Benedict King

Interviews by Benedict King

The best books on Antitrust, recommended by Howard Smith

Across sectors and around the world fewer and fewer companies dominate the economy, with negative consequences for consumers, workers and the economy as a whole. Here, Oxford economist Howard Smith introduces books on ‘antitrust,’ a key policy tool for ensuring that markets are actually functioning properly in market economies.

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 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 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 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 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 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 Mary Seacole, recommended by Jane Robinson

Mary Seacole looked after and provided support to British troops during the Crimean War (1853-1856), setting up a hotel for sick and recovering soldiers close to the fighting near Balaclava. In her day, she was as celebrated as Florence Nightingale, but it was not until the rediscovery and publication of her diary in the 1980s that she came to be widely known as a Victorian heroine in modern times. In 2016, a memorial statue of her was unveiled in London, the first in the UK in honour of a named Black woman. Here her biographer, Jane Robinson, tells us more about the remarkable life of Mary Seacole and the world she lived in.

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 Tech, recommended by Azeem Azhar

Technology is already running our lives and unless regulations are updated to keep up, it could upend our way of life completely, warns Azeem Azhar, entrepreneur, investor, and creator of the Exponential View newsletter. Here, he recommends his five top tech books to help us navigate the near future, from a technical tome to a science fiction novel.

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 Economics Books of 2021, recommended by Diane Coyle

From the education of a Nobel Prize-winning economist to debates about privacy and the drawbacks of global supply chains, Professor Diane Coyle of Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy chooses the best economics books of 2021. These are highly readable books that also shed important light on the Covid pandemic and the world we live in.

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 Baking Cookbooks of 2021, recommended by Becky Krystal

Every year Becky Krystal of the Washington Post and staff writer of “Voraciously”, a food column with a strong ‘how-to’ focus, chooses the best cookbooks of the year for us. In 2021, she’s focusing on books about baking, an activity she’s passionate about—and many of the rest of us have been doing more of in the past year or two.

The Best Romance Books of 2021, recommended by Natasha Tomic

Romance is one of the most widely read and commercially successful genres, a literary haven for those seeking a happy ending. Here, the book blogger and self-confessed romantic fiction addict Natasha Tomic chooses her top five romantic novels of 2021, and explains why it's the perfect escapist genre.

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.

The best books on Mormonism, recommended by Benjamin E. Park

Mormonism is an entirely home-grown American religion. Nevertheless, as historian Benjamin E. Park explains, it struggled to win social acceptance in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century and that marginalisation profoundly shaped its development and, to some extent, its doctrines.

The best books on Assassinations, recommended by Michael Burleigh

From Julius Caesar to Jamal Khashoggi, assassinations often seem earth-shattering in their consequences. But, as historian Michael Burleigh explains, those consequences are rarely the ones the assassins intended. Here, he recommends the best books on assassinations and the assassins who carry them out, including the role of drones and PR agencies.

The best books on Monetary Policy, recommended by Lars Christensen

Monetary policy isn’t just about setting interest rates and if we think about it in those terms, we’ll never really understand it, says Danish economist Lars Christensen. Here, he recommends books to better understand monetary policy, and explains why reading about the past is so important for avoiding mistakes in the future.

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 Religion in US Politics, recommended by John H. Smith

Religion is deeply bound up with politics in the United States, in a way that is unique in the developed world and among democratic countries. Here Professor John H. Smith, a historian at Texas A&M University, looks at the historical roots of this phenomenon and its contemporary significance.

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 Peace, recommended by Steve Killelea

Efforts to bring about peace have often focused on eliminating the conditions of war, violence and terrorism. But as Steve Killelea—founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace and the annual Global Peace Index—explains, the foundations of sustainable peace are radically different from the absence of war and violence. Here, he recommends five books that shed light on the building blocks of peace and explains why ‘positive peace’ is so important.

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 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.

