I am proofreading a book about history writ large: how capitalism intertwines with nature, work, food, energy, money, care, and lives. It bounces all around the world—from the island of Madeira to Potosí in Peru; from the Netherlands and Norway to Malacca and Goa—and all through time as well. One take-home message I get is this: everything changes; nothing endures. Which gives hope, even while it reinforces a certain sense of futility in our puny human efforts to bring about good change.
The book made me realize that I don't read much history, which means I don't really know much about history. And it made me wonder if there are any lists out there of the best history books, which I might dip into to try to educate myself.
Well, of course a Google search got me several such lists! I'm going to pluck a few titles for my own list here, as something (possibly) to come back to when I have more time to read (not that I don't already have way too much to read . . . ).
From a list from a year ago, in the Independent, I spotted a few titles that I might benefit from—and that are reported to be eminently readable:
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
The English and Their History by Robert Tombs (at 1,000+ pages, a candidate for my "big books" challenge)
Men at War: What Fiction Tells Us about Conflict, from "The Iliad" to "Catch-22" by Christopher Coker
Or here, from Gizmodo io9, are a few books "That Will Change How You See History":
A People's History of the United States, 1492–the Present [or at least 1980] by Howard Zinn
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman
. . . or, indeed, anything by Barbara Tuchman
Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland
And then there's a list of 100 best history books at ListMuse. A few jump out:
The Idea of History by R. G. Collingwood
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past by John Lewis Gaddis
Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson
Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War by Eric Foner
Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure, and Social Change in England by J. M. Neeson
A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt
Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time by Karl Polanyi (from 1944 but still relevant)
Finally—as if all those titles aren't enough—here's a link to the "top 10" list for students of International Relations, recommended by Harvard professor Stephen Walt.
"Who Makes ¢ents? A History of Capitalism Podcast"! Perfect! I'll leave those books till . . . later. Maybe just knowing that they exist will satisfy my curiosity. I mean seriously—who has time to do all that reading? History will keep marching on whether I understand it or not . . .