1. Susanne Schattenberg, Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman. Can you have an interesting biography of a life and man that was fundamentally so…boring? Maybe. He ruled the world’s number two power for eighteen critical years, so surely he deserves more attention than what he has received. “Nevertheless, Brezhnev had dentures and only stopped smoking in the mid-1970s because his doctors told him his false teeth would fall out at some point if he didn’t.” And “Analysis of why Brezhnev’s children made themselves known largely for their drinking and scandals would fill another book.” I’ll buy that one as well.
2. Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics. One of the very best books on Ireland and Irish ideas, and more broadly I can recommend virtually anything by Kiberd. Do note, however, that much of this book requires you have read the cited Irish classics under consideration. Nonetheless there is insight on almost every page, recommended.
3. Olivier Zunz, The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville. A self-recommending biography of one of the greatest social science thinkers. Easy to read, and good for both the generalist and specialist reader. Note that it is a complement to reading Tocqueville, in no way a substitute.
4. Kevin Lane, The Inca Lost Civilizations. Short and readable and with nice photos, maybe the best introduction to this still underrated topic?
Paul Sagar, Adam Smith Reconsidered: History, Liberty, and the Foundations of Modern Politics considers the broader implications of Smith’s thought from a “freedom as non-domination” perspective.
John E. Bowit, Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia’s Silver Age. The early twentieth century, basically. Beautiful plates, good exposition, and if nothing else a lesson in just how far aesthetic deterioration can run. A picture book!
Matthew Continetti, The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism is interior to my current knowledge set, but clear and I suspect for many readers useful.
Rainer Zitelmann’s Hitler’s National Socialism is a very thorough, detailed look at Hitler’s actual views.
James Kirchick, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington also serves as a better than average general history of the city.