The most recommended social history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 58 experts.

58 authors created a book list connected to social history, and here are their favorite social history books.
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What type of social history book?


Furta Sacra

By Patrick J. Geary,

Book cover of Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages

John Tolan Author Of Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today

From the list on making you realize you don’t know what religion is.

Who am I?

In the 1980s, I was living in Spain, teaching high school. On weekends and vacations, I traveled throughout the country, fascinated with the remnants of its flourishing medieval civilization, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims mingled. When I later became a historian, I focused on the rich history of Jewish-Christian-Muslim contact in Spain and throughout the Mediterranean. I also wanted to understand conflict and prejudice, particularly the historical roots of antisemitism and islamophobia in Europe. I have increasingly realized that classical religious texts need to be reread and contextualized and that we need to rethink our ideas about religion and religious conflict.

John's book list on making you realize you don’t know what religion is

Why did John love this book?

In the US, when we think about Christianity, we tend not to think much about saints and when we do, they are at best a sort of role model for piety, an antiquated cast of characters in the history of religion. But to early Christians, saints were powerful patrons. The earliest saints were the martyrs put to death by the pagan Roman state: thrown to the lions, massacred by gladiators, executed at the orders of Roman officials. These saints’ bodies and tombs became objects of veneration, purported to produce miracles. In the middle ages, as Christianity became the dominant force in Europe, everyone wanted to benefit from the proximity to these holy men and women. But if you lived in Northern Europe, you didn’t have access to the hundreds of saintly bodies buried in Spain, Italy, or Provence. What to do? Buy them or steal them! In this fascinating book,…

By Patrick J. Geary,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To obtain sacred relics, medieval monks plundered tombs, avaricious merchants raided churches, and relic-mongers scoured the Roman catacombs. In a revised edition of Furta Sacra, Patrick Geary considers the social and cultural context for these acts, asking how the relics were perceived and why the thefts met with the approval of medieval Christians.

Possessing Nature

By Paula Findlen,

Book cover of Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy

Celeste McNamara Author Of The Bishop's Burden: Reforming the Catholic Church in Early Modern Italy

From the list on Renaissance Italy.

Who am I?

I teach medieval and early modern European history at Dublin City University, with a particular interest in 16th-18th century Italian history. My own research focuses on the religious, legal, and popular culture of northern Italy, particularly Venice and the Veneto region. I became fascinated with Renaissance Italian history as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and then went on to do a masters and a PhD at Northwestern University. I have taught at Northwestern, the College of William and Mary, the University of Warwick/Warwick in Venice, and the State University of New York at Cortland.

Celeste's book list on Renaissance Italy

Why did Celeste love this book?

This is an excellent and fascinating book on the scientific culture of Renaissance Italy, where intellectuals and the wealthy elite began collecting and cataloging curiosities long before their northern European counterparts. Findlen demonstrates a key way in which Renaissance intellectuals could look back to an idealized ancient past while also creating new knowledge and institutions – namely the museum. This book is beautifully written, full of engaging stories, and shows a side of early modern science often ignored.

By Paula Findlen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1500 few Europeans regarded nature as a subject worthy of inquiry. Yet fifty years later the first museums of natural history had appeared in Italy, dedicated to the marvels of nature. Italian patricians, their curiosity fueled by new voyages of exploration and the humanist rediscovery of nature, created vast collections as a means of knowing the world and used this knowledge to their greater glory. Drawing on extensive archives of visitors' books, letters, travel journals, memoirs, and pleas for patronage, Paula Findlen reconstructs the lost social world of Renaissance and Baroque museums. She follows the new study of natural…

Energy and Equity

By Ivan Illich,

Book cover of Energy and Equity

Mikael Colville-Andersen Author Of Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism

From the list on unexpected books about cities & urbanism.

Who am I?

I’m an urban designer, author, and host of The Life-Sized City urbanism series - as well as its podcast and YouTube channel. I’ve worked in over 100 cities, trying to improve urban life and bring back bikes as transport. I came at this career out of left field and am happily unburdened by the baggage of academia. I've famously refrained from reading most of the (probably excellent) books venerated by the urbanism tribe, in order to keep my own urban thinking clear and pure. My expertise stems instead from human observation and I find far more inspiration in photography, literature, cinema, science, and especially talking to and working with the true experts: the citizens.

