The best books on modernity

Who picked these books? Meet our 53 experts.

53 authors created a book list connected to modernity, and here are their favorite modernity books.
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Book cover of The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge

Joseph P. Forgas Author Of The Psychology of Populism: The Tribal Challenge to Liberal Democracy

From the list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies.

Who am I?

I'm an experimental social psychologist and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. I grew up in Hungary, and after an adventurous escape I ended up in Sydney. I received my DPhil and DSc degrees from the University of Oxford, and I spent various periods working at Oxford, Stanford, Heidelberg, and Giessen. For my work I received the Order of Australia, as well as the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. As somebody who experienced totalitarian communism firsthand, I am very interested in the reasons for the recent spread of totalitarian, tribal ideologies, potentially undermining Western liberalism, undoubtedly the most successful civilization in human history.

Joseph's book list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies

Discover why each book is one of Joseph's favorite books.

Why did Joseph love this book?

This book is a real tour de force, applying the rationale of self-governing and naturally emerging evolutionary mechanisms to explain a wide variety of social, biological, cultural, and civilizational processes.

The book offers wonderful insights into such topics as the emergence of creative ideas, the growth of cities, the evolution of language, why state-controlled health care and education systems are often inefficient, the resilience of free-market economies, the rise of morality and trust as a consequence of natural social interactions, and much more besides.

Readable, entertaining, and full of incredibly useful information.

By Matt Ridley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Evolution of Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating, brilliant argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.

The Evolution of Everything is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch—the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Drawing on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy, Matt Ridley’s wide-ranging, highly opinionated opus demolishes conventional assumptions that major scientific and social imperatives are dictated by those on high, whether in government, business, academia,…

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

By Yuval Noah Harari,

Book cover of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yakov Ben-Haim Author Of The Dilemmas of Wonderland: Decisions in the Age of Innovation

From the list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on.

Who am I?

I am a retired university professor. My research, in which I am still actively engaged, deals with decision-making under deep uncertainty: how to make a decision, or design a project, or plan an operation when major relevant factors are unknown or highly uncertain. I developed a decision theory called info-gap theory that grapples with this challenge, and is applied around the world in many fields, including engineering design, economics, medicine, national security, biological conservation, and more.

Yakov's book list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on

Discover why each book is one of Yakov's favorite books.

Why did Yakov love this book?

The world is complicated and confusing, but Harari organizes this complexity into 21 issues covering such diverse topics as liberty, community, war, ignorance, and meaning.

The book is a collection of self-standing essays that can be read independently. The prevailing message is that we can understand the world in which we live, though, at the same time, we cannot always make reliable decisions today or confidently predict the future because we fundamentally don't know what's going on.

Finally, the book offers a warning: modern technology, coupled with artificial intelligence, may challenge human freedom if we lose control of the powerful and evolving forces of hi-tech and AI.

By Yuval Noah Harari,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 21 Lessons for the 21st Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


In twenty-one bite-sized lessons, Yuval Noah Harari explores what it means to be human in an age of bewilderment.

How can we protect ourselves from nuclear war, ecological cataclysms and technological disruptions? What can we do about the epidemic of fake news or the threat of terrorism? What should we teach our children?

The world-renowned historian and intellectual Yuval Noah Harari takes us on a thrilling journey through today's most urgent issues. The golden thread running through his exhilarating new book is the challenge of maintaining our collective and individual focus in the face of constant…

Book cover of A Brief History of the Human Race

John Robert McNeill Author Of The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

From the list on world history from the Paleolithic to the present.

Who am I?

I’m a historian who wants to understand the big picture as best I can. And while occasionally I can clear my schedule enough to read a 1,000pp book, realistically that won’t happen often so I am always on the alert for short books that aim to provide what I am looking for: a coherent vision of the whole of human history. That’s asking a lot of an author, but these five do it well.

John's book list on world history from the Paleolithic to the present

Discover why each book is one of John's favorite books.

Why did John love this book?

This one is 359 pages and says almost nothing about the 20th century. It is quirky in terms of what it includes and what it leaves out, but reliable in its facts and judgments, and full of insights I haven’t encountered elsewhere. It does not bother with grand theories or overarching narrative, but focuses on what the author finds interesting. Cook is a specialist on the history of Islam, which gives the book an uncommon vantage point. 

