problematic and how a more global approach tends to shatter many long-held assumptions about the period.

The best books on New York History, recommended by Louise Mirrer

Like several of the great cities of the world, New York’s openness to people born elsewhere and relative tolerance lay at the foundation of its success, though darker episodes in the city’s 400-year history also need attention. Historian Louise Mirrer, President of the New-York Historical Society, recommends books that are essential to understanding the essence of the Big Apple.

The best books on The Silk Road, recommended by Valerie Hansen

From the Han dynasty to the time of Marco Polo, the routes connecting Asia, Africa and Europe—now known as the Silk Road—were responsible for enormous amounts of global trade. Yale historian Valerie Hansen, author of The Silk Road: A New History, introduces us to its rich history: “one of the reasons the Silk Road is a misnomer is that silk was not the main good moving along.”

African American History Books, recommended by Imani Perry

Princeton Professor Imani Perry—a prolific scholar of African American Studies whose biography of Lorraine Hansberry, Looking For Lorraine,  won the 2019 PEN Biography Prize—recommends five books she considers essential to an understanding of the history of black life in America.

The best books on The Mughal Empire, recommended by Richard M. Eaton

The Mughals ruled the Indian subcontinent for three centuries, a multicultural empire that brought together an extraordinary mix of Mongol, Islamic, Persian and Indian practices, religious beliefs and philosophies. Here, historian Richard M. Eaton, a professor at the University of Arizona, chooses some of the best scholarly works on the Mughals that shed new light on how the empire functioned.

The best books on The Reformation, recommended by Peter Marshall

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther, an unknown friar in an obscure town in eastern Germany may or may not have posted a list of complaints to the door of his local church. His actions would lead to what was later called ‘the Reformation’ — a grisly period in European history that nonetheless paved the way for a more tolerant and pluralistic society. Peter Marshall, one of the period’s leading scholars, talks us through the best books on the Reformation.

The best books on The Non-Aligned Movement, recommended by Paul Stubbs

The Non-Aligned Movement was a loose alliance of more than 100 member states whose heyday was during the Cold War, though it continues to exist today. Here, sociologist Paul Stubbs chooses five books to illustrate the cultural, political and economic influence of the Non-Aligned Movement and argues the ideas that animated it are still of vital importance.

The best books on Bosnia, recommended by Velma Šarić

As a teenager, Velma Šarić’s hometown of Kladanj welcomed refugees from eastern Bosnia as it was bombed and shelled, her primary school eventually becoming a shelter for people fleeing the massacre at Srebenica. Now she runs Sarajevo’s Post-Conflict Research Centre, trying to prevent anything like it from ever happening again. She recommends books to read on the Bosnian War and explains that it was not a war between different communities, but rather an assault on the country’s multiethnic, multicultural identity.

The best books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, recommended by Cynthia Koch

Historians consistently rank FDR, the 32nd and longest-serving president of the United States, as among America’s greatest. Here, Cynthia Koch, Director of History Programing for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, talks us through his life and explains how, in many ways, his guile was key to his success.

The best books on Modern French History, recommended by Richard Vinen

The social and political development of France has been strongly contested ever since the country finally became a republic for good in 1870. Here, Professor Richard Vinen of King’s College London recommends five books that will help you understand modern France, all written in a golden age of French historical writing.

The best books on The Scientific Revolution, recommended by Vera Keller

The scientific revolution is often seen as having transformed the way we think and ushered in the modern world, but in highlighting the work of a few key individuals, it has distorted the reality of how science advances in society and how it interacts with truth. Here, Vera Keller, Professor of History at the University of Oregon, challenges popularly held assumptions about the scientific revolution and explains how its meaning, significance and importance have been disputed and misunderstood.

The best books on Brexit, recommended by Anand Menon

Brexit shook British politics in 2016 and, six years on, its long-term consequences both for the UK and for the European Union remain highly uncertain. Here political scientist and Brexit expert Anand Menon recommends books to help you understand Brexit, what caused it and why, and puts those trends in a wider global political context.

The best books on The Civil Rights Era, recommended by Lerone Martin

The struggle for Black freedom in America has been going on since the first enslaved Africans were brought to the continent, but it was the civil rights era of 1954 to 1968 that finally resulted in a raft of legislation that gave equal citizenship to Black people in the United States. Here, Professor Lerone Martin of Stanford University recommends the best books to understand the American civil rights movement, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key to its success.

The best books on The Austro-Hungarian Empire, recommended by Jonathan Kwan

The Austro-Hungarian Empire is often viewed as unmanageable in its diversity, and its eventual collapse inevitable. But, as historian Jonathan Kwan explains, it was politically much more robust that people have given it credit for and its capital, Vienna, the most culturally vibrant place in Europe.

