The best books that will change how you see history

Who am I?

I’m a professional history nerd who is perennially interested in both sides of the history coin: What happened? How do we know? I’ve got a PhD in sixteenth-century European history, have written articles that cover things from antiquity to Vikings in America, and have written several history books about Australia and its region. I like history that is robust, so I’m always looking for books that make clever use of sources. And I love stories that disrupt preconceptions, so I enjoy researching and writing and reading histories that make you think.

I wrote...

1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

By Nick Brodie,

Book cover of 1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

What is my book about?

This is the story of the dawn of a truly global history, told through exploration and encounter. Until Dutch and Spanish voyagers reached the coasts of Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand the Indigenous peoples of a whole continent and its surroundings were largely cut off from the world’s other peoples and cultures and from each other. This history explores what happened in this region during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by turning the tables on the way Australia’s history is normally told.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Why did I love this book?

There are lots of great histories that are changing the way we see the ancient world, but for an accessible overview of a whole civilization this book is hard to beat. With an eye for the extraordinary and the everyday, and a career’s worth of expertise packed into every page, this is a guidebook to make the foreign familiar. Combining archaeological advances with ancient texts, this book will update those who think they already know something about Roman civilization, challenge those who think they know everything, and amaze those who currently know nothing.

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked SPQR as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In SPQR, an instant classic, Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome "with passion and without technical jargon" and demonstrates how "a slightly shabby Iron Age village" rose to become the "undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean" (Wall Street Journal). Hailed by critics as animating "the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life" (Economist) in a way that makes "your hair stand on end" (Christian Science Monitor) and spanning nearly a thousand years of history, this "highly informative, highly readable" (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but…

Book cover of The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades

Why did I love this book?

A great insight informs every aspect of this excellent book. While few historians today would put the crusades down to mere fanaticism, too many uninformed people still think of the crusades in absurdly simplistic terms of clashing civilizations, cultures, and religions. This book takes aim at that sort of ignorance by telling the history of one of the world’s great historical phenomena in a very accessible way from the perspective with which most readers will be least familiar.

By Paul M. Cobb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Race for Paradise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1099, when the first Frankish invaders arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, they had carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that endured for centuries, bolstered by subsequent waves of new crusaders and pilgrims. The story of how this group of warriors, driven by faith, greed, and wanderlust, created new Christian-ruled states in parts of the Middle East is one of the best-known in history. Yet it is offers not even half of the story, for it is based almost exclusively on Western sources and overlooks entirely the perspective of the crusaded. How did medieval Muslims…

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

Why did I love this book?

If the British empire’s first historians had a knack for anything it was omitting to mention what some of what their predecessors did for the sake of empire. Aboriginal Convicts is one of those books that really challenges us to rethink the stories we have received about British colonization. By tracing the lives of Indigenous people in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand who were sentenced to transportation as convicts this groundbreaking book turns the table on the way we see Britain’s empire in the nineteenth century.

By Kristyn Harman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aboriginal Convicts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When most of us imagine an Australian convict we see an Englishman or an Irish lass transported for stealing a loaf of bread or a scrap of cloth. Contrary to this popular image, however, Australian penal settlements were actually far more ethnically diverse, comprising individuals transported from British colonies throughout the world.

As Kristyn Harman shows in Aboriginal Convicts, there were also a surprising number of indigenous convicts transported from different British settlements, including ninety Aboriginal convicts from all over Australia, thirty-four Khoisan from the Cape Colony (South Africa) and six Maori from New Zealand.

These men and women were…

Book cover of Travelers in the Third Reich

Why did I love this book?

Brilliantly executed, this stunning book provides a composite firsthand view of history’s darkest turn. Using a suite of interesting travellers in Hitler’s Germany this book perfectly captures the looming ominousness and increasing brutality of this infamous time and place. It also reveals a very human capacity to be misled, prejudiced, or uninterested. This is a book that will open your eyes to the past and make you think hard about the present.

By Julia Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Travelers in the Third Reich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fascinating and shocking history of the rise of the Nazis draws together a multitude of expatriate voices - even Charles Lindbergh and Samuel Beckett - into a powerful narrative charting this extraordinary phenomenon.


Travelers in the Third Reich is an extraordinary history of the rise of the Nazis based on fascinating first-hand accounts, drawing together a multitude of voices and stories, including politicians, musicians, diplomats, schoolchildren, communists, scholars, athletes, poets, fascists, artists, tourists, and even celebrities like Charles Lindbergh and Samuel Beckett. Their experiences create a remarkable three-dimensional picture of Germany under Hitler—one so palpable that the reader will…

Book cover of Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

Why did I love this book?

From U2 spy planes to Predator drones, this is an eye-opening history with a broad international sweep taking in the cold war, the military-industrial complex, engineering marvels, and profoundly human failures. A fascinating account of American state secrets from the Second World War to the present, this history intimates how the conspiracy mentalism that blights large chunks of America today may be partly the result of a great structural contradiction. This is a compelling history of a superpower that used secrecy to defend democracy.

By Annie Jacobsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Area 51 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bringing together many different theoretical viewpoints and empirical findings, this volume provides an up-to-date state-of-the-art report on violence in families. Included are in-depth analyses of child, spouse, and parent abuse, sibling violence, and sexual abuse.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Nevada, the Crusades, and Germany?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nevada, the Crusades, and Germany.

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