By Michael Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Brief History of the Human Race as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why has human history been crowded into the last few thousand years? Why has it happened at all? Could it have happened in a radically different way? What should we make of the disproportionate role of the West in shaping the world we currently live in? This witty, intelligent hopscotch through human history addresses these questions and more. Michael Cook sifts the human career on earth for the most telling nuggets and then uses them to elucidate the whole. From the calendars of Mesoamerica and the temple courtesans of medieval India to the intricacies of marriage among an aboriginal Australian…

The Long Shadow

By David Reynolds,

Book cover of The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century

Benjamin Carter Hett Author Of The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic

From the list on the legacy of the First World War.

Who am I?

I was a law school graduate heading for my first job when, unable to think of anything better to do with my last afternoon in London, I wandered through the First World War galleries of the Imperial War Museum. I was hypnotized by a slide show of Great War propaganda posters, stunned by their clever viciousness in getting men to volunteer and wives and girlfriends to pressure them. Increasingly fascinated, I started reading about the war and its aftermath. After several years of this, I quit my job at a law firm and went back to school to become a professor. And here I am.

Benjamin's book list on the legacy of the First World War

Discover why each book is one of Benjamin's favorite books.

Why did Benjamin love this book?

David Reynolds is simply one of the smartest and most original historians operating today. Do we imagine that no one thought much about the poems of Wilfred Owen until the 1960s? Do we think about how important the fiftieth anniversary of the Somme was for the politics of Ireland? This book is packed full of perceptive and original insights about the Great War’s very long legacy.

By David Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the most violent conflicts in the history of civilization, World War I has been strangely forgotten in American culture. It has become a ghostly war fought in a haze of memory, often seen merely as a distant preamble to World War II. In The Long Shadow critically acclaimed historian David Reynolds seeks to broaden our vision by assessing the impact of the Great War across the twentieth century. He shows how events in that turbulent century-particularly World War II, the Cold War, and the collapse of Communism-shaped and reshaped attitudes to 1914-18.

By exploring big themes such as…

The Swerve

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Book cover of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Benjamin Hoffmann Author Of The Paradoxes of Posterity

From the list on why people write books.

Who am I?

I grew up in Bordeaux, a city that became prominent during the eighteenth century. My hometown inspired my love of eighteenth-century French studies, which led me to the Sorbonne, then to Yale University where I earned a PhD. Today, I am an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University. I am the author of eight novels and monographs published in France and the US, including American Pandemonium, Posthumous America, and Sentinel Island. My work explores numerous genres to question a number of recurring themes: exile and the representation of otherness; nostalgia and the experience of bereavement; the social impact of new technologies; America’s history and its troubled present.

Benjamin's book list on why people write books

Discover why each book is one of Benjamin's favorite books.

Why did Benjamin love this book?

While The Swerve is not exactly a book about posterity, it nonetheless provides a wonderful case study of a text that remained on the verge of destruction for centuries, before going on to play a tremendously influential role in shaping our modern world. This book is none other than On The Nature of Things by Lucretius –one of the foundational texts of Western culture, whose impact was postponed to the fifteenth century, as it would not have seen the light of day without its serendipitous rediscovery in a German monastery by Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459). This gripping work offers a fascinating example of the delayed reception of a prominent cultural object, a proof of its extraordinary resilience, and, at the same time, an illustration of the role played by chance and accidents on the transmission of texts to posterity. 

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a dusty shelf in a remote monastery, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. He was Poggio Bracciolini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery, Lucretius' ancient poem On the Nature of Things, had been almost entirely lost to history for more than a thousand years.

It was a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functions without the aid of gods, that religious fear is damaging to…

Liquid Modernity

By Zygmunt Bauman,

Book cover of Liquid Modernity

Richard R. Weiner Author Of Sustainable Community Movement Organizations: Solidarity Economies and Rhizomatic Practices

From the list on understanding regimes of law and political economy.

Who am I?

Rich Weiner co-edited this featured volume with Francesca Forno. He is a political sociologist with a strong foundation in the history of political and social thought. He has served for twenty-two years as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences. His focus has been on non-statist political organizations and social movements with a perspective of middle-range theorizing enriched by three generations of Frankfurt School critical theory of society.

Richard's book list on understanding regimes of law and political economy

Discover why each book is one of Richard's favorite books.

Why did Richard love this book?

Describes in depth a brave new world of uncertain constant acceleration and continued change in institutions and social relations.

