History Books


Tight but Polite
Anyone want to recommend some? "Intelligent layman" sort of stuff, so ideally not ultra-specialized or densely theoretical, but not dumbed down either.

Particular points of interest would be:
* social / cultural / economic stuff rather than or as well as political and military
* pre-roman europe / africa / central asia
* europe after rome
* the renaissance / enlightenment / beginnings of recognizably modern society
* non-european history generally
but generally I'd be interested to hear about anything that people have to suggest or discuss.


Well-known member
Tony Judt - Postwar . Europe from 45-now (or about 2005ish), it is epic in scope, but always readable (even the bits on the evolution of the EU). Fair measure of cultural overview in there, not always convincing, but great on the political context of people like Almodovar, and also the way American govt used Hollywood as its propaganda arm in the post-war period.

this is good fun, Roman republican history as a kinda tragicomedy, something you can read in about the time it would take to watch Spartacus


Tight but Polite
Currently reading The English Civil War - A People's History by Diane Purkiss, which is pretty good on a subject that I knew very little about. If I've got a quibble it's that she's a bit too willing to take religious belief as a motivation in itself rather than examining it as a product of other forces or a convenient cover for another motivation. The general content is very good, though, and the approach via lots of first-hand accounts and the continuing focus on what was actually happening to real people as well as the grand narrative of the war is very interesting.

Another recent read was this The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789 by TCW Blanning, which was pretty excellent. Much denser and more academic that the Purkiss, but a really interesting concept: a look at the growth of the public sphere, with a focus on the way that european culture (particularly music, art, theatre and architecture) developed from a way for the monarch to demonstrate their power to a popular mood that the monarch has to keep in touch with to stay relevant.

That book about sugar looks interesting, too. I've just realized that I started a thread asking for recommendations and then ignored all of them (although I've since read Q and thought it was fairly crap). Oops...


Wild Horses
I have really enjoyed Martin Gilbert's 3 part "History of the 20th Century". A chapter on each year, with the major political and global events delineated. Draws on a monstrous range of primary sources, including letters, contemporary newspapers and so forth. He normally has a tiny bit at the end of each chapter about inventions and natural disasters which feels like lip service but ywell, ou can't have everything. Lots of material from Africa and the Far East as well, which shakes up your normal Westocentrism a bit. I found parts of it - the revolution and it's supression in Hungary for instance - as gripping as any thriller.

Gilbert is I believe Churchill's offical biographer, and it's hard to find a bad word about him in here, but I don't know enough about Churchill's life to critque Gilbert on this point really. It's just apparent on reading the related sections that he thinks very highly of him. Still not finished the third volume - stalled on about 1965, I think, which is funny as I regard this as the point where recent history becomes really interesting. But it's great, and I will persist.


Well-known member
Mark Mazower's Salonica is probably the best non-academic (ie not too theory-laden) history book I've read. Looks at a really broad range of perspectives and historiographically is very well crafted.

On the more academic side, Close Encounters of Empire is a book I read at undergrad that has always stuck in my memory as being very good, largely because it doesn't stick to any simplistic "USA good/bad" narrative.

Also, i found Patrick Joyce's The Rule of Freedom and James Scott's Seeing Like A State good accounts of the emergence of liberalism, but they can be quite dense.

Recently read David Blackbourne's The Conquest Of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany which looks at how notions of landscape have changed, and how the landscape itself has been changed since the industrial revolution. Get's a little repetitive, but still surprisingly interesting for a book about canals and dams (disclosure: I have a bit of a thing for canals).


Well-known member
And while both very Eurocentric and very dense, I think Foucault writes better history than 90% of historians...


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