Reading list

Why the Left Studies History: Verso Student Reading

Our selected History reading for the academic year ahead: all 40% off until the end of September.

Verso Books23 August 2021

Why the Left Studies History: Verso Student Reading

For radicals, the best guide to the present is our past successes and failures. Use this list to navigate our wide array of books on global histories of revolutions, colonial plunder, and class struggle. Get ready for the new semesters by reading up on classics like Walter Rodney's classic on How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Chris Harman's A People's History of the World, and Robin Blackburn's analysis of the rise and fall of slavery in The American Crucible

All our student reading is 40% off as part of our Back to University/School sale. Ends September 30, 23:59 EST. See all our student reading lists here.

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How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an ambitious masterwork of political economy, detailing the impact of slavery and colonialism on the history of international capitalism. In this classic book, Rodney makes the unflinching case that African “mal-development” is not a natural feature of geography, but a direct product of imperial extraction from the continent, a practice that continues up into the present. 

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From the earliest human societies to the Holy Roman Empire, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, from the Industrial Revolution to the end of the twentieth century, Chris Harman provides a brilliant and comprehensive history of the human race. Eschewing the standard accounts of “Great Men,” of dates and kings, Harman offers a groundbreaking counter-history, a breathtaking sweep across the centuries in the tradition of “history from below.” In a fiery narrative, he shows how ordinary men and women were involved in creating and changing society and how conflict between classes was often at the core of these developments. While many scholars see the victory of capitalism as now safely secured, Harman explains the rise and fall of societies and civilizations throughout the ages and demonstrates that history moves ever onward in every age. This magisterial study is essential reading for anyone interested in how society has changed and developed and the possibilities for further radical progress. 

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In this fascinating account of the island from the earliest times to the present day, author and journalist Jamie Mackay leads us through this most elusive of places. From its pivotal position in the development of Greek and Roman mythology, and the beautiful remnants of both the Arab and Norman invasions, through to the rise of the bandits and the Cosa Nostra, The Invention of Sicily charts the captivating culture and history of Sicily.

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In February of 1917 Russia was a backwards, autocratic monarchy, mired in an unpopular war; by October, after not one but two revolutions, it had become the world’s first workers’ state, straining to be at the vanguard of global revolution. How did this unimaginable transformation take place? In a panoramic sweep, stretching from St Petersburg and Moscow to the remotest villages of a sprawling empire, Miéville uncovers the catastrophes, intrigues and inspirations of 1917, in all their passion, drama and strangeness. 

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Though The Common Wind is credited with having “opened up the Black Atlantic with a rigor and a commitment to the power of written words,” the manuscript remained unpublished for thirty-two years. Now, after receiving wide acclaim from leading historians of slavery and the New World, it has been published by Verso for the first time, with a foreword by the academic and author Marcus Rediker.

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Ross’s engrossing, surprising, and gracefully written story of this fascinating ancient trade shows how the stones of historic Palestine, and Palestinian labor, have been used to build the state of Israel—in the process, constructing “facts on the ground”—even while the industry is central to Palestinians’ own efforts to erect bulwarks against the Occupation. 

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Reflecting on the fate of the Russian Revolution one hundred years after the October Uprising, Ronald Grigor Suny—one of the world’s leading historians of the period—explores how scholars and political scientists have tried to understand this historic upheaval, the civil war that followed, and the extraordinary intrusion of ordinary people onto the world stage. Suny provides an assessment of the choices made in the revolutionary years by Soviet leaders—the achievements, costs, and losses that continue to weigh on us today.

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Much has been written on how colonized peoples took up British and European ideas and turned them against empire when making claims to freedom and self-determination. Insurgent Empire sets the record straight in demonstrating that these people were much more than victims of imperialism or, subsequently, the passive beneficiaries of an enlightened British conscience—they were insurgents whose legacies shaped and benefited the nation that once oppressed them.

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In this classic work published in the heady days of anti-colonial revolution, Groundings with My Brothers follows the global circulation of emancipatory ideas, from the black students of North America to the Rasta counterculture of Jamaica and beyond. 

