Two great events in medieval history – the siege of Malta and the battle of Lepanto – are classically depicted by Roger Crowley in Empires of the Sea (Faber, £20), a panorama of the conflicting interests between Christendom and Islam. This is a crusading book on an epic scale, painted in glorious colours for a wide audience with characters as diverse as the Barbary pirates, the Knights of St John and the Ottoman janissaries.

Over to America and its pioneering days for my second choice, The Great Land (Parker Press, £19.95) by Jeremy Atiyah. Again a broad cultural landcape focusing on how the west coast almost became a Russian possession through colonisation by its otter skin traders. A fascinating story of settlement from Alaska to California, virtually forgotten, and now plucked from the shadows with superb narrative skill.

I have always included in my festive round-up a stunning war book that dwells on the men of courage who made victory possible for Britain in its darkest days. Master Bombers (Grub Street, £20) by Sean Feast is one such book, a dramatic if controversial account of the elite pathfinder squadrons that illuminated targets in the raids over Germany. Its stories of personal heroism in the face of enemy flak and fighters are gripping.