If I can look back in order to look forward, we find ourselves in a golden age of history writing that shows no sign of abating. A successful meeting between serious academic rigour and vivid, pacy writing is a rare thing, but when it happens the results can be marvellous.
This year I’m particularly looking forward to On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe by Caroline Dodds Pennock (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £22), which reverses the traditional tale of Europeans ‘discovering’ the Americas, and A Small Town in Ukraine by Bernard Wasserstein (Penguin £25), a personal and political history of Krakowiec, near Lviv, from which the author’s family originates.
Perhaps most of all I can’t wait to get my hands on Peter Frankopan’s The Earth Transformed: An Untold History (Bloomsbury, £30), a broad global analysis of how human history has been shaped by our natural surroundings and the changing climate. Frankopan’s 2017 The Silk Roads: A New History of the World was brilliantly written and groundbreaking in tackling global history without Eurocentric bias. The Earth Transformed promises a similar impact.
More than ever we need to learn lessons from the past; this year’s crop of outstanding written histories will leave us few excuses.