Best one-volume national histories, please

I’m looking to expand my knowledge of the “big picture” of history – the critical people, places, and events that formed nations over the course of centuries. So, I’ve decided I’d like to read some national histories, and I’m turning to all of you for some recommendations. The books should ideally span multiple centuries – they don’t necessarily have to go back to the beginning of time, per se; something that traces the course of, for example, a European country from the Middle Ages to the modern day would be good enough. Basically, if the book could legitimately be titled “The History of Spain” (or whatever country), that’s what I’m looking for.

And, if possible, I’d prefer “popular histories” – I know virtually every country has had a textbook history written about it, but something readable, accessible, and more-that-averagely interesting would be very welcome! Thanks in advance.

A few good national histories I’ve liked:
China: a New History by John King Fairbank
A History of Russia by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky (there’s a recent edition where Mark Steinberg expands this work into the post-Soviet era)
La Belle France: A Short History by Alistair Horne
The Middle East by Bernard Lewis (admittedly regional not national)

Thanks for the suggestions; I meant to mention La Belle France, as I have read that one, and it, in part inspired this thread (though some of its reviews on make me wonder about its complete factual accuracy). More recommendations are still welcome!

I LOVE the New Penguin History of the World by J.M. Roberts as a one-volume, broad-brush approach to history. It’s not a national history per se, but Roberts does a high-level view of most of the larger nations - i.e. Japan, India, the U.S., etc.

I find it readable, accessible, and interesting. It might not be perfect for your OP (as a world history v. national history), but I recommend it to everyone. I find myself constantly re-reading this book - just flipping to a section and reviewing history.

So that’s a suggestion.

I enjoyed reading Scotland: The Story of a Nation, by Magnus Magnusson.

For a national history, the late Michael King’s The Penguin History Of New Zealand is excellent.

For single volume “big picture” accounts of how the world got where it is, Paul Kennedy’s The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers is excellent, though it was written before the collapse of the Soviet Union; in the same vein, and also highly recommended, is Lawrence James’ The Rise And Fall Of the British Empire.

For Switzerland - short book:

Dieter Fahrni - An Outline History of Switzerland From the Origins to the Present Day

more comprehensive:

James Murray Luck - A History of Switzerland the First 100,000 Years: Before the Beginnings to the Days of the Present

I have heard that this second book is very good, but I’ve only seen reviews of it.

Please know that I’m not being insulting, but consider some of the *____ History for Dummies * books. I ordered a dozen of them on various countries for a library I worked at and while they’re mixed in quality, some are great. A Canadian co-workers said Canadian History for Dummies was probably the best single volume book he’d read on the subject. Another plus is that many public libraries carry them. While they’re not the last thing you want to read on their subject matter, they’re an excellent starting point and really are a good reference to keep around for major key points.

A few years ago I read Hagen Schulze’s Germany: A New History. Very readable and rich in content, and the history of Germany of course has much to do with the history of Austria, Poland, and other nations since the borders changed every Wednesday for so many centuries.

A couple I don’t know if you’re interested in but I’ll list anyway:

Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God. It’s a highly readable popular one volume history of Christian and Islamic (and to a much lesser degree Jewish) Fundamentalism that, while not a one volume country history, is EXTREMELY useful in giving “the Big Picture” of today’s world. Armstrong (a former nun who now teaches at a rabbinical college) also wrote History of God which I’d also recommend, but it doesn’t come nearly as far into the modern world.

It doesn’t come to the modern era, but there’s an excellent one volume compilation of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium trilogy that does a very good job of trimming without losing content. Byzantine history reads like a soap opera anyway (scheming eunuchs, scheming empresses, scheming toy-boys, vindictive exiles, great stuff).

One I’ve begun reading but put aside- not for quality, it’s excellent, but to focus on other readings- is Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present (which I’ll admit I learned about from The Daily Show interview with its author). Extremely well written and while not a single study focus, remember that most Middle Eastern countries are far newer than 1776 (the cultures are ancient, but the nations are newer than Italy or Germany). Very good book (what I’ve read so far and it gets excellent reviews) and has this gem of a quote from General George McClellan (who travelled extensively in the Middle East after the Civil War):

Thank God we got that out of our systems over the last 130 years.

Amazingly good, if very in-depth on the last 150-200 years. is John Davies Hanes Cymru, in English translation A History of Wales (Penguin).

A negative recommend: Do not get The Story of the Irish Race, by Seumas MacManus (Devin-Adair) as a one-volume history. It’s very much a mixture of folktale, legend, slanted history, and sober socioeconomic history woven together as an interesting and highly readable popularization, but nothing close to what one expects in a normal one-volume history.

Off the Mark but Nonetheless Intriguing Dept.: A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones (Oxford U Pr) focuses on the three Scandinavian kingdoms and their colonies and conquests from 700 to 1066. Absolutely not a one-volume national history but an outstanding source for clear background on a much-misunderstood people and period in European history.

The Canadian History for Dummies is really good. The author, Will Ferguson, has written many books including “Why I Hate Canadians”, “How to be a Canadian (even if you are already one)” and “Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada”. He writes very well and humorously. In the Dummies book, he is witty, but also pulls no punches in identifying and dealing with more difficult material. It actually made the Bestsellers List.

Actually one of his novels called Happiness also has a really funny premise. It’s about a self-help book that actually works. Things go sadly awry from there.

My first thought was Canadian History for Dummies. Yes, it is a “For Dummies” book, but Ferguson hits the high points, gets his dates and events correct, and in the right order, and offers plenty of online sources to take you further if you wish. This is an excellent overview, and a handy starting point for further study.

Two more good single-volume Canadian history books would be The Illustrated History of Canada, edited by Craig Brown (Toronto: Lester Publishing Ltd., 1996); and A Short History of Canada by Desmond Morton (Toronto?: McClelland and Stewart, 2001). Both are good, interesting, and very readable.

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes is an excellent history of a fascinating country, Australia.