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20 Best Books on American History

Best Books on American History

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Jeff Zinn

Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly researchit is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance.

Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s first term, A People’s History of the United States features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history. This edition also includes an introduction by Anthony Arnove, who wrote, directed, and produced The People Speak with Zinn and who coauthored, with Zinn, Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

The American Revolution: A Visual History by DK and Smithsonian Institution



Take chronological steps through the American Revolution, starting with the first stirrings of colonial resistance. Learn about important events and key moments of the war that gave birth to the American republic. Meet the most memorable people from the period, from George Washington to Benedict Arnold, and explore first-person accounts by soldiers and civilians.

This history book for children grade 7 and up gives you a complete overview of the most fascinating events during the war. The action is brought to life through illustrated accounts of every major military action and comprehensive timelines for every stage of the conflict. Gallery spreads feature the weapons, arms, and uniforms that were used, to give you a full picture of what it was like

Battles that Changed History by DK and Smithsonian Institution

Journey through the battlefields of history and follow the key developments of World War I, World War II, the Cold War and more in unprecedented visual detail. Using maps, paintings, artifacts and photographs, Battles That Changed History is a guided tour of every major conflict in history.

Explore the stories behind more than 90 important battles and discover how pivotal moments and tactical decisions have altered the course of history. From medieval clashes and great naval conflicts to the era of high-tech air battles, key campaigns are illustrated and analyzed in detail. Learn incredible facts about the weapons, armor, soldiers and military strategies behind some of the greatest battles ever. 

Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers: The Texas Victory That Changed American History

In March 1836, the Mexican army led by General Santa Anna massacred more than two hundred Texians who had been trapped in the Alamo. After thirteen days of fighting, American legends Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett died there, along with other Americans who had moved to Texas looking for a fresh start. It was a crushing blow to Texas’s fight for freedom.
 
But the story doesn’t end there. The defeat galvanized the Texian settlers, and under General Sam Houston’s leadership they rallied. Six weeks after the Alamo, Houston and his band of settlers defeated Santa Anna’s army in a shocking victory, winning the independence for which so many had died.
 

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough, John Bedford Lloyd

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

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The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past by Jerrett Stepman

Confederate memorials toppled . . . Columbus statues attacked with red paint.

They started with slave-owning Confederate generals, but they’re not stopping there.

The vandals are only pretending to care about the character of particular American heroes. In reality, they hate what those heroes represent: the truths asserted in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution. And they are bent on taking America down and replacing our free society with a socialist utopia. All that stands in their way is Americans’ reverence for our history of freedom.

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

These Truths tells this uniquely American story, beginning in 1492, asking whether the course of events over more than five centuries has proven the nation’s truths, or belied them. To answer that question, Lepore wrestles with the state of American politics, the legacy of slavery, the persistence of inequality, and the nature of technological change. “A nation born in contradiction… will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, but engaging in that struggle by studying the past is part of the work of citizenship. With These Truths, Lepore has produced a book that will shape our view of American history for decades to come.

The Hunt for History: On the Trail of the World's Lost Treasures―from the Letters of Lincoln, Churchill, and Einstein to the Secret Recordings Onboard JFK's Air Force One by Nathan Raab

A box uncovered in a Maine attic with twenty letters written by Alexander Hamilton; a handheld address to Congress by President George Washington; a long-lost Gold Medal that belonged to an American President; a note that Winston Churchill wrote to his captor when he was a young POW in South Africa; paperwork signed and filled out by Amelia Earhart when she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic; an American flag carried to the moon and back by Neil Armstrong; an unpublished letter written by Albert Einstein, discussing his theory of relativity.

Each day, people from all over the world contact Nathan Raab for help understanding what they have, what it might be worth, and how to sell it. The Raab Collection’s president, Nathan is a modern-day treasure hunter and one of the world’s most prominent dealers of historical artifacts. Most weeks, he travels the country, scours auctions, or fields phone calls and emails from people who think they may have found something of note in a grandparent’s attic.

The Civil War: A Captivating Guide to the American Civil War and Its Impact on the History of the United States

No other war in the history of the United States has sparked as much debate and conflict as the American Civil War. For over 150 years, the story of the Civil War has been a source of contention, confusion, and even contempt in American life. Even today, the American public cannot agree on the causes of the Civil War, never mind its lessons or legacy.

More Americans died in the Civil War than in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam combined. The war not only put Americans against Americans but family against family, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. The conflict between the Union and the Confederacy still runs deep in some parts of the United States. Indeed, the fundamental questions of the Civil War—questions about racial (in)equality, the rights of citizenship, and the role of government—remain hot debates today. In many ways, the war that claimed over 600,000 American lives a century and a half ago is still the biggest battle being waged on American soil..

The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians by David M. Rubenstein and Carla Hayden

Through his popular program The David Rubenstein Show, David Rubenstein has established himself as one of our most thoughtful interviewers. Now, in The American Story, David captures the brilliance of our most esteemed historians, as well as the souls of their subjects. The book features introductions by Rubenstein as well a foreword by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. Richly illustrated with archival images from the Library of Congress, the book is destined to become a classic for serious readers of American history.

Through these captivating exchanges, these bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning authors offer fresh insight on pivotal moments from the Founding Era to the late 20th century.

