The best books on African Politics, recommended by Evan Lieberman

Despite their enormous variety, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa share some common challenges when it comes to politics and governance. Here, political scientist Evan Lieberman talks about the struggles for democracy in the continent and some of the specific obstacles African countries face in state-building and administration.

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 Madagascar, recommended by Alison Richard

With its range of unique wildlife, Madagascar has been likened to a floating evolutionary laboratory. To Yale biological anthropologist Alison Richard, it’s simply a magical place. Here, she recommends five books on the island she has visited for the past five decades and explains why she wrote her own book, The Sloth Lemur’s Song.

The best books on The Korean War, recommended by Bruce Cumings

Before Vietnam, America fought in the Korean War—but its role in that conflict has been far less examined. Award-winning historian Bruce Cumings talks about the misconceptions many people still hold, and how they distort our understanding of the current North Korean regime.

The Best Catalan Fiction, recommended by Gala Sicart

For a long time, Catalan fiction was eclipsed by books in Spanish but these days it’s flourishing, says translator and editor Gala Sicart. Here, she recommends four of the best contemporary Catalan novels and one book of short stories, from the classic Mercè Rodoreda to her 21st-century equivalent.

The Best China Books of 2021, recommended by Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Whether you want to read the entire history of China in 250 pages or find out what’s going on right now in Xinjiang, enjoy a new translation of a 16th-century fantasy novel or delve into contemporary short stories, 2021 has been another good year for books about China. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine, recommends his favourite China books of 2021.

The Best African Novels, recommended by Blessing Musariri

“We are connected to the spirit and it’s an active connection. It’s not somewhere that’s only in the afterlife, it’s here in the present as well. That, I think, is endemic across all African cultures and traditions,” says Zimbabwean novelist and poet Blessing Musariri. Here she recommends some of the best African novels, books that had a big personal impact and have stayed with her.

The best books on Mississippi, recommended by Ralph Eubanks

Outsiders see Mississippi as a site of slavery and indigenous removal; but to write about Mississippi is to write about the United States as a whole—and its original sins, says Prof Ralph Eubanks, as he recommends five of the best books on Mississippi, the birthplace of the blues.

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.

Five of the Best Works of Belarusian Literature, recommended by Hanna Komar

Writers have been subject to persecution and repression in Belarus, and increasingly so in the aftermath of the protests that swept the nation in 2020 and 2021. Owning or distributing books deemed ‘extremist’ by the Lukashenko government can be enough to land you in jail. Here, the poet and activist Hanna Komar selects five of the best works of Belarusian literature that offer a glimpse of the culture and mindset of this post-Soviet nation, and the bravery of those who continue to fight for political freedom.

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 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 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 for Learning French, recommended by Vincent Serrano-Guerra

In spite of all the online ads promising to teach you a new language in a matter of minutes, learning a language takes time and commitment—and motivation is critical. Here Vincent Serrano-Guerra, author of a book for learning French that focuses on the 20,000 words that are the same in French and English, explains how best to set about it and recommends some books that’ll also get you familiar with French culture.

Best West African Fantasy Books for Teenagers, recommended by Efua Traoré

Fantasy inspired by West Africa is taking the literary scene for teens and young adults by storm. These books have strong world-building and all the usual fantasy ingredients. At the same time, drawing on rich seams of mythology and magical traditions such as juju, they bring something entirely fresh to the genre. Author Efua Traoré talks us through her pick of West African fantasy novels for teenagers.

The Best of Contemporary Irish Fiction, recommended by Liz Nugent

Bestselling author Liz Nugent, whose latest novel Our Little Cruelties is out now, talks to Five Books about the Irish writers that have been taking the world by storm in recent years—as she selects five unmissable recent works of Irish contemporary fiction, including books by Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry.

The Best Vietnamese Novels, recommended by Sherry Buchanan

Vietnam has had a tumultuous history and its literature is one powerful way of trying to understand it better. Journalist, author and publisher Sherry Buchanan—who has spent two decades introducing Vietnam’s culture to English-speaking audiences—talks us through the best Vietnamese novels available in English, spanning the years from French colonialism to the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.

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.

