The history books on this list are a comprehensive study of modern history beginning with the 19th century globalization. They cover East Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, and the Middle East. For general history books, check out a previous post here.
15 Must Read Modern History Books
East Asia History Books
1. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, 2nd Edition – Andrew Gordon
Andrew Gordon covers the important aspects of Japanese history. He starts off by dealing with the Tokugawa and ends with the current political situation at the turn of the century.
2. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War – John W. Dower
This is the best comparative look at race and ideology in the Pacific War.
3. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty –
This book gives a great explanation of Japanese occupation, revolution and Kim Il-Sung’s rise to power in north Korea.
Western Europe History Books
4. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World – Mark Kurlansky
This book uses a somewhat obscure but still fascinating subject matter to narrate the rise of America (among other things). His work is very readable.
5. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 – Tony Judt
This is a very detailed and good overview of Europe’s post war history.
6. The Balkans: A Short History –
A brief Summary of Balkan history to the present day. A great starting point to see why people tend to have been wrong about the Balkans.
Eastern Europe History Books
7. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin – Timothy Snyder
A very readable account of the events in the countries caught between the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany at the beginning of WWII, starting with Ukraine’s Holodomor and the political tensions that rose from Stalin’s paranoia of outside influence during those events.
8. Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State – David Satter
A very readable book covering the rise of the criminal influence in Russian government following the downfall of the Soviet Union. Really uses his understanding of Russian psychology gained by years as the Moscow correspondent for the WSJ to give insight into what happened and why.
9. The Russian Revolution – Sheila Fitzpatrick
This is a short summary of the Revolution which is extremely readable.
North American History Books
10. 1861: The Civil War Awakening – Adam Goodheart
A popular history book that discusses the mood of the nation in the lead-up to the Civil War.
11. Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63 – Taylor Branch
A Pulitzer Prize winning book detailing the civil rights movement in the United States.
Middle East History Books
12. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents – Charles D. Smith
This is a concise history of the conflict that contains readable documents which are very relevant. It is largely low-bias and perfectly captures both sides of the debate.
13. Turkey: A Modern History – Erik J. Zurcher
This book is one of the most expansive modern history books bout Turkey. It manages the events in a clear way, and connects the important events to the overall history of the middle east.
14. A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind – Michael Axworthy
Although it is often vilified, Iran is a nation of great intellectual variety and depth, and one of the oldest continuing civilizations in the world. This books gives a great account of its history.
15. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity – Timothy Mitchell
An innovative account of the history of the modern world in eight interlocking essays about Egypt in the 20th century which deal with everything from land surveys to the plagiarisms of mid-century anthropology to a history of the Aswan Dam from the perspective of a mosquito.
For more history books, go to our History page.