History Undergraduate Reading List
The inevitable passing of summer is as good a reminder as any that while you may make your own history, you don't make it as you please. The books on our undergraduate history reading list below offer even better ones.
Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism
Lineages of the Absolutist State
Both by Perry Anderson
“A complex, beautifully interwoven account of Europe from the ancient Greeks to modern absolutist monarchies…Exhilarating.” – Guardian
Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism is a sustained exercise in historical sociology that shows how the slave-based societies of Ancient Greece and Rome eventually became the feudal societies of the Middle Ages. Through this work and its companion volume, Lineages of the Absolutist State, Anderson presents a Marxist history of Western political development that takes readers from the first stirrings of political consciousness in the classical world to the rise of absolutist monarchies in Europe and the birth of the modern epoch.
The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights
by Robin Blackburn
“The finest one-volume history of the rise and fall of modern slavery.”– Eric Foner, The Nation
The American Crucible furnishes a vivid and authoritative history of the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas. For over three centuries enslavement promoted the rise of capitalism in the Atlantic world. The New World became the crucible for a succession of fateful experiments in colonization, silver mining, plantation agriculture, racial enslavement, colonial rebellion, slave witness and slave resistance. Slave produce raised up empires, fostered new cultures of consumption and financed the breakthrough to an industrial order.
“The writing is so supple and accessible, and the argument so persuasive, it's like watching a cloudy mixture of ideas being turned into a clear solution.”– Adrienne Rich
In this original and provocative book Ellen Meiksins Wood reminds us that capitalism is not a natural and inevitable consequence of human nature, nor is it simply an extension of age-old practices of trade and commerce. Rather, it is a late and localized product of very specific historical conditions, which required great transformations in social relations and in the human interaction with nature.
Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914–1945
by Enzo Traverso
The Last Communard: Adrien Lejeune, the Unexpected Life of a Revolutionary
by Gavin Bowd
In 1871, Adrien Lejeune fought on the barricades of the Paris Commune. He was imprisoned for treason when the Commune fell and narrowly avoided execution for his role in the struggle for a new future. In later life, he immigrated to Soviet Russia, finding fame as a revolutionary icon. In his native country, he was vaunted as a hero, a touchstone of revolutions past during France’s interwar dramas.
Gavin Bowd’s stunning narrative shows how an individual can be swept up in the fierce tides of history, and at the same time be defined by his own efforts to force those tides into a different, and better, course. Lejeune’s life captures war and revolution in a tumultuous period of European history.
The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times by Giovanni Arrighi
“The single most useful text on offer for anyone who wants to narrate the story of world capitalism—from its nascent form on the rim of the Mediterranean to the current reach of the United States’ empire, and beyond.” – Los Angeles Review of Books
The Long Twentieth Century traces the relationship between capital accumulation and state formation over a 700-year period. Arrighi argues that capitalism has unfolded as a succession of “long centuries,” each of which produced a new world power that secured control over an expanding world-economic space. A masterpiece of historical sociology, The Long Twentieth Century rivals in scope and ambition contemporary classics by Perry Anderson, Charles Tilly and Michael Mann.
Dreamers of a New Day: The Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century
By Sheila Rowbotham
“Fascinating ... As the 21st century falters forward with faith wars and economic collapse, women need to be at the forefront of reimagining our world. This book is a timely reminder that we have been here before.” – Jeanette Winterson
From the 1880s to the 1920s, a profound social awakening among women extended the possibilities of change far beyond the struggle for the vote. Drawing on a wealth of research, Sheila Rowbotham has written a groundbreaking new history that shows how women created much of the fabric of modern life. These innovative dreamers raised questions that remain at the forefront of our twenty-first-century lives.
The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South
by Vijay Prashad
“It is startling how insulated the West has remained from the thinking, achievements, and struggles of the great majority of the world’s people. This lucid and well-informed study reveals how much there is to learn from this rich and vibrant record.”– Noam Chomsky
Since the ’70s, the countries of the Global South have struggled to build political movements. Prashad analyzes the failures of neoliberalism, as well as the rise of the BRICS countries, the World Social Forum, issue-based movements like Via Campesina, the Latin American revolutionary revival—in short, efforts to create alternatives to the neoliberal project advanced militarily by the US and its allies and economically by the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and other instruments of the powerful. Just as The Darker Nations asserted that the Third World was a project, not a place, The Poorer Nations sees the Global South as a term that properly refers not to geographical space but to a concatenation of protests against neoliberalism.
