I was going to read Noam Chomsky's Interventions over the weekend, but on Friday Norman Stone's World War One: A Short History (Penguin) turned up. I read it in about two sittings. Very compelling; commendably well done. Nothing about the African campaigns and, obviously, plenty of other gaps too (weirdly, too much battle detail in parts and, overall, not nearly enough (geo-)politics). I'll review it later today or tomorrow on The Book Depository (currently down because of the Gloucester floods).

I've just got stuck into Adam Tooze's Wages of Destruction. I think this summer, history books are going to dominate.

My favourite history books? Top five might be as below. What are yours? I'm especially keen to know what you'd recommend next on WWI and WWII.

Readers Comments

  1. Rodney Pybus Monday 23 July 2007

    Looks a very strong list! I'd want to add E.J. Hobsbawm The Age of Empire 1875-1914, and to put everything in perspective how about some Herodotus? There's a delightful Penguin taster called Snakes with Wings & Gold-digging Ants. And that reminds me to mention a book that's high on my to-read list: the late Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus.

  2. Resolute Reader Monday 23 July 2007

    Top 5??? That's hard. How about

    1.The Scramble for Africa, Thomas Pakenham
    2.The History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky
    3.Black Jacobins, C L R James
    4.The Assassination of Julius Caesar, A People’s History of Ancient
    Rome, Michael Parenti
    5.Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond

    But that means quite a few wonderful books, and leaves me feeling quite unsettled.

  3. Rodney -- the Hobsbawm would, I think, have made it into my top ten! His 20th Century history -- Age of Extremes -- is on my summer reading list.

    RR -- Yes, I should defo read the James.

    A while back I read Adam Hochschild's shocking and compelling King Leopold's Ghost. Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is noteworthy too. Years and years back I read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and remember it as excellent. But I'd need to re-read to have anything half informative to say on the matter ...

  4. Valerie Trueblood Monday 23 July 2007

    Hobsbawm's The Age of Empire, and The Age of Extremes. (And his odd book Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion, and Jazz--with a chapter on guerrilla war in Vietnam)

    Gar Alperovitz: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb--vast and meticulous.

    H.C. Peterson and Gilbert C. Fite: Opponents of War, 1917-1918. The little-remembered story of resistance to WWI in the U.S., with many contemporary cartoons.

    Ian Patterson's recent Guernica and Total War.

    Marguerite Young's Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs. Cross between history and bizarre epic poem.

  5. Oooh, good list Valerie! I'm intrigued you rate Ian Patterson's recent Guernica and Total War so highly. I'll dig my copy out.

  6. Martyn Everett Monday 23 July 2007

    Here's five I hope might be washed up on my desert island...

    Norman Brailsford: The Levellers and the English Revolution
    Charles Poulson; The English Rebels
    Martin Bernal: Black Athena
    Edith Thomas: Louise Michel
    Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker: the Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

  7. Jacob Russell Tuesday 24 July 2007

    Orlando Figue: A Peoples Tragedy, and Mike Davis: Late Victorian Holocausts.. the latter is a fine primer to the colonial antecedents of globalization.

  8. ResoluteReader Tuesday 24 July 2007

    Martyn: The Many-Headed Hydra is an amazing book, - fantastic history writing.
    Mark: I'd love to read Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, it's supposed to be superb. You should definitely read CLR James - particularly given some of the guff we've heard this year about the abolition of slavery.

    A couple of other books I'd add as well - Man's Worldly Goods, by Hubermann (sp?) - a rather enjoyable account of the world's economic history, and of course, Gordon Childe's books, particularly "What Happened in History".

  9. Martin, RR -- I'm with you both: anything by Linebaugh is great.

    I've heard mixed things about Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy: Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. I should probably check it out.

    Any recommendations of good WWI and WWII books folks?

  10. A lot of the already mentioned books are on my to-read-pile, and others I haven't quite finished (such as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa). But here's one:

    The Origin of Capitalism by Ellen Meiksins Wood

    and a couple by Gabriel Kolko:

    The Triumph of Conservatism
    Century of War

  11. Hiya Richard,

    Yup, Wood's The Origin of Capitalism is excellent. The Empire of Capital was pretty good too.

    I note: In Defense of History: Marxism and the Postmodern Agenda which is recent. Wonder if that is any use? Sounds like a bit of a defensive/provocative title.

  12. Yeah, I'm in the midst of Empire of Capital--also in the midst of Hill's World Turned Upside Down, and Murray Bookchin's so-far-excellent The Spanish Anarchists...

    I have a particular kind of ADD when it comes to history--each book I read makes me want to read ten others, which I all too often start before I've finished the first!

  13. Martyn Everett Tuesday 24 July 2007

    World War I - the book that made the biggest impression on me was War is War written by A.M Burrage using the pseudonym of Ex Private X. It is a personal account rather than a "history" of the war. I found it on my grandfather's bookshelf when I was about 10 and read it through without stopping...I re-read it again a few years ago and it still packs a powerful punch. you can sample some of it here:

    World War II - Norman Davies: Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw

    Richard that ADD must be catching....!!

  14. That ADD certainly isn't peculiar to you boys. Both philosophy and history books send me into spirals of further book needs! Hence my original post, really ...

    That Burrage book looks good Martyn. Thanks.

  15. ResoluteReader Wednesday 25 July 2007

    On the run up to, and the first months of WW1, Barbara Tuchmann's "Gun's of August" is still THE classic text, and a rollicking good read.

    WW2, Antony Beevor's book "Stalingrad" is superb, and though it's companion work, "Berlin" is excellent, it's not as good as Stalingrad.

    Harrison Salisbury's "The 900 Days" about the siege of Leningrad is military writing at it's best. As a look at how total war affected civilians in the 20th Century it's brilliant.

    Finally, John Erickson's twin books "The Road to Berlin" and "The Road to Stalingrad" are both excellent, though heavy on the military side of things - lots of battalions moving west and east if you know what I mean.

  16. I recommend "Helmuth Von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War" by Annika Mombauer.

  17. Interrpreting 'history' broadly, the best history books are:

    Capital by Karl Marx
    Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture by Chris Knight
    Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.

  18. Nicholas Murray Wednesday 25 July 2007

    Ornamentalism by David Cannadine is brilliantly carried off.

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