I like the way Bauman depicts a condensing resonance, a new way of “being in the world.” Specifically, this is an increasing fluidity and fragmentation of social solidarities, where nothing is secure and where everything can be made redundant.

A world that Ulrich Beck, even before the new century, referred to as “the Second Modernity.”

By Zygmunt Bauman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this new book, Bauman examines how we have moved away from a a heavya and a solida , hardware--focused modernity to a a lighta and a liquida , software--based modernity. This passage, he argues, has brought profound change to all aspects of the human condition. The new remoteness and un--reachability of global systemic structure coupled with the unstructured and under--defined, fluid state of the immediate setting of life--politics and human togetherness, call for the rethinking of the concepts and cognitive frames used to narrate human individual experience and their joint history. This book is dedicated to this task. Bauman…

The Palliative Society

By Byung-Chul Han, Daniel Steuer (translator),

Book cover of The Palliative Society: Pain Today

William Byers Author Of How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics

From the list on thinking, creativity, and mathematics.

Who am I?

I'm a mathematician but an unusual one because I am interested in how mathematics is created and how it is learned. From an early age, I loved mathematics because of the beauty of its concepts and the precision of its organization and reasoning. When I started to do research I realized that things were not so simple. To create something new you had to suspend or go beyond your rational mind for a while. I realized that the learning and creating of math have non-logical features. This was my eureka moment. It turned the conventional wisdom (about what math is and how it is done) on its head.

William's book list on thinking, creativity, and mathematics

Discover why each book is one of William's favorite books.

Why did William love this book?

It’s a little weird that this book should find a place on my list. It’s a book about how society has become resistant to anything that is difficult and painful and the kinds of people that we have become as a result. But mathematics is difficult! To understand mathematics you have to think hard, sometimes for a long time. Moreover understanding something hard is discontinuous, it requires a leap to a new way of thinking. You have to start with a problem and this problem might be an ambiguity or a contradiction. A is true and B is true but A and B seem to contradict one another. When you sort out this problem you will have learned something.

The moral here is to embrace things that are difficult if you want to learn significant new things. “No pain, no gain.” You don’t have to worry about some super AI…

By Byung-Chul Han, Daniel Steuer (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Palliative Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Our societies today are characterized by a universal algophobia: a generalized fear of pain. We strive to avoid all painful conditions - even the pain of love is treated as suspect. This algophobia extends into society: less and less space is given to conflicts and controversies that might prompt painful discussions. It takes hold of politics too: politics becomes a palliative politics that is incapable of implementing radical reforms that might be painful, so all we get is more of the same.

Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, the palliative society is transformed into a society of survival. The virus enters…

Book cover of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

Jeremy Bendik-Keymer Author Of Involving Anthroponomy in the Anthropocene: On Decoloniality

From the list on how we got to climate change and mass extinction.

Who am I?

I’m the grandson of a coal miner from a multi-generational, Ohio family. What matters most to me is having some integrity and being morally okay with folks. I never thought of myself as an environmentalist, just as someone trying to figure out what we should be learning to be decent people in this sometimes messed-up world. From there, I was taken into our environmental situation, its planetary injustice, and then onto studying the history of colonialism. This adventure cracked open my midwestern common sense and made me rethink things. Happily, it has only reinforced my commitment to, and faith in, moral relations, giving our word, being accountable, and caring.

Jeremy's book list on how we got to climate change and mass extinction

Discover why each book is one of Jeremy's favorite books.

Why did Jeremy love this book?

I love how Dipesh’s book shows a historian at the height of his powers explaining how history has become geological. Decades ago, Chakrabarty began as someone arguing for a history that made Europe “provincial”. Now he argues that all human history is relative to planetary time. His writing is infused with humanism and is up to date on Earth System Science.

By Dipesh Chakrabarty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Climate of History in a Planetary Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the past decade, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has been one of the most influential scholars addressing the meaning of climate change. Climate change, he argues, upends long-standing ideas of history, modernity, and globalization. The burden of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age is to grapple with what this means and to confront humanities scholars with ideas they have been reluctant to reconsider-from the changed nature of human agency to a new acceptance of universals.

Chakrabarty argues that we must see ourselves from two perspectives at once: the planetary and the global. This distinction is central to Chakrabarty's work-the…

One-Dimensional Man

By Herbert Marcuse,

Book cover of One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society

Todd McGowan Author Of Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets

From the list on psychoanalysis and capitalism.

