1. Christopher Tugendhat, A History of Britain Through Books, 1900-1964. Most of all a look at the “well-known in their time, and reflecting their age, but not read any more” books from the stated period, using short, capsule portraits of each work. It induced me to order some more Elizabeth Bowen, C.P. Snow, and other works. There should be more books like this.
2. Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet. Perhaps my favorite novel of the year so far, noting this is from Northern Ireland and my #2 pick by Anne Enright is from Ireland proper. Usually I dislike stories with a “gimmick” — this one recounts part of the life of Shakespeare’s family during plague times — but this one was tasteful, subtle, and suspenseful.
3. Charles Freeman, The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500-1700. A gargantuan work at over 800 big pp., the size and the breadth and title all might seem to herald trouble. Yet it is really good. It has chapters on whether England really had a scientific revolution, what was actually published with the new printing press, and how medieval universities really worked. There were fewer tired summaries of “the usual” than I was expecting. The author is a specialist on the ancient world, and so there is coverage of Cassiodorus, and what Montaigne took from Plutarch, and numerous other “ancient world” sorts of topics. Which is a good thing.
4. Despina Strategakos, Hitler’s Northern Utopia: Building the New Order in Occupied Norway. What did the Nazis have planned for Norway after a supposedly successful conclusion of the Second World War? Lots of reformed urban townscapes, and with plenty of detail to boot. Sometimes it is books like this, rather than the recounting of atrocities, that make WWII seem like the truly bizarre event it was. I am still not sure if restructuring Norway is something fascinating to do, or still super-dull.
Thomas A. Schwartz, Henry Kissinger and American Power: A Political Biography is consistently good and readable.
I found David Broder’s First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy to be a useful explainer of a complex situation.
Jacob Goldstein, Money: The True Story of a Made-up Thing is a good introduction to its chosen topic.