1. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes
    by Tamim Ansary

    An excellent history, easy to read, that made me rethink and understand from a completely different perspective. Opening paragraphs:  Long before Islam was born, two worlds took shape between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.  Each coalesced around a different network and travel routes; one of them, mainly seas; the other, land routes.  If you look at ancient sea traffic, the Mediterranean emerges as the obvious center of world history. . . and out of this came “Western

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  2. To End All Wars
    by Adam Hochschild

    Excellent history of WWI.  As in all of his books, covers both the good guys and bad guys.   Opening paragraphs:  The city had never seen such a parade.  Nearly 50,000 brilliantly uniformed troops converged on St. Paul’s Cathedral in two great columns. . . . It was June 22, 1897, and London has spent £250,000—the equivalent of more than $30 million today—on street decorations alone.  Above the marching troops, Union Jacks flew from every building; blue, red, and white

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  3. Various biographies
    by Robert Massie

    All of Massie’s biographies are wonderful and readable—including Nicholas and Alexandra, Catherine the Great, and Peter the Great. Opening paragraphs (from Nicholas and Alexandra):  From the Baltic city of St. Petersburg, built on a river marsh in a far northern corner of the empire, the Tsar ruled Russia.  So immense were the Tsar’s dominions that, as night began to fall along their western borders, day already was breaking on their Pacific coast.  Between these distant frontiers lay a continent, one sixth of the

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  4. God: The Biography
    by Jack Miles

    A close reading of the Old Testament, tracking God’s personality changes. Second paragraph:  If biography is seen narrowly as a branch of history, then there can be no biography of a nonhistorical character. But God does have a first and a last appearance in the Hebrew Bible. We see him first as the creator, outside history, prior to it, masterfully setting in motion the heavenly bodies by which historical time will be measured, We see him last as the “Ancient

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  5. Methland
    by Nick Reding

    A chilling exposé of methamphetamine manufacture and use in the Midwest. Opening paragraphs:  As you look down after takeoff from O’Hare International Airport, headed west for San Francisco, California, it’s only a few minutes before the intricate complexity of Chicago’s suburban streets is overcome by the rolling swell of the prairie. . . . Such is the reality of thousands of small communities dotting the twenty-eight landlocked states of the American flyover zone.  Lying beneath some of the most traveled

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  6. Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
    by Russell Shorto

    How both capitalism and liberal social justice originated in Amsterdam. Opening paragraph: A day in Amsterdam begins with me leaving my apartment with my toddler son in my arms, strapping him into his seat between the handlebars of my bicycle, working his blocky little sneakered feet into the footpads, then setting off through the quiet generally breezy streets of our neighborhood . . .You could look at the work of any Dutch master for an idea of the morning light

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  7. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
    by Colin Woodard

    A convincing account of how the U.S. divides into eleven regions, each with a culture of its own. Opening paragraph: Americans have been taught to think of the European settlement of the continent as having progressed from east to west, expanding from the English beachheads of Massachusetts and Virginia to the shores of the Pacific.  Six generations of hearty frontiersmen pushed their Anglo-Saxon bloodlines into the wilderness, wrestling nature and her savage children into submission to achieve their destiny as

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