Benedict King

Interviews by Benedict King

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.

The best books on Ada Lovelace, recommended by Ursula Martin

Ada Lovelace has become an iconic figure for women in science and is often credited with the invention of modern computing. But, as Ursula Martin—mathematician, computer scientist and Lovelace biographer—explains, all of that is a bit overblown. The Lovelace myth obscures the truth about a woman who was certainly a very brilliant mathematician, but who was also often frustrated in her scientific ambitions, in poor health and unhappy.

The best books on The Slave Trade, recommended by William A. Pettigrew

In the 17th and 18th century millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas as slaves. This trade took place at the same time as ‘liberal’ ideas about the importance of human freedom took root in Great Britain and North America. Here, historian William A. Pettigrew recommends five books to help understand the slave trade, how it was established, why it flourished and why it was eventually abolished.

The Best Books on the Future of Work, recommended by Daniel Susskind

For many us, work is not only a vital source of income, but also an important part of our identity. As computers become ever better at doing jobs that used to be the exclusive preserve of humans, the work available to us and the rewards for doing it will change dramatically. As economist Daniel Susskind explains, these developments are going to force us to rethink how society as a whole works at a very fundamental level, changing the role of the state, the way we think about how individuals contribute to society and how they can, or should, be rewarded.

The best books on Cryptocurrency, recommended by David Birch

Proselytes for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin extol them as a liberation technology to free us from big government. Sceptics insist that while they have been the source of useful technologies, as units of value, account and exchange, they will remain marginal. Here, digital currency expert David Birch chooses five books to help you understand the utopian roots of cryptocurrencies, the technology behind how they work, their functions and uses, and their broader place in the long history of money.

The best books on Indian Cricket, recommended by Prashant Kidambi

South Asia has become the beating heart of cricket, with wild enthusiasm for the game at every level of society. Historian Prashant Kidambi—whose book, Cricket Country, was shortlisted for the 2020 Wolfson History Prize—takes us through the history of cricket in India, from its traditional, colonial roots through to the colourful, frenetic national game of today.

The Best Books on the Classical Economists, recommended by Brad DeLong

They were an eclectic bunch, including, among others, a stock market speculator, a moral philosopher, a cleric, a lawyer and a journalist. From the late-18th to the mid-19th century, they provided the first systematic explanations of how economies work, where they fail and how they might be made to work better. Here, Brad DeLong, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley, introduces the classical economists, and suggests books to read to learn more about them and what they were trying to achieve.

The Best Macroeconomics Textbooks, recommended by Raffaele Rossi

In its study of the broader economy, macroeconomics is a vital tool for understanding the world around us, offering insights into issues that affect us all, like inflation and unemployment. Which textbooks to read to learn more about it? Here, Raffaele Rossi, Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, recommends his top macroeconomics textbooks, starting with entry-level books aimed at undergraduates all the way through to the tough tomes you’ll need to plough through if you’re doing a doctorate and want to work at the frontier of the discipline.

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 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 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 Bohemian Living, recommended by Darren Coffield

The bohemian world of London and Paris in the 20th century was a fabled land, where people could go to get lost, reinvent themselves and live life as they wanted. Poverty, alcoholism and misery were often the frequent travelling companions on this journey but, Darren Coffield argues, these marginalised areas of society allowed for a freedom that is almost unimaginable in our own world. He picks the best books on bohemian living.

The best books on Rock and Roll, recommended by Craig Brown

We might console ourselves with the thought that rock stars are generally miserable, but the truth is that most of them seem to have a great time. Journalist, satirist and Beatles biographer Craig Brown selects five of the best books on that rock and roll lifestyle.

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 Psychological Thrillers, recommended by Tammy Cohen

Psychological thrillers play on our fears that those closest to us can’t be trusted and that even our homes aren’t safe, explains Tammy Cohen, author of Stop at Nothing and They All Fall Down. She recommends five psychological thrillers and explains what it is that makes them so deeply unsettling and utterly gripping.

The best books on The Olympic Games, recommended by Philip Barker

The Olympics are one of the world’s great celebrations of sport. Here Philip Barker, Olympic historian and sports journalist, chooses five books that help you to understand the games, their origins and their traditions—and to relive the sporting drama of past Olympic Games.

