Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, 1921–1933

by Anne Applebaum

A history of the Holodomor–the famine deliberately caused by Stalin’s Soviet government that killed almost 4 million Ukrainians.

The famine of 1932–33 was needed by the Soviet government to break the backbone of the Ukrainian opposition to complete Russian domination. Thus it was a political move and not the result of natural causes.

S. Sosnovyi, on p. 386 of Red Famine

How was it deliberately caused? Simple. Soviet agents took all the food—from the crops in the fields to the food on Ukrainian peasants’ tables.

Just being alive attracted suspicion: if a family was alive, that meant it had food. But if they had food, then they should have given it up—and if they had failed to give it up, then they were kulaks, Petliurites, Polish agents, enemies.

p. 272

Famine is an abstract concept to most readers, but I won’t soon forget Applebaum’s haunting descriptions of people driven mad by hunger, dropping dead from one moment to the next, and even turning cannibal to survive. And the world accepted Stalin’s lies and all but refused to take notice of the Holodomor for more than 50 years. It only became generally known and acknowledged in the late 80s. Ukraine declared its independence in 1991.

Red Famine is not easy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.

A History of the Barricade

by Eric Hazan

A chronology of the barricade as a tool of civil insurrection, from its birth in the streets of Paris, then spreading briefly to the rest of Europe before being rendered ineffective by artillery. I had hoped to read more about the barricade as a tactic—what made them effective or not. Instead they are nearly a footnote in this book about (mostly) Parisian uprisings. It’s not until the epilogue that the author says anything about the significance of barricades themselves. Disappointing.

Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands

by Dan Jones

If you love stories about ancient secret societies as much as I do, you should know the history of the Crusades. That’s where many of those stories were born. Crusaders is not a typical history book; it is a collection of stories about people. Storytelling, not academic recitation of facts. It’s a good first encounter for those new to the Crusades, and adds context for anyone who has already read some Crusader history.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

by David Graeber & David Wengrow

The idea that modern societies are the result of a natural, inevitable evolution from “egalitarian” hunter-gatherer tribes to hierarchical communities based on agriculture is at best over-simplified. The reality is far more complexed and nuanced—just like humans. And maybe it’s more strange that we’ve gotten stuck with such a narrow range of societal structures. This book is pretty dry and academic, but it’s also an eye-opening analysis of how we really got here.