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Régis Debray explores America’s global cultural ascendancy in this provocative and witty analysis of our contemporary condition. Whereas Europe once foregrounded the importance of time and writing, America is a civilization of spectacle and kinetics, blind to the tragic complexities of human life. A measure of America’s success is how its jargon has been adopted by European languages, but there is much more than that to the States’ infiltration into all aspects of modern life.

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First published in 1985 and winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize that year, The Heart of the Race is a testimony to the collective experience of black women in Britain, and their relationship to the British state throughout its long history of slavery, empire and colonialism.

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In this essential new biography—the first to give equal weight to both the work and life of Karl Marx—Sven-Eric Liedman expertly navigates the imposing, complex personality of his subject through the turbulent passages of global history. 

Compulsively readable and meticulously researched, A World to Win demonstrates that, two centuries after Marx’s birth, his work remains the bedrock for any true understanding of our political and economic condition.

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Following the Algerian war for independence and the defeat of France in 1962, Algiers became the liberation capital of the Third World. Elaine Mokhtefi, a young American woman immersed in the struggle and working with leaders of the Algerian Revolution, found a home here. A journalist and translator, she lived among guerrillas, revolutionaries, exiles, and visionaries, witnessing historical political formations and present at the filming of The Battle of Algiers.  Mokhtefi crossed paths with some of the era’s brightest stars: Frantz Fanon, Stokely Carmichael, Timothy Leary, Ahmed Ben Bella, Jomo Kenyatta, and Eldridge Cleaver.  

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Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industrially advanced nation never spawned a mass party of the working class? This series of essays surveys the history of the American bourgeois democratic revolution from its Jacksonian beginnings to the rise of the New Right and the re-election of Ronald Reagan, concluding with some bracing thoughts on the prospects for progressive politics in the United States.

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In a series of debates with Oliver Cromwell in Civil War England, the Levellers argued for democracy for the first time in British history. Evolving from Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army using parliament’s struggle against King Charles I, the Levellers pushed for the removal of corruption in government, universal voting rights and religious toleration.

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A classic history of the role of Black working-class struggles throughout the twentieth century.

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Walter Rodney’s Russian Revolution collects surviving texts from a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Dar es Salaam, an intellectual hub of the independent Third World. It had been his intention to work these into a book, a goal completed posthumously with the editorial aid of Robin D.G. Kelley and Jesse Benjamin. Moving across the historiography of the long Russian Revolution with clarity and insight, Rodney transcends the ideological fault lines of the Cold War.  

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In an iconoclastic intervention, Marxist historian Perry Anderson provides an unforgettable reading of the Subcontinent’s passage through Independence and the catastrophe of Partition, the idiosyncratic and corrosive vanities of Gandhi and Nehru, and the close interrelationship of Indian democracy and caste inequality.

The Indian Ideology caused uproar on first publication in 2012, not least for breaking with euphemisms for Delhi’s occupation of Kashmir. This new, expanded edition includes the author’s reply to his critics, an interview with the Indian weekly Outlook, and a postscript on India under the rule of Narendra Modi.

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In 1973, faced with massive layoffs, workers at the legendary Lip watch firm in Besançon, France, occupied their factory to demand that no one lose their job. They seized watches and watch parts, assembled and sold watches, and paid their own salaries. Their actions recaptured the ideals of May 1968, when 11 million workers had gone on strike to demand greater autonomy and to overturn the status quo. Educated by ’68, the men and women at the Besançon factory formed committees to control every aspect of what became a national struggle. Opening the Gates is the first account of all facets of the experience, drawing extensively on unpublished materials to reconstruct the vision and practice of those involved.

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Even as they were taking place, the events that shook Pakistan in 1968–69 were underplayed in the Western media. Following a long period of tumult, a radical coalition—led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—brought down the military regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, just as it was celebrating its tenth “glorious” anniversary. In his riveting account, written in 1970 in the white heat of events, Tariq Ali offers an eyewitness perspective, showing that this powerful popular movement was the sole real victory of the 1960s revolutionary wave.  

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What makes a young radical? Reissued to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of 1968, Street Fighting Years captures the mood and energy of an era of hope and passion as Tariq Ali tracks the growing significance of the 1960s protest movement, as well as his own formation as a leading political activist. 

