American history remains one of the most popular genres of history, which is why we see dozens of books published each year on the subject. From beloved classics to eye-opening narratives, we compiled together 10 of the best books to buy on American history.
10. A People’s History of the United States
“[It] should be required reading.” — New York Times Book Review
Lively written and well researched, A People’s History narrates the story of the US through the eyes of ordinary people and their experiences, something that most history books tend to ignore. It explains to readers how the average men and women (as opposed to the ‘Great men of history’) have been the main driving force behind change. The timeline the book covers is extensive; taking you from time Columbus landed on the shores of the Caribbean to the present day US ‘War on Terror’.
However, the book can be criticized for being far too left leaning, sometimes glossing over details that do not go in line with the liberal narrative. Despite this shortcoming, the book offers a strong contrasting voice to the more traditional narratives we normally find in our textbooks. A People’s History remains one of Zinn’s most famous works with more than 2 million copies sold till date.
9. The Founding of a Nation
Merrill Jensen’s monumental work ‘The Founding of a Nation’ takes readers back to the eve of the American Independence, exploring the rich details behind the events that turned a minor colonial rebellion to a history-changing revolution. The writing is well-paced and does an incredible job in detailing the political clashes, differing motivations and power struggles among the revolutionaries confronting the world’s most powerful empire. It promises to be a great purchase for the layman interested in the American Revolution.
8. Washington’s Crossing
David Hackett Fischer
Fischer prize-winning work, part of the “Pivotal Moments in American History” series, focuses primarily on General Washington’s leadership during the decisive winter campaign of 1776, that shifted the momentum of the war in America’s favor. Fischer’s rich narrative recounts not only the great effort and difficulties surrounding the campaign but also its aftermath, including the development of a new ‘American’ way of fighting that was fundamental to their military success.
7. And the Band Played On
An extensive work of insightful journalism, And the Band Played On chronicles the discovery of the lethal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), why it was allowed to spread and how it first gained international attention. Discussing the events that shaped the epidemic, Shilt reveals to the readers how human incompetence and political indifference led to the emergence of what was one of the greatest health crises of the 20th century. Professionally written and well researched, Shilt’s best-seller is highly recommended.
Randy Shilts himself died from the disease but his work greatly influenced how AIDS was discussed the following years.
6. Parting the Waters
The first of the famous social history trilogy, America in the King Years, Parting the Waters is a Pulitzer-prize winning account of the events that helped shape America following WWII but before the civil-rights movement reached its climax. In his book, Branch masterly portrays not only the events as they happened but also the political maneuvers, rivalries, violence and deals that determined one of the nation’s most crucial passages.
Grand in scope and powerful in impact, Parting the Waters is an unparalleled piece that makes the reader both appreciate and understand the struggle and complexity of the civil rights movement in a way no other work can.
5. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Tightly written and politically sophisticated…In the field of American Revolutionary Studies Bailyn’s book must henceforth occupy a position of first rank. – Saturday Review
A classic of American historical literature, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Bernard Bailyn argues against the popular notion of the American Revolution being primarily class warfare. It stresses that the leaders of the revolution were radicals who fought not to make remake the social order but rather to “purify a corrupt constitution and fight off the apparent growth of prerogative power.”
Intelligently written with meticulous scholarship, Bailyn’s work remains one of the most persuasive interpretations of the Revolution, one that has influenced an entire generation of historians and political scientists.
4. What Hath God Wrought
Daniel Walker How
“A comprehensive, richly detailed, and elegantly written account of the republic between the War of 1812 and the American victory in Mexico a generation later…a masterpiece.”–The Atlantic
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the American History Book Prize, What Hath God Wrought the Transformation of America, 1815–1848 is the fifth addition to the highly acclaimed series, Oxford History of the United States. Howe, with his distinguished expertise and stylish writing, illuminates back the crucial period of American territorial expansion from the decisive battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War.
A wide encompassing narrative, What Hath God Wrought connects both the political and military events of the era with social, economic, and cultural changes of the time, producing a story perfectly detailing America’s transformation from a minor agricultural nation to a continental powerhouse. Both academics and casual readers alike are bound to enjoy reading Howe’s remarkable piece.
3. Battle Cry of Freedom
James M. McPherson
Another Award-winner from the acclaimed series ‘Oxford History of the United States’, Battle Cry of Freedom examines the Civil War era, starting from the outbreak of the Mexican-American War to the engagement at Appomattox Courthouse. James McPherson’s scholarly research and lively writing will offer readers fresh perspective into the events, dispelling old myths and challenging new ones. Jam-packed with drama and brilliant insight, McPherson’s authoritative volume is highly recommended to those interested in this period of American history.
2. This Republic of Suffering
Drew Gilpin Faust
“Extraordinary . . . profoundly moving.” —The New York Times
More than 750,000 people died in the Civil war, more than all other wars in US history combined. Faust’s brilliantly written book perfectly captures the carnage that characterized the conflict and explores the impact its large-scale destruction had on every fabric of the nation.
Faust’s work does not try to reinterpret past events nor attempts to prove anything. Rather, it allows readers to look at known events from a fresh perspective, from that of the people – from the humblest to the most powerful – who experienced first-hand, what was one of the darkest episodes in American history.
“Brilliant . . . powerful . . . 1776 is vintage McCullough: colorful, eloquent and illuminating.” – Newsweek
“. . . this is history at its best” – Bookmarks Magazine
A true masterpiece from one of country’s most illustrious author, 1776 details the events surrounding the start of the American Revolution, focusing not just on the exploits of Washington but also giving due attention to other prominent figures of the war such as King George III and General Howe. Based on extensive research of both American and British sources, McCullough manages an engaging narrative filled with excitement, drama and vivid details. Twice the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, McCullough’s writing will stir your imagination and make you feel the weight of responsibility that was placed on Washington’s shoulders during the pivotal year.