Our world is full of history. From the macro—the origins of the universe and the history of history—to the micro—redheads and adventure—here are some of the best world history books to broaden your horizons. Each is a deep, thoughtful look at the topic at hand and sure to get you thinking something new about the world around you.
In his third book about civilization and history, Jared Diamond shows how successful nations recover from crises and adopt selective changes—a coping mechanism is more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises. From Japan's forced reopening to transformations of Germany and Austria after World War II, Diamond shares how the nations coped using various mechanisms like self-appraisal, acceptance of responsibility, and learning from the past of other nations. He then examines how nations can use these methods to cope with their current and future crises. In Upheaval, Jared Diamond turns history into a psychological topic, focusing how both entire nations and individual people can respond to challenges with similar methods.
Origin Story covers the whole of history—from the big bang through the present day—to change how we perceive the universe and our existence. David Christian takes a deep look at all 13.8 billion years of where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. He follows major events, trends, and questions through history to find the hidden threads that hold it all together. The creation of the planet, the advent of agriculture, and the act of nuclear war are all related and tied together. David Christian's Origin Story takes everything you think you know about human history and reframes it and our place in the world.
In Jacky Colliss Harvey's Red, we get a deep exploration of the redhead gene and how it's traveled through time. She follows the strand of red hair through history and how the prejudices against red hair have thrived from medieval Europe to the modern age of art and literature. She covers the first positive symbols of red hair in children's characters, the genetic and chemical decoding of red hair, and, of course, red hair in contemporary culture—"gingerism" and bullying at the forefront.
Tom Holland digs into every facet of Christianity in Dominion, from how it became the main visible culture of the western world to how Jesus is worshipped as a god. He also covers our morals and ethics—as well as concepts like liberalism, science, and homosexuality—and how they are so deeply rooted in Christianity. From Babylon to the Beatles and beyond, Dominion covers all of human history through the lens of Christianity.
Chris Hedges is a veteran war correspondent who has survived ambushes, imprisonment, and beatings. He's seen children murdered for sport. He's seen war at its absolutely worst and knows how those in the trenches can find it to be a reason for living. Drawing from his own experiences and the vast world of literature on combat, Hedges exposes the many ways in which war corrupts everything around it. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is a sad look at the horrors and power of war and how it touches humans and nations alike.
In the early 18th century, three French scientists set off on an expedition to South America to measure the precise shape of the earth. They faced terrifying things, from the Andes to jaguars and pumas, and barely finished the work. One was murdered, one died from fever, and one nearly died of heartbreak as he was separated from his wife for twenty years. Jean and Isabel were victims of messy international politics and spent years trying to find each other from opposite ends of the Amazon. Isabel's story is one of human endurance and female resourcefulness that kept her neighbors at home on the edge of their seats. The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker draws from the original writings of the mapmakers as well as his own experiences retracing her steps to tell an adventurous love story.
Humans have invented history. That's the thesis of Tamim Ansary's The Invention of Yesterday. He declares that history isn't heroic, geographic, or anthropogenic; it's narrative. Because at the beginning of human history, there were groups of hunter-gatherers who told stories to organize for survival and find purpose and meaning. When all these groups intersected, chaos ensued: war, religious awakenings, intellectual breakthroughs, and so many more events occurred. And with that, Ansary explains that the narratives we tell today shape us and our future.
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Ashley Holstrom is a book person, designing them and writing about them for Book Riot. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color.