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The sixties were a time when radical movements learned to embrace twentieth-century Marxism. Revolution in the Air is the definitive study of this turning point, and examines what the resistance of today can learn from the legacies of Lenin, Mao and Che. With a new foreward by Alicia Garza, cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter.

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On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support a workers’ strike. As night fell, army snipers took up position; military officers surveilled the scene from a nearby roof; and their accomplice, restaurant-owner Loyd Jowers, was ready to remove the murder weapon. When the dust had settled, King had been shot and a cleanup operation was in motion—James Earl Ray was framed, the crime scene was destroyed, and witnesses were killed. It would take William F. Pepper, attorney and friend of King, thirty years to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that changed the course of American history.

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Now a global bestseller, the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. Menchú suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and turned to catechistic work as an expression of political revolt as well as religious commitment. Menchú vividly conveys the traditional beliefs of her community and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas. Above all, these pages are illuminated by the enduring courage and passionate sense of justice of an extraordinary woman. 

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Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debated and still obscure. In a fresh look at the topic, Anderson charts the intertwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital.

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Why didn’t Italy develop into an Absolutist state in the same, indigenous way as the other dominant Western countries, namely Spain, France and England? On the other hand, how did Eastern European countries develop into Absolutist states similar to those of the West, when their social conditions diverged so drastically? Reflecting on examples in Islamic and East Asian history, as well as the Ottoman Empire, Anderson concludes by elucidating the particular role of European development within universal history.

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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. In the course of this study, Anderson vindicates and refines the explanatory power of historical materialism, while casting a fascinating light on the Ancient world, the Germanic invasions, nomadic society, and the different routes taken to feudalism in Northern, Mediterranean, Eastern and Western Europe.

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The controversial thesis at the center of this study is that, despite the importance of slavery in Athenian society, the most distinctive characteristic of Athenian democracy was the unprecedented prominence it gave to free labor. Wood argues that the emergence of the peasant as citizen, juridically and politically independent, accounts for much that is remarkable in Athenian political institutions and culture.

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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.

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The Levellers, formed out of the explosive tumult of the 1640s and the battlefields of the Civil War, are central figures in the history of democracy. In this thrilling narrative, John Rees brings to life the men—including John Lilburne, Richard Overton and Thomas Rainsborough—and women who ensured victory and became an inspiration to republicans of many nations.

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In 1530 England was a backward economy. Yet by 1780 she possessed a global empire and was on the verge of becoming the world’s first industrialized power. This book deals with the intervening 250 years, and explains how England acquired this unique position in history.

Esteemed historian Christopher Hill recounts a story that begins with the break with Europe before hitting a tumultuous period of war and revolution, combined with a cultural and scientific flowering that made up the early modern period. It was in this era that Britain became home to imperial ambitions and economic innovation, prefiguring what was to come. Hill excavates the conditions and ideas that underpin this age of extraordinary change, and shows how, and why, Britain became the most powerful nation in the world.

Verso World History series

This series provides attractive new editions of classic works of history, making landmark texts available to a new generation of readers. Covering a timespan stretching from Ancient Greece and Rome to the twentieth century, and with a global geographical range, the series will also include thematic volumes providing insights into such topics as the spread of print cultures and the history of money.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an ambitious masterwork of political economy, detailing the impact of slavery and colonialism on the history of international capitalism. In this classic book, R...
A People's History of the World
In this monumental book, Chris Harman achieves the impossible—a gripping history of the planet from the perspective of the struggling people throughout the ages.From earliest human society to the H...
The Invention of Sicily
Sicily is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, and for over 2000 years has been the gateway between Europe, Africa and the East. It has long been seen as the frontier between Western Civilizatio...
October
In February of 1917 Russia was a backward, autocratic monarchy, mired in an unpopular war; by October, after not one but two revolutions, it had become the world’s first workers’ state, straining t...
The Common Wind
The Common Wind is a gripping and colorful account of the intercontinental networks that tied together the free and enslaved masses of the New World. Having delved deep into the gray obscurity of o...
Stone Men
“They demolish our houses while we build theirs.” This is how a Palestinian stonemason, in line at a checkpoint outside a Jerusalem suburb, described his life to Andrew Ross. Palestinian “stone m...
Red Flag Unfurled
Reflecting on the fate of the Russian Revolution one hundred years after October, Ronald Grigor Suny—one of the world’s leading historians of the period—explores the historiographical controversies...
Insurgent Empire
Much has been written on the how colonial subjects took up British and European ideas and turned them against empire when making claims to freedom and self-determination. The possibility of reverse...
The Groundings With My Brothers
In his short life, the Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney emerged as one of the leading thinkers and activists of the anticolonial revolution, leading movements in North America, South America, th...
Civilization
‘Civilisation’ - a hard term to define. But while every society has a distinctive culture, authentic civilisations must offer those they subjugate an attractive way of life. Their imprint outlasts ...
Heart Of The Race

