As a fan of history, I have an embaressing blindspot for the Mughals. This book is a pretty good introduction to the state of the Muslim empire in the early 17th century and an even better biography of one of the most remarkable women of the time. Nur Jahan was a crack shot, skilled diplomat, and at one point, co-sovereign of a vast, powerful empire. Ruby Lal unpacks centuries of legend and patriarchical history to unearth Nur Jahan's character and acheivements.
Who would guess that Peter Ackroyd could be so bawdy? This is a hilarious, completely idiosycratic tour of gay life in London over the centuries. Expect to learn about the Romans' "Wolf Dens," in addition to a lot of detail on Londoners' privy habits. Listen, just read the table of contents--if that doesn't grab you, I don't know what will?
Even great histories of the Vietnam War often focus on the conflicts as a dark night of the soul for the West and America. Hastings recenter the conflcit on the experiences of the Vietnamese people,w ho suffered the mightily on both sides of the war, civilian or not, He also makes sure to apportion the blame to where it belongs--both decision makers in Washington and Hanoi. Three-decade surveys don't get much better than this.
This is an excellent and wrenching history of Charleston, SC's relationship with slavery. Much of this book deals with memory--the formation of ideas such as the Lost Cause and the efforts of African-American residents to pass on an honest account of the "peculiar institution." If you had any doubts about the purpose behind the Confederate monuments, this book will put them to rest. This book is a reminder that history has been and always will be a battleground, and the stakes are higher than you might think.
This would make a great companion with the film The Death of Stalin--the subject matter is grim, but the author's use of black humor is irresitible. Based on Malaparte's own experience, this account satirizes soviet high society (already a bizarre contradiction) mercilessly but also with an air of impending doom. The Great Terror lies just over the horizon. Hard to read this now without thinking of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named's administration.