1. Carole Angier, Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald. Might Sebald be the only semi-recent writer who can hold a candle to Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houllebecq? This book is sprawling, and suffers somewhat from lack of access to the author’s family, but it is a true labor of love. And Angier has a deep understanding of Sebald, and also brings out the Jewish-related themes in his work (though he was not Jewish himself). It attempts to be a Sebaldian work itself, and even if it does not always succeed it is the kind of passionate book we need more of. Recommended, but you have to read Sebald first, if need be start with Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants].
2. Arthur Herman, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World. Ignore the subtitle! There have been a number of good books on the Vikings lately, and this is perhaps the most “popular” and big picture of the lot. The early Vikings swept through Europe in a matter of decades, mixing conquest and trade. King Canute was pretty impressive it seems. Specialists may pick nits, but it is very readable and seems to me to give a good overview of the role of the Vikings in European history. This would be the one to start with.
3. Lawrence Rothfield, The Measure of Man: Liberty, Virtue, and Beauty in the Florentine Republic. An excellent introduction to Florence, with some focus on issues of liberty and also civic leaderhip. One should never tire of reading about this particular topic.
4. Howard W. French, Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World 1471 to the Second World War. Think of this book as a retelling of some standard historical episodes, but with Africa at the center rather than as a recipient of European advances. This is a useful reframing, and I enjoyed the read. But perhaps by the end it was the New World that in my mind was upgraded as a more central spot for the rise of modernity? Too frequently the relevance of Africa has to be rescued by invoking Portugal, as Sweden, Russia, and Turkey simply will not do the trick there.
New out is Diane Coyle, Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be; she is typically wise.
I am happy to see the publication of Calvin Duke’s Entrepreneurial Communities: An Alternative to the State, The Theories of Spencer Heath and Spencer MacCallum.
There is also Kyle Harper, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, long and comprehensive.