1. Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food. There aren’t many new angles for WWII books, but this is one of them. The focus is on food markets during the war and Collingham covers both the Allied and Axis powers, interesting throughout.
2. What Makes a Masterpiece?: Artists, Writers, and Curators on the World’s Greatest Art, by Christopher Dell. The “pick a bunch of mostly classic but occasionally surprising artworks and devote a few pages to each one” can work surprisingly well for popular art books and this is a good example of the virtues of that genre.
3. Jonathan Steinberg, Bismarck: A Life. This truly vivid biography brings its subject to life through the extensive use of correspondence and quotation. The reader gets an excellent feeling of how Bismarck’s government actually worked, his intensity and also his mediocrities, and also the importance of Bismarck in building up Germany as a European power. The story is as gripping as a good novel. Sadly, almost no attention is paid to the origins of the welfare state. Still, this has received rave reviews and rightly so.
4. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, by Steven Levy. I haven’t finished this yet, but so far it is excellent and full of substance. Unlike a lot of company histories, it has a lot of economics, whether it is Google rediscovering the second price auction technique or the company having to hide how much money it was making from ads. I had my doubts about a book on so popular a topic, but this one delivers.