My post from last week, Relative angels and absolute demons, got a lot of circulation. Interestingly I received several emails from self-described lurkers who asked me for recommendations on world history, with a particular thought to rectify deficiencies in non-European history. These were people who were not looking for exceedingly abstruse monographs. Below are some suggestions….
China: A History. The author is a journalist, so this should be a starting off point, as there are major shortcomings in the narrative. But if you don’t have much background I’d recommend this.
India: A History. Same author as above, same strengths and weaknesses.
China: A New History, Enlarged Edition. A classic survey. Nothing to shout home about, but useful (if sometimes thin and dated).
Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. The author is hated by many Hindu nationalists, but the period is old enough that much of the controversy is not relevant to this work.
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World. A narrative history of the dynasty which crystallized much of Islam as we understand it.
A History of Iran. Iran is a small country, but its location is such that an understanding of it’s history can illuminate a great deal.
Power and Plenty. An economic history of the past 1,000 years.
After Tamerlane. The past 600 years. Becomes progressively more Eurocentric, as it should.
The Early Chinese Empires. This is not a long book, and it gives you a sense of what China was like before foreign influences (e.g., Buddhism).
The Classical World. Most people know very little of Western antiquity.
God’s War. This history of the Crusades ranges from the Baltic to Egypt. It has a wide enough spatial and temporal coverage to be a world history.
The Peacock Throne. To some extent this treatment of Mughal India almost seems out of Bollywood in terms of its dramatic nature. But then again the Timurids provide great raw material.
Africa. The title is short, but the yield is long.
1491. Many people know everything in this book, but too few still.
A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 – 323 BC. This is an understudied subject. You need this to see long term patterns which began only with the Classical Greeks.
The Rise of Western Christendom. You can’t understand the core of antiquity and the roots of the Middle Ages without this book.
The Human Web. A world history co-authored by one of the masters, William H. McNeill.
That’s all for now. I haven’t updated it in a while, but you might want to check out Razib on books.