The best history books that resonate across time and place

Who am I?

I'm a historian who teaches strategic studies at the National Defense University and Georgetown University in Washington, DC. I'm fascinated by how we write and teach history, how we interpret it, and how we use it. To use history, we have to “get it right,” but we also have to think about how the past impacts the present. One of the foremost challenges confronting historians is how to write the history of their particular subject well while making it applicable (and interesting) more universally. The following books are all particular to the region I study most closely—the Eastern Mediterranean—but their grasp of humanity is profound. Their power and perspectives ring true across millennia.


I wrote...

Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones

By Andrew R. Novo, Jay M. Parker,

Book cover of Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones

What is my book about?

In the world of strategic studies, there are few books more widely studied than Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides’ work is difficult to teach and study because it's long, dense, and substantive. Thucydides was ambitious in hoping that his work would be a “possession for all time.” My co-author, Jay Parker, and I tried to peel away the layers of cliché and oversimplification to get at the “real” Thucydides. Our approach was simple: read the whole book and explore Thucydides’s own time to understand both his historical context and the context of his History. The result is a book that tries to challenge preconceptions and simplified interpretations of Thucydides’s work, but also how we read any “great book” with lessons meant to satisfy existing agendas.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Andrew R. Novo Why did I love this book?

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War probably needs no introduction. It is our only primary source for the shattering conflict between Athens and Sparta, which ended the “Golden” period of Athens famous for its art, its plays, and of course, its revolutionary system of direct democracy. Beyond its value as a work of history, Thucydides provides timeless insights into the nature of humanity, conflict, and society. He remains one of the most profound writers about human nature, politics, and strategy. When I teach Thucydides, I often joke with students that whatever you are looking for, “you can find it in Thucydides.” Just thinking in terms of contemporary headlines, we might say that if you’re interested in the dynamics of great power competition, you can find it in Thucydides. If you want to explore how societies react to pandemic diseases, how democracies debate policy or how they are vulnerable to demagoguery, how policymakers manage fears of escalation in conflict, or how big conflicts can have small causes, “you can find it in Thucydides.”

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Landmark Thucydides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta "a possession for all time," and indeed it is the first and still the most famous work in the Western historical tradition.

Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.

However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Written centuries before the rise of modern historiography, Thucydides' narrative is not continuous or linear. His authoritative chronicle of what he considered the greatest war…


Book cover of Freedom and Death

Andrew R. Novo Why did I love this book?

Kazantzakis is perhaps most famous for being excommunicated after he wrote The Last Temptation of Christ, but I think his best book is Freedom and Death. Freedom and Death was described as Kazantzakis’ “modern Iliad,” but it is more than a tale of heroes and war. It is about the struggle of the Cretan people for liberty and their desire to end the Ottoman occupation of their island at the end of the 19th century. In spite of the obvious morality of the cause of freedom, Kazantzakis paints a complex picture in which there are no obvious heroes and humanity’s faults are clearly visible. No character is more noble than the Turk, Nuri Bey. None more flawed than the novel’s Greek protagonist, Captain Michalis. Freedom and Death is also the powerful story of a man’s struggle against himself and the conflict between our personal interests and our greater obligations. It is about the dreams we pursue and the costs we suffer to achieve them. In Kazantzakis’ work, these profound tensions are often resolved through violence, but for all the brutality in the book, a sensitive and powerful portrait of humanity at its best and worst endures.

By Nikos Kazantzakes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom and Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Freedom and Death


Book cover of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

Andrew R. Novo Why did I love this book?

This book is an extraordinary synthesis of half a century of history (c. 1520-1571) as European powers and the Ottoman Empire fought for control of the Mediterranean Sea. Empires of the Sea focuses on a number of momentous military engagements, the Siege of Rhodes (1522), the Siege of Malta (1565), the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus (1570-1), and the Battle of Lepanto (1571). Crowley writes like an artist evoking the colors and textures of the brilliant seventeenth-century amid a world of emperors, sultans, popes, and pirates. He manages to capture both the extraordinary individuals who shaped momentous events through their personalities and the broader historical trends that led to the defeat of Ottoman expansion during the 16th century and shaped the contours of Europe as we know it today.

By Roger Crowley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Empires of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Empires of the Sea shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453 it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire - and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.


Book cover of The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe

Andrew R. Novo Why did I love this book?

There is no better scholar of modern Greece than Mark Mazower and his latest work on the Greek Revolution is a tour de force. As the title suggests, Mazower explores how the Greek Revolution, based on the “new politics” of national identity, overthrew Ottoman imperialism and established the world’s first true nation-state. The Greek Revolution gives us all the famous characters from 1821 in detail: Koloktronis, the brigand turned general who became a national hero. Ibrahim Pasha, the son of the Pasha of Egypt who dreamed of conquering Greece for himself. Ioannis Kapodistrias was a brilliant diplomat who became the first Greek head of state only to be murdered by his own people. And George Byron, the poet, turned adventurer, turned financer of the Greek Revolution who died of fever while campaigning for Greek freedom. At the same time, the book analyzes more universal characteristics of revolutions: their fundamental link to civil wars, the bloody, atrocity-filled realities of wars fought on the basis of nationalist principles, and the cynical complexities of geopolitics when the weak fight against the strong.

By Mark Mazower,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Greek Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the exhausted, repressive years that followed Napoleon's defeat in 1815, there was one cause that came to galvanize countless individuals across Europe and the United States: freedom for Greece.

Mark Mazower's wonderful new book recreates one of the most compelling, unlikely and significant events in the story of modern Europe. In the face of near impossible odds, the people of the villages, valleys and islands of Greece rose up against Sultan Mahmud II and took on the might of the imperial Ottoman armed forces, its Turkish cavalrymen, Albanian foot soldiers and the fearsome Egyptians. Despite the most terrible disasters,…


Book cover of The Leopard

Andrew R. Novo Why did I love this book?

E. M. Forster famously described Lampedusa’s solitary work as “one of the great lonely books.” It is a masterpiece that simultaneously captures both the peculiarity of Sicily within the experience of the wars of Italian Unification while brilliantly portraying characters confronting universal human emotions of love, loss, and struggle in times of momentous change. Lampedusa based the book’s protagonist, the Prince of Salina, on his own grandfather. The story, told in a series of episodes across half a century, while fictionalized, captures the essential elements of the birth of the modern Italian state, the rise of a new class of elites at the expense of the old, landed aristocracy, and the often-fraught attempt to create a unified Italian identity. There is a well-known film with Burt Lancaster in the starring role along with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale that really evokes the visual power of the subject, but the book remains a must-read.

By Giuseppe Di Lampedusa,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Leopard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Leopard is a modern classic which tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution.

'There is a great feeling of opulence, decay, love and death about it' Rick Stein

In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi's landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them.

'Every once in a…


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The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


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Interested in the Ottoman Empire, Greece, and the Peloponnesian War?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Ottoman Empire, Greece, and the Peloponnesian War.

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