In the past twenty years, since he won the Pulitzer for The Prize, his encyclopedic history of the discovery of oil and the ensuing battles for control over the world’s supply, Daniel Yergin, our neighbor, has become the global media’s go-to expert on all matters about oil, energy, and geopolitics. The media loves him not only because he is so smart, but because he has the rare ability to communicate his knowledge clearly. The exploding growth in energy demand and the growing awareness of the ominous effects of energy use on Earth’s climate are the two major global issues that require national leaders to come to consensus, and Yergin clearly lays out what and where the options are. The New York Times book critic Dwight Garner says Yergin’s new The Quest (Penguin Press, $37.95) should be required reading for “C.E.O.s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies, tech geeks, and thriller writers,” and that means a lot of people in Washington.
From Charles C. Mann, the author of 1491, the best-selling study of the pre-Colombian Americas, comes this fascinating account of the ongoing biological cataclysm known as the Colombian Exchange. Most histories look either only at the “Big Picture” or get bogged down in the details. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf, $30.50), does both, and in the best possible way. Here are the stories of the grand sweep of History, from the Slave Trade to the Potato Famine, but also of the personal struggles of the individuals caught up in the flow, people who had agency, but not always understanding of the forces, large and small, that influenced their lives.
This gorgeous new edition of the E.H. Gombrich favorite, A Little History of the World: Illustrated Edition (Yale Univ., $29.95), doesn’t just tell the story of civilization from its humble origins to its most grandiose inventions, it shows it, adding faces, maps, and designs to the leaders, places, and creations it discusses. Gombrich wrote this book in the 1930s, intending it as a primer for children to replace the dull, ineffectual texts forced on them. Anything but dull, and no longer just for children, if it ever really was, this Little History is an affectionate but not uncritical look at the world we’ve made.