Mikael's book list on unexpected books about cities & urbanism

Why did Mikael love this book?

"Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle."

Illich’s book - more of a long essay, really - remains astonishingly relevant almost fifty years on. It confirmed countless things that I sensed and suspected on the cusp of my career in urbanism many years ago. His rationality about transport, energy, and democracy is carved out of the finest literary granite. Criticism of this text merely runs off the rock like raindrops. It is my ultimate inspiration for working in urbanism and yet a constant source of dismay that our societies continue to neglect the wisdom within the words. The essay “The Social Ideology of the Motorcar” by André Gorz is a must-read companion to Illich’s visionary words.

By Ivan Illich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A junkie without access to his stash is in a state of crisis. The 'energy crisis' that exists intermittently when the flow of fuel from unstable countries is cut off or threatened, is a crisis in the same sense. In this essay, Illich examines the question of whether or not humans need any more energy than is their natural birthright. Along the way he gives a startling analysis of the marginal disutility of tools. After a certain point, that is, more energy gives negative returns. For example, moving around causes loss of time proportional to the amount of energy which…

Book cover of Harlots, Hussies, & Poor Unfortunate Women: Crime, Transportation & the Servitude of Female Convicts, 1718-1783

Cian T. McMahon Author Of The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea During the Great Irish Famine

From the list on maritime social history.

Who am I?

As an emigrant myself (I left Ireland in the late 1980s), I’ve always been interested in understanding the process of moving from one place to another; of existing in that liminal space between “being here” and “being there.” I spent several years researching the letters and diaries of nineteenth-century Irish migrants for my book, The Coffin Ship, but found the answers led to new questions on how other peoples, in other places, have managed being somewhere between “here” and “there.” These are some of the books that have helped me along that long, emotional journey.

Cian's book list on maritime social history

Why did Cian love this book?

Because the nineteenth-century sailing ship was such a male-dominated space, women were largely invisible in traditional histories of life at sea. Although Edith Ziegler’s book does not simply focus on the voyage itself (it includes analysis of female convicts’ lives before and after the journey as well), it does show how women combatted the “sexual opportunism and exploitation” that was endemic on convict transports. What’s great about this book is that even though many of its subjects were illiterate (and thus left precious few letters and diaries behind), Ziegler manages to unearth the women’s voices in authentic and moving ways.

By Edith M. Ziegler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Harlots, Hussies, & Poor Unfortunate Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Harlots, Hussies, and Poor Unfortunate Women, Edith M. Ziegler recounts the history of British convict women involuntarily transported to Maryland in the eighteenth century.

Great Britain's forced transportation of convicts to colonial Australia is well known. Less widely known is Britain's earlier programme of sending convicts - including women - to North America. Many of these women were assigned as servants in Maryland. Titled using Basing much of her powerful narrative on the experiences of actual women, Ziegler restores individual faces to women stripped of their basic freedoms. She begins by vividly invoking the social conditions of eighteenth-century Britain,…


By Johan Norberg,

Book cover of Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

Robert L. Kelly Author Of The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

From the list on optimistic view of the future.

Who am I?

I grew up wandering farmers’ fields looking for arrowheads, and I started working in archaeology at 16 – 50 years ago. I ski, snowshoe, run, and play piano, but I sold my soul to the archaeology devil a long time ago. I specialize in hunter-gatherers, and I’ve done fieldwork across the western US, ethnographic work in Madagascar, and lectured in many countries. I’ve learned that history matters, because going back in time helps find answers to humanity’s problems – warfare, inequality, and hate. I’ve sought to convey this in lectures at the University of Wyoming, where I’ve been a professor of anthropology since 1997. 

Robert's book list on optimistic view of the future

Why did Robert love this book?

Talking about the future always depresses my students. They think life has become steadily worse over the past century and they see no evidence of a course correction. Norberg presents evidence to show that this is wrong. In terms of poverty, life expectancy, violence, literacy, and freedom, life has become better. He also explores why we think the opposite. Now this all may be the calm before the storm, but to fashion a better world we must know it for what it is today. 

