Best history books

The Best History Books (Updated 2021)

von Sven Woltmann – 18. October 2021

Do you need a change from technical books? Something you can read before going to bed without your head spinning all night?

Then this is the right place for you!

On this page, you will find short reviews and recommendations of the best history books.

History Books

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

Link to the book at Amazon

Sapiens tells the story of humankind from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century, trying to find an answer to the question of why humanity, in particular, has risen to dominate the world.

The author divides human history into four epochs:

  1. In the cognitive revolution, humans developed the imagination that enabled them to create abstract things like gods, money, nations, trade networks, corporations, and human rights. It was the shared belief in these stories that enabled people to work together in large numbers.
  2. With the agricultural revolution, people began to reshape their environment actively. They increased food production, and population growth accelerated rapidly.
  3. Unification of humanity: People living in once-independent tribes began to build cities, empires, and trade networks – culminating in a global empire as we know it today.
  4. During the scientific revolution, humanity began to explore the workings of the world and gradually replace the religiously based worldview with an objective one. This ultimately led to the rapid technological progress we are currently experiencing.

Despite all the progress, the welfare of humankind has not continuously improved. The agricultural revolution, for example, led to a far more one-sided way of life and diet than that of the hunter-gatherers.

Other animals suffered and continue to suffer from progress to this day. Many species have been wiped out, while others live in squalid conditions as mere food producers.

Humanity has reduced hunger, diseases, and wars in recent decades indeed - there are also efforts to improve the welfare of animals. But whether this is a sustainable trend remains to be seen.

This very insightful book ends with a brief glimpse into the future, which the author will explore in-depth in his follow-up work, Homo Deus.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

by Yuval Noah Harari

Link to the book at Amazon

After describing humanity's history up to the present day in "Sapiens," the author paints a picture of what the future of humankind might look like.

What challenges will the human species face in the coming decades after containing famines, epidemics, and wars?

What goals and purpose will it still have?

Will it optimize body and mind? Will it overcome death? Will it create artificial life?

Will we continue to be guided by humanistic values such as freedom and equality? Or by algorithms and Big Data?

Will some of humanity evolve into god-like beings (Homo Deus) and treat the left-behind humans the way we treat other animals on this planet today?

Harari draws an exciting vision of the future. Because of the rapid pace of development, we may witness some of the changes ... or be able to prevent them.

Like its predecessor, a recommended read if you need a break from reference books.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

by Yuval Noah Harari

Link to the book at Amazon

After his journey into the past ("Sapiens") and future ("Homo Deus"), Harari moves into the present to find answers to the most pressing questions of our time - a time of rapid change and uncertainty, of information overload and polarization, of climate change and Brexit, biotech and Big Data.

In 21 chapters, the author addresses political, technological, social, and philosophical questions. Questions like:

  • What will become of our liberal democracy?
  • How will algorithms and Big Data change our decision-making and freedom of choice?
  • What kind of work will people be doing in the near future, and how can we prepare our children for it?

While the word "lessons" suggests otherwise, the author does not have clear-cut answers to these questions. Rather, he wants to get us thinking about the major challenges of the 21st century and our values in these turbulent times.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Sociology Books

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

by Malcolm Gladwell

Link to the book at Amazon

Why do some ideas and trends – whether in fashion, technology, or social behavior – catch on and others do not? Why do some books become bestsellers while others remain slow sellers? What is the secret of Sesame Street's success?

Malcolm Gladwell gets to the bottom of these questions and describes the phenomenon of the so-called "tipping point" – the point at which behavioral changes of a few people spill over to a critical mass ... and can change the world.

The trigger for the tipping point is usually the interaction of a few but well-connected people, a sticky message, and the right environment and timing.

I have to criticize that many of the author's arguments are primarily based on observations and are hardly scientifically substantiated, such as the reasons for lower crime rates.

Nevertheless, the book is interesting, entertaining, and well worth reading.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Sven Woltmann
Über den Autor
I'm a freelance software developer with more than two decades of experience in scalable Java enterprise applications. My focus is on optimizing complex algorithms and on advanced topics such as concurrency, the Java memory model, and garbage collection. Here on HappyCoders.eu, I want to help you become a better Java programmer. Read more about me here.

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