Best books of 2023 — History

Another India: The Making of the World’s Largest Muslim Minority, 1947-77 by Pratinav Anil (Hurst)

Anil, an Oxford university historian, portrays in rich detail the experiences of India’s Muslim community in the first 30 years after independence. He sets out the carefully researched case that, in an avowedly secular democracy, discrimination against Muslims took root under Jawaharlal Nehru, prime minister from 1947-64.

Book cover of Bismarck’s War: The Franco-Prussian War and the Making of Modern Europe by Rachel Chrastil

Bismarck’s War: The Franco-Prussian War and the Making of Modern Europe by Rachel Chrastil (Allen Lane/Basic Books)

The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 changed the map of Europe by paving the way for Germany’s unification. It was also Europe’s costliest war, in terms of lives lost, between the Napoleonic wars and the first world war. Chrastil, a history professor at Xavier University in Ohio, provides a valuable military, political and social survey.

Book cover of Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849 by Christopher Clark

Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849 by Christopher Clark (Allen Lane/Crown)

Author of Iron Kingdom and The Sleepwalkers, two acclaimed books on Prussian history and the causes of the first world war, Clark has delivered another masterpiece in Revolutionary Spring. The European revolutions of 1848 were complex in their origins, course and long-term impact. Clark tells the story as well as anyone ever has.

Book cover of Penning Poison: A History of Anonymous Letters by Emily Cockayne

Penning Poison: A History of Anonymous Letters by Emily Cockayne (Oxford University Press)

Are anonymous personal attacks on social media simply a modern version of the once widespread phenomenon of poison pen letters? In an entertaining and original social history of Britain that ranges from the mid 18th century to 1939, Cockayne offers answers to the questions of who wrote poison pen letters and why.

Book cover of Sacred Foundations: The Religious and Medieval Roots of the European State by Anna Grzymała-Busse

Sacred Foundations: The Religious and Medieval Roots of the European State by Anna Grzymała-Busse (Princeton University Press)

The origins of the modern European state are conventionally traced to the era between 1500 and 1800. Grzymała-Busse makes a convincing case that we should go several centuries back and look at the way that rivalries between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire and other trends framed the emergence of European states.

Book cover of The Nobel Family: Swedish Geniuses in Tsarist Russia by Bengt Jangfeldt

The Nobel Family: Swedish Geniuses in Tsarist Russia by Bengt Jangfeldt, translated by Harry D Watson (Bloomsbury Academic)

Sweden’s Nobel family, chiefly associated nowadays with the Nobel Prize, were known in the 19th century as a great industrial dynasty that founded Russia’s oil industry. They lost it all after the Bolshevik revolution, as Jangfeldt recounts in an enjoyable narrative of progressive Swedish capitalism in tsarist Russia.

Book cover of Eighteen Days in October: The Yom Kippur War and How it Created the Modern Middle East by Uri Kaufman

Eighteen Days in October: The Yom Kippur War and How It Created the Modern Middle East by Uri Kaufman (St Martin’s Press)

The outbreak of war in Gaza makes Uri Kaufman’s new book a timely and necessary read. This October marked the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, a conflict that shaped the Middle East to the present day. Kaufman tells the story with vigour and authority, making the most of previously unused archive material.

Book cover of Elixir: A Parisian Perfume House and the Quest for the Secret of Life by Theresa Levitt

Elixir: A Parisian Perfume House and the Quest for the Secret of Life by Theresa Levitt (Harvard University Press)

The popularity of Eau de Cologne peaked in early 19th-century France, when Napoleon Bonaparte was said to get through 60 bottles a month. Theresa Levitt, a University of Mississippi professor, has produced a delightful history of science and scent at the dawn of the modern age.

Tell us what you think

What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Book cover of The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination by Stuart Reid

The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination by Stuart A Reid (Knopf)

Patrice Lumumba, a charismatic African nationalist who helped to steer the Belgian colony of Congo to independence, was assassinated in 1961 in an episode that cast a long shadow over the west’s role in modern Africa. In a gripping narrative, Reid, an executive editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, explores covert US involvement in the affair.

Book cover of The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World by Karl Schlögel

The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World by Karl Schlögel, translated by Rodney Livingstone (Princeton University Press)

In a work of remarkable range and quality, Karl Schlögel explores the everyday life and material culture of the Soviet Union in ways that show the communist experiment in a compellingly fresh light. One of the most innovative books on Soviet history to appear since the state’s collapse in 1991.

Book cover of Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics Between the World Wars by Tara Zahra

Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics Between the World Wars by Tara Zahra (WW Norton)

Discontent with globalisation has a history stretching well back into the first half of the 20th century. Tara Zahra, a University of Chicago scholar, has written a panoramic work illustrating how societies across the world reacted in the interwar era against the perceived threats of a globalised economy.

Books of the Year 2023

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Environment by Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Thursday: Fiction by Laura Battle and Andrew Dickson
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critics’ choice

Join our online book group on Facebook at FT Books Café