By Johan Norberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Book of the Year for The Economist and the Observer

Our world seems to be collapsing. The daily news cycle reports the deterioration: divisive politics across the Western world, racism, poverty, war, inequality, hunger. While politicians, journalists and activists from all sides talk about the damage done, Johan Norberg offers an illuminating and heartening analysis of just how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity. In the face of fear-mongering, darkness and division, the facts are unequivocal: the golden age is now.

Book cover of Inventing the American Astronaut

Slava Gerovitch Author Of Soviet Space Mythologies: Public Images, Private Memories, and the Making of a Cultural Identity (Russian and East European Studies)

From the list on astronauts and cosmonauts.

Who am I?

My interest in space history began with stamp collecting and continued much later with visits to Russian archives, Star City, and aerospace companies, and interviews with cosmonauts and space engineers, who often told their personal stories for the first time. As a historian of science and technology teaching at MIT, I was especially interested in cases where technology and society intertwined: cosmonauts and engineers lobbied politicians with competing agendas, personal rivalries tore apart ambitious projects, and pervasive secrecy perpetuated public myths and private counter-myths. My digging into tensions and arguments that shaped the Soviet space program resulted in two books, Soviet Space Mythologies and Voices of the Soviet Space Program.

Slava's book list on astronauts and cosmonauts

Why did Slava love this book?

Hersch applies the sober, decidedly unsentimental, and almost brutally incisive analytical framework of labor conflict and professionalization to a whole range of issues negotiated within NASA—from the criteria for astronaut selection to the degree of spacecraft automation to mission programming. Each of these issues emerges loaded with interests of various professional groups—test pilots, military pilots, scientists, engineers, and managers. The astronaut profession is born through a series of clashes of professional cultures, each competing for influence within the US space program.

In my view, comparing this story with the parallel developments on the Soviet side reveals drastic differences. While the pilots-cosmonauts found themselves almost completely at the mercy of powerful space engineers, the astronauts skillfully used their symbolic capital to gain influence on decision-making at NASA.

By Matthew H. Hersch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who were the men who led America's first expeditions into space? Soldiers? Daredevils? The public sometimes imagined them that way: heroic military men and hot-shot pilots without the capacity for doubt, fear, or worry. However, early astronauts were hard-working and determined professionals - 'organization men' - who were calm, calculating, and highly attuned to the politics and celebrity of the Space Race. Many would have been at home in corporate America - and until the first rockets carried humans into space, some seemed to be headed there. Instead, they strapped themselves to missiles and blasted skyward, returning with a smile…

The New Silk Roads

By Peter Frankopan,

Book cover of The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World

Tim Harcourt Author Of The Airport Economist Flies Again!

From the list on the world on economic and social history.

Who am I?

As host of the Airport Economist TV series I have been to around 60 countries in 5 years and I have always been fascinated by what makes each place tick. I have been curious as to why some countries succeed and others fail, how do businesses operate there and how do the people fare when it comes to elections. I am interested in how egalitarian the place is, how rich are the rich, how do the poor do, is life improving. I am also interested in sport and popular culture and how important it is to the local populace.  

Tim's book list on the world on economic and social history

Why did Tim love this book?

This is the best account of whole sweep of world history – the invasions, the migrations, the trade routes, the religious wars, and the making and unmaking of empires.

There’s no better book on how mankind traversed the globe and the lessons learnt along the way. 

I loved the book because it made me think about the long view of history and understand the economic and social forces beyond a cheap headline or short-sighted analysis that we see in current affairs today.

Like it or not, since the dawn of time, mankind has been migrating, discovering, and trading, despite the ‘we were here first’ sentiment we hear today.

And despite a lot of the history being tragic, with wars and famine and the like, it did give me optimism that human beings always find a way, whether it be climate change, conflict, or a financial crisis.

