Best books of 2022: History

Mussolini in Myth and Memory: The First Totalitarian Dictator
by Paul Corner, Oxford University Press £20/$27.95

Many Italians, not all on the extreme right, take a rather indulgent view of Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship. In a book that is timely, balanced, succinctly argued and thoroughly convincing, Paul Corner, a leading authority on Italian fascism, accounts for the disturbing gap between popular memory and the harsh realities of Mussolini’s rule.

Book cover of 'Straits'

Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan
by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Bloomsbury £25/University of California Press $29.95

Felipe Fernández-Armesto is not just a pioneering scholar of the Spanish empire and the Age of Exploration, but a historian who tells wonderfully readable stories. In Straits he offers an original reassessment of Ferdinand Magellan, who died while leading the first circumnavigation of the world.

Book cover of 'Muslims and the Making of Modern Europe'

Muslims and the Making of Modern Europe
by Emily Greble, Oxford University Press £26.99/$35

Emily Greble’s important book casts modern Europe’s history in a fresh perspective by concentrating on the continent’s indigenous Muslims. The Vanderbilt University historian recounts events from the 1878 Congress of Berlin to the formation of Tito’s communist Yugoslavia in the 1940s.

Book cover of 'The Normans'

The Normans: Power, Conquest & Culture in 11th-Century Europe
by Judith A Green, Yale University Press £25/$38

Starting from their small duchy in northern France, the Normans made a profound impact on medieval European politics and culture by conquering the British Isles and extending their power into the Mediterranean. Judith Green’s book is immensely readable and based on impeccable scholarship.

Book cover of 'Christendom'

Christianity: The Triumph of a Religion
by Peter Heather, Allen Lane £35/Knopf $35

The Christianization of Europe appears in a fascinating new light in this excursion through 1,000 years of history by Peter Heather, chair of medieval history at King’s College, London. Coercion by rulers and armies was often more significant than personal conversion, and the new religion’s triumph was by no means inevitable.

Books of the Year 2022

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
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critics’ choice

Book cover of 'We the Miners'

We the Miners: Self-Government in the California Gold Rush
by Andrea G McDowell, Harvard University Press £34.95/$39.95

When California was ceded by Mexico to the US in 1848, much of the territory was sparsely inhabited with little organized government. Andrea McDowell’s engaging study of the ensuing Gold Rush challenges Wild West stereotypes and explains how the miners who poured into California built workable forms of self-government.

Book cover of 'Horizons'

Horizons: A Global History of Science
by James Poskett, Viking £25/HarperCollins $30

Generation after generation, people in western countries have been educated to believe that the history of modern science began primarily in the 17th century in western Europe. In a book of breathtaking range and quality, James Poskett dismantles that narrow version of events and produces a fine global history.

Book cover of 'The Mad Emperor'

The Mad Emperor: Heliogabalus and the Decadence of Rome
by Harry Sidebottom, Oneworld Publications £20/$28.95

Ancient history was never less dry than in Harry Sidebottom’s superbly entertaining and always scholarly account of the reign of Heliogabalus, a Roman emperor of the early third century. There is something for every reader: sex, politics, scandals and a compelling portrait of imperial society and culture.

Tell us what you think

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

Book cover of 'Maria Theresa'

Maria Theresa: The Habsburg Empress in Her Time
by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, translated by Robert Savage, Princeton University Press £35/$39.95

Ruler of the Habsburg empire from 1740 to 1780, Maria Theresa towers over the history of German-speaking Europe like Elizabeth I over the history of England. This sweeping work by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, an expert on the Holy Roman Empire, will stand as the definitive study for many years to come.

Book cover of 'Rule, Nostalgia'

Rule, Nostalgia: A Backwards History of Britain
by Hannah Rose Woods, WH Allen £20/$28.95

In an impressive book that ranges from the 16th-century Reformation to Brexit, Hannah Rose Woods explores the long, rich history of nostalgia in British culture and politics. She shows that episodes of backward-looking reverie were typically associated with economic and social change that gave rise to anxieties over national identity.

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