The best books on American Naval History, recommended by John Kroger

The story of the American navy is deeply intertwined with that of the nation, says John Kroger—former Chief Learning Officer to the US Navy—although we don’t always afford naval history the attention it deserves. Here he selects five of the best books about American naval history and predicts a renewed focus on Pacific naval defenses in the coming decades.

The best books on Angela Merkel, recommended by Tom Nuttall

For 16 years, as chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel was the most powerful woman in the world. Here Tom Nuttall, the Economist’s Berlin bureau chief, talks us through books to help us understand her time in office, and explains how her East German upbringing influenced her style of governance.

The best books on The US Cabinet, recommended by Lindsay Chervinsky

In contrast to many other countries, the secretaries who serve in the United States cabinet aren’t chosen from among the country’s elected officials but entirely reflect the president’s personal choices. Here, presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, talks us through the role of the cabinet and recommends which books to read to understand more about it.

Best History Books of 2021, recommended by Paul Lay

Historical writing continues to shed new and interesting light on all manner of topics, including even much-written about subjects like Napoleon, who died 200 years ago this year. Paul Lay, the editor of History Today, offers his choices for the best history books published in 2021.

The best books on The Great Divergence, recommended by Davis Kedrosky

After a slow start, why did northwest Europe move ahead of the rest of the world in the early modern period and establish an economic dominance whose effects are felt to this day? Davis Kedrosky, a student at Berkeley and publisher of the economic history newsletter, Great Transformations, introduces ‘the Great Divergence’ and suggests some books that get to the heart of the question.

The best books on Richard Nixon, recommended by David Greenberg

American president Richard Nixon will be forever remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his resignation in 1974, a blow for a man obsessed with his image who hoped to be remembered as a peacemaker on the global stage. Here historian David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers, recommends books on a man who elicited very strong emotions, both for and against.

The best books on Joe Biden, recommended by Ronald A. Klain

On January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States. Here Ronald A. Klain, the veteran lawyer who is once again serving as Biden’s chief of staff, recommends books that show the man behind the public persona including his love of Irish poetry, the string of terrible personal tragedies that have affected his life and career, and his leading role in blocking a Supreme Court appointment that would’ve decimated abortion rights.

Best History of Medicine Books, recommended by Keith Wailoo

The history of medicine is not just the story of life-saving discoveries, it’s also about how medical advances interact with the society from which they emerge. Here Professor Keith Wailoo, a historian of medicine and public health at Princeton University, recommends books that shed light on the social history of medicine, especially in the United States.

The best books on The Crusades, recommended by Guy Perry

Once seen as a great romantic adventure, the Crusades tend to be viewed now as an early venture in Western imperialism. But, as the Oxford historian Guy Perry explains, there is nothing so simple about them. He chooses five books that get to the complex truth of the Crusades as historical phenomena.

The best books on Boudica, recommended by Richard Hingley

Boudica was an Iron Age queen who led her people into rebellion against Roman rule in the province of Britannia. She was defeated, but only after she had burned several towns, including London, to the ground. Here Richard Hingley, Professor of Archaeology at Durham University, explains how to sift the truth from the myth, and why Boudica has remained an enduring source of fascination down the centuries.

Best Books on the History of the American South, recommended by Edward Ayers

To understand the America of today, you must understand the American South of the past, says historian Edward Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Here, he recommends five books to get started with, and also explains what his own books were aiming to contribute to the field of Southern history.

The best books on Saint Teresa of Avila, recommended by Rowan Williams

St Teresa of Avila was one of the towering figures of the Counter-Reformation, both as a theologian and as a reformer of the religious life. Here, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, discusses her insights into spiritual growth and prayer, the impact her Jewish roots had on her life and career, and why Bernini’s statue of her in ecstasy is unhelpful.

Best Books for History Reading Groups, recommended by Donna McBride

It’s a golden age for narrative history, with lots of highly readable books bringing to life many different aspects of the past, says historian Donna McBride. A Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, she has led ‘The Historians’ reading group there for the last five years. Here, she recommends some of the best popular histories the group has read and shares some tips on how to set up and run your own history reading group.

The best books on Queer History, recommended by Benno Gammerl

Queer history is not simply about exploring the historical incidence of non-heteronormative sexual desire and experience. It is also a way of looking at the past and of placing gender and sexuality at the heart of historical change. Here, Benno Gammerl, professor of Gender and Sexuality at the European University Institute, explains.