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 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 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 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 The BBC, recommended by Simon J. Potter

The British Broadcasting Corporation celebrates its centenary this year. The beloved institution has always had a paradoxical identity: part monopoly and government organ, part commercial enterprise and government critic; part bringer of change, part defender of the status quo. Here Simon Potter, Professor of Modern History at the University of Bristol, talks us through the history and the transformations the BBC has undergone since it was first founded in 1922.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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.

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.

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 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 Vienna Circle, recommended by David Edmonds

Members of ‘the Vienna Circle’ had strong views on what can and cannot be meaningfully said. They’ve had an enormous impact on modern philosophy, partly because the arrival of fascist rule in Austria scattered them around the world. Here, philosopher David Edmonds, author of The Murder of Professor Schlick, introduces us to their ideas, their milieu and the poignant background to their lives and thinking.

The best books on Charlemagne, recommended by Carine van Rhijn

We call him Charlemagne, but it was not a name that was used in his own lifetime. His conquests stretched across vast swathes of Europe, but he probably didn’t set out to become an emperor. Much has been written about him, but very little is known. Dutch historian Carine van Rhijn, a lecturer at the University of Utrecht, recommends the best books on Charles, King of the Franks.

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 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 Hannah Arendt, recommended by Samantha Rose Hill

Unimpressed by the response of philosophers to the rise of Nazism in her native Germany, Hannah Arendt rejected the notion of being a philosopher and said she was a political theorist. Samantha Rose Hill, writer and formerly assistant director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, talks us through Hannah Arendt’s life and work—and suggests which books to read if we want to learn more about her and her ideas.

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 Mafia, recommended by John Dickie

The three biggest Italian mafias remain a powerful presence, with tentacles reaching deep inside Italian business and politics, but our understanding of them is marred by myths and misconceptions. Professor John Dickie of University College London, author of three books on the mafia, recommends what to read to get a better understanding of what the mafia really is.

The Best Elena Ferrante Books, recommended by Sarah Chihaya and Merve Emre

From her early novellas to the Neapolitan quartet, the elusive Elena Ferrante has achieved deserved superstar status for the compulsively readable, addictive quality of her writing. Two of the authors of The Ferrante Letters, Sarah Chihaya and Merve Emre, introduce us to Ferrante and recommend what to read next after My Brilliant Friend.

The best books on Rembrandt, recommended by Onno Blom

Though he left more self-portraits to posterity than practically any Old Master, there remains an air of mystery around Rembrandt the man—even on the 350th anniversary of his death. Piecing together the very few personal letters and documents left behind, Onno Blom has now reconstructed Rembrandt’s formative years in Young Rembrandt. Here he guides us through five of the most authoritative—and imaginative—accounts of the artist.

The Best Crime Fiction of 2019, recommended by Val McDermid

It’s been a great year for crime fiction – with soaring sales and global bestsellers emerging from writers all over the world. Crime writing is rightly in the ascendancy, says the celebrated Scottish novelist Val McDermid as she selects the best crime fiction of 2019: five books that stand as great novels in their own right.

The Best Books for Learning Spanish, recommended by Benny Lewis

Which are the best books for learning Spanish? Benny Lewis, polyglot and author of the popular language-learning blog Fluent in Three Months, recommends his top five. He explains why beginners should be wary of grammar, and why forcing yourself to make mistakes is the key to success in any language.

The best books on Modern British History, recommended by Andrew Hindmoor

What will historians say about the latest period in British history? What has stayed the same, and what is vastly different from our parents’ generation? Andrew Hindmoor, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield and author of Twelve Days that Made Modern Britain, recommends books that give insights into contemporary British history.

The best books on The Thirty Years War, recommended by Peter Wilson

It was a war that devastated Europe and left more than one-fifth of the German population dead. The complex peace agreement that ended it, the Treaty of Westphalia, is still credited with establishing our modern state system. Peter Wilson, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University and author of the most recent general history of the war, Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War, recommends books to read for a nuanced picture of Europe’s cataclysmic 17th-century conflict.

The best books on Chernobyl, recommended by Kate Brown

While widely regarded as the world’s worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl’s legacy remains fiercely contested, with death tolls ranging from 31 to 200,000. MIT historian Kate Brown, who has spent years in the Chernobyl archives, picks the best books on the disaster, compares its impact with atomic bomb testing, and argues for more research into low-dose radiation exposure

The Best Samuel Beckett Books, recommended by Mark Nixon

Samuel Beckett remains one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century. Ruthlessly experimental, his plays, novels, and poems represent a sustained attack on the realist tradition. Dr Mark Nixon looks at the mutating nature of Beckett’s literary style and explains why he didn’t choose Waiting for Godot.

The best books on Brexit, recommended by Boris Starling

Looking for a good Brexit book? Brexit is as complicated as the Schleswig-Holstein question and as vicious as Game of Thrones. Boris Starling, author of The Bluffer’s Guide to Brexit, talks us through some Brexit books that will leave you better read and even more mystified about what the future holds for Britain and Europe.

The best books on Wittgenstein, recommended by Peter Hacker

A pioneering figure in analytic philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is a clear example of philosophical genius. A profoundly intense, tortured, and solitary man, he produced two masterpieces of philosophy with fundamentally opposed views of language — both of which have been wildly influential. Peter Hacker introduces us to perhaps the most important philosopher since Kant, and explains why Wittgenstein would be horrified by Noam Chomsky.

The best books on Ancient Greece, recommended by Christopher Pelling

Ancient Greece’s legacy can be seen all around us, including in our political system — but many of us don’t know that much about it. Fortunately, we have someone who has devoted his life to studying this remote time and place to give us a reading list. Chris Pelling, Emeritus Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, recommends his top five books on Ancient Greece.

The best books on Charles de Gaulle, recommended by Julian Jackson

Charles de Gaulle had ‘a certain idea of France’ which even he didn’t manage to articulate clearly. De Gaulle biographer and one of Britain’s leading historians of modern France, Julian Jackson, talks us through some key books to get a sense of France’s wartime leader and president, Charles de Gaulle.

The best books on Belgium, recommended by Martin Conway

With a keen awareness of the vicissitudes of history and an ironic sense of national identity, Belgium is a country others could learn a lot from. Historian Martin Conway recommends some books to better understand Belgium/België/Belgique.

The best books on Ukraine, recommended by Marci Shore

The tumultuous history of Ukraine and its continuing upheavals are not well understood beyond its borders. Yale historian Marci Shore recommends the best books on the land of many identities and languages that is modern Ukraine.