Who am I?

I have spent a great deal of time exploring how psychoanalytic theory might be the basis for a critique of capitalism. I had always heard the Marxist analysis of capitalist society, but what interested me was how psychoanalytic theory might offer a different line of thought about how capitalism works. The impulse that drives people to accumulate beyond what is enough for them always confused me since I was a small child. It seems to me that psychoanalytic theory gives us the tools to understand this strange phenomenon that somehow appears completely normal to us. 

Todd's book list on psychoanalysis and capitalism

Discover why each book is one of Todd's favorite books.

Why did Todd love this book?

This is the one classic text on my list. Marcuse’s book was like a bible to protesting students in the 1960s, and its critique of the psychic levelling that occurs under capitalism remains just as germane today, if not more so. This is the most successful marriage of Freud and Marx that emerged from the famous Frankfurt School, which was a group of cultural Marxist invested in psychoanalysis. Marcuse grasps how capitalism employs technology to ensure its psychic dominance. 

By Herbert Marcuse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One-Dimensional Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1964, One-Dimensional Man quickly became one of the most important texts in the ensuing decade of radical political change. This second edition, newly introduced by Marcuse scholar Douglas Kellner, presents Marcuse's best-selling work to another generation of readers in the context of contemporary events.

The Lucifer Principle

By Howard Bloom,

Book cover of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History

Shelly Marshall Author Of Escaping Myself: Lee B's Biography, a true story of sobriety and his best tall tales

From the list on turning sobriety into a super power.

Who am I?

Most drunks struggle to accept that they have a disease called “alcoholism” and feel shame, intertwined with fear, having to admit it. I, on the other hand, embraced it. Being alcoholic meant I wasn’t “crazy” after all like Grandma. At 21, I embraced the disease along with 12 Step recovery, thanking my lucky stars that there was something I could do about my chaotic hippied lifestyle. “Don’t pick up the first fix, pill, or drink and you can’t get drunk.” Could the solution be so simple? It is. From the moment I set down the drink and drugs, I knew I had to share this amazing revelation with others and my writing career began.

Shelly's book list on turning sobriety into a super power

Discover why each book is one of Shelly's favorite books.

Why did Shelly love this book?

It may not seem relevant to sobriety to recommend a book on how evil is rooted in man’s very existence, yet I find that both alcoholism and recovery are also rooted in my existence.

It’s a monolithic book, but more than half is Bloom citing his sources. The book challenged my view of the world thus influencing my view of recovery. The 12 Steps taught me that problems are basically of my own making and that self-responsibility is the only path to find my way out.

It is not possible to read his book and not see how we humans lay the seeds of our own destruction, not only in a small personal life, but in all of human history. 

By Howard Bloom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lucifer Principle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Lucifer Principle is a revolutionary work that explores the intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture to put forth the thesis that “evil” is a by-product of nature’s strategies for creation and that it is woven into our most basic biological fabric.

In a sweeping narrative that moves lucidly among sophisticated scientific disciplines and covers the entire span of the earth’s, as well as mankind’s, history, Howard Bloom challenges some of our most popular scientific assumptions. Drawing on evidence from studies of the most primitive organisms to those on ants, apes, and humankind, the author makes a persuasive…

The Third Wave

By Alvin Toffler,

Book cover of The Third Wave: The Classic Study of Tomorrow

David J. Agans Author Of Debugging: The 9 Indispensable Rules for Finding Even the Most Elusive Software and Hardware Problems

From the list on to give engineers new perspectives.

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the big picture—never mind what street corner I’m on, where am I on the map of the world? In fact, where am I in the plane of the solar system? (Gazing at the setting moon, I’ve worked this out!) As an engineering manager, I helped engineers debug systems with diverse technology, and found (and wrote about) principles that apply as much today as they did in 1975, using examples drawn from 30 years of my life and career. I developed a love for other timeless, classic books that helped me see the forest beyond the trees.

David's book list on to give engineers new perspectives

Discover why each book is one of David's favorite books.

Why did David love this book?