Heart Of The Race

Heart of the Race is a powerful corrective to a version of Britain’s history from which black women have long been excluded. It reclaims and records black women’s place in that history, documenting...
A World to Win

A World to Win

Karl Marx has fascinated and inspired generations of radicals in the past 200 years. In this new, definitive biography, Sven-Eric Liebman makes his work live once more for a new generation. Despite...
Algiers, Third World Capital
Mokhtefi (née Klein), a Jewish American from Long Island, has had an exhilarating life. In the 1960s, she served as a press adviser to the National Liberation Front in postwar Algiers, before going...
Paperback
Prisoners of the American Dream
Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industriall...
The Putney Debates

The Putney Debates

In a series of debates with Oliver Cromwell in Civil War England of 1647, the Levellers argued for democracy for the first time in British history.Evolving from Oliver Cromwell’s New Model army in ...
The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain
This is the first comprehensive historical perspective on the relationship between Black workers and the changing patterns of Britain’s labour needs. It places in an historical context the developm...
The Russian Revolution
Preface by Jesse Benjamin and the Walter Rodney FoundationIntroduction by Robin D.G. KelleyAfterword by Vijay PrashadIn his short life, the Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney emerged as one of the...
The Indian Ideology
The historiography of modern India is largely a pageant of presumed virtues: harmonious territorial unity, religious impartiality, the miraculous survival of electoral norms in the world’s most pop...
Opening the Gates
In the Summer of 1973, workers occupied the Lip watch and clock factory, sparking a national cause and controversy. The Lip occupation and self-management experience captured the imagination of the...
Uprising in Pakistan
The story of what happened in 1968 in Pakistan is often forgotten, but is yet another proof that the revolutionary moment was global. In that year, following a long period of tumult, a radical coal...
Street-Fighting Years
The 1960s were a time of tumult and radicalism. Street Fighting Years captures the era’s mood and energy, its hope and its passion. In this, the first of his memoirs, Tariq Ali tracks the growing s...
Revolution in the Air
Revolution in the Air is the definitive study of how radicals from the sixties movements embraced twentieth-century Marxism, and what movements of dissent today can learn from the legacies of Lenin...
An Act of State
On April 4 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis supporting a workers' strike. By nightfall, army snipers were in position, military officers were on a nearby roof with cameras, and Lloyd Jowers ...
I, Rigoberta Menchú

I, Rigoberta Menchú

Now a global bestseller, the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. Menchú suffered gross i...
American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers
Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the dive...
Lineages of the Absolutist State
Forty years after its original publication, Lineages of the Absolutist State remains an exemplary achievement in comparative history. Picking up from where its companion volume, Passages from Antiq...
Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism
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 th...
Peasant-Citizen and Slave
The controversial thesis at the center of this study is that, despite the importance of slavery in Athenian society, the most distinctive characteristic of Athenian democracy was the unprecedented ...
The American Crucible
For over three centuries, slavery in the Americas fuelled the growth of capitalism. But the stirrings of a revolutionary age in the late eighteenth century challenged this “peculiar institution” an...
The Leveller Revolution
The Levellers, formed out of the explosive tumult of the 1640s and the battlefields of the Civil War, are central figures in the history of democracy. In this thrilling narrative, John Rees bring...
Reformation to Industrial Revolution
In 1530 England was a backward economy, yet by 1780 she possessed a world empire and was just about to become the first industrialized power in the world. This book deals with the intervening 250 ...

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