1. John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids. A remarkably readable and indeed prescient British work from 1951, you’ll find so much of the science and speculative fiction of the last few twenty years in here, a bit of Saramago too. What if most (but not all) of the world goes blind but then has to fight-off plant-like invaders which turn out to be more intelligent than we had thought? Underrated.
2. The Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649, translated with notes by Richard Price. I hadn’t realized how many of these early Church debates were kept and passed down to the current day. The participants really do seem to know they are debating the intellectual framework for everything else to follow, and yet people hardly talk about these books. They are among the most significant remaining traces of the ancient world, Rome and Constantinople in particular. How can you beat this?: “If anyone says that God the Word who worked miracles was someone other than the Christ who suffered, or says that God the Word was with the Christ born from Woman, or was in him as in someone other than himself…let him be anathema.” Down with monoenergism!
Kingdom of the Wicked asks what would have happened had Jesus emerged in a Roman Empire that has gone through an industrial revolution. How, I wondered, would we react to him if he turned up in a society more (or less) like the present? The answer was not one I liked much. I thought we’d mistake him for a terrorist. The novel is informed – even overshadowed – by the destruction of civil liberties and gross expansion of executive power occasioned by the War on Terror, a war now in the process of becoming war without end.
I find it works both as fiction and as thought experiment; see the related essay by Mark Koyama.
4. Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement. Makes a murky history relatively easy to follow, by the way: “Put all these ideas together, and “Boko Haram” means something like “Western culture is forbidden by Islam” or “the Westernized elites and their ways of doing things contradict Islam” — not just in schools but also in politics and society.”
Beyond Austerity: Reforming the Greek Economy, edited by Costas Meghir, Christopher A. Pissarides, Dimitri Vayanos, and Nikolaus Vettas, is an intelligent and useful look at where Greece goes next.