I like to look at the big picture. This book’s picture is huge: it explains three waves of human civilization, from agriculture and land ownership, to centralization and mass manufacturing, to distributed and custom everything—the wave we are in now. It was originally published in 1980 and predicted our current culture and technology with astonishing accuracy. I, and many entrepreneurs of the time, tried to use those predictions to guide our businesses, and many, like Amazon, succeeded as a result. Are there still more third wave things to invent? Yes—think of how streaming video channels are just now taking over from cable and broadcast, not to mention movie theatres. Will this help you invent the next big thing? Maybe. And what will the fourth wave be?

By Alvin Toffler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Third Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Future Shock, a striking way out of today’s despair . . . a bracing, optimistic look at our new potentials.

The Third Wave makes startling sense of the violent changes now battering our world. Its sweeping synthesis casts fresh light on our new forms of marriage and family, on today's dramatic changes in business and economics. It explains the role of cults, the new definitions of work, play, love, and success. It points toward new forms of twenty-first-century democracy.

Praise for The Third Wave
“Magnificent . . . an astonishing array of information.”—The Washington Post

The Myth of Normal

By Gabor Maté, Daniel Maté,

Book cover of The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture

Roy Mapleton Author Of Acing Your Job Search: Strategies to Succeed Where Other Job Seekers Fail

From the list on skyrocketing your career and your life.

Who am I?

As a coach and mentor, I am passionate about empowering people to be the best version of themselves. My recommendations are carefully thought out to achieve this. Success in your job search and interviewing involves perfecting multiple skills – marketing, soft skills, body language, networking, and many more. I have a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Wayne State University in Detroit. I teach body language to job seekers and hiring managers to improve their work culture and hire the right talent. I am a recurring guest speaker at the University of Guelph and several career colleges, and I mentor at-risk youth to stay in school. 

Roy's book list on skyrocketing your career and your life

Discover why each book is one of Roy's favorite books.

Why did Roy love this book?

This book inspires me because it discusses the significance of taking responsibility for reflecting on the more difficult and often hidden aspects of ourselves.

It helped to open up my mind to my blind spots and increase self-awareness. Based in medicine and psychology this book promotes the kind of honest and important self-reflection that is an asset in improving leadership culture and how you relate to others, even in conflict. 

Gabor Mate’s book is reflective and deep; it offers information on how adverse experience shapes people.

The author provides rigorously researched information on how all of the intersections of our daily stressors, adverse childhood experiences, toxic work environments, world events, and internal conflicts take their tolls on our minds and bodies, while providing the tools to look within oneself to find the cure.

By Gabor Maté, Daniel Maté,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'It all starts with waking up... to what our bodies are expressing and our minds are suppressing'

Western countries invest billions in healthcare, yet mental illness and chronic diseases are on a seemingly unstoppable rise. Nearly 70% of Americans are now on prescription drugs. So what is 'normal' when it comes to health?

Over four decades of clinical experience, renowned physician and addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate has seen how health systems neglect the role that trauma exerts on our bodies and our minds. Medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how today's culture stresses our bodies, burdens…

On the Move

By Timothy Cresswell,

Book cover of On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World

Sarah Fayen Scarlett Author Of Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

From the list on architecture and social identity in industrial America.

Who am I?

When I was a kid I would cut out graph paper to design my ideal house. When I was in college, I walked into a class called American Material Life and had my eureka moment: “This is how I want to learn about people in the past!” I realized. I’ve been doing that ever since, first as a museum curator and now as a history professor. Houses, furnishings, and the way people interact with the built environment can reveal the complexity, diversity, and beauty of human lives.

Sarah's book list on architecture and social identity in industrial America

Discover why each book is one of Sarah's favorite books.

Why did Sarah love this book?

Geographer Tim Cresswell’s work has helped me convince architectural historians that examining how we move through spaces is vital to understanding the full range of the built environment’s cultural meanings. He states the obvious: we all live in physical bodies. And yet historians emphasize the written word and architects emphasize visualization. What about the other senses? Cresswell argues that mobility is a socially-constructed movement much like place is a socially-constructed space. We can learn so much by paying attention to the ways society controls movement: Who is allowed to occupy which spaces? When? With whom? And how has that changed over time? Cresswell’s ideas helped me analyze the lived experiences of multiple people in the same domestic spaces, and ultimately connect the manipulation of architecture and landscape to modernity’s regulation of bodies and ideas. 

