The Ancient World
The Hittites, one of the great peoples of the Bronze Age Middle East, were virtually unknown a century ago. Two books by Trevor Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites and Life and Society in the Hittite World show the astonishing progress that has been made since then. Though far from being as fully illuminated as Egypt, Babylon or Assyria, the Hittite realm is no longer enveloped in shadows.
The historicity of the Old Testament's account of ancient Israel has long been controversial, and the controversy has expanded with the increase in data. Recent years have witnessed the rising prominence of "Biblical minimalists", who contend that virtually all Biblical history is late fiction. William G. Dever, an archaeologist with no religious bent, argues to the contrary in What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It?
In The First Punic War: A Military History, J. F. Lazenby reconstructs the war that first took Rome beyond the boundaries of Italy. Important though it was, that conflict was very inadequately chronicled, and the gaps in our knowledge are chasms. Professor Lazenby's study, the first modern account in English, sheds as much light on what happened (and on the yet more mysterious why) as is reasonably possible.
For a decade in the Third Century A.D., Britain effectively seceded from the Roman Empire under two rebel emperors. Legends have clustered around these shadowy rulers. Carausius and Allectus: The British Usurpers by P. J. Casey sets the legends aside (while recounting them entertainingly) and seeks to uncover history through analysis of coinage, supplemented by close reading of the scanty contemporary sources.
The Middle Ages
The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 by Ian N. Wood plunges into the dense thicket of early Medieval France. The author believes that the Merovingian realm was better governed and more of a factor in broader European politics than is generally supposed.
The Early Modern World
Hugh Trevor-Roper's Archbishop Laud is a full, even-handed, but anachronistically secular, life of the key figure in the development of Anglo-Catholicism.
In political matters, Laud firmly supported Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford, whose ultimately tragic life is expertly chronicled by C. V. Wedgwood and whose difficulties in finding a formula for governing 17th Century England find disturbing parallels in the present era.
Richelieu's Army by David Parrott examines the organization and performance of the French army during the first phase of the Thirty Years' War, finding a great deal of muddle and little sign of a "military revolution".
The Popish Plot by J. P. Kenyon is the classic account of one of the great non-existent conspiracies of all time.
The Nineteenth Century
More Generals in Gray by Bruce S. Allardice consists of 137 brief but pointed biographies of men who have some claim to be recognized as Confederate generals but are not included in standard reference works. The author doesn't try to resolve controversies about status. Instead, his sketches give a lively picture of the diversity of the South's political and military elite.
In Napoleon III: A Life, Fenton Bresler gives "Napoleon the Little" celebrity treatment, producing entertaining but not quite serious history.
C. E. Callwell wrote Small Wars as a manual for British officers posted to Africa and India, telling them how to defeat the backward, but far from incompetent, native armies. His strategic and tactical insight, illustrated by scores of historical examples, makes his work of continuing value to students of both military history and 19th Century colonialism.
The Tented Field is an interesting, if slightly plodding, history of an offbeat subject: cricket in the United States from Colonial times through its virtually complete supersession by baseball in the early 20th century.
The Twentieth Century
The founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, receives a thorough and judicious biography in Andrew Mango's Ataturk. Though an admirer, Mango does not hide the fact that his subject ruled dictatorially (and sometimes brutally) and left behind a contradiction (a fervently secular state in a predominantly Moslem land) that has troubled his nation since its inception.
The Vietnam War was America's most serious defeat of the Cold War era. The conventional wisdom is that the outcome was inevitable, because South Vietnam was too divided corrupt and badly led to turn back the communist tide. In A Better War, Lew Sorley writes a history of the last eight years of the war (1968-1975) and argues that victory was not only attainable but actually attained, only to be thrown away when the U.S. abandoned its ally.
The Far East
Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900 by David A. Graff is the first English introduction to its subject. The author concentrates on the relationship between warfare and politics, succinct accounts of the period's major wars and the methods by which Chinese governments raised and maintained their armed forces.
Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India by Lawrence James is a sweeping history of the British conquest, dominion and loss of India, but the author is better at portraying details than giving a clear impression of the era as a whole.
History As It Wasn't
This section collects reviews of fictional and nonfictional works that are based on "counterfactual" history.
Harry Turtledove, the most prolific of alternate historians, turns to Shakespeare, the Spanish Armada and the power of the theater in Ruled Britannia, a work that has merits as a factual account of the Elizabethan stage.
Nazi victory in World War II is one of the most popular topics for alternate history. The Children's War by J. N. Stroyar is a very long (1,100+ pages) but compelling picture of repression and resistance 60 years after Hitler won.