The best book of…

By Peter Frankopan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the Sunday Times and internationally bestselling author of The Silk Roads: everything you need to know about the present and future of the world 'Masterly mapping out of a new world order' Evening Standard 'Frankopan is a brilliant guide to terra incognita' The Times The New Silk Roads - Peter Frankopan's follow-up to the 'Book of the Decade', The Silk Roads - takes a fresh look at the network of relationships being formed along the length and breadth of the Silk Roads today. The world is changing dramatically and in an age of Brexit and Trump, the themes of…

Old Times

By John Ashton,

Book cover of Old Times: A Picture of Social Life at the End of the Eighteenth Century, Collected and Illustrated from the Satirical and Other Sketches of the Day

John Mosier Author Of Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War 1, 1914-1918

From John's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Contrarian Doesn’t play well with others Prefers animals to people

John's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did John love this book?

Partly as a result of one of my numerous misguided educational choices and partly out of genuine interest, I did a lot of work in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century English literature. I wish I’d had Ashton’s book, as it’s a social history of England back then and a basic anthology of what was being reported at the time, with dozens of reproductions of drawings. 

Jane Austen is a favorite novelist of mine, and when you look at the section on women’s fashions, it definitely changes how you see her women—and how the men saw them. 

At the same time, the picture of an England beset by riots, mutinies, and social chaos is not only a useful corrective but a potent reminder of how little our society has changed.

By John Ashton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…

Invincible Microbe

By Jim Murphy, Alison Blank,

Book cover of Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure

Marsha Hayles Author Of Breathing Room

From the list on when illness touches a young person's life.

Who am I?

I am an author fortunate to be alive because of emergency medical treatments I received as an infant, treatments not available to one of my older sisters who died as a result. That I grew up in Rochester Minnesota—home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic where my father worked as a pediatric endocrinologist—also may have increased my awareness of how illness and its medical treatments can affect a young person’s life. 

Marsha's book list on when illness touches a young person's life

Why did Marsha love this book?

This nonfiction book on tuberculosis, published the same year as my book, begins with the discovery of a skull marked by the scars of tuberculosis. Turns out it belonged to a young man who died over 500,000 years ago from the disease. The authors trace the devastating effects of tuberculosis to modern day when our drugs can no longer fully guarantee treatment. This book tells a fascinating, yet worrisome, story about a most dreaded disease.

By Jim Murphy, Alison Blank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Who knew the biography of a germ could be so fascinating?”—Kirkus (starred review)

This is the story of a killer that has been striking people down for thousands of years: tuberculosis. After centuries of ineffective treatments, the microorganism that causes TB was identified and the cure was thought to be within reach—but drug-resistant varieties continue to plague and panic the human race.

The "biography" of this deadly germ and the social history of an illness that could strike anywhere are woven together in an engrossing, carefully researched narrative. Includes a bibliography, source notes, and index.

This medical detective story is…

Pre-Industrial Societies

By Patricia Crone,

Book cover of Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World

Mark Koyama Author Of How the World Became Rich: The Historical Origins of Economic Growth

From the list on politics and economics in preindustrial societies.

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated with history. The study of economic history allows me to combine my passion for understanding the past with a rigorous and systematic set of analytical tools. In my own work I'm interested in understanding the economic, political, and institutional transformations that have created the modern world. The books I've selected here help us better understand quite how different the past and they have proven to be invaluable to me as inspirations. 

Mark's book list on politics and economics in preindustrial societies

Why did Mark love this book?

Patricia Crone was an expert on the history of early Islam and attracted a lot of controversy for her views on Mecca and Mohamad. Pre-Industrial Societies is a brief, readable portrait of how preindustrial societies functioned. It isn't based on primary sources or archival evidence; there are no footnotes or endnotes, and the referencing is light; really it is a textbook. 

What makes it valuable is that unlike many historians, Crone isn't afraid to generalize and to draw on the ideas of social scientists. She packs in an amazing amount of analyze into a very short book and roams across entirety of world history.

If I could only recommend one book to students interested in how societies functioned in the past, it might be this book! 