The best books on The Harlem Renaissance, recommended by William J. Maxwell

It was a golden age for American culture, a flourishing of Black literature, music and the arts that exploded in the 1910s and lasted through to the Great Depression. It was focused on Harlem, the area of New York City above Central Park, but its origins and its impact were much, much broader. William J. Maxwell, Professor of English and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, recommends some of the best books on the Harlem Renaissance.

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 Islam and the State, recommended by Ahmet T. Kuru

It’s widely assumed that in the ideal Muslim society there is no separation between religion and the state, but even in some of the earliest caliphates, the secular and the religious were rarely as closely aligned as religious conservatives would have us believe. Here Ahmet T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, recommends books that help trace the historical relationship between Islam and the state—and points to strands of secularism that may hold the key to a happier relationship between Islam and liberal democracy.

The best books on Scottish Nationalism, recommended by Murray Leith

There has been a sharp rise in nationalist and pro-independence sentiment in Scotland since the resumption of the Scottish parliament in 1999. Here, the University of West Scotland political scientist Murray Leith reflects on the changing nature of Scottish identity and separatist visions, as he recommends five key books on Scottish nationalism.

The best books on Sri Lanka, recommended by Razeen Sally

Many visitors to Sri Lanka have been beguiled by its charms, from its hill towns to its beaches, its ancient temples to its friendly people. And yet, for a quarter of a century until 2009, it was torn apart by a brutal civil war. Here, Sri Lanka-born political economist Razeen Sally, author of Return to Sri Lanka: Travels in a Paradoxical Land, recommends the best books to get a better understanding of Sri Lanka and the complexities that make the country so fascinating to visit and read about.

The best books on Contemporary India, recommended by Kapil Komireddi

As the world’s biggest democracy, India could be an inspiring example of how a multiethnic, multilingual country with many different religions can come together to form a vibrant state with equality enshrined in its constitution. But all that is in danger of going down the drain, as the country transforms into a brutally exclusionary Hindu-supremacist state under the leadership of Narendra Modi, says Kapil Komireddi, essayist and author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India. Here, he talks us through how the country got to where it is now and recommends five books that present a “comprehensive picture” of contemporary India.

The best books on Immigration and Race, recommended by Reece Jones

In a series of books, Reece Jones, Professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Hawaii, has explored the impact of borders on our lives. In his latest book, White Borders, he delves into the history of immigration and race in the United States, and explains the connection between the two. Here, he recommends the best books he’s read on the topic and explains why he’s not optimistic about the future.

The best books on Mumbai, recommended by Saumya Roy

It’s one of the most densely populated, vibrant cities in the world, combining enormous wealth with dire poverty. It’s India’s financial and commercial capital, home to the glamour of Bollywood and the movie industry, but it has somehow managed to defy modernization. Saumya Roy, journalist, author and co-founder of a nonprofit that made loans to the city’s poorest entrepreneurs, recommends her favourite books on Mumbai (aka Bombay).

Landmarks of Scottish Literature, recommended by James Robertson

Scottish culture is best understood as related to, but distinct from, that of Britain or England, says the acclaimed novelist James Robertson. Here, he selects five landmark works of Scottish literature, from Sir Walter Scott’s sweeping, panoramic social novels of the 18th century, through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, to Nan Shepherd’s beloved nature writing.

The best books on Catherine the Great, recommended by Andrei Zorin

She was born in 1729 as Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, a German princess, but by 1762 had become Empress of All Russia and went on to rule for 34 years as Catherine II. She regarded herself as an enlightened despot who embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment and consorted with the French philosophes. Russian historian Andrei Zorin introduces the remarkably industrious and able politician who is remembered as Catherine the Great.

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.

Erotic Writing by Arab Women, recommended by Selma Dabbagh

Arab women have been writing erotic literature for millennia and have become more creative and daring in recent years in the wake of the Arab Spring and the spread of social media, says novelist Selma Dabbagh, editor of a new anthology, We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers. Here, she picks five key examples of erotic writing by women of the region.

The best books on Indonesia, recommended by Krithika Varagur

It’s a beautiful nation of islands with staggering levels of biodiversity. It’s also home to more than a quarter of a billion people, many of them Muslim. And yet, it gets little regular coverage in the western media. Krithika Varagur, journalist and author of The Calltalks us through the books that most inspired and informed her as she reported on Indonesia.

