The history of the world!

By Razib Khan | October 16, 2011 2:22 am

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.

Empires of the Silk Road. This is more a magnum opus, but it’s not a dry one. It can help “connect” the histories of the peripheral zones of the Eurasian ecumene.

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.

MORE ABOUT: Books, History
  • dave chamberlin

    Much obliged. It wasn’t long ago that it was a rediculous quest to find good non fiction. Books stores that had a real selection of used books were far and few between and even when you found books it was like purchasing music, buy three to find one you really liked. Now I order a bunch of books that Razib reccomends from amazon and get presents in the mail every day for a week or two. E books be damned, nothing tops having the book on a bookshelf behind you in your hide out room.

  • Antonio

    Thanks for the references: I’ll check some of them. Btw, I was wondering if someone has a good reference on the recent scandinavian history. I am mostly interested in how a poor-illiterate-remote area for such a long time manage to developed recently ( I heard about oil but I would like to get the details). Cheers.

  • skeptic

    Thanks very much. On Indian history I really enjoyed ” A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India (2008)” by Upinder Singh (Delhi Univ professor and Manmohan Singh’s daughter). This is more like a textbook, but full of primary references which were very informative to me.

  • Jorge Laris

    History of Art by E.H. Gombrich.

  • phanmo

    On a lighter (but surprisingly well researched and annotated) note, I recommend the Flashman books. They cover a fair number of relatively lesser known Victorian era incidents (including the Taiping Rebellion).

  • ohwilleke

    While not as euridite or in depth, particularly at greater time depths, an investment in a World Alamanac and a New York Times Almanac of the most recent year provides significantly more and more historically accurate core historical facts about non-Western history than almost any TV commentator you see who didn’t graduate from Oxford or Cambridge or Yale or Harvard with a relevant graduate degree is likely to possess.

    These sources are bad stopping points, but good starting points. They are particularly helpful in making some sense of the post-colonial history of different countries that is a necessary starting point to understanding their political situations.

  • ackbark

    The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave,

    The origins of 20th century China, from the late 19th century to the end of World War II.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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