There is a great deal of academic literature on the European Union, but not so many reliable books for the general reader or for those who are just setting out to acquire academic knowledge.
Of the many texts that provide general introductions, two good options are Desmond Dinan’s Ever Closer Union (Basingstoke, 4th edn, 2010, 640 pp.) and John McCormick’s Understanding the EU (Basingstoke, 5th edn, 2011, 264 pp.). A federalist view of the way in which the EU has developed is to be found in Michael Burgess, Federalism and European Union: The Building of Europe, 1950–2000 (London, 2000, 290 pp.). Chapters on all the main policies are to be found in Helen Wallace, Mark Pollack, and Alisdair Young (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union (Oxford, 6th edn, 2010, 640 pp.). A wide range of subjects is also covered in the Annual Review of the Journal of Common Market Studies (Oxford).
Timothy Bainbridge and Anthony Teasdale, The Penguin Companion to the European Union (Harmondsworth, 3rd edn, 2012, 880 pp.) is an accurate and convenient work of reference. For those who appreciate a biographical approach to the subject, the history of the EC up to the 1970s is seen through the eyes of its principal founding father in Jean Monnet’s Memoirs (London, 1978, 544 pp.). Flavour and substance of the Delors period, from 1985 to 1994, are to be found in Charles Grant, Inside the House that Jacques Built (London, 1994, 305 pp.). A range of leading actors in the uniting of Europe are given lively treatment in Martyn Bond, Julie Smith, and William Wallace (eds), Eminent Europeans (London, 1996, 321 pp.). Hugo Young provides unsurpassed insights into the development of British relations with the EU, through chapters on a dozen British protagonists and antagonists from Churchill to Blair, in This Blessed Plot (Basingstoke, 1998, 558 pp.).
There is not much that is easy to read and gives a true and fair view of how the institutions work. Neil Nugent’s The Government and Politics of the European Union (Basingstoke, 7th edn, 2010, 512 pp.) is reliable and comprehensive, but not light reading. Michelle Cini and Nieves Perez-Solorzano Borragan’s European Union Politics (Oxford, 3rd edn, 2010, 520 pp.) opens up a wide range of subjects to the reader. John Peterson and Michael Shackleton’s The Institutions of the European Union (Oxford, 3rd edn, 2012, 472 pp.) is a very good overview. Shorter explanations of the institutions can be found in the chapter on ‘Institutions or Constitution’ in The Building of the European Union and in Helen Wallace’s chapter on ‘An Institutional Anatomy and Five Policy Modes’ in Wallace, Pollack, and Young (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union (both books cited above). Chapters 7–10 of Dinan’s Ever Closer Union (also cited above) deal with main institutions.
Ali El-Agraa’s The European Union: Economics and Policies (Cambridge, 9th edn, 2011, 518 pp.) has the most current overview of economics and economic policies. Lord Cockfield’s The European Union: Creating the Single Market (Chichester, 1994, 185 pp.) is a lucid and entertaining account by the man who did most to create it, while Alasdair Young, in ‘The Single Market’ (chapter in Wallace, Pollack, and Young (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union), brings you up to date. The budget is well explained by Brigid Laffan and Johannes Lindner (chapter in Wallace, Pollack, and Young (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union). A useful summary of the EU’s environmental policies is given in Andrew Jordan and Camilla Adelle (eds), Environmental Policy in the EU: Actors, Institutions and Processes (Abingdon, 2012, 424 pp.).
Most of the literature on the EU’s external relations is about the Common Foreign and Security Policy, though the external economic policies remain more effective and important. Fraser Cameron gives a wide-ranging overview in An Introduction to European Foreign Policy (Abingdon, 2012, 320 pp.), with Stephan Keukeleire and Jennifer MacNaughtan’s more detailed The Foreign Policy of the European Union (Basingstoke, 2008, 392 pp.) working as a companion.
The Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice is also a fast-moving subject: Sandra Lavenex’s chapter on ‘Justice and Home Affairs’ in Wallace, Pollack, and Young (eds), Policy-Making in gives a good overview.
Across the board, the EU’s website—http://europa.eu—is a vast quarry of information, from the very basic through to the highly technical.