By Patricia Crone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pre-Industrial Societies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eminent historian Patricia Crone defines the common features of a wide range of pre-industrial societies, from locations as seemingly disparate as the Mongol Empire and pre-Columbian America, to cultures as diverse as the Ming Dynasty and seventeenth-century France. In a lucid exploration of the characteristics shared by these societies, the author examines such key elements as economic organization, politics, culture, and the role of religion. An essential introductory text for all students of history, Pre-Industrial Societies provides readers with all the necessary tools for gaining a substantial understanding of life in pre-modern times. In addition, as a perceptive insight into…

Acid Dreams

By Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain,

Book cover of Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond

Don Dupay Author Of Behind the Badge in River City: A Portland Police Memoir

From the list on getting people thinking about the bigger picture.

Who am I?

I’m a longtime writer and author, who basically learned the craft of writing from over 17 years with the Portland Police Bureau. Some of the best writers are working and retired police officers because, when you write those daily reports or detailed investigative reports, you learn how to write. I've written six books, two of which have been published by Oregon Greystone Press, the Indie Publishing company operated by my wife, Theresa. I graduated from Portland State University in 2017 and was listed in the commencement program as “the oldest PSU graduate” of that year. I was 80. I live in Portland with my wife, Theresa, also a writer and author. 

Don's book list on getting people thinking about the bigger picture

Why did Don love this book?

Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD, the CIA, the Sixties and Beyond is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Even though I worked in Naval intelligence while I was on active duty in Germany, during the Cold War, I was still surprised at what Acid Dreams revealed about the US government and how for example, government officials were actively searching for a drug that would make American soldiers more amenable to killing. The book details how the government set out to destroy the black culture and imprison young black leaders for mostly minor drug offenses. It further explores the ways the government secretly studied the effects of LSD on its citizens. I loved this book because it opens the reader's eyes to the radical ways some government factions tried to manipulate the masses and deceive them, using the guise of the greater good as justification.

By Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Acid Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few events have had a more profound impact on the social and cultural upheavals of the Sixties than the psychedelic revolution spawned by the spread of LSD. This book for the first time tells the full and astounding story—part of it hidden till now in secret Government files—of the role the mind-altering drug played in our recent turbulent history and the continuing influence it has on our time.

And what a story it is, beginning with LSD’s discovery in 1943 as the most potent drug known to science until it spilled into public view some twenty years later to set…

The Nutmeg's Curse

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

Susan M. Sterett Author Of Litigating the Pandemic: Disaster Cascades in Court

From the list on governing disasters in a changing climate.

Who am I?

I have long been drawn to everyday experiences in courts. Since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, I’ve been writing and teaching about courts, social welfare, and disasters in a changing climate. Following the disasters requires noticing the routine cases filed, not only the notable constitutional claims the United States Supreme Court hears. That can be hard to do, because all the cases filed are not listed in any one place. In the pandemic, my interest in the more ordinary met the databases that people assembled, gathering as best possible the many cases filed about the pandemic.

Susan's book list on governing disasters in a changing climate

Why did Susan love this book?

Mr. Ghosh beautifully links the pandemic, a changing climate, immigration, and Black Lives Matter protests.

He opens by telling one history of nutmeg. He tells of colonialism, beginning with fear and murder. He tells of how people lost their home to others’ violence and desire for riches. Murder, colonialism, international markets are all grounded in colonizers’ efforts to dominate the earth. Mr. Ghosh’s heartbreaking book inspired me, encouraging me to believe we must expand what we define as governing a changing climate.

The dominant story of improving changing climate centers on clean energy, our rights to a better environment, and oil companies’ misdeeds. We think disasters are the event itself: the storms, the pandemic, the heat. Really, though, they begin long before and ripple outward.

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Nutmeg's Curse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this ambitious successor to The Great Derangement, acclaimed writer Amitav Ghosh finds the origins of our contemporary climate crisis in Western colonialism's violent exploitation of human life and the natural environment.

A powerful work of history, essay, testimony, and polemic, Amitav Ghosh's new book traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean. The Nutmeg's Curse argues that the dynamics of climate change today are rooted in a centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism. At the center of Ghosh's narrative is the now-ubiquitous spice nutmeg. The…

Book cover of The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1, A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760

Nicos P. Mouzelis Author Of Post-Marxist Alternatives: The Construction of Social Orders

From the list on social sciences.

Who am I?