The best books on The Body, recommended by Karen Harvey

We assume that many of our bodily functions—sleeping and smiling, for example—are ‘natural’ and culturally invariant. But their characteristics and expression are heavily influenced by their cultural milieu. Professor Karen Harvey explains how attitudes to the body in the 18th century were radically rethought in the light of changing scientific and cultural views of its nature and function.

The best books on The Middle Ages, recommended by Hannah Skoda

Oxford medieval historian Hannah Skoda chooses her top five books on the Middle Ages, explaining why she finds the whole idea of their ‘middleness’ problematic and how a more global approach tends to shatter many long-held assumptions about the period.

The Economics of Coronavirus: A Reading List, recommended by Ricardo Reis

As we deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus, what lessons can economic theory and economic history teach us as we navigate the months ahead? Ricardo Reis, professor of economics at the London School of Economics—and consultant to both the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve—recommends four books and one article to help us think through the economic challenges posed by Covid-19.

The best books on The Dark Side of the Olympics, recommended by Helen J Lenskyj

The Olympics are big business—but the extent to which they benefit their host cities is increasingly called into question. They’ve also long been enmired in political controversy. Here Helen J Lenskyj, the academic and anti-Olympics activist, discusses the malign influence of big business, and the inseparability of sport and politics, as she chooses her best books on the bad side of the Olympics.

The best books on Alexander the Great, recommended by Hugh Bowden

Alexander the Great never lost a battle and established an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. From the earliest times, historians have argued about the nature of his achievements and what his failings were, both as a man and as a political leader. Here, Hugh Bowden, professor of ancient history at King’s College London, chooses five books to help you understand the controversies, the man behind the legends, and why the legends have taken the forms they have.

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 The Rule of Law, recommended by Jonathan Sumption

What is the relationship between law and human society? Does the rule of law entail certain rights? What are the justifications for legal constraints on human conduct? Jonathan Sumption, a former Justice of the UK’s Supreme Court, discusses these and other issues related to the rule of law.

The best books on The Bible, recommended by Nicholas King

The Bible is not always an easy read—nor is it always obvious how or where to start reading it. Here, Nicholas King, a Jesuit priest and biblical scholar, chooses five books to help you start getting to grips with what is, arguably, the world’s all-time bestselling book.

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 Yoga, recommended by Liz Derow

Contrary to its popularization in Western culture, yoga isn’t just a form of fitness: its history is rooted in a long Hindu tradition shaped by great teachers in India. Here we have the best books for those who want to learn more about yoga, recommended by Liz Derow, a longtime practitioner and teacher of yoga in India and around the world.

The best books on Isaac Newton, recommended by William Newman

John Maynard Keynes famously cast Isaac Newton not as the first scientist of the age of reason, but the last of the magicians. How should we interpret the million words he wrote, in secret, on alchemy? What should we make of Newton’s heretical religious views? William Newman talks us through the best books for a better understanding of the complex man who was one of the greatest physicists of all time.

The Best Physics Books for Teenagers, recommended by Kate Lee

What are the best books for getting a teenager into physics? Kate Lee, a physics teacher at St Paul’s Girls School, recommends books about NASA, space travel, and the Big Bang—and puzzles the question of why it is so hard for young women to stay in physics as a profession.

The best books on Engineering, recommended by Ante Shoda

What should a budding engineer—or even an experienced one—read for a better understanding of the science and trade? And how does engineering help make our lives better every day? Ante Shoda, an engineer for Honda Racing in California, recommends the best books for a fundamental understanding of engineering.

The Best Art History Books for Teenagers, recommended by John Harrison

Which are the best books to get a teenager excited about art history? We turned to veteran art history teacher John Harrison, formerly head of the art history department at Eton College, for his top five picks of the most illuminating and accessible books for getting a broad overview of the history of art.

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 GDP, recommended by David Pilling

As we try to make the world a better place, how does a measure that started as a way of mobilizing for war in the 17th century help? Can it be improved on? Financial Times journalist David Pilling talks us through the best books to think about gross domestic product, or GDP.