10 Unique Books For History Buffs
Many readers tell me they prefer reading fiction because it’s an escape from reality. I can relate, yet I believe there is a certain degree of witnessing that we do when we read about historical events. It’s a way to learn about the events and people who came before us, and gives us a better understanding of why things are the way they are in our society now. It’s also a way to honor those people, particularly those who suffered, and fought, in order for future generations (aka us) to have more opportunities and live better lives.
In creating this list, I intentionally included some historical fiction because sometimes just a teeny bit of fantasy can make the reality more powerful.
If you have a history buff on your gift giving list this year, books are a great idea. Or if you love history yourself, here are some ideas you can treat yourself to with those gift cards you get this year!
- The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
This is the compelling non-fiction account of the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
2. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
From Goodreads: In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.
3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
From Goodreads: As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
4. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Part historical fiction, part romance, with some time travel – fans of just about any type of novel love the Outlander series! Here we meet Claire Randall for the first time in 1945 and follow her as she accidentally travels to 1745 through an ancient stone circle. It is there that we meet Jamie Fraser and the epic adventure begins.
5. 1776 by David McCullough
From Goodreads: Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is a powerful drama written with extraordinary narrative vitality. It is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the King’s men, the British commander, William Howe, an his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known.
6. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H.W. Brands
From Goodreads: Brands tells his epic story from multiple perspectives: of adventurers John and Jessie Fremont, entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the wry observer Samuel Clemens—side by side with prospectors, soldiers, and scoundrels. He imparts a visceral sense of the distances they traveled, the suffering they endured, and the fortunes they made and lost. Impressive in its scholarship and overflowing with life, The Age of Gold is history in the grand traditions of Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough.
7. Guns, Germs, And Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
From Goodreads: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a national bestseller: the global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.
Societies that had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed writing, technology, government, and organized religion—as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war—and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history.
8. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
This is a groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present. Isenberg takes on the myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the “white trash” Americans.
9. Ten Restaurants that Changed America by Paul Freedman
From Goodreads: Combining a historian’s rigor with a foodie’s palate, Ten Restaurants That Changed America reveals how the history of our restaurants reflects nothing less than the history of America itself. Whether charting the rise of our love affair with Chinese food through San Francisco’s fabled The Mandarin, evoking the richness of Italian food through Mamma Leone’s, or chronicling the rise and fall of French haute cuisine through Henri Soulé’s Le Pavillon, food historian Paul Freedman uses each restaurant to tell a wider story of race and class, immigration and assimilation.
10. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
Despite being published a decade ago, this book remains relevant. In a gripping narrative that spans five decades, this book explains in unprecedented detail, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11/01.