1. Cat Jarman, River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads. An excellent history of what the title claims, starting from an archaeological point of view and incorporating many of the latest discoveries. The book is especially good at telling the reader how we know what we know about the Vikings: “Sweden has the highest quantity of Islamic dirhams in the whole of Europe after Russia.”
2. Jesse Singal, The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills. An overdue and very well-executed look at how many of the problems in social psychology run deeper than just the replication crisis. It covers topics of self-help books, posing and power, superpredators, bias tests, and much more. It seems the core problem is that if the general public cares about an area, it is much harder to get accurate information about those same questions — I have noticed the same tendencies in economics.
3. Eric Herschthal, The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress. A good survey of the scientific arguments against slavery, covering Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, the Lunar Society, and the technologists, among others. The 2021 gloss would be “the Progress Studies people were especially anti-slavery.” But why so little about the economists such as Smith, Malthus, and Mill, among others, all strongly opposed to slavery?
4. Christine Perkell, editor, Reading Vergil’s Aeneid: An Interpretative Guide, and David Quint, Virgil’s Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the Aeneid. Two books, excellent in their own right, and an antidote to the common view that everything in the humanities is bankrupt these days, or just “French theory,” or whatever. Of course you have to read them at the same time you are studying The Aeneid.
5. Natsume Soseki, Kokoro. From 1914, very retro in its aesthetic, it deals with modernization, the nature of friendship, and yes “the meaning of life.” Simple and charming in a way that contemporary authors find difficult to match. From 1984 to 2004 the author appeared on the Japanese one thousand yen note.