The best books on The Middle East, recommended by Fawaz A. Gerges

The Middle East has been and still is much misunderstood. Here Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor and Middle Eastern specialist at London School of Economics, recommends five pioneering works of history and social science that will help you to understand the evolution of the region’s society and politics.

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 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 Asian American History, recommended by Melissa Borja

Anti-Asian incidents in America are bringing overdue attention to the history of Asian Americans. University of Michigan Professor Melissa Borja recommends five books that illuminate the understudied history of Asian Americans, explain the connection to empire and shine a spotlight on this “coalitional identity.”

The best books on Japan, recommended by Chigusa Yamaura

Japan is one of the world’s most technologically advanced industrial societies, but it is organised around very conservative social and familial paradigms, says the Japanese sociocultural anthropologist Chigusa Yamaura. Here she selects five books that throw light on a fascinating country and culture.

The best books on American Film, recommended by Mark Harris

Five fantastic books on American film, selected by Mark Harris, bestselling author of Mike Nichols: A Life, who explains how “movies can reflect what’s going on in American society—sometimes anticipate it, sometimes fall behind it, sometimes lead it, and sometimes change it.”

The Best Postcolonial Literature, recommended by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb

Postcolonial literature brings together writings from formerly colonised territories, allowing commonalities across disparate cultures to be identified and examined. Here, the University of Toronto academic Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb recommends five key works that explore philosophical and political questions through allegory, personal reflection and powerful polemic.

The Best Black British Writers, recommended by Jacqueline Roy

Black British writers have been storming the bestseller charts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Here, Jacqueline Roy—the novelist and lecturer in Black literature—selects five of the best books by Black British writers that deserve more attention.

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 Italian Political Philosophy, recommended by Guglielmo Verdirame

Italy has a rich tradition of political philosophy, producing a number of thinkers with both practical experience and a cosmopolitan outlook. Here Guglielmo Verdirame, Professor of International Law at King’s College London, talks us through the five most important Italian political philosophers, and the best books to read to understand their work.

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 Abraham Lincoln, recommended by Ted Widmer

He came from humble beginnings and never went to high school. Going into the presidency, he had limited political experience and lacked business, legislative and military achievements. The one thing he did not lack was a moral compass, says historian and author Ted Widmer. He picks the best books on the ups and downs and Shakespearean-style plot twists that were the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

The Best Fyodor Dostoevsky Books, recommended by Alex Christofi

His father had clawed his way up into the minor aristocracy, but Fyodor Dostoevsky chose to live the life of an impecunious author. He was sentenced to death, but his execution was stayed and he spent years in a Siberian labour camp instead. His books are about human compassion, but he was a difficult man who had trouble with his own personal relationships. Alex Christofi, author of a brilliant new biography of Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s greatest novelists, recommends five books to learn more about the man and his work—including the novel of which Tolstoy said he ‘didn’t know a better book in all our literature’.

The best books on Migrant Workers, recommended by Mireya Loza

American society and American history marginalized migrant workers for too long. New scholarship shows that migrant workers were central to America’s cultural and economic development. Mireya Loza, a historian at Georgetown University and author of Defiant Braceros, talks us through the best books about migrant workers—and why their stories are integral to understanding the past and present of United States.  

The best books on Galileo Galilei, recommended by Paula Findlen

The trial of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition was one of the most public confrontations between the new science emerging in the 17th century and the Catholic Church but, nearly 400 years later, there’s still a lot of scope to argue what it was about. Here historian of science Paula Findlen, a professor at Stanford University, explains the endless fascination of Galileo Galilei, the Renaissance man who turned a telescope to the sky and took the world by storm, and recommends the best books to start learning more about him.

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.

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 Sparta, recommended by Andrew Bayliss

Their reputation for self-discipline and self-denial made their way into the English language, but what the ancient Spartans were really like remains a source of debate among scholars, not least because they wrote little themselves. Andrew Bayliss, Senior Lecturer in Greek History at the University of Birmingham and author of an excellent, short book on The Spartans, talks us through what we know about the heroes of Thermopylae, including the darker sides of their culture and society.