After finishing my secondary education in Athens I got a degree in business administration at the University of Genova. The idea was to return to Greece to work in my father’s business. But I soon realized that I was neither interested in business theory nor going back to Greece to work in my father's organization. I decided to continue my studies in England focusing on the social sciences – first at Leicester University and then at the London School of Economics. After retiring I continued to write books and articles in Greek, English, and French. I have passion for reading and writing. It helps me psychologically as well to survive in a postmodern chaotic world.

Nicos' book list on social sciences

Why did Nicos love this book?

Professor Mann is the best macrohistorical social theorist I know.

The book is a clearly written analysis of the development of social formations from primitive societies, to the more developed societies in many parts of the world. As it combines a sophisticated conceptual homework with extensive empirical research the book will help the reader to grasp from where we are coming and where we are going.

I personally recommend the book. It is extremely valuable.

By Michael Mann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Distinguishing four sources of power in human societies - ideological, economic, military and political - The Sources of Social Power traces their interrelations throughout human history. In this first volume, Michael Mann examines interrelations between these elements from neolithic times, through ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the classical Mediterranean age and medieval Europe, up to just before the Industrial Revolution in England. It offers explanations of the emergence of the state and social stratification; of city-states, militaristic empires and the persistent interaction between them; of the world salvation religions; and of the particular dynamism of medieval and early modern Europe. It…

Future Shock

By Alvin Toffler,

Book cover of Future Shock

Jerry Fishenden Author Of Fracture. The collision between technology and democracy-and how we fix it

From the list on technology and democracy.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved technology. I like the constant change, the sense of creativity and invention, of how it can act as an incredible force for good and human progress and betterment in the world. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t tinkering with gadgets—taking radios apart to mend them or learn how they worked; designing electronic circuits for music synthesis; programming computers. But I’ve also always been interested in politics and the complex intersection of technology and public policy. So much so that most of my working life has been spent at this intersection, which is why I love these books—and hope you will too.

Jerry's book list on technology and democracy

Why did Jerry love this book?

I remember first reading Future Shock after buying a battered, orange-coloured paperback edition at a bargain price from one of the second-hand bookshops that once saturated London’s Charing Cross Road.

It hadn’t really occurred to me before how much the increasingly rapid technological changes around us might create a sense of shock—‘future shock’— for some people. It changed my thinking about the influence of technology on our world and the impact it has on people, society, economics, and politics.

Even after all these years, many of Alvin Toffler’s insights and ideas remain just as topical today.

By Alvin Toffler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The classic work that predicted the anxieties of a world upended by rapidly emerging technologies—and now provides a road map to solving many of our most pressing crises. 

“Explosive . . . brilliantly formulated.” —The Wall Street Journal 

Future Shock is the classic that changed our view of tomorrow. Its startling insights into accelerating change led a president to ask his advisers for a special report, inspired composers to write symphonies and rock music, gave a powerful new concept to social science, and added a phrase to our language. Published in over fifty countries, Future…

The Making of Europe

By Robert Bartlett,

Book cover of The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350

Aleksander Pluskowski Author Of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation

From the list on the cultural impact of the crusades.

Who am I?

I was born in London, but growing up in a Polish family ensured that I was well aware of the history of the Teutonic Order. As a post-doctoral researcher in Cambridge, I was fortunate enough to gain access to archaeological material from the magnificent castle at Malbork in north Poland, the Order’s medieval headquarters. That moment really spurred my interest in the Northern Crusades, after which I spent a decade working across the eastern Baltic. I’ve also had the opportunity to excavate medieval frontier sites at both ends of the Mediterranean. As an archaeologist, I always found the lived experiences of these societies far more interesting than the traditional military histories written about them.

Aleksander's book list on the cultural impact of the crusades

Why did Aleksander love this book?

This captivating book, with its broad vision, puts the crusades in context in a way that no other has done. Bartlett’s magisterial overview of the expansion of Latin Christendom remains the most engaging work on how conquest, migration, and religion transformed and laid the foundations for the Europe we know today. Erudite, scholarly, and packed with detail, but also accessible and enjoyable, his thematic approach pulls together examples from diverse regions to make a compelling (and at times controversial) case for how a shared European culture was created as the bounds of Christendom were pushed in all directions. It’s an essential introduction to medieval Europe’s frontier societies–several of which were shaped by crusading.

