Joseph Chamberlain: International Statesman, National Leader, Local Icon, edited by Ian Cawood and Chris Upton, Palgrave MacMillan, RRP£63/$100

Making sense of late 19th-century and 20th-century British politics demands an understanding of Joseph Chamberlain, who split the Liberals over Irish Home Rule and the Conservatives over Tariff Reform. This is a stimulating collection of essays that look at his career as a Birmingham municipal reformer as well as his roles on the national and imperial stage.

The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976, by Frank Dikötter, Bloomsbury, RRP£25/$32

Dikötter, a Dutch-born historian based in Hong Kong, completes his three-volume history of Mao Zedong’s China with this fast-paced narrative of the Cultural Revolution. His account of the convulsions in the decade up to Mao’s death in 1976 is fluent, compelling and based on a wide range of evidence.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, by Darío Fernández-Morera, EDS Publications, RRP£25/ISI Books, RRP$29.95

Medieval Islamic Spain basks in a reputation for being well ahead of its time as an enlightened polity that promoted harmony among its three religious faiths. In what Hispanist scholars are hailing as the most important book on the subject in many years, Fernández-Morera, a Northwestern University historian, concludes that this reputation is much exaggerated.

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years, by John Guy, Viking, RRP£25/$35

Scholars and general readers alike will relish this fresh, illuminating portrait of one of England’s greatest monarchs as she confronts foreign and domestic threats in the last two decades of her 45-year reign. Guy, a leading authority on the Tudor period, uses Elizabeth’s handwritten letters and other rarely exploited primary sources to impressive effect.

The Life of Louis XVI, by John Hardman, Yale, RRP£25/$40

A lifetime’s learning and love for 18th-century French history elevate Hardman’s biography into the fullest, most convincing portrait of Louis XVI in any language. Hardman shows that the king, felled by the 1789 Revolution, was flawed but by no means the lazy, dull-witted monarch of contemporary and historical caricature.

The Habsburg Empire: A New History, by Pieter Judson, Harvard University Press, RRP£25/$35

This is an engaging reappraisal of the empire whose legacy, a century after its collapse in 1918, still resonates across the nation-states that replaced it in central Europe. Judson rejects conventional depictions of the Habsburg empire as a hopelessly dysfunctional assemblage of squabbling nationalities and stresses its achievements in law, administration, science and the arts.

The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, by Lisa McGirr, WW Norton, RRP£18.99/$27.95

McGirr’s ambitious, energetic history casts the 1920-33 Prohibition era in a new light, going beyond familiar images of bootlegging, speakeasies and crime syndicates. The Harvard professor contends that Prohibition had profound long-term consequences, including the growth of a more powerful, activist federal government.

The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation 1846-1896, by Marc-William Palen, Cambridge, RRP£64.99/$99.99

In a US election year thick with controversy over the impact of free trade and globalisation on jobs and wages, Palen’s absorbing study of the 19th-century version of these debates is timely. The Exeter university historian contrasts the British commitment to free trade with what were the then dominant currents of US economic nationalism and protectionism.

India’s War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945, by Srinath Raghavan, Allen Lane, RRP£30/$40

Raghavan’s panoramic and richly detailed book deserves the accolades that it is receiving as the most comprehensive account of the subcontinent’s experiences in the second world war. A historian at King’s College London, Raghavan unearths much new detail and displays a masterful grasp of wartime diplomacy and economics.

The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World, by Tara Zahra, WW Norton, RRP£18.99/$28.95

Erudite and exciting, Zahra’s book recounts how enormous numbers of eastern Europeans migrated to the Americas between the mid-1800s and the second world war. In a work with obvious resonance for our times, Zahra, a University of Chicago historian, combines analytical depth with an impressive breadth of personal human stories.

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