As far as the history of America – and for the sake of this list, I mean the history of the United States – there is actually not that much history to cover. Compared to the rest of the world, the country is young, and the best American history books are focused on a remarkably short span of time for a nation that has become so influential. But short or not, the United States has had a tumultuous history, and one that has – for better or for worse, in your opinion – been formative for the rest of the modern world. We’ve rounded up some of the best American history books to help you better understand the country.
The best American history books
1. 1776: America and Britain at War – David McCullough
Perhaps the definitive non-fiction work on the American War of Independence and the crucial 1776 Declaration of Independence is the story of the founding of the United States. McCullough won the Pulitzer Prize for this work, and it remains a remarkably popular work even fifteen years after its publication.
McCullough has a real knack for humanizing his subjects – kings, generals, and soldiers all receiving his treatment – and for putting a face to the often mythologized stars of this particular story. King George III and George Washington never felt more real than between its pages.
2. Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow
If you are looking for writers who know their stuff about founding the United States and you don’t choose David McCullough, then your other option is Ron Chernow. Chernow’s specialty is biography writing, and his most famous work by far is his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton, forever known as the Hamilton Foundation after Lin Manual Miranda decided to read the book while on vacation, and that the world of musical theater has turned upside down.
These huge volumes of biography could be counted among the best American history books, if only for the way Chernow not only covers the life of his subject, but integrates him into the much larger narrative of the story. the United States. Hamilton’s story – from immigrant bastard living in the Caribbean, to the trusted man who ruled the American treasury, to fate as an influential and successful soldier in the War of Independence – is a particularly lively and eventful story.
3. Band Of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest – Stephen E. Ambrose
If you’ve never seen HBO’s Band Of Brothers – a TV show that’s definitely worth the hype, if you’re into historical drama – then now is the time to check out Stephen E. Ambrose’s book. It’s a book of interviews, some of which intersect the TV show, but longer and more detailed.
There are so many books on WWII that it’s hard to pick one for a list of the best American history books, but Band Of Brothers tells the story of ordinary men and their extraordinary bravery – and it doesn’t get better than that. You will end up genuinely caring about the men at Easy Company.
4. Battlecry of Freedom: The Age of Civil War – James McPherson
This book is the sixth volume in the Oxford History Of The United States, a massive series that is still being written almost forty years after its debut in 1982. McPherson’s contribution to this series is often described as the best. volume of writing never published. on the Civil War, as well as the entire era of the Civil War.
Written in 1989, this book is as fresh today as it was then, beginning with the aftermath of the Mexican War and weaving a history of politics, economics, and human beings spanning the 1850s, civil war and beyond.
5. The Good War: An Oral History of WWII – Studs Terkel
In the same way that Band of Brothers is used to tell the stories of ordinary soldiers in WWII, so is Studs Terkel’s The Good War – but its purpose is broader because it records the oral history of a wide variety of Americans. , not just soldiers.
Terkel’s name comes up often when discussing the best American history books, and that’s because her work has been hugely influential. From the men who were present at Pearl Harbor to people living on the home front, from soldiers on the front line to prisoners of war, Terkel’s work in The Good War covers almost anyone you can think of.
6. Hillbilly Elegy: Memory of a Family and Culture in Crisis – JD Vance
In the United States, there is a little discussed subclass of people called “hillbillies”, “rednecks” or even “white trash” who are among the people who helped secure Donald Trump’s election to the White House in 2016. Instead of dismissing them as uneducated and ignorant, it would be much better to understand why they make the political decisions they make – and a personal memoir on the life that grew up in the Kentucky Hills might help answer this. the question.
Vance tells a merciless story about his family; fiercely loving and loyal to one another, there is no easy escape from the cycles of trauma and alcoholism that haunt families, or the legacy of violence and abuse. How this group of people is looked down upon and rejected by the “better off” is truly telling, and something that is certainly not discussed enough in the political arena of the United States.
7. Hidden Figures: The Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly
If you’ve only seen the movie version of Hidden Figures, then the book cannot be recommended enough. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden and Gloria Champine are the African-American women who worked as “human computers”, separate from their white counterparts but just as crucial to the success of NASA’s early missions as they were. they helped write the equations and calculate the flight paths that would allow rockets to launch into space.
Hidden Figures again draws on the oral history of “computers”, telling a story much larger than that of the NASA missions; the civil rights movement, women’s rights and the cold war are also examined.
8. A History of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Dunbar-Ortiz’s work claimed to be the first history of the United States told from a Native American perspective, and it is indeed a work of great significance, reframing the history of the United States to tell the story. story from the point of view of the people who were there first. Any list of the best American history books that doesn’t include this vital perspective can’t really claim to tell the whole story.
Dunbar-Ortiz did not refrain from painting a living picture of people whose way of life was to be constantly under attack. The settler-led genocidal program in the United States, long swept under the rug, is presented for us to review. Policies designed to seize land from indigenous peoples are discussed in detail. This book does not take any prisoners and neither should it; it is a story that must be told over and over again.
9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blind – Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander is a hugely influential lawyer and civil rights activist, and her 2010 book The New Jim Crow has proven to be equally influential; it has even been cited in court decisions. It is possibly one of the most important books published on the United States in the past fifteen years, and it more than deserves a place on the list of the best American history books.
In essence, Alexander argues that the War on Drugs of the 1980s was a reframing of Jim Crow laws, as blacks and browns were – and still are – jailed much more frequently than their white peers for even possession of a small amount of drug. . They are being punished more severely. They are prohibited from resuming “normal life” once released, and the vicious cycle continues. This book is vital read, perhaps the most vital on this entire list.
10. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation – John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger
John Hope Franklin was the greatest African-American historian of his time, and Runaway Slaves was one of his most important non-fiction works. Even now, generations after slavery ended in the United States, there is a perennial myth that slaves were generally docile and obedient to their masters. Franklin and Schweninger challenge this myth by gathering evidence to suggest that slaves regularly fled – and that many of those who did so worked alone, courageous individuals taking a stand against their oppression.
Even today, in the twenty-first century, these myths of self-satisfied slaves are actively damaging, and the work of Franklin and Schweninger goes a long way to shedding light on the truth.
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