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Everything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide

The BIG FAT NOTEBOOK™ series is built on a simple and irresistible conceitborrowing the notes from the smartest kid in class. Its the revolutionary study guide for middle school students from the brains behind Brain Quest. There are units on Colonial America; the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation; Jefferson and the expansion west; the Civil War and Reconstruction; and all of the notable events of the 20th centuryWorld Wars, the Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and much more. These all-in-one notebooks make learning fun and are the perfect next step for every kid who grew up on Brain Quest.

Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

Los Angeles in the sixties was a hotbed of political and social upheaval. The city was a launchpad for Black Power—where Malcolm X and Angela Davis first came to prominence and the Watts uprising shook the nation. The city was home to the Chicano Blowouts and Chicano Moratorium, as well as being the birthplace of “Asian American” as a political identity. It was a locus of the antiwar movement, gay liberation movement, and women’s movement, and, of course, the capital of California counterculture.

Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with principal figures, as well as the authors’ storied personal histories as activists. Following on from Davis’s awardwinning L.A. history, City of QuartzSet the Night on Fire is a historical tour de force, delivered in scintillating and fiercely beautiful prose.

City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism by Abram C. Van Engen

In this illuminating book, Abram C. Van Engen shows how the phrase “city on a hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the twentieth century.
 
By tracing the history of Winthrop’s speech, its changing status through time, and its use in modern politics, Van Engen asks us to reevaluate our national narratives. He tells the story of curators, librarians, collectors, archivists, antiquarians, and other often anonymous figures who emphasized the role of the Pilgrims and Puritans in American history, paving the way for the saving and sanctifying of a single sermon and its eventual transformation into an American tale. This sermon’s rags‑to‑riches rise reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how they continue to influence competing visions of the country—the many different meanings of America that emerge from its literary past.

The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation by Lynne Cheney

From a small expanse of land on the North American continent came four of the nation’s first five presidents–a geographic dynasty whose members led a revolution, created a nation, and ultimately changed the world. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were born, grew to manhood, and made their homes within a sixty-mile circle east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Friends and rivals, they led in securing independence, hammering out the United States Constitution, and building a working republic. Acting together, they doubled the territory of the United States. From their disputes came American political parties and the weaponizing of newspapers, the media of the day. In this elegantly conceived and insightful new book from bestselling author Lynne Cheney, the four Virginians are not marble icons but vital figures deeply intent on building a nation where citizens could be free.

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis, Robertson Dean

From Pulitzer Prize–winning American historian Joseph J. Ellis, the unexpected story of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew.

We all know the famous opening phrase of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this Continent a new Nation.” The truth is different. In 1776, thirteen American colonies declared themselves independent states that only temporarily joined forces in order to defeat the British. Once victorious, they planned to go their separate ways. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor a political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their autonomy as states.

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50 Fearless Women Who Made American History: An American History Book for Kids by Jenifer Bazzit

Discover American history through the lives of 50 inspiring women―biographies for kids ages 8 to 12

Women have always been at the forefront of American history―and it’s time to hear their astounding stories! This look into American history for kids is bursting with engaging biographies that explore the lives of these influential women from different backgrounds and a wide array of fields.

From Revolutionary War soldier Deborah Sampson and abolitionist Harriet Tubman to Hawaiian Queen Lili‘uokalani and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, this engaging guide to American history for kids takes you on a fun and fascinating journey, one fearless woman at a time. Each of these chronologically ordered biographies offers an exciting look into the life and accomplishments of these heroic figures and how they made history.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.

Through a Native Lens: American Indian Photography (Volume 37) (The Charles M. Russell Center Series on Art and Photography of the American West) by Nicole Strathman

What is American Indian photography? At the turn of the twentieth century, Edward Curtis began creating romantic images of American Indians, and his works—along with pictures by other non-Native photographers—came to define the field. Yet beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, American Indians themselves started using cameras to record their daily activities and to memorialize tribal members. Through a Native Lens offers a refreshing, new perspective by highlighting the active contributions of North American Indians, both as patrons who commissioned portraits and as photographers who created collections.

The Little Book of Government: (Children's Book about Government, Introduction to Government by Zack Bush

The Little Book of Government (Children’s Book About Government, Democracy, Laws, The Constitution, How Our Government Works, and The Three Branches of Government for Kids Ages 3 10, Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade)

There are so many things to know about GOVERNMENT—not only what it is, but why it is so important. And it is all explained in The Little Book of Government

This book for children provides a basic and easy-to-understand introduction to government and the role in plays in our society. Important concepts like democracy, freedom, and lawmaking are explained, along with an introduction to the role the Constitution plays in our government as well as our nation’s three branches of government. 

Hollywood Black: The Stars, the Films, the Filmmakers (Turner Classic Movies) by Donald Bogle

The story opens in the silent film era, when white actors in blackface often played black characters, but also saw the rise of independent African American filmmakers, including the remarkable Oscar Micheaux. It follows the changes in the film industry with the arrival of sound motion pictures and the Great Depression, when black performers such as Stepin Fetchit and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson began finding a place in Hollywood. More often than not, they were saddled with rigidly stereotyped roles, but some gifted performers, most notably Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind (1939), were able to turn in significant performances.