1. Jonathan Paine’s Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola combines several interests of mine in an effective fashion. This book is most useful for seeing economic themes in some of the classic authors, above and beyond their citations of monetary values and payments.
2. The Bretton Woods Agreements, Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents, edited by Naomi Lamoreaux and Ian Shapiro. Virtually all edited collections are sleep-inducing, but this one is consistently interesting, at least if you are the kind of person who might possibly be drawn in by the title. Doug Irwin, Barry Eichengreen, Kurt Schuler, and Michael Bordo are among the contributors.
3. Ken Ochieng’ Opalo, Legislative Development in Africa: Politics and Postcolonial Legacies. The book also is more exciting than the title and subtitle indicate. It covers the determinants of cross-national African legislative successes, and argues that often the best and strongest legislatures emerge from a context of previously effective autocracy.
4. Roger Faligot, Chinese Spies: From Chairman Mao to Xi JinPing. A sobering account of how much spying — indeed spying on a mass level — has been central to Chinese history since the advent of communism. I found some parts of this book too detailed for me to read the entire thing, but arguably that ought to scare you all the more. Note that the narrative essentially ends around 2008.
5. Mario Bertolotti, The History of the Laser. Only about half of this book, at most, covers the laser. Those parts seemed fine enough, but what I really enjoyed was the coverage of the development of electromagnetic theory leading up to the laser. The book is also good for showing that the “transistor revolution” starting in 1948 was not really so distinct from the earlier industrial and electromagnetic revolution of the late 19th century.