1. India, by Michael Wood. This book looks ordinary but it is a wonderful (selective) history which captures the magic of India. Recommended to both the beginner and the expert.
2. Las Benévolas, by Jonathan Littell, the Spanish-language edition of this famous French novel just came out (I don’t read French). Here is the French edition. Here are some of the raves. Here is a critical review. I loved the first twenty pages and was bored by the next thirty. We’ll see how far I get in this Spanish-language edition of almost 1000 pages. My current best guess is that a WWII-themed novel of this kind simply can’t be that original. The French love it, perhaps, because an American-born writer wrote it in the French language.
3. Angus Maddison, Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD. This is a good summary of knowledge about economic growth, by a premier empirical economist. But, as I am already familiar with the basic literature, I couldn’t find any reason to keep on reading.
4. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, by Eric Weiner. This book is well-written, witty, and deserving of its current bestseller status. At first I thought it was just fluff, but its applied, anecdotal, and travel-based approach gives one of the better windows on happiness across cultures. His particular observations are astute, especially on Switzerland and Thailand; in the latter case, referring to sex, he writes that something which cannot be shoved under the rug is now regarded as a piece of furniture.