When it comes to studying history, there are a seemingly endless number of different rabbit holes one can fall down. There are countless books about individual battles – let alone specific wars – particular governments, rulers, or eras in a nation’s history. You can study the history of film, of science, of theater, of art, of automobiles or computers or fashion, just to name a few. With so much history out there, how many of us really know very much about the history even of our own nation?
Sure, we all study American history in school, but many of us never pursue the matter further than that. Yet there are innumerable interesting avenues of American history that school never has a chance to explore – avenues that you can travel down at your leisure, with the help of these 10 books chronicling everything from the statehood of Hawaii to the War of 1812 and beyond.
Bluff, Bluster, Lies and Spies
Few events in history have shaped the identity of the United States as much as the Civil War. And there are literally hundreds of aspects of that brief but bloody conflict which merit further exploration. In this engaging and deeply researched book, David Perry looks specifically at the foreign policy of the Lincoln administration, as it struggled to keep Britain out of the war, even while the Union fought against the Confederacy.
Numerous powers in Europe had their own reasons for backing one side or the other, and spies, newspapers, detectives, and politicians all vied to push a variety of agendas as the fate of the fledgling United States hung in the balance.
Crazy Horse and Custer
From the author of Band of Brothers comes this New York Times bestselling biography of two of the most famous warriors in American history – and the battle that has defined their legacy. General George Armstrong Custer led some 611 soldiers against an army of Oglala Sioux led by Crazy Horse at the battle of Little Bighorn.
In his book, Stephen E. Ambrose not only paints a vivid picture of the battle, but also argues that the lives of these two legendary figures shared more commonalities than differences, showcasing how their larger-than-life personalities helped to shape their conflict, and the history of the American West.
Twelve Years a Slave
Adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name, Twelve Years a Slave is the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was captured and sold into slavery, enduring twelve years of grotesque inhumanity before finally securing his freedom again.
A bestseller even when it was first published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave has since become a classic of abolitionist writing and one of the most important “slave narratives” to chronicle one of the darkest periods of American history. If you’ve already seen the movie, now is the time to read the story through the words of the man who experienced it firsthand.
The Good Years
The history of America is filled with moments of great import – but it’s also filled with eras that are, perhaps unjustly, forgotten. In this New York Times bestseller from the author of A Night to Remember, Walter Lord chronicles a short but energetic fourteen years between the turn of the century and the outbreak of the First World War.
During this brief time, the Wright Brothers were pioneering flight while children labored in sweatshops under abhorrent conditions. Through Lord’s unforgettable prose, the highs and lows of a distinctly American moment in history are brought to vivid life, as the shadow of the Great War looms on the horizon.
High, Wide and Lonesome
In spite of a separation of more than a century, our idea of the American Dream is inextricably tied up with the frontier and the homesteaders who “settled” it. In this memoir of a childhood spent on such a homestead, Hal Borland describes “the stuff of the American dream,” according to the New York Times, writing about the hardships and triumphs that his family experienced on an often unforgiving homestead in the Colorado frontier.
Borland would grow up to become an acclaimed nature writer, and his skill at describing the natural world can already be seen in the vivid descriptions of the natural forces which help to shape the lives of those who live on the frontier.
The Dawn's Early Light
It is sometimes forgotten that the Revolutionary War was not the last time that the United States fought for its independence against Britain. The War of 1812 saw British forces burning the United States capital and inspired the composition of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and yet the battles fought here are not as often remembered as those of wars both before and since.
Setting that straight is this comprehensive volume from the New York Times-bestselling author of A Night to Remember, The Good Years, The Miracle of Dunkirk, and many more.
Richard N. Goodwin was a speechwriter for two presidents, a law clerk for a Supreme Court justice, and a top advisor to some of the most powerful politicians of the ‘60s. He met in secret with Che Guevera and wrote President Johnson’s famous speech in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As someone who was present for one of the nation’s most pivotal decades – and who saw firsthand some of its most infamous tragedies – his memoir charts the course of an era that changed the nation, even as it helped to define it.
How the Good Guys Finally Won
In recent years, the Watergate scandal – and, with it, the impeachment of President Nixon – has loomed large in the public consciousness for obvious reasons. I
n this New York Times bestseller, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin delivers a blow-by-blow account of how the scandal unfolded, and the politicians who helped to turn the tide of American democracy by holding those in power accountable in one of the most shocking moments in American history.
A Student's Guide to U.S. History
We’ve covered a lot of books that deal with very specific moments in U.S. history – but what if you’re looking for something broader; a clear, concise primer on the major moments that shaped our nation?
You’re in luck, because Wilfred M. McClay’s book is a lively and engaging study of American history, touching on key points from throughout the nation’s past in ways that will make you think – and keep you turning the pages.
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