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Best Books of the Year

  • France on Trial
  • Elixir
  • The World of Sugar
  • Visions of Inequality
  • In the Shadow of Quetzalcoatl

The most thought-provoking and talked-about books of the year, recommended by critics in 2023.

Author - Editorial Staff

Date - 16 December 2023

Time to read - 1 min

  • France on Trial

    France on Trial

    The Case of Marshal Pétain

    Julian Jackson

    A Times and Telegraph Best History Book. A Spectator Book of the Year.

    This is a finely tuned history…Those who enjoy tales of the sparring among excellent lawyers arguing an important case will find this book riveting. And for those who want to understand contemporary France and its intricate politics, France on Trial provides…a vibrant analysis of a trial and verdict that remain contentious almost eight decades later.”
    —Ronald C. Rosbottom, Wall Street Journal

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  • Elixir


    A Parisian Perfume House and the Quest for the Secret of Life

    Theresa Levitt

    A Financial Times Best History Book. A Scientific American Best Book of the Year.

    Almost impossible to put down…Written with the propulsive flow of a novel, [Elixir] unfolds in two interconnected but sequential stories, each following a scientific hero…A whirlwind tour from the point of view of pomades, perfumes, and eau de cologne.”
    —Michael D. Gordin, Science

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  • The World of Sugar

    The World of Sugar

    How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years

    Ulbe Bosma

    A Nature Best Book of 2023.

    “The history of sugar is both a story of agricultural and economic progress and a bittersweet tale of ‘human exploitation, racism, obesity, and environmental destruction,’ writes historian Ulbe Bosma in his authoritative, readable study — the first to be truly global. As he warns the reader, “We have not yet learned how to control it and bring it back to what it once was: a sweet luxury.”
    —Andrew Robinson, Nature

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  • Visions of Inequality

    Visions of Inequality

    From the French Revolution to the End of the Cold War

    Branko Milanovic

    A Financial Times Best Book of 2023.

    “Inequality is back, as a political topic and as a focus of study. In this fascinating book, Milanovic, one of the world’s most influential scholars of inequality, examines what leading economists of the past have had to say on this issue.”
    —Martin Wolf, Financial Times

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  • In the Shadow of Quetzalcoatl

    In the Shadow of Quetzalcoatl

    Zelia Nuttall and the Search for Mexico’s Ancient Civilizations

    Merilee Grindle

    A New Yorker Recommended Book of 2023.

    This vibrant biography follows the complex, captivating figure of Zelia Nuttall, a self-taught scholar of ancient Mesoamerica and a pioneer of modern anthropology.“
    New Yorker

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  • Yesterday


    A New History of Nostalgia

    Tobias Becker

    A New Yorker Recommended Book of 2023.

    Despite the scorn that electoral politics may profess toward nostalgia, we practice it culturally all the time. Yesterday takes us through endless artistic revivals throughout the past half century, a period during which, as technology frog-marched us into the future, we kept a constant backward glance.“
    —Thomas Mallon, New Yorker

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  • The Madman in the White House

    The Madman in the White House

    Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson

    Patrick Weil

    “One of the best books of 2023” —The Conversation.

    “The extraordinary untold story of how a disillusioned American diplomat named William C. Bullitt came to Freud’s couch in 1926, and how Freud and his patient collaborated on a psychobiography of President Woodrow Wilson.”
    Wall Street Journal

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  • Wonder Confronts Certainty

    Wonder Confronts Certainty

    Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter

    Gary Saul Morson

    A Spectator Book of 2023. A Public Discourse Best Book of the Year.

    “Gary Saul Morson’s wise, erudite Wonder Confronts Certainty enlists Russian literary titans from Tolstoy to Vasily Grossman to stage an enthralling dialogue between humanist hope and doubt, and the murderous self-righteousness of the Russian ‘revolutionist’ tradition. Under Morson’s eyes, classic works illuminate still-burning questions of idealism, ideology and violence: criticism at its urgent, heartfelt best.”
    —Boyd Tonkin, Spectator

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  • King Hancock

    King Hancock

    The Radical Influence of a Moderate Founding Father

    Brooke Barbier

    A Wall Street Journal Best Holiday Gift Book.

    “A concise and highly readable biography. [John Hancock’s] legacy is very much worth our remembering.”
    —Wall Street Journal

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  • The Joy of Consent

    The Joy of Consent

    A Philosophy of Good Sex

    Manon Garcia

    A New Statesman Best Book from Academic Presses.

    “The French philosopher Manon Garcia suggests that far from extinguishing a flaring erotic charge, consent adds to the pleasure of sex.”
    —New Statesman

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  • Empire, Incorporated

    Empire, Incorporated

    The Corporations That Built British Colonialism

    Philip J. Stern

    A Spectator Book of 2023.

    “Empire-building is usually envisaged as the concern of nation states, but as Philip J. Stern convincingly shows in Empire, Incorporated, his brilliant, ambitious and often surprising new study, it was initially more often the entirely privatized business of Tudor commercial corporations…A remarkable contribution to the current global debate about empire and a small masterpiece of research.”
    —William Dalrymple, Spectator

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  • A Myriad of Tongues

    A Myriad of Tongues

    How Languages Reveal Differences in How We Think

    Caleb Everett

    A New Statesman Best Book from Academic Presses.

    “An assured guide to new thinking about how language shapes the way we see the world—at a time when thousands of languages are vanishing.”
    —Colin Barras, New Scientist

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  • The Project-State and Its Rivals

    The Project-State and Its Rivals

    A New History of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

    Charles S. Maier

    A Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2023.

    “Moving beyond the standard account of the twentieth century as an epic struggle between democracy and autocracy, Maier examines how a wide range of actors tried to harness industrial modernity in the pursuit of power and material interests, weaving an alternative narrative about the explosive interplay of economic privilege and political grievance.”
    —G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

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  • The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought

    The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought

    Wang Hui, Michael Gibbs Hill

    A New Statesman Best Book from Academic Presses. An Open Letters Best Book of 2023: Literature in Translation.

    “If the writing of this intellectual history was a daunting feat of scholarship, so is its translation into English nearly two decades after it was first published in China. In it, Wang Hui roams over more than 1,000 years of the country’s past, finding the links between its schools of thought that underlay the transition from empire to nation state.”
    New Statesman

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  • A Secret among the Blacks

    A Secret among the Blacks

    Slave Resistance before the Haitian Revolution

    John D. Garrigus

    A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year.

    Offers a fresh perspective on the resistance of the enslaved…Focusing on individual figures such as the African-born Médor, [Garrigus] makes a plausible case for his revisionist version of the Makandal story and sheds a revealing light on the wider origins of the Haitian revolution.“
    —Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement

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  • On the Edge

    On the Edge

    Life along the Russia-China Border

    Franck Billé, Caroline Humphrey

    A Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2023.

    “Based on their firsthand field research, anthropologists Billé and Humphrey present an enthralling portrayal of the 2,600-mile border between China and Russia as the line dividing two essentially different civilizations.”
    —Foreign Affairs

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