By Robert Bartlett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From our twentieth-century perspective, we tend to think of the Europe of the past as a colonizer, a series of empires that conquered lands beyond their borders and forced European cultural values on other peoples. This provocative book shows that Europe in the Middle Ages was as much a product of a process of conquest and colonization as it was later a colonizer.

Book cover of The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child

Sophie Brickman Author Of Baby, Unplugged: One Mother's Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age

From the list on parenting that you actually want to read.

Who am I?

I'm the mother of three children, ages 6, 3, and 1, and because I tend to write about what interests me, started to investigate the world of parenting when my eldest was born. (Prior to that, I was a food reporter and editor.) As my husband, a tech entrepreneur, kept bringing home pieces of technology that were supposed to make my life easier (spoiler alert: they rarely did), I found myself urgently trying to figure out what was best for my kids, and myself: the boring pile of blocks, or the flashy, sexy iPad? I spent years delving into the fields of neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, and pediatrics to get a better handle on these questions

Sophie's book list on parenting that you actually want to read

Why did Sophie love this book?

Fass is the professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she taught for thirty-six years, and the author of numerous books on children’s history. This one I found to be particularly illuminating, as she traces the history of American childhood and parenting from the 1700s to today, wrestling with how shifting American notions of independence and success in turn affected how children were viewed, and how parents parented. For any history buff. 

By Paula S. Fass,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The End of American Childhood takes a sweeping look at the history of American childhood and parenting, from the nation's founding to the present day. Renowned historian Paula Fass shows how, since the beginning of the American republic, independence, self-definition, and individual success have informed Americans' attitudes toward children. But as parents today hover over every detail of their children's lives, are the qualities that once made American childhood special still desired or possible? Placing the experiences of children and parents against the backdrop of social, political, and cultural shifts, Fass challenges Americans to reconnect with the beliefs that set…

Adventures of a Bystander

By Peter F. Drucker,

Book cover of Adventures of a Bystander

Hermann Simon Author Of Many Worlds, One Life: A Remarkable Journey from Farmhouse to the Global Stage

From the list on becoming a global business leader.

Who am I?

Hermann Simon grew up on a small, remote farm and became a world-renowned marketing professor, including stints at MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. But academic fame didn’t satisfy him. He had the ambition to achieve an impact on practice and founded Simon-Kucher & Partners, today with 41 offices and 1600 employees the world's leading price consultancy. He also detected the secrets of the "hidden champions", unknown mid-sized global market leaders (more than 1.5 million Google entries). In China a business school is named in his honor.

Hermann's book list on becoming a global business leader

Why did Hermann love this book?

Peter F. Drucker is the most famous and influential management thinker of the 20th century. He grew up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which fell at the end of the First World War. His classic education, his knowledge of history, his broad horizons, his understanding of business processes make him unique among management thinkers. He outshines them all. And he is an outstanding, captivating writer. Anyone who wants to learn and understand about management must read this book. I have read it three times. I mourn this late friend.

By Peter F. Drucker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"It is [a] belief in diversity and pluralism and the uniqueness of each person that underlies all my writings ..." -from the Preface. Regarded as the most influential and widely read thinker on modern organizations and their management, Peter Drucker has also established himself as an unorthodox and independent analyst of politics, the economy, and society. A man of impressive scope and expertise, he has paved significant inroads in a number of key areas, sharing his knowledge and keen insight on everything from the plight of the employee and the effects of technology to the vicissitudes of the markets and…


By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Collapse

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From the list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Who am I?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever encountered an idea in a book that made such a lasting impression on you that, almost like the “flashbulb” memory of a life – or world-changing event, you can remember the exact circumstances of where you were when you first read it?

Jared Diamond’s Collapse – which I picked up at an airport bookshop as “light reading” for a long flight – ended up providing me with just such an experience. The book holds that culture can fatally inure us, like so many slowly (and initially comfortably) boiling frogs, to the existential threat of environmental destruction, particularly in the context of the overexploitation of natural resources.

