What exactly does that title mean? It means they are your suggestions, and I kind of/sort of trust some of you, and I didn’t want to throw in all of my opinions. At the very least, I know a lot of these to be good, but I am reporting these recommendations from a distance. These are pulled from the comments section on my earlier post on the best book to read about each country, with my recommendations. So here are your contributions for Europe:
Roy Foster on Ireland.
James Hawes has just published what has been reviewed as an excellent short history of Germany. His previous book on Anglo-German relations before WW1 felt like a fresh and convincing re-interpretation of what is very well-trodden ground in political/diplomatic history.
Jonathan Steinberg’s “Why Switzerland”
For Poland, yes, Norman Davies’ God’s Playground is the best book in English.
Poland: A History by Zamoyski is concise, but probably too concise for someone not already somewhat familiar with Polish history.
For Scandinavia – The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth.
One of the best books for understanding any nation, ignoring much of the history and most of the politics, is ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox.
Is it possible the best book for “getting” France is the Larousse Gastronomique? Because I already have that one also.
Czech Republic – “Gottland” by Mariusz Szczygiel. A description of the Czechs by a Pole. Will give you a lot of insight into the Czech character. I suppose a lot of Czechs will tell you The Good Soldier Swejk is the best book about Czechs, but that is self-serving.
Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed by Mary Heimann is also very good.
On Bulgaria: “Border” by Kapka Kassabova
The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation” by Mark Kurlansky
Simon Schama’s A History Of Britain
On Romania: “Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania” by William Blacker or perhaps Robert D. Kaplan’s “In Europe’s Shadow”. I also liked Kaplan’s portrait of Oman in “Monsoon”.
My choice would be Iberia by Michener.
The Bible in Spain by George Borrow. Very old, very good.
Patrick Leigh Fermor on Greece, Crete – Mani…etc.
Netherlands: The Low Sky: Understanding the Dutch by Han van der Horst (De lage hemel in the original)
Netherlands, fun read, although a bit dated now (written 20 years ago?): The Undutchables by Colin White and Laurie Boucke
There are two good and readable historical books on Amsterdam (and, by extension, The Netherlands)—one by Russell Shorto and the other by Geert Mak. Both are available in English. A bit more highbrow than the other books mentioned.
On Spanish recent history I enjoyed Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett. Specifically on Barcelona I’d recommend Robert Hughes’ Barcelona. Inside into Catalan physcho.
On Scandinavia: The almost nearly perfect people by Michael Booth
On Eastern Europe – Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder.
On the history of Russia you can’t beat ‘Internal Colonisation’ by Alexander Etkind.
And on English – wonderful AA Gill, RIP, ‘Angry Island: Hunting the English’
Spain – John Crow – Spain the Root and the Flower, Italy – Dark heart of Italy by Tobias Jones. Not sure these are the best, but they give an interesting psychological insight for the occasional traveller
Russia – big country so 3 books, not histories – War and Peace (Tolstoy), Life and Fate (Vasily Grossman), Everything is possible (Pomerantsev)…
Enjoy! Here are previous installments in the series.