By Timothy Cresswell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On the Move presents a rich history of one of the key concepts of modern life: mobility. Increasing mobility has been a constant throughout the modern era, evident in mass car ownership, plane travel, and the rise of the Internet. Typically, people have equated increasing mobility with increasing freedom. However, as Cresswell shows, while mobility has certainly increased in modern times, attempts to control and restrict mobility are just as characteristic of modernity. Through a series of fascinating historical episodes Cresswell shows how mobility and its regulation have been central to the experience of modernity.


By Rabindranath Tagore,

Book cover of Nationalism

Dean Kostantaras Author Of Nationalism and Revolution in Europe, 1763-1848

From the list on the spread of nationalism in the modern world.

Who am I?

I was a pretty poor student in high school and college but did reasonably well in my history classes. Much of the credit goes to a few inspired teachers who, at least in memory, made me feel that I was a witness at every turn to some grand Gibbonesque moment of truth. Perhaps they aroused in my mind the wonderful prospect of a life spent roaming unfettered in the realm of ideas. In reality, much else comes with the territory but it is nevertheless true that we academic historians get to use up a fair number of unpoliced hours doing just that. Mine have largely been expended on problems of collective identity and the formation of national movements.

Dean's book list on the spread of nationalism in the modern world

Discover why each book is one of Dean's favorite books.

Why did Dean love this book?

Tagore (1861-1941) is generally known as a Nobel Prize-winning poet, but he was also a frequent commentator on contemporary political affairs and the crises of his age. Nationalism, which was composed over the years 1916-17, features long ruminations on imperialism, modernity, and the question of Indian independence, among other subjects of pressing interest to Tagore and his contemporaries. Each chapter affords the reader with an opportunity to experience in full the author’s talents as he strives to put into words his vision for a future shaped neither by "the colourless vagueness of cosmopolitanism, nor the fierce self-idolatry of nation-worship." Instructors may find the work to be an especially valuable resource for stimulating class discussions.

By Rabindranath Tagore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nationalism' by Rabindranath Tagore is a compilation of lectures written in lucid, metaphoric, poetic prose during the 'First World War' and the 'Swadeshi movement' in India. It explicates the idea of moral and spiritual growth for the welfare of people, making it even more relevant in today's environment of violence. These lectures bear testimony of its eternity and cannot be wrapped or concealed under the influence of ancient limitations of historical consideration.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a renowned poet, musician, polymath, Ayurveda-researcher and an artist who recast music, Bengali literature and Indian art in the late 19th and early 20th…


By David Hume, Eugene F. Miller (editor),

Book cover of Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary

Sylvana Tomaselli Author Of Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics

From the list on the eighteenth-century you should read for yourself.

Who am I?

I have had the privilege to teach the history of political theory from Plato to today for decades and to discuss texts such as the five I mentioned with very gifted students. No matter how often I return to such works, I always find something new in them and it is a pleasure to see how students learn to love reading for themselves what can be daunting works, once they overcome the fear of opening the great works and the initial challenge of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century prose.

Sylvana's book list on the eighteenth-century you should read for yourself

Discover why each book is one of Sylvana's favorite books.

Why did Sylvana love this book?

Hume’s Essays were a great publishing success at soon as they appeared. They established his reputation not only in the UK, but also on the Continent and America. Entertaining, they not only considered issues of the day such as commerce and the progress of civilization but treat of questions that remain relevant today on freedom of the press, political parties, taxes, and divorce. The writing is elegant and helps us understand the making of modernity.

By David Hume, Eugene F. Miller (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This edition contains the thirty-nine essays included in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary that made up Volume I of the 1777 posthumous Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. It also includes ten essays that were withdrawn or left unpublished by Hume for various reasons.

Eugene F. Miller was Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia from 1967 until his retirement in 2003.

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Overcome by Modernity

By Harry D. Harootunian,

Book cover of Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

Viren Murthy Author Of The Politics of Time in China and Japan: Back to the Future

From the list on profoundly understanding modern East Asian thought.

Who am I?

I became interested in East Asia through studying Kung Fu when I was in high school. Through this I began reading translation of Chinese and Japanese philosophical texts. I initially majored in philosophy but eventually also became interested in situating ideas in broader historical contexts. For this reason, I shifted to intellectual history. However, my passion for philosophy and arguments for the validity of ideas remains. For this reason, my work combines both intellectual history and the history of philosophy. 

Viren's book list on profoundly understanding modern East Asian thought

Discover why each book is one of Viren's favorite books.

Why did Viren love this book?

This book has helped me think through the relationship between capitalism, modernity, and romantic anti-capitalist movements both in East Asia and beyond. The book deals with intellectual currents in interwar Japan, (the 1920s to 1945) and shows how conservative philosophers developed a theory to “overcome modernity.” These authors, many from the so-called Kyoto School, targeted the rampant consumer culture, the overturning of ethical relations, and other structural changes. However, Harootunian contends that such critiques did not grasp the fundamental dynamic of capitalism and its relation to such cultural shifts and consequently, such philosophers were “overcome by modernity.”  This means that such critics of modernity were incorporated into the Japanese fascist military complex, which itself claimed to confront capitalist modernity. At a time, when we see right-wing attempts to confront modernity around the world (Trump, Le Pen, Modi) this book remains extremely relevant.  

By Harry D. Harootunian,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Overcome by Modernity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the decades between the two World Wars, Japan made a dramatic entry into the modern age, expanding its capital industries and urbanizing so quickly as to rival many long-standing Western industrial societies. How the Japanese made sense of the sudden transformation and the subsequent rise of mass culture is the focus of Harry Harootunian's fascinating inquiry into the problems of modernity. Here he examines the work of a generation of Japanese intellectuals who, like their European counterparts, saw modernity as a spectacle of ceaseless change that uprooted the dominant historical culture from its fixed values and substituted a culture…

German Modernities from Wilhelm to Weimar

By Geoff Eley (editor), Jennifer L. Jenkins (editor), Tracie Matysik (editor)

Book cover of German Modernities from Wilhelm to Weimar: A Contest of Futures

Matthew Jefferies Author Of Contesting the German Empire, 1871 - 1918

From the list on Bismarck and Imperial Germany.

Who am I?

I have been studying this period of German history for more than 40 years and teaching it at Manchester since 1991. I have no family connections to Germany, but I went on a school exchange to Hannover when I was 14 and became fascinated by the country and its history. I chose to do my PhD on this period because it seemed less researched than the Weimar and Nazi eras which followed. Contesting the German Empire was an attempt to show how historians’ views of Imperial Germany have changed over time, and to give a flavor of their arguments. Reading it will save you from having to digest 500 books yourself! 

Matthew's book list on Bismarck and Imperial Germany

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Why did Matthew love this book?

Essay collections are usually rather variable in quality, but this volume on the multiple ways in which modernity was staged, debated, and contested in Germany between the 1890s and the 1930s, is consistently good. The individual essays are all rich in interesting detail, yet it is the collectively written introduction that is likely to find the widest readership, offering not only a succinct summary of ways in which global discussions about the concept of modernity can help us to understand the course of German history, but also some pointers on how the German case can contribute to global historical discussion. 

By Geoff Eley (editor), Jennifer L. Jenkins (editor), Tracie Matysik (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked German Modernities from Wilhelm to Weimar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What was German modernity? What did the years between 1880 and 1930 mean for Germany's navigation through a period of global capitalism, imperial expansion, and technological transformation?

German Modernities From Wilhelm to Weimar brings together leading historians of the Imperial and Weimar periods from across North America to readdress the question of German modernities. Acutely attentive to Germany's eventual turn towards National Socialism and the related historiographical arguments about 'modernity', this volume explores the variety of social, intellectual, political, and imperial projects pursued by those living in Germany in the Wilhelmine and Weimar years who were yet uncertain about what…

Thank You for Being Late

By Thomas L. Friedman,

Book cover of Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations

Ben Hunt-Davis Author Of Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?

From the list on helping you achieve your goals.

Who am I?

I’m an Olympic Gold Medallist rower, performance coach, facilitator, and keynote speaker passionate about high performance, teamwork, and the parallels between sport and business. In 1998 I was part of a consistently underachieving Team GB rowing eight, often placing 7th or 8th. We weren’t the strongest or most talented crew. By changing the way we worked as a team, we managed to turn it around to win Olympic Gold on the waters of Sydney in 2000. Since then, I've specialized in translating Olympic-winning strategies into business success. Specifically focusing on leadership and team development, I work with individuals, teams, and organizations to help them define their gold medal goals and supporting them in achieving them.

Ben's book list on helping you achieve your goals

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Why did Ben love this book?

