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A Reading List for a Time of Confusion

A Reading List
History Reclaimed
Written by History Reclaimed

A reader has suggested that we recommend books. We are glad to respond with this list, which does not attempt to be comprehensive: over-long reading lists are useless. It concentrates mainly on the modern English-speaking world because this seems of most immediate interest, and it focuses on topics that cause controversy or disquiet, in particular slavery, empire, and the period of the two world wars. We shall update it, and may extend it into other areas if readers would like that.

World History

  • David Abulafia, The Boundless Sea: a Human History of the Oceans (Penguin, 2019)
  • Andrew Lambert, Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict that Made the Modern World (Yale University Press, 2019)
  • David Abulafia, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus (Yale, 2008)
  • Jürgen Osterhammel, Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia (Princeton, 2018)
  • C.A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914 (Blackwell, 2004)
  • Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 2014)
  • David Fieldhouse, The West and the Third World: Trade, Colonialism, Dependence, and Development (Blackwell, 1999)
  • Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millenium (Princeton, 2009)
  • Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (HarperCollins, 2005)


  • Krishan Kumar, Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World (Princeton, 2017)
  • Krishan Kumar, Empires: A Historical and Political Sociology (Polity Press, 2021)
  • Geoffrey Scammell, The World Encompassed: the first European Maritime Empires, c.800-1650 (London, 1981)
  • Fernando Cervantes, Conquistadores: A New History (Allen Lane, 2020)
  • Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415-1825 (London, 1969)
  • Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600-1800 (London, 1965)

The British Empire

  • John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (Penguin, 2013)
  • Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (Penguin, 2004)
  • Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Abacus, 1998)
  • Ronald Hyam, Understanding the British Empire (Cambridge, 2010)
  • Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2006)
  • Bruce Lenman, Britain’s Colonial Wars, 1688-1783 (Longman, 2001)
  • Saul David, Victoria’s Wars: Rise of Empire (Penguin, 2006)
  • James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939 (Oxford, 2009)
  • John Keay, The Honourable Company (HarperCollins, 1993)
  • Saul David, The Indian Mutiny: 1857 (Penguin, 2002)
  • David Gilmour, The British in India: A Social History of the Raj (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2018)
  • Zareer Masani, Indian Tales of the Raj (BBC Books, 1987)
  • Margaret MacMillan, Women of the Raj: Mothers, Wives & Daughters of the British Empire (Thames & Hudson, 2018)
  • Keith Judd and Dennis Surridge, The Boer War (Palgrave MacMillan, 2003)
  • Avner Offer, ‘Costs and benefits, prosperity, and security, 1870-1914’, Oxford History of the British Empire vol III (Oxford 1999) pp 690-711
  • Tirthankar Roy, An Economic History of India 1707-1857 (2nd ed., Routledge, 2021)
  • Tirthankar Roy, The Economic History of India, 1857-2010 (4th ed., Oxford, 2020)
  • Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850 (Pimlico, 2003)
  • Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain (Oxford, 2004)
  • Jeremy Black, Imperial Legacies: The British Empire Around the World (Encounter Books, 2019)

For reference

  • The Oxford History of the British Empire, 5 vols and Companion Series


  • Jeremy Black, The Atlantic Slave Trade in World History (Routledge, 2015)
  • Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (Picador, 1997)
  • David Brion Davies, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford, 2006)

For reference

  • The Cambridge World History of Slavery (4 vols, 2011-17) — the first survey of the entire history of slavery across the world, from antiquity to the present day
  • The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas, eds Robert L. Paquette and Mark M. Smith (Oxford, 2010)

Britain, Slavery and Abolition

  • Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America (Oxford, 2007)
  • Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760-1810 (Macmillan, 1975)
  • Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006)
  • Clare Midgley, Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870 (Routledge, 1995)
  • Keith Hamilton and Patrick Salmon, eds., Slavery, Diplomacy and Empire: Britain and the Suppression of the Slave Trade, 1807-1975 (Brighton, 2006)
  • Sian Rees, Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships that Stopped the Slave Trade (Chatto, 2009)
  • Christopher Lloyd, The Navy and the Slave Trade (Frank Cass, 1968)
  • Neil Falkner, Empire and Jihad: The Anglo-Arab Wars of 1870-1920 (Yale, 2021)

National histories of the Anglophone World:

  • Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 2nd ed., 2006)
  • Alvin Jackson, The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707–2007 (Oxford, 2011)
  • N.A.M. Rodger, A Naval History of Britain, 3 vols (Penguin, 1997-2022)
  • Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (Penguin, 2015)
  • T.M. Devine, The Scottish Nation: 1700-2007 (Penguin, 2006)
  • John Davies, A History of Wales (Penguin, 2007)
  • Paul Bew, Ireland: The Politics of Enmity, 1798-2006 (Oxford, 2007)
  • Liam Kennedy, Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? (Merrion Press, 2015)
  • A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground: Aspects of Ulster, 1609-1969 (Blackstaff Press, 1997)
  • Geoffrey Blainey, The Story of Australia’s People: The Rise and Rise of a New Australia (Viking, 2016)
  • Wilfred M. McClay, Land of Hope:  An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter Books, 2019)
  • Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand (Penguin, 2003)
  • Paul Moon, Colonising New Zealand: A Reappraisal (Routledge, 2021)
  • Viv Nelles, A Little History of Canada (Oxford, 2017)
  • John Keay, India: A History (Harper, 2010)

The Twentieth Century

  • Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949 (Penguin, 2016)
  • Ian Kershaw, Roller-Coaster: Europe 1950-2017 (Penguin, 2018)

The First World War

  • David Stevenson, 1914-1918: The History of the First World War (Penguin, 2004)
  • T.G. Otte, July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge, 2014)
  • Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge, 2008)
  • Nick Lloyd, The Western Front: A History of the First World War (Viking, 2021)
  • Richard Holmes, Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front, 1914-1918 (HarperCollins, 2004)
  • Alexander Watson, Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-18 (Cambridge, 2008)
  • David Reynolds, The Long Shadow: The Great War in the Twentieth Century (Simon & Schuster, 2013)


  • Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (John Murray, 2001)
  • Patricia Clavin, The Great Depression in Europe, 1929-39 (Macmillan, 2000)
  • Ian Kershaw and Moshe Lewin (eds), Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison (Cambridge, 1997)
  • Robert Service, History of Twentieth-Century Russia (Harvard, 1999)
  • Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013)
  • Walter Laqueur, ed., Fascism: A Reader’s Guide (Scholar Press, 1998)
  • Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation (Bloomsbury, 2000)
  • Richard Overy, The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilization (Penguin, 2010)
  • Tim Bouverie, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War (Bodley Head, 2019)

For reference:

  • Zara Steiner, The Lights that Failed: European international history, 1919-1933 (Oxford, 2005)
  • Zara Steiner, The Triumph of the Dark: European International History, 1933-1939 (Oxford, 2011)

The Second World War 

  • John Lukacs, The Last European War, 1939-41 (Routledge, 1977)
  • Richard Overy, Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945 (Penguin, 2021)
  • Philips Payson O’Brien, How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge, 2015)
  • Evan Mawdsley, The War for the Seas: A Maritime history of World War II (Yale, 2019)
  • Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939-45 (London, 1969)
  • Andrew Roberts, Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West (Allan Lane, 2008)
  • Ashley Jackson, The British Empire and the Second World War (Hambledon Continuum, 2006)


  • Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (Vintage, 2005)
  • John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War (Penguin, 2007)
  • Liam Kennedy, Who Was Responsible for the Troubles: the Northern Irish Conflict (McGill-Queens University Press, 2020)


  • F. Fernandez-Armesto, Columbus (Oxford 1991)
  • John Sugden, Sir Francis Drake (Henry Holt & Co., 1991)
  • Mark Bence-Jones: Clive of India (Constable, 2016)
  • Mary V. Thompson, The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon (University of Virginia Press, 2019)
  • John B. Boles, Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty (Basic Books, 2017)
  • John Sugden, Nelson: Volume 1: A Dream of Glory (Jonathan Cape, 2004); Nelson: Volume 2: The Sword of Albion (Bodley Head, 2014)
  • Zareer Masani, Macaulay: Britain’s Liberal Imperialist (Bodley Head, 2013)
  • David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (Pocket Books, 1996)
  • Richard Shannon, Gladstone, 2 vols (Penguin, 1982-99)
  • Robert Rotberg, The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power (Oxford, 1990)
  • David Gilmour, Curzon: Imperial Statesman (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003)
  • Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (Penguin, 2018)
  • Christopher Dummitt, Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017)
  • Bruce Gilley, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defence of the British Empire (Washington DC, Regnery Gateway, 2021)

Histories for younger readers

  • E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World [1936] (Yale University Press, 1985)
  • Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (Allen Lane, 2010)
  • Dominic Sandbrook, The First World War (Particular Books, 2021)
  • Dominic Sandbrook, The Second World War (Particular Books, 2021)

About the author

History Reclaimed

History Reclaimed