Reading List

History: Verso Student Reading

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Nothing signals the end of summer like reading up on the history of Western imperialism and the Paris Commune. With selections including a history of Athenian democracy, of the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas, and of the wartime Italian Resistance, this reading list is a great way to brush up on your radical history.

See all our student reading here.

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.  

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.

Yvonne Kapp’s biography was first published at the height of feminist organising in the 1970s. Kapp brilliantly succeeds in capturing Eleanor’s spirit, from a lively child opining on the world’s affairs, to the new woman, aspiring to the stage, earning her living as a free intellectual, and helping to lead England’s unskilled workers at the height of the new unionism. She was always more than, yet at the same time inescapably, Karl Marx’s daughter.

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.  

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. 

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.

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.  

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. 

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.

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.

In this important intervention, Andrea Komlosy demonstrates that popular understandings of work have varied radically in different ages and countries. Looking at labour history around the globe from the thirteenth to the twenty-first centuries, Komlosy sheds light on both discursive concepts as well as the concrete coexistence of multiple forms of labour—paid and unpaid, free and unfree. From the economic structures and ideological mystifications surrounding work in the Middle Ages, all the way to European colonialism and the industrial revolution, Komlosy’s narrative adopts a distinctly global and feminist approach, revealing the hidden forms of unpaid and hyper-exploited labour which often go ignored, yet are key to the functioning of the capitalist world-system. 

In the pantheon of American icons, the cowboy embodies the traits of “rugged individualism,” independent, solitary, and stoical. In reality, cowboys were grossly exploited and underpaid seasonal workers, who responded to the abuses of their employers in a series of militant strikes. These social tensions stirred a series of political insurgencies that became virtually endemic to the American West of the Gilded Age. Mark Lause explores the relationship between these neglected labor conflicts, the “range wars,” and the third-party movements. 

On November 2, 1917, the British government, represented by Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour, declared that they were in favor of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This short note would be one of the most controversial documents of its time.  A hundred years after its signing, Bernard Regan recasts the history of the Balfour Declaration as one of the major events in the story of the Middle East. Offering new insights into the imperial rivalries between Britain, Germany and the Ottomans, Regan exposes British policy in the region as part of a larger geopolitical game.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Fire and Blood looks at the European crisis of the two world wars as a single historical sequence: the age of the European Civil War (1914–1945). Utilizing multiple sources, Enzo Traverso depicts the dialectic of this era of wars, revolutions and genocides. Rejecting commonplace notions of “totalitarian evil,” he rediscovers the feelings and reinterprets the ideas of an age of intellectual and political commitment when Europe shaped world history with its own collapse.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A Civil War is a history of the wartime Italian Resistance, recounted by a historian who, as a young man, took part in the struggle against Mussolini’s fascist Republic. Since its publication in Italy, Claudio Pavone’s masterwork has become indispensable to anyone seeking to understand this period and its continuing importance for the nation’s identity.

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.

In The Darker Nations, Vijay Prashad provided an intellectual history of the Third World and traced the rise and fall of the Non-Aligned Movement. With The Poorer Nations, Prashad takes up the story where he left off. 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.

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.

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