Diamond’s account of the last days of Easter Island civilization is particularly harrowing, and has haunted me ever since.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Collapse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive is a visionary study of the mysterious downfall of past civilizations.

Now in a revised edition with a new afterword, Jared Diamond's Collapse uncovers the secret behind why some societies flourish, while others founder - and what this means for our future.

What happened to the people who made the forlorn long-abandoned statues of Easter Island?
What happened to the architects of the crumbling Maya pyramids?
Will we go the same way, our skyscrapers one day standing derelict and overgrown like the…


By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Upheaval

Sergei Guriev Author Of Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century

From the list on why countries succeed and why they fail.

Who am I?

What are some countries rich and others are poor? I strongly believe that this is the most important question for modern economics. I've become an economist to understand this. I am happy that in recent decades economists – working closely together with other social scientists – have made so much progress in this field. And this is not abstract knowledge – it is being applied already to help developing countries catch up with the rich world. I have seen it myself when I took a leave from academia to work as a Chief Economist of a development bank (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) – to learn more from and to contribute to this work.

Sergei's book list on why countries succeed and why they fail

Why did Sergei love this book?

This is a fascinating in-depth account of several case studies of countries that faced a crisis and had to reinvent themselves: Australia, Chile, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, and the US (I am not mentioning the exact time points to avoid spoilers).

The author puts together a general framework to evaluate the factors that contribute to successful or failing transformations.

For me, as a Russian, this is a very practical guidebook – how should we rebuild Russia after Putin, how should Russia re-emerge as a peaceful and free country; how can we make sure that Russia will never again be what it is now. The book provides many insights on this but, unfortunately, also suggests that success is not guaranteed.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A "riveting and illuminating" Bill Gates Summer Reading pick about how and why some nations recover from trauma and others don't (Yuval Noah Harari), by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the landmark bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel.

In his international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, in his third book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes -- a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises.

Diamond compares how six countries have survived…

The Creator's Game

By Allan Downey,

Book cover of The Creator's Game: Lacrosse, Identity, and Indigenous Nationhood

Jason Wilson and Richard M. Reid Author Of Famous for a Time: Forgotten Giants of Canadian Sport

From the list on the impact of sport on social history.

Who are we?

Between the two of us, we have written over a dozen books and won numerous prizes. Wilson, when not writing critically-acclaimed music or explaining how to catch a haggis, has received the Ontario Historical Association’s Joseph Brant Award for King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land. Reid, who wisely passed up the chance of a law career in order to play an extra year of soccer, received the C. P. Stacey Award for African Canadians in Union Blue. Both writers believe that sports offer a valuable lens by which to examine a society’s core values.

Jason's book list on the impact of sport on social history

Why did Jason love this book?

Most Canadians are likely unaware that Canada has an official national summer game and that it is lacrosse. Even fewer realize that the sport reflects a tangled story of appropriation and reappropriation that exposes complex relationships between European and Indigenous peoples.

In a provocative and creative book, Downey, an Indigenous historian, uses First Nations storytelling and his own rigorous research to follow the transformation of lacrosse by Anglophone Montrealers and their exclusion of Indigenous players.

By the end of the nineteenth century, lacrosse was the most popular sport in Canada, before giving way to hockey. Then, almost a century later, the sport was reclaimed by a new generation of Indigenous athletes and activists who used the game as part of a broader cultural and spiritual renewal.

For these athletes, the current goal is to have the Haudenosaunee Nationals recognized as an independent participant at the Olympic Games in 2028.

By Allan Downey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Creator's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lacrosse has been a central element of Indigenous cultures for centuries, but once non-Indigenous players entered the sport, it became a site of appropriation - then reclamation - of Indigenous identities. The Creator's Game focuses on the history of lacrosse in Indigenous communities from the 1860s to the 1990s, exploring Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations and Indigenous identity formation. While the game was being appropriated in the process of constructing a new identity for the nation-state of Canada, it was also being used by Indigenous peoples to resist residential school experiences, initiate pan-Indigenous political mobilization, and articulate Indigenous sovereignty. This engaging and innovative…