A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium by Chris Harman
“An indispensible volume”—Howard Zinn
Chris Harman describes the shape and course of human history as a narrative of ordinary people forming and re-forming complex societies in pursuit of common human goals. Interacting with the forces of technological change as well as the impact of powerful individuals and revolutionary ideas, these societies have engendered events familiar to every schoolchild—from the empires of antiquity to the world wars of the twentieth century.
Liberalism: A Counter-History
by Domenico Losurdo
“A brilliant exercise in unmasking liberal pretensions.” – Financial Times
In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery.
A People's History of the French Revolution
by Eric Hazan
“A riveting popular history.”– Spectator
Looking at history from the bottom up, providing an account of working people and peasants, Hazan asks, how did they see their opportunities? What were they fighting for? What was the Terror and could it be justified? And how was the revolution stopped in its tracks? The People’s History of the French Revolution is a vivid retelling of events, bringing them to life with a multitude of voices. Only in this way, by understanding the desires and demands of the lower classes, can the revolutionary bloodshed and the implacable will of a man such as Robespierre be truly understood.
Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
by Timothy Mitchell
“A challenging, sophisticated, and important book that undermines expectations in the best kind of intellectual provocation.”– Foreign Policy
Does oil wealth lead to political poverty? It often looks that way, but Carbon Democracytells a more complex story. In this magisterial study, Timothy Mitchell rethinks the history of energy, bringing into his grasp as he does so environmental politics, the struggle for democracy, and the place of the Middle East in the modern world.
The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity
by Wang Hui
“One of China's leading historians and most interesting and influential public intellectuals.”– Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Los Angeles Times
Challenging both the bureaucratic one-party regime and the Western neoliberal paradigm, China’s leading critic shatters the myth of progress and reflects upon the inheritance of a revolutionary past. In this original and wide-ranging study, Wang Hui examines the roots of China’s social and political problems, and traces the reforms and struggles that have led to the current state of mass depoliticization.
The History of the Paris Commune of 1871
by Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray
“Lissagaray relives the Commune with all the bitterness of a man who could see the tragedy unfold, even as he played his part, dutifully, to the end.” – Paul Mason
In 1871, the working class of Paris, incensed by their lack of political power and tired of being exploited, seized control of the capital. This book is the outstanding history of the Commune, the heroic battles fought in its defence, and the bloody massacre that ended the uprising. Its author, Lissagaray, was a young journalist who not only saw the events recounted here first-hand, but fought for the Commune on the barricades. He spent the next twenty-five years researching and writing this history, which refutes the slanders levelled at the Communards by the ruling classes and is a vivid and valuable study in urban political revolution, one that retains its power to inspire to this day.
The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky
by Isaac Deutscher
“In the 1930s, Trotsky, with a handful of followers, attempted to block the path of Stalin’s relentless hurricane of betrayal and murder. His epic defence of the soul of the Revolution against its bureaucratic executioners was a torchlight in the storm. In one of the very greatest modern biographies, Isaac Deutscher redeems the legacy of this astonishing revolutionary and humanist thinker.” – Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution
by Sophie Wahnich
For two hundred years after the French Revolution, the Republican tradition celebrated the execution of princes and aristocrats, defending the Terror that the Revolution inflicted upon on its enemies. But recent decades have brought a marked change in sensibility. The Revolution is no longer judged in terms of historical necessity but rather by “timeless” standards of morality. In this succinct essay, Sophie Wahnich explains how, contrary to prevailing interpretations, the institution of Terror sought to put a brake on legitimate popular violence—in Danton’s words, to “be terrible so as to spare the people the need to be so”—and was subsequently subsumed in a logic of war. The Terror was “a process welded to a regime of popular sovereignty, the only alternatives being to defeat tyranny or die for liberty.”
A History of the Barricade
by Eric Hazan
In the history of European revolutions, the barricade stands as a glorious emblem. Its symbolic importance arises principally from the barricades of Eric Hazan’s native Paris, where they were instrumental in the revolts of the nineteenth century, helping to shape the political life of a continent.
Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy and The Pristine Culture of Capitalism: A Historical Essay on Old Regimes and Modern States
Both by Ellen Meiksins Wood
These two works by the hugely influential historian of political thought Ellen Meiksins Wood demonstrate the range and breadth of her learning. Ranging from the social and economic background to the Classical Athenian democracy and the social history of democratic thought in Ancient Greece, to the development of the modern state system and the decline of British industry in the twenty-first century. Essential reading.
More reading lists:
Philosophy Undergraduate Reading List
Art and Aesthetics Undergraduate Reading List
Economics Undergraduate Reading List
Race and Ethnicity Undergraduate Reading List
Political Theory Undergraduate Reading List
Feminism and Gender Undergraduate Reading List
Cities and Architecture Undergraduate Reading List