1. Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History. Things might have been different, if you believe this book. German support for Lenin was very important, and the author sticks to the main story lines. Hard for me to judge, but at the very least it was interesting and also clearly written.
2. Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13. This novel builds too slowly to fit my reading style in a somewhat busy time of year, but I suspect it would be wonderful read aloud in a monotone, or as an audio book. A young girl disappears in England, and the story records how the town processes the event, and eventually forgets about it, over the course of 13 years. Here is one good review, it is a quality work of some originality.
3. Ken Gormley, editor, The Presidents and the Constitution. An edited volume that is wonderful and deserving of the “best of the year” list. The book considers how each American president in turn faced constitutional issues, and how those were resolved. This is an excellent survey of constitutional law, and a very good refresher on American political history. If you are a non-American, and looking to learn who all those lesser-known American presidents were, and what they did, and why and how so many of them were mediocre or worse, this is also perhaps the best place to start.
4. Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. As clear and understandable a treatment of this topic as you are likely to find, Wilson himself writes: “A major reason for the Empire’s relative scholarly neglect is that its history is so difficult to tell. The Empire lacked the things giving shape to conventional national history: a stable heartland, a capital city, centralized political institutions and, perhaps most fundamentally, a single ‘nation.’ It was also very large and lasted a long time. A conventional chronological approach would become unfeasibly long, or risk conveying a false sense of linear development and reduce the Empire’s history to a high political narrative. I would like to stress instead the multiple paths, detours and dead ends of the Empire’s development…” Relative to those obstacles this is an amazing book.
5. Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby y compañia. I tried this a few years ago in English, but it clicked for me only in Spanish. It is a series of short, interconnected philosophical meditations on those who don’t write, have given up writing, or who cannot help but write. One of the better novels of the new century, though note it does require some basic background knowledge of figures such as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger.