The name Taikoo—or Taigu in Mandarin—means “great and ancient” and was adopted by John Swire & Sons in China in the 19th century when the UK company was relatively new and still minor. Historian Robert Bickers’s latest book tells the story of how this Liverpool trading house that initially dealt in cotton, apples and turpentine from America became an international conglomerate centered in Asia.

Frank Dikötter, author of the acclaimed People’s Trilogy, focuses his latest book on the special role personality cults have played in eight eerily effective 20th-century dictatorships. The wryly titled How to Be a Dictator reminds readers of the depressingly similar tactics tyrants have used throughout history to destroy rivals and win acquiescence, if not exactly adulation, of the people.