I love conversing with people who know history and are sparkling, highly opinionated storytellers. Often these are foreigners or emigrants speaking about their country. They're unafraid to draw sharp, outspoken conclusions that frame major situations (e.g. that some leader was an incompetent fool or that an accident of geography is what will ensure conflict between two groups continues). What are some book equivalents of that conversational experience? They can be on any period or region. I do not want a magisterial treatise. I want a keen-eyed, slicing talk with someone really well-informed and cynical over several drinks who's gonna say what's what.
Any recommendations for books giving a general history of any of the natural sciences, with a particular attention to how the great biologists, botanists, and zoologists, etc. approached problems of classification and conceptualization of their phenomena (e.g. like how Linnaeus came up with his taxonomy)? Not looking for great technical detail so much as how these scientists thought and responded to each others' thoughts.
What are the best "grand theory" books and essays purporting to explain generally how the world works - at the macro, economic/political/historical/sociological/foreign policy scale - written in or after the 20th century?
Has anyone recommend any excellent books or articles analyzing why (and how) dictatorship can maintain itself some places, but is successfully challenged and overthrown by more democratic forces elsewhere?