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 Benjamin Franklin, recommended by D.G. Hart

The Founding Fathers of the United States were a remarkable bunch of people, but Benjamin Franklin might have been the most remarkable of them all. Coming from humble stock, he became a businessman, scientist, diplomat and politician—a giant of the Enlightenment. Historian D.G. Hart sheds some light on his character and background and puts him in his broader social and political context.

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.’

The best books on The Inquisition, recommended by Toby Green

The Papal, Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions left records that are goldmines for historians. However, as Professor Toby Green explains, getting caught up in one of their investigations was no fun at all. Here he chooses five books to help you understand why the Inquisitions were created, what they were trying to achieve and why they lasted so long.

The Best Essays: the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award, recommended by Adam Gopnik

Every year, the judges of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay search out the best book of essays written in the past year and draw attention to the author’s entire body of work. Here, Adam Gopnik, writer, journalist and PEN essay prize judge, emphasizes the role of the essay in bearing witness and explains why the five collections that reached the 2021 shortlist are, in their different ways, so important.

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 Virgil, recommended by Sarah Ruden

Virgil is one of the most influential poets in the history of Western literature. Here, another poet, Sarah Ruden, talks about the challenges of translating the Aeneid and why, although we know little about Virgil as a man, his great poem’s take on the violence and power struggles it depicts is deeply ambivalent.

The best books on Economic Nationalism, recommended by Fredrik Erixon

Economic nationalism is more than just protectionism, it is rooted in a view of the national economy as a unique national phenomenon that needs protecting. As economist Fredrik Erixon explains, its roots are to be found as much in the progressive nationalism of Woodrow Wilson as they are in 19th century Prussia or the mercantilism of 17th century Europe.

The best books on Pay, recommended by Jake Rosenfeld

Economists have tended to assume that the value of our personal contribution—our marginal product—largely determines what we get paid. In reality, there are many other factors involved that have nothing to do with our qualifications or personal performance. Here Jake Rosenfeld, Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St Louis, explains why it is that senior executive pay growth has shot up in recent decades and why, for workers at the bottom, it has flatlined.

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 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 History Books of 2020, recommended by Paul Lay

From the great Latin poet Ovid, to the poet of the 17th century English republic, John Milton. From the Jews in Reformation Europe, to the world of the Aztecs across the centuries. From the life of Ludwig van Beethoven to the importance of language, in all its varieties, to studying history. Paul Lay, editor of History Today, recommends his favourite history books of 2020.  

The Best Economics Books of 2020, recommended by Diane Coyle

The global economy has been hit by another massive and unexpected shock this year in the form of the pandemic, which is already having knock-on effects on how people think about economics.  Here, Professor Diane Coyle of Cambridge University chooses the best economics books published in 2020.

The best books on Chinggis Khan, recommended by Timothy May

He was born Temüjin and was afraid of dogs as a child. He went on to create the largest land empire the world has ever known, but was more than just a bloodthirsty conqueror. Timothy May, Professor of Eurasian History at the University of North Georgia and author of a number of books on the Mongol Empire, separates the facts from the myths and explains how the modern world would have looked very different without Genghis or, more accurately, Chinggis Khan.

The best books on Margaret Thatcher, recommended by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer, journalist, historian and friend of Margaret Thatcher, recommends the best books to read to gain an understanding of the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister—and explains why she was the most influential British leader of the modern era.

The best books on Jerusalem, recommended by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a place of longing for three faiths—and yet we know it mostly as a place of strife and conflict. British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem: the Biography, recommends books that capture the historical ups and downs of this ever-changing city, but also its vitality, including its irresistible cuisine.

The best books on Julius Caesar, recommended by Peter Stothard

Julius Caesar was a populist politician and general of the late Roman Republic who immortalized himself not only by his beautiful writing about his military exploits, but also by the manner of his death. Here, British journalist and critic Peter Stothard, author of The Last Assassin, chooses five books to help you understand both the man and what motivated him and some of the people who have been inspired by him in the 2,000 years since he died.

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 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 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.