The best history books are those that transmit to us the knowledge of historical events while awakening our passion for this discipline, not always well received by the general public.
It is often difficult to offer a rigorous analysis and present it in an attractive way, but there are some titles that have managed to popularize the historical discipline.
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The 18 best history books to enjoy learning
Whether they are general works or works on a specific topic, history books present scientific analyzes of events framed in a specific period. The author tries to reach the conclusion of some facts through the analysis of political, social, economic , and even cultural factors.
These are the 18 books, on various themes, fields and approaches, which have managed to masterfully combine rigor with passion.
Ancient history books
On the shelves of the best bookstores you will find the following titles of exciting works on the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations, or the origins of civilization in general. To know where we come from…
1. The origins of civilization (Gordon Childe)
The ancient world has also aroused great interest and an enormous bibliography has been written that becomes elusive (think of the work of Isaac Asimov or the books of Pierre Grimal, for example).
But if you want to delve into the dawn of humanity, you have to start by reading The Origins of Civilization, because in addition to the historical approach, it offers us the archaeological dimension from the hand of one of the great celebrities: Gordon Childe. The book was written in 1936.
What is crucial in Childe’s view of the book is that for the author prehistory is the continuation of natural history., which allows him to approach the evolution of humanity from the biological point of view while incorporating a purely historical perspective: the intervention of cultural and social progress.
2. History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)
Although it is archaic literature, written in Ancient Greece, the book The History of the Peloponnesian War continues to be published today as a fundamental work in the history of books of history.
This is so because this work inaugurates the historical discipline as a science, as the account of the Peloponnesian War is the construction of an innovative methodology. For the first time, Thucydides tried to explain some historical facts through the search for their roots in the causes, which he divided into distant causes and close causes.
In addition, Thucydides was an Athenian soldier who participated in the wars and, therefore, reconstructs the historical account as a first-hand literary narrative that makes it less tiring and more attractive.
3. The Roman Empire (Pierre Grimal)
Probably the greatest authority on the history of the Roman Empire. His works are translated everywhere, also into Spanish, so that they are accessible to the general public. Like the great historians, he knows how to combine rigor with style.
The history of the Roman Empire has fascinated and still fascinates today the general public., but often the condensation of its stages, the historical events and the succession of emperors and dynasties makes it a tough nut to crack.
Pierre Grimal’s books read remarkably well. Beyond its specificity, the author’s ability to capture the spirit of the times and bring us closer to political history through social and economic phenomena stands out . A treat for lovers of ancient history and a good introductory book.
4. History of Ancient Egypt (Ian Shaw)
It is the most important classic for fans of Egyptology, for having a complete history from the origins of the empire to its disappearance while embellishing the text with a unique literary style and much passion.
This book manages to awaken in us the interest in a magical and mysterious discipline in itself. In addition to political history, it helps us understand the social and cultural dimension of the empire , from the secret of the pyramids to religion and aspects of domestic life.
In addition, Ian Shaw brings us closer to the most outstanding personalities of Egyptian civilization such as Tutankhamun, Nefertiti and Cleopatra .
The best history books from different themes and approaches. | Image by: Kate Ilina/Unsplash.
world history books
Topics such as the evolution of humanity, world wars, Nazism, contemporary times and other times beyond our borders have also captured the attention of the general public. These are some fundamental works.
5. The age of darkness (Catherine Nixey)
Around the fifth century of our era, the intellectuals of an ancient institution like the Academy of Athens had to emigrate to the East. In the West, a historical and dramatic moment was being experienced: the substitution of the classical world for Christianity .
What would come later would be centuries of darkness and the triumph of Faith over Reason, until the arrival of rationalist philosophy with the scientific revolution of the XVI century.
ThisA dramatic stage in the history of thought has been portrayed like no other by the historian Catherine Nixey in a work that has just seen the light of day and is proving to be a success, due to its rigor and the way it is narrated. The Dark Ages bears an eloquent subtitle: How Christianity Destroyed the Classical World.
In addition to moving us to that specific moment, the work helps us to reflect on the importance of intellectual work and the exercise of reason, and challenges us in the midst of the technological revolution to preserve the humanism inherited from classical traditions.
6. Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond)
The figure of Jared Diamond broke into the historiographical universe to leave no one indifferent. Although many criticize his perspective and his scientific method, it is indisputable that he has managed, through rigor, to revolutionize the vision of history .
At the very least, then, he must be recognized for having stimulated the debate. In Guns, Germs and Steel (the work that made him famous) Diamond proposed a reading of the evolution of humanity radically different from that offered by the Western prism of “advanced societies”.