By exploring today’s rapidly changing world, Friedman helps you take a step back and consider how we might be able to live life at a reasonable pace. Thank You For Being Late serves as a guide for how to respond to the speed of change around us. By understanding how the world is changing through the possibilities and dangers of Moore’s Law (technology and the internet), the Market (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change), Friedman encourages us to consider our own adaptability. Rather than complaining and being static as individuals, Friedman suggests we need to embrace change and look at what is in our control to adapt, learn, look forward and still achieve what we want to.

By Thomas L. Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thank You for Being Late as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


We all sense it: something big is going on. Life is speeding up, and it is dizzying. Here Thomas L. Friedman reveals the tectonic movements that are reshaping our world, how to adapt to this new age and why, sometimes, we all need to be late.

'A master class ... As a guide for perplexed Westerners, this book is very hard to beat ... an honest, cohesive explanation for why the world is the way it is, without miracle cures or scapegoats' John Micklethwait, The New York Times…

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity

By Jurgen Habermas, Frederick G. Lawrence (translator),

Book cover of The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures

Richard Wolin Author Of Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology

From the list on intellectuals and fascism.

Who am I?

As a graduate student during the late 1970s, my mentor, Martin Jay, generously introduced me to two members of the Frankfurt School: Herbert Marcuse and Leo Lowenthal. These memorable personal encounters inspired me to write a dissertation on Walter Benjamin, who was closely allied with the Frankfurt School. The completed dissertation, Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption, became the first book on Benjamin in English and is still in print. The Frankfurt School thinkers published a series of pioneering socio-psychological treatises on political authoritarianism: The Authoritarian Personality, Prophets of Deceit, and One-Dimensional Man. These studies continue to provide an indispensable conceptual framework for understanding the contemporary reemergence of fascist political forms.

Richard's book list on intellectuals and fascism

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Why did Richard love this book?

During the early 1990s, I had the good fortune to participate in Habermas’ legendary Monday night philosophy colloquium at the University of Frankfurt.

The experience transformed my understanding of the raison d’être of Critical Theory. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is not a book about fascism per se. Instead, it tells the story of how, after the war, the titans of interwar German Kulturpessimismus – Nietzsche (albeit, posthumously), Carl Schmitt, and Heidegger – were canonized by the leading advocates of “French Theory” as the new maîtres à penser or “master thinkers.”

Yet, the canonization of German philosophy came at a high cost. After all, historically speaking, the philosophies in question stood in close proximity to fascist ideology.

Hence, the question arises: to what extent did such pro-fascist “ideologemes” infiltrate and inform the basic tenets of French poststructuralism?

By Jurgen Habermas, Frederick G. Lawrence (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This critique of French philosophy and the history of German philosophy is a tour de force that has the immediacy and accessibility of the lecture form and the excitement of an encounter across national cultural boundaries as Habermas takes up the challenge posed by the radical critique of reason in contemporary French postmodernism.

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is a tour de force that has the immediacy and accessibility of the lecture form and the excitement of an encounter across, national cultural boundaries. Habermas takes up the challenge posed by the radical critique of reason in contemporary French poststructuralism. Tracing…

Book cover of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution

Adam Ellwanger Author Of Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self

From the list on why looking for your ‘true self’ is pointless.

Who am I?

I'm a professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston – Downtown. In addition to my academic research, I write political and cultural commentary for a variety of right-of-center online publications. Much of my own work focuses on how individuals come to be persuaded about who they are. I argue that much of the frustration people feel when searching for their authentic identity is due to the fact that the existence of the hidden ‘true self’ is an illusion. The quest for authenticity is never complete. The good news, though, is that you can put an end to the suffering… only if you’re willing to give up the fevered pursuit of the “true self.”

Adam's book list on why looking for your ‘true self’ is pointless

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Why did Adam love this book?

While Trueman reviews some of the ideas covered by other thinkers on this list, his new book is notable because it focuses on how personal sexual identity (sexual orientation, gender, desire, etc.) came to be the most important site for the expression of individualism. His analysis underscores the threat that a radically subjectivized sexual ethic posed to longstanding social norms and cultural traditions. This one also includes a gushing foreword by best-selling author Rod Dreher of The American Conservative magazine.

By Carl R. Trueman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Carl Trueman traces the historical roots of many hot-button issues such as transgenderism and homosexuality, offering thoughtful biblical analysis as he uncovers the profound impact of the sexual revolution on modern human identity.