1. Ivo Maes, Robert Triffin: A Life. There should be more biographies of economists, and while this one does not succeed in making Triffin exciting, it is thorough and informative and shows there was more to the man than his famous dilemma. I hadn’t even known Triffin was from Belgium.
2. Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September. A wonderfully subtle Irish novel about the Anglo-Irish elite in south Ireland right after WWI, how they self-deceive about the impending doom of their rule and way of life, and the diverse forms those self-deceptions take. An underrated modernist classic.
3. Cynthia Saltzman, Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast. Among other things, this book shows how clearly Napoleon understood the role of art in both reflecting and cementing power. Nor had I known that Canova, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Napoleon all had a single intersecting story, revolving around the theft and return of art.
4. Mircea Raianu, Tata: The Global Corporation that Built Indian Capitalism. No, this book does not “read like a novel,” and it could use more economics rather than plain history, but it is an entire book of full of content, meeting mainstream standards, on the still understudied topic of Indian business, one very major Indian business in particular.
There is Emily J. Levine, Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University, on yet another understudied topic.
Paul Strathern’s The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo: The Transformation of Western Civilization is probably the best current, general interest book on its (very important) topic.