According to Diamond, geographical differences and climate have been decisive factors that have marked the evolution of some regions to extensive agriculture., and have made others remain as hunter-gatherer societies. Without this meaning that these societies are worse or inferior to the first.
Through an entertaining read, albeit sometimes arrogant in tone, Diamond defies canonical history in a Pulitzer Prize-winning work that has sold more than a million copies worldwide.
7. The Upset World (Christopher Hill)
Under the epigraph The extremist popular ideology of the English Revolution of the 17th century, this British historian with a Marxist tendency offered one of the most impressive books to the general public.
Although it is now a forgotten and obsolete title, and as much as its subtitle may give the idea of a dense and remote subject, to immerse oneself in its pages is to lose oneself in a masterfully written fresco on the revolutionary impulses of man .
Beyond the specific historical context, Christopher Hill knows how to translate the spirit of rebellion into the most intrinsic part of man. In addition, he reveals to us the eccentricities of the radical groups that awakened within the English revolution the old illusions of the world revolution and the apocalypse.
We delve into the exciting knowledge of the political ideology and the oddities of the diggers, the rantes, the levellers and other sects that preached the murder of the richfor social leveling, the liberation of sexual drives and debauchery, the exercise of blasphemy and the violation of religious values.
Navigating the disturbed world that Hill reveals to us, the book devours us as those men devoured the values of their time.
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8. Ten days that shook the world (John Red)
The great event of the twentieth century, the Russian revolution, unleashed and continues to stimulate the proliferation of history books on the subject. Although there are some of indisputable historical rigor (for example, those of Robert Service or Moshe Lewin), few have managed to penetrate the spirit of the times in the same way as that of John Red.
John Reed was an American journalist who, attracted by what was happening in Russia, I traveled there to experience the events firsthand.
From his experiences this passionate and biased work is born, for some without historical value, for others the pamphlet of a militant. However, the history bookswritten in the first person are an excellent document that allows us to live the historical events from the first line.
And Reed’s book offers a panoramic view trying to cover the maximum possible events in a historical phenomenon as complex and abysmal as the Russian revolution of 1917.
9. The world of yesterday (Stefan Zweig)
One of the best writers of the world literature, the Austrian Stefan Zweig, wrote in the last days of his life one of the most moving works of historical literature.
Yesterday’s World is the melancholy retrospective of a man who, on the brink of death, watches as the civilization he had known collapsed before him.the imminence of the global debacle . Stefan Zweig died in 1942.
If the period between the wars, between 1918 and 1939, is the most tumultuous in history, then the work of Stefan Zweig stands as a testimony of that historical moment in which the security of the old empires crumbled. and gave way to the rise and tragic future of totalitarianism .
The world of yesterday that Zweig describes is that of the Austro-Hungarian empire: “We thought we would always dance the waltz”.
10. Terror and utopia (Karl Schlogel)
A thousand pages about a city and a year: Moscow, 1937. Terror and utopia is the hope of historiographic rigor for these times, an immeasurable work on a par with the best booksof history of all time.
For years, its author has tirelessly studied the documents in the Soviet archives to shape the starkest terror that appears in this volume with unbearable realism.
In its pages we can learn how the Russians lived in that paranoia that was Stalinism, we can visit their prisons, share the pain of dissidents subjected to cruel treatment, review the illusions that the world revolution awoke and how they were swallowed up in the same way than his acolytes.
Few historians of our time like Karl Schlogel manage to transmit to us with that mixture of cruelty, rigor and enthusiasm the illusions and the tragedy of a society and an era.
11. The origin of totalitarianism (Hannah Arendt)
A more distanced and analytical vision is offered by Hannah Arendt. Recognized as one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century, her book The Origins of Totalitarianism has become, thanks to its seriousness and her engaging style, a historical bestseller.
In this work, this Jewish writer delves into the entrails of the two great monsters of the bloodiest century in history: Nazism and Stalinism. Through the study of anti- Semitism and anti-liberalism as seeds of totalitarianism, Arendt transmits to us the main ideological lines of these movements.
Likewise, Hannah Arendt also links the development of Nazism and Stalinism to the development of imperialism(Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism), which adheres to the classic analysis of Marxism on the roots of fascism.
12. Kaputt (Curzio Malaparte)
Theodor Adorno said at the end of World War II that writing poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. Finding beauty in the story of a tragedy can seem sick, but sometimes it is irresistible.
This happens to us when we read Kaputt and La piel, the fictionalized memoirs of one of the most brilliant intellectuals who fought for fascism during interwar Europe . Regardless of his ideological affiliation, his knowledge of the reality of the moment and his undeniable literary talent make him a reference.
