The best books about major events that changed the 20th century

Simon Adams Author Of Eyewitness Titanic
By Simon Adams

Who am I?

I only ever enjoyed one subject at school, and that was history. I read history books for pleasure, and then studied the subject at university, along with politics. As an adult, I worked in publishing and then began to write history books for myