The best history books for teaching and learning

Why am I passionate about this?

Gaming led to my career as a history professor. When I was about ten, I discovered some of the first commercial board games, Gettysburg or Diplomacy. Hooked, I delved into the history behind such games and discovered a passion for delving deeper. After I began teaching, I thought I could share that passion with my students through historical simulations. My “sim” courses became among the most popular in the university. 


I wrote...

Can You Beat Churchill? Teaching History Through Simulations

By Michael A. Barnhart,

Book cover of Can You Beat Churchill? Teaching History Through Simulations

What is my book about?

Can You Beat Churchill? is an essay and a guidebook about using historical simulations to immerse students in actual historical roles and learn for themselves what they can (or cannot) change about the past.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College

Michael A. Barnhart Why did I love this book?

Carnes wrote this book about ten years ago as a reflection of his experiences in using role-immersion games—simulations—since the 1990s. It recounts the tremendous enthusiasm of students as a result. Perfect attendance, coming long before and staying long after classes. Student reflections on how much deeper their learning experiences were. It inspired me to write my book based on my use of simulations in the classroom. 

By Mark C. Carnes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Minds on Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year

In Minds on Fire, Mark C. Carnes shows how role-immersion games channel students' competitive (and sometimes mischievous) impulses into transformative learning experiences. His discussion is based on interviews with scores of students and faculty who have used a pedagogy called Reacting to the Past, which features month-long games set during the French Revolution, Galileo's trial, the partition of India, and dozens of other epochal moments in disciplines ranging from art history to the sciences. These games have spread to over three hundred campuses around the world, where many of their benefits defy…


Book cover of Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France

Michael A. Barnhart Why did I love this book?

Another benefit of teaching through simulation is to show that history’s outcomes are not preordained. All of May’s works, but especially this one, stress the contingent nature of history. There was nothing inevitable about Germany’s victory over France in 1940. On the contrary, that victory was unlikely. May lays out a solid case that France ought to have won, and then takes care to dissect the circumstances that contributed to its defeat.

By Ernest R. May,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How did Hitler and his generals manage the swift conquest of France, considering that the French and their allies were superior in every measurable dimension and considering the Germans' own scepticism about their chances? This title is a new interpretation of Germany's lightning attack that swept the Wehrmacht to Paris in the spring of 1940. It studies the years leading up to those crucial weeks and suggests new ways to think about the decisions taken on both sides.


Book cover of Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers

Michael A. Barnhart Why did I love this book?

Neustadt and May wrote this book based on their seminars with government officials. Those seminars, and this book, taught two points. First, policy-makers rarely studied the background and context of the issues they were facing but instead were consumed with the need for swift decisions on immediate action. Second, those policy-makers nevertheless used history in making their decisions, nearly always using it simplistically and often incorrectly. The book is composed of a myriad of case studies. In each, the authors show how a better understanding of history might have led to better decisions.

By Richard E. Neustadt, Ernest R. May,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thinking in Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A convincing case that careful analysis of the history, issues, individuals, and institutions can lead to better decisions-in business as well as in government" (BusinessWeek).

Two noted professors offer easily remembered rules for using history effectively in day-to-day management of governmental and corporate affairs to avoid costly blunders. "An illuminating guide to the use and abuse of history in affairs of state" (Arthur Schlesinger).


Book cover of The Lights That Failed: European International History 1919-1933

Michael A. Barnhart Why did I love this book?

This might seem an odd choice for my list at first glance. Lights is a highly detailed, traditional sort of history. But the title is revealing. Most accounts of these fourteen years look back on the horrors of the Second World War and argue either that the Versailles Treaty, ending the first, was fatally flawed and made the second inevitable, or that the First World War itself failed to resolve the German question and it made the second inevitable. The strength of Steiner’s story is how much nations managed to accomplish—including but hardly limited to the now-derided League of Nations—despite the horrendous bloodletting of 1914-1918.

By Zara Steiner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lights That Failed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The peace treaties represented an almost impossible attempt to solve the problems caused by a murderous world war. In The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933, part of the Oxford History of Modern Europe series, Steiner challenges the common assumption that the Treaty of Versailles led to the opening of a second European war. In a radically original way, this book characterizes the 1920s not as a frustrated prelude to a second global conflict
but as a fascinating decade in its own right, when politicians and diplomats strove to re-assemble a viable European order. Steiner examines the efforts that…


Book cover of The Triumph of the Dark: European International History 1933-1939

Michael A. Barnhart Why did I love this book?

Surely the rise of Hitler and the impact of global depression gave an air of inevitability about the holocaust to follow? In this successor volume, Steiner makes clear many other factors were in play that might have altered Europe’s fate. She details the West’s overriding fear of Soviet communism, the crucial role Mussolini played as termite to the tentative international order built in the 1920s, and the deep internal divisions that French leaders ultimately were unable to overcome, divisions that played their own role in strengthening British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s decision to deal with Hitler at the Munich conference. 

By Zara Steiner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Triumph of the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this magisterial narrative, Zara Steiner traces the twisted road to war that began with Hitler's assumption of power in Germany. Covering a wide geographical canvas, from America to the Far East, Steiner provides an indispensable reassessment of the most disputed events of these tumultuous years.

Steiner underlines the far-reaching consequences of the Great Depression, which shifted the initiative in international affairs from those who upheld the status quo to those who were intent on destroying it. In Europe, the l930s were Hitler's years. He moved the major chess pieces on the board, forcing the others to respond. From the…


You might also like...

The Flower Queen: A 1970's Suspense Romance

By Kay Freeman,

Book cover of The Flower Queen: A 1970's Suspense Romance

Kay Freeman Author Of Hitman's Honey

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired art professor Tequila aficionado Weightlifter Owned by Standard Poodle Blues lover

Kay's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It began with a dying husband, and it ended in a dynasty.

It took away her husband’s pain on his deathbed, kept her from losing the family farm, gave her the power to build a thriving business, but it’s illegal to grow in every state in the country in 1978.

It even brings her first love from high school back; the only problem is that he works for the FBI. Will their occupations implode their romance, or will the opposite happen?

A second chance at love, opposites attract, rags to riches heroine trope story.

The Flower Queen: A 1970's Suspense Romance

By Kay Freeman,

What is this book about?

It began with a dying husband and it ended in a dynasty.

It took away her husband’s pain on his deathbed, kept her from losing the family farm, gave her the power to build a thriving business, but it’s illegal to grow in every state in the country in 1978. It even brings her first love from high school back; the only problem he works for the FBI. Will their occupations implode their romance or will the opposite happen? A second chance at love, opposites attract , rags to riches heroine trope story.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in decision making, France, and Europe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about decision making, France, and Europe.

Decision Making Explore 84 books about decision making
France Explore 894 books about France
Europe Explore 908 books about Europe