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 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 Naval History (20th Century), recommended by Nicholas Rodger

In the world wars of the twentieth century, naval warfare has often been given a secondary role. But as naval historian Nicholas Rodger explains, the protagonists who thought like that lost. Here, he chooses five books that explain the military role and development of navies over the course of the 20th century.

The best books on Industrial Revolution, recommended by Sheilagh Ogilvie

The Industrial Revolution transformed the world forever by enabling self-perpetuating economic growth. But historians are still at odds about why the industrial revolution happened where it did and when it did. Here, Sheilagh Ogilvie, Chichele Professor of Economic History at All Souls College, Oxford, guides us through the debates and why they are still relevant today.

The best books on Concentration Camps, recommended by Andrea Pitzer

Most of us associate concentration camps with Nazi Germany, but they are not, in fact, relics of the past or confined to one particular episode of history. Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, talks us through memoirs and books that illuminate a tool that has been widely used, since the late 19th century, for the mass detention of civilians without trial.

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 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 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 Modern German History, recommended by Hester Vaizey

In the 20th century, Germany suffered defeat in two world wars and withstood two kinds of dictatorship. Yet today it is Europe’s strongest economy. Hester Vaizey, fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and author of Born in the GDR, selects five brilliant books on a tumultuous century.

The best books on Race and Slavery, recommended by David Olusoga

Race is a real and powerful force and one he has spent his adult life trying to understand, says Anglo-Nigerian historian, writer and producer, David Olusoga. He talks us through five books on the tragedy of slavery—from the horrors of the gulag, to the plantations of Virginia, to the Islamic slave trade.

The best books on Italy’s Risorgimento, recommended by Carlotta Ferrara degli Uberti

Italian unification was one of the great political dramas of 19th century Europe, transforming a patchwork of territories speaking different languages into the nation-state of Italy. Here, historian Carlotta Ferrara degli Uberti discusses the people and ideas that brought it about and how its disputed legacy continues to impact Italy today.

The best books on The Weimar Republic, recommended by Robert Gerwarth

The Weimar Republic was not doomed to fail, says the historian Robert Gerwarth; it was, in many ways, popularly rooted and successful, and its artistic achievements remain influential to this day. Here he selects five books that illustrate the rich cultural life of the Weimar Republic, its pioneering modernism and the febrile political atmosphere that gripped it in the wake of the Great Depression.

The best books on Winston Churchill, recommended by Richard Toye

Winston Churchill’s role as a global statesman remains immensely controversial. For some he was the heroic champion of liberty, saviour of the free world; for others a callous imperialist with a doleful legacy. Here, historian Richard Toye chooses the best books to help you understand the man behind the myths and Churchill’s own role in making those myths.

The best books on Jewish Vienna, recommended by Brigid Grauman

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Vienna had a vibrant intellectual and cultural life, embraced and at times led by key figures in its large Jewish community. All that would disappear with the rise of anti-Semitism and the Anschluss. Many Jews fled or committed suicide. Others were deported to concentration camps. After the war some went back, but Vienna would never be the same. Here Brigid Grauman, whose father’s family were assimilated Jews from Vienna, recommends books that evoke that poignant, tragic period that ended with World War II.

The best books on Marx and Marxism, recommended by Terrell Carver

Few people have had their ideas reinvented as many times as the German intellectual and political activist, Karl Marx. Professor of political theory, Terrell Carver, takes us through the most influential books, in English, about Marx, Marxism and his friend, publicist and financial backer, Friedrich Engels.

The best books on Nineteenth Century Germany, recommended by Richard Evans

At the beginning of the 1800s, Germany was a collection of independent states. By the end, it had been unified under Prussian political leadership into one of the world’s great powers. Here, Richard Evans, Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge and Provost of Gresham College in the City of London, chooses five books on 19th century Germany that illustrate how that process unfolded and what the political, economic and social consequences of it were—intended and otherwise.

The best books on Modern Irish History, recommended by Richard Bourke

A “powerful and aggravating absence of consensus” came to define the Irish political experience, says the historian Richard Bourke. Here he picks the best books for gaining a range of perspectives on Irish history, singling out James Joyce as offering insight into the divergence of nationalist opinion.

The best books on Gandhi, recommended by Ramachandra Guha

Gandhi’s peaceful resistance to British rule changed India and inspired freedom movements around the globe. But as well as being an inspiring leader, Gandhi was also a human being. Ramachandra Guha, author of a new two-part biography of Gandhi, introduces us to books that give a fuller picture of the man who came to be known as ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi.

The best books on The Holocaust, recommended by Steven Katz

In the years immediately after World War II, the Holocaust was little studied. That all changed with the publication of Raul Hilberg’s book, The Destruction of the European Jews. Steven Katz, professor of Jewish Holocaust Studies at Boston University and former Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, introduces the best Holocaust books.    

The best books on Auschwitz, recommended by Mary Fulbrook

Why were so few of the Nazis involved in running Auschwitz brought to justice? Why did some Germans during the Holocaust risk death to hide Jewish people from Nazi persecution, while others were passive bystanders? Historian Mary Fulbrook—author of Reckonings, which won the 2019 Wolfson History Prize—recommends essential reading for understanding Auschwitz and its aftermath.

The best books on El Alamein, recommended by Simon Ball

Churchill hailed the Allied victory at the Battle of El Alamein as “the end of the beginning” for Hitler in World War II. But in that very same speech, he downplayed its significance. Historian Simon Ball separates clichés from facts and chooses the best of the vast number of books written about El Alamein, the Desert War and World War II in general.

The best books on Eugenics, recommended by Philippa Levine

The term ‘eugenics’ elicits queasiness amongst those who associate it with the Nazis. But Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and Margaret Sanger were among its many proponents in the interwar period. Why? Philippa Levine, professor of history at the University of Texas, explains.

The best books on Hitler, recommended by Michael Burleigh

Hitler has a reputation as the incarnation of evil. But, as British historian Michael Burleigh points out in selecting the best books on the German dictator, Hitler was a bizarre and strangely empty character who never did a proper day’s work in his life, as well as a raving fantasist on to whom Germans were able to project their longings.

The best books on 20th Century Russia, recommended by Francis Spufford

Reading about Russia’s 20th century is like finding another vision of how the world might have been. Francis Spufford, author of Red Plenty, recommends books that tell the story of Russia in the last century — from Soviet science fiction set in capitalist wastelands to Khrushchev as raconteur.