The best history books for Father’s Day

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by power and how people use it; from the time I was tiny, I’ve loved reading about how people left their fingerprint on history. I now make my career as a presidential historian, and I’m committed to sharing this history with a broad public audience in books, opinion editorials, podcasts, and other media. In my experience, most people find history fascinating if they can learn about it in an interesting way. That’s my goal with all my work and the goal of the books I’ve recommended below!

I wrote...

The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

By Lindsay M. Chervinsky,

Book cover of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

What is my book about?

The US Constitution never established a presidential cabinet―the delegates to the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected the idea. So how did George Washington create one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government?

On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries for the first cabinet meeting. Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges―and finding congressional help lacking―Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. Lindsay M. Chervinsky reveals the far-reaching consequences of Washington’s choice.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate

Why did I love this book?

Not One Inch is the perfect book to understand the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Sarotte brilliantly describes the collapse of the Soviet Union, the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the origins of the existing tensions between the United States and Russia. Sarotte especially explains the original misunderstanding over the expansion of NATO that has beguiled European relations since 1990. This book is the perfect choice for a father who is interested in learning more about current global affairs.

By M. E. Sarotte,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Not One Inch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading expert on foreign policy reveals how tensions between America, NATO, and Russia transformed geopolitics in a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2021

"Sarotte has the receipts, as it were: her authoritative tale draws on thousands of memos, letters, briefs, and other once secret documents-including many that have never been published before-which both fill in and complicate settled narratives on both sides."-Joshua Yaffa, New Yorker

"The most engaging and carefully documented account of this period in East-West diplomacy currently available."-Andrew Moravcsik, Foreign Affairs

Prize-winning historian, M.E. Sarotte pulls back the curtain on the crucial decade between the fall of…

Book cover of Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America

Why did I love this book?

National parks are one of the country’s greatest treasures, but their survival or preservation was not a guarantee. Instead, Saving Yellowstone tells the story of the scientific mission that introduced the region to most white Americans, the congressional machinations that ensured the passage of the legislation, and the political significance of the park for decades to come. Brilliantly written, this book is a great pick for an outdoorsy father who enjoys national parks, hiking, and camping.

By Megan Kate Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Saving Yellowstone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From historian and critically acclaimed author of The Three-Cornered War comes the captivating story of how Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in the years after the Civil War, offering “a fresh, provocative study…departing from well-trodden narratives about conservation and public recreation” (Booklist, starred review).

Each year nearly four million people visit Yellowstone National Park—one of the most popular of all national parks—but few know the fascinating and complex historical context in which it was established. In late July 1871, the geologist-explorer Ferdinand Hayden led a team of scientists through a narrow canyon into Yellowstone Basin, entering one of…

Book cover of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Why did I love this book?

The political parties can be a bit confusing as the names Republican and Democratic have been around for centuries, but hardly resemble the original parties at their formation. To Make Men Free is the best overview of the Grand Old Party, its many evolutions, and its important role in American history. It is also my favorite of the many books written by famed historian Heather Cox Richardson. To Make Men Free would be a great gift for subscribers to Richardson’s newsletter, Letters from an American, or dads who are interested in politics.

By Heather Cox Richardson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Make Men Free as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Abraham Lincoln helped create the Republican Party on the eve of the Civil War, his goal was to promote economic opportunity for all Americans, not just the slaveholding Southern planters who steered national politics. Yet, despite the egalitarian dream at the heart of its founding, the Republican Party quickly became mired in a fundamental identity crisis. Would it be the party of democratic ideals? Or would it be the party of moneyed interests? In the century and a half since, Republicans have vacillated between these two poles, with dire economic, political, and moral repercussions for the entire nation.In To…

Book cover of Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention

Why did I love this book?

In Madison’s Hand, Bilder meticulously dissects James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Madison’s notes are widely considered to be the authoritative source on the Convention, but Bilder demonstrates that Madison revised, edited, obscured, and added to this record to suit his purposes. Carefully researched and smartly written, Madison’s Hand reveals the true story of the Convention and the creation of the Constitution. Perfect for the dads who are lawyers and Revolutionary and Founding history buffs.

By Mary Sarah Bilder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Madison's Hand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Bancroft Prize
Winner of the James Bradford Best Biography Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic
Finalist, Literary Award for Nonfiction, Library of Virginia
Finalist, George Washington Prize

James Madison's Notes on the 1787 Constitutional Convention have acquired nearly unquestioned authority as the description of the U.S. Constitution's creation. No document provides a more complete record of the deliberations in Philadelphia or depicts the Convention's charismatic figures, crushing disappointments, and miraculous triumphs with such narrative force. But how reliable is this account?

"[A] superb study of the Constitutional Convention as selectively reflected in Madison's voluminous…

Book cover of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

Why did I love this book?

Affairs of Honor was instrumental in shaping my understanding of political culture in the Early Republic. Freeman’s book vividly depicts the contentious social world of the Founding era and the logic behind colorful insults, duels, and political battles. Fans of Hamilton: The Musical will especially enjoy this book, as one of the chapters inspired the song “Ten Duel Commandments!” 

By Joanne B. Freeman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Affairs of Honor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major reassessment of American political culture in the days of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr

"[A] landmark study of Hamilton and the founders."-Jeff Sharlet, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Demands the attention of everyone with a serious interest in the history of American politics."-Pauline Maier, Washington Post

In this extraordinary book, Joanne Freeman offers a major reassessment of political culture in the early years of the American republic. By exploring both the public actions and private papers of key figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton, Freeman reveals an alien and profoundly unstable political world grounded on the…

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