The best books that explore history you didn’t know

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical nonfiction, I’m an avid reader, and I’ve long been fascinated by the past. But I’m far less interested in the stories of powerful people, political intrigues, and significant battles. I would rather read (and write) hidden history: the stories that have not yet been discovered or fully explored and stories that are left out of history books—accidentally or deliberately. I find these far more compelling. They often provide a deeper look at how history affects those who lack power, influence, and money but who nevertheless do remarkable and often heroic things. I live in Portugal and have started working on a new historical nonfiction book.   


I wrote...

Liberty Brought Us Here: The True Story of American Slaves Who Migrated to Liberia

By Susan E. Lindsey,

Book cover of Liberty Brought Us Here: The True Story of American Slaves Who Migrated to Liberia

What is my book about?

In the 1800s, 16,000 formerly enslaved and freeborn black people left the United States to start new lives in Liberia. It was perhaps the largest out-migration in US history. When Tolbert Major, an enslaved single father from Kentucky, was offered a chance for freedom, he accepted. He, his little boys, and more than 70 others sailed on the Luna in July 1836.

Soon after arriving, Tolbert wrote to his former owner: “Dear Sir: We have landed on the shores of Africa and got into our houses . . . none of us have been taken with the fever yet.” Tolbert and his family would correspond with their former owner for fifteen years. Their letters from Africa form the heart of this moving true story.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Susan E. Lindsey Why did I love this book?

I couldn’t put down this book that traces dual stories of the architect who designed the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer who chose his victims from among those who flocked to the city.

One of my great-aunts served as a nurse at the World’s Fair infirmary, and I remember hearing about the fair and her experiences there—how wondrous and magical it had all seemed to a young woman from a small town.

I couldn’t help but think of her when I read about the very dark side of the fair, too. Erik Larson is one of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite of his books.

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Devil in the White City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Chicago World Fair was the greatest fair in American history. This is the story of the men and women whose lives it irrevocably changed and of two men in particular- an architect and a serial killer. The architect is Daniel Burnham, a man of great integrity and depth. It was his vision of the fair that attracted the best minds and talents of the day. The killer is Henry H. Holmes. Intelligent as well as handsome and charming, Holmes opened a boarding house which he advertised as 'The World's Fair Hotel' Here in the neighbourhood where he was once…


Book cover of The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear

Susan E. Lindsey Why did I love this book?

I’ve long advocated for women’s rights and deeply respect feisty, determined women, so I was thrilled to learn about Elizabeth Packard.

In pre-Civil War America, men could have their wives committed to insane asylums merely for being too smart, too independent, too sassy, or defiant. Elizabeth was one such woman. She was much smarter than her pastor husband, and he had her committed when she publicly disagreed with his theological views.

After years of fighting the system, she was finally released and dedicated the rest of her life to getting legislation passed to save other women from this fate.

By Kate Moore,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Woman They Could Not Silence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Radium Girls comes another dark and dramatic but ultimately uplifting tale of a forgotten woman hero whose inspirational journey sparked lasting change for women's rights and exposed injustices that still resonate today.
1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened-by Elizabeth's intellect, independence,…


Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Susan E. Lindsey Why did I love this book?

In 2018, I went to an author reading by Liza Mundy. Deep into researching my own nonfiction book, I was fascinated as Mundy talked about interviewing women who became code breakers in World War II.

The government recruited them from top colleges and universities, looking for women who were gifted in math and music. The women were sworn to secrecy and kept their word, telling people they had been secretaries during the war. They maintained that fiction into their old age or their graves.

Mundy tracked down survivors and showed them documentation that the program had been declassified. They had been released from their vow of silence and could share their stories with her. The book is excellent.

By Liza Mundy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Code Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert on East European politics and economics analyzes and evaluates Western policies toward the new East European democracies as they struggle to build stable political orders and functioning market economies. He argues that the West must give higher priority to assisting the region and reorient its strategies so as to emphasize the political and administrative dimensions of economic reconstruction. He reviews the economic legacy of past Western policies and of Eastern Europe's previous dependency on the Soviet Union, and then examines in detail the changing East-West trade patterns, the prospect for Western investment and technology transfer, the questions of…


Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Susan E. Lindsey Why did I love this book?

I love digging into the corners of history that are under-explored or never taught in schools. Isabel Wilkerson’s book tells one such story: the Great Migration of almost six million black people from the American South to the north and west of the country from 1915 to 1970.

The author, a prize-winning journalist, did her homework, digging deeply into various sources. But rather than drowning the reader in data, she illuminates this very big story with stories of three individuals who left everything they knew to start fresh. The migration changed them and changed America.

Her approach was inspirational, and her writing was breathtaking.

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…


Book cover of The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

Susan E. Lindsey Why did I love this book?

When this book was published in 2006, I immediately bought a copy. I was researching my own family’s history at the time—families who had lived in Oklahoma and Kansas during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

In the “Dirty Thirties,” enormous, constant dust storms swirled through the air across multiple states. Cattle died, crops failed, and people choked. One of my relatives, suffering from severe pneumonia caused by the dust, left Kansas with her parents when she was just 10 years old. Her doctor had told her parents to get her out of there or prepare for a funeral.

Egan’s book is an incredible, in-depth study of what has been called the worst environmental disaster in US history.

By Timothy Egan,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Worst Hard Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

In a tour de force of historical reportage, Timothy Egan’s National Book Award–winning story rescues an iconic chapter of American history from the shadows.

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Timothy Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, he does equal justice to the human characters…


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The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Illinois, the Great Plains, and the Great Migration?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Illinois, the Great Plains, and the Great Migration.

Illinois Explore 82 books about Illinois
The Great Plains Explore 24 books about the Great Plains
The Great Migration Explore 7 books about the Great Migration