The best books on Big History, recommended by Toby Ord

‘Big history’ looks at history on the timescale of the Earth and the universe, rather than just the short period of time that humanity has been around. Here, Toby Ord, a moral philosopher at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, recommends books to get a handle on it, and explains why now is a critical time for Homo sapiens.

The best books on Empires, recommended by Peter Fibiger Bang

Empires are a reflection of the fact some states are stronger than others and are by no means just a relic of the past, says Peter Fibiger Bang, historian of empire and world history at the University of Copenhagen. Here, he recommends books on a variety of empires, from the ancient Romans to the Mughal, Qing and Russian empires and explains what it is that made some empires so durable and resilient across the centuries.

Peter Frankopan on History

What kind of books should we read to get a broader sense of history? Peter Frankopan,  professor of global history at Oxford University, talks us through the books that inspired him.

The best books on The Achaemenid Persian Empire, recommended by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

At the height of its greatness, the Achaemenid Persian Empire was the largest empire the world had ever known. Too often it is given merely a villainous walk-on part in the heroic history of classical Greece. Here, historian Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones explains why that needs correcting, looks at its cultural achievements and discusses why the first Persian empire is worth studying in its own right and on its own terms.

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 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 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.”

The best books on The Age of Revolution, recommended by Paschalis Kitromilides

The American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 upended the political order on both sides of the Atlantic. The battle of Waterloo in 1815 did not bring things to a close. Revolutionary activity continued in Europe and Latin America with varying degrees of success right through to 1848. Here political scientist Paschalis Kitromilides, Professor Emeritus at the University of Athens, discusses the various forces that drove the ‘age of revolution.’

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.

History of Prostitution Books, recommended by Siobhán Hearne

Societies of all different stamps have tried to eliminate prostitution but it never works and there are always unintended consequences. Siobhan Hearne, a historian of sexuality in Tsarist and Soviet Russia, explains how exploring the history of prostitution provides fascinating insights into social and political history as well as offering some genuine, and very clear, lessons from the past.

The best books on China Korea Relations, recommended by Odd Arne Westad

China has had close political and cultural relations with Korea for centuries and the history of that relationship can shed light on China’s approach to international relations more broadly—including in its imperial past. Yale historian Odd Arne Westad recommends the best books on China, Korea and the relationship between them.

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.