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Christmas Party Season: Books to Carry Conversations

Published by Tomeka Borghoff

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Ever had that sinking feeling at the work related party when someone starts a discussion on a non-work related topic and you have to abide by the “better to be thought a fool than to speak up and confirm” rule?

Fear not! Here is a list of books that will give you a good working background on a few centuries of historically significant events and trends so that you can hold your own in most conversations of this type.


Niall Ferguson is at the top of this list with four books:

  • Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons of Global Power; Basic Books, April 2004. This book give a very good history of the British Empire which shaped the world for hundreds of years. Easy reading and very engaging style. This book makes a good foundation for discussions.
  • War of the World; Penguin, October 2007. A fantastic book covering the causes and effects of the world at war during the 20th century. Again, Ferguson’s style and grasp of the subject matter speaks with authority and insight. It goes well past the landscapes of mere history books.
  • Colossus:The Rise and Fall of the American Empire; Penguin, March 2005. For some this will be a hard book to swallow, but it is well worth reading. It sets out America’s rise to world power status through the late 19th and 20th centuries and gives insight as to how this nation became a super power. Ferguson writes from on outsider’s view point, so his comprehension of events may differ with the accepted model.
  • The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World: Penguin, October 2009. This book takes a romp through the history of money and how banks an other financial institutions rose in stature over the history of commerce throughout the world. Again an easy read with some good insights.

Going a bit further back in history gives this very readable book to add to the list:

  • Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492 to 1763; Henry Kamen, Harper Perennial, February 2004. This is a fascinating look at the consolidation of power in Spain, the influence of the Vatican and the discovery of the New World. It successfully intertwines histories of Spain, France, England and the Dutch as well as Italy and Northern Africa.

These five books give people who are not History majors a good grounding in the times and events that have shaped and continue to shape the wider world of politics, economics and diplomacy.

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