History: Verso Student Reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
A historical tour de force, The Invention of the Jewish People offers a groundbreaking account of Jewish and Israeli history. Exploding the myth that there was a forced Jewish exile in the first century at the hands of the Romans, Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argues that most modern Jews descend from converts, whose native lands were scattered across the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
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.
What must China do to become truly democratic and equitable? This question animates most progressive debates about this potential superpower, and in China’s Twentieth Century the country’s leading critic, Wang Hui, turns to the past for an answer. Beginning with the birth of modern politics in the 1911 revolution, Wang tracks the initial flourishing of political life, its blossoming in the radical sixties, and its decline in China’s more recent liberalization, to arrive at the crossroads of the present day.
In The Experience of Defeat, Christopher Hill explores the writings and lives of the Levellers, the Ranters and the Diggers, as well as the work of George Fox and other important early Quakers. In particular Hill examines John Milton’s late work, arguing that it came directly out of a painful reassessment of man and society that impelled him to “justify the ways of God to Man.”
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 defense, and the bloody massacre that ended the uprising.
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.
On the centenary of the Russian Revolution, China Miéville tells the extraordinary story of this pivotal moment in history. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Five hundred years since its first publication, Thomas More’s Utopia remains astonishingly radical and provocative. More imagines an island nation where thousands live in peace and harmony, men and women are both educated, and property is communal. In a text hovering between fantasy, satire, blueprint and game, More explores the theories and realities behind war, political conflicts, social tensions and redistribution, and imagines the day-to-day lives of a citizenry living free from fear, oppression, violence and suffering.
One hundred years after the Russian Revolution the Soviet Union remains the most extraordinary, yet tragic, attempt to create a society beyond capitalism. Yet its history was one that for a long time proved impossible to write. In The Soviet Century, Moshe Lewin follows this history in all its complexity, guiding us through the inner workings of a system which is still barely understood. In the process he overturns widely held beliefs about the USSR’s leaders, the State-Party system and the powerful Soviet bureaucracy.
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.