Curzio Malaparte served Fascist Italy as a diplomat and that allowed him to learn about the realities of the most important foreign ministries in Europe. His experiences are collected in a beautiful literary description of the war in Kaputt , and a fresco of Europe in ruins and reconstruction in La piel.
A must for lovers of that exciting period in history.
13. The pending utopias (Xose Manoel Nunez Seixas)
He is probably the best historian of the last generation of historians, and has published very powerful titles on the Spanish civil war and the Franco regime. But in this title he surpassed his national dimension and wrote an essential work for the knowledge of the 20th century.
The pending utopias are not a chronological account of contemporary history, not even the snippets of conventional history . This book is a history of the world since 1945 comparable to the History of the 20th century by master Eric Hobsbawm or For the good of the empire by the recently deceased Josep Fontana.
But the story of Nunez Seixas is rather a crude and at the same time compassionate, tender approach to the social, political and economic transformations straddling the bipolar world of the cold war and its decomposition into chaos and the unfulfilled promises of the turn of the century. .
A selection of history books to enjoy reading. | Image by: Will van Wingerden / Unsplash.
Spanish history books
Due to its particular historical tension, always subject to revolutions and wars, and its impact on universal history, the history of Spain is a star theme for lovers of the genre. Here are the essential titles.
14. The national episodes (Benito Perez Galdos)
To know the contemporary history of Spain it is necessary to read the National Episodes of Benito Perez Galdos. In fact, it is a series of five volumes that, however, can be read separately.
In them, the creative genius of one of the best writers of Spanish literature is put at the service of historical narrationto insert fictional characters in the main chapters of national history in the nineteenth century. There is a consensus in considering it the fundamental work of the modern Spanish era.
Published between 1872 and 1912, it is still being edited today, respecting the division of Galdos himself and preserving the spirit of the work.
In it we can move to the battle of Trafalgar, the war against the French, the revolutionary tumults of the XIX or the first republic and the proclamation of Alfonso XII. An exciting journey through history and literature .
15. The conquest of America (Tzvetan Todorov)
On the conquest of AmericaMuch has been written, many times focusing on the same aspects and focusing on the figure of Christopher Columbus and his relationship with the court in Spain.
The Franco-Bulgarian historian Tzvetan Todorov turned these approaches on their head when he wrote The Conquest of America. The problem of the other as a pretext to cover a much more transcendental issue: “the vision of the other”. How did the conquerors see the indigenous ? And how did the indigenous see the Spanish?
The problem of the other is seen by Tzvetan Todorov as an intellectual commitment against genocide: “I write this book so that this story does not fall into oblivion , nor many others of the same tenor”.
To see the history of the conquest from another perspective, it is highly recommended to read this story written from history and semiotics with a very digestible style.
16. The Spanish Holocaust (Paul Preston)
Another star theme that has sparked an avalanche of history books is the Spanish civil war. Its historical dimension, as a prelude to the Second World War , and its geographical proximity, make it a guaranteed success for the general public.
There are some names that reinforce the security of success. Paul Preston, born in Liverpool, has become one of the most renowned Hispanists and without a doubt one of the great authorities on the subject of the civil war.
Of his numerous books, it is worth highlighting El holocausto espanol, a recently published title that condenses the data and knowledge collected over the years by this master of history. It is a good tool to get to know the civil war in its depth, although its classic style can be a bit heavy at times.
17. In Defense of Spain (Stanley Payne)
Another celebrity on the subject is Stanley G. Payne, who, confident in his talent and background, has dared to write In Defense of Spain as a new contribution to the eternal and thorny debate on the history of Spain and its character.
In this book, where neither a chronology nor a usual history is made, Payne intends rather to define the history of Spain and its national character through the destruction and deconstruction of the myths and legends that have accompanied it.
Payne’s story is, as his title indicates, partisan and compromised. He flees from the equidistance to join the recent task of some historians to combat the black legend that has survived from the era of the empire until today and that defines Spain as a barbaric, decadent and authoritarian people.
18. History of Spain told for skeptics (Juan Eslava Galan)
Sometimes originality wins over historical rigor, even though Juan Eslava Galan keeps both intact, offering a global history of Spain from prehistory to Jose Maria Aznar in an entertaining and attractive way for the public.
In this work, perfect for those history lovers who nevertheless find it difficult to follow very rigorous works, we can visit the Spaniards of Atapuerca, the conquerors of America , the liberals who fought against the French or the Spain of the transition from a more casual vision.
“I do not pretend that it is truthful, fair and dispassionate, because no story is, but at least I will try not to lie and not knowingly misrepresent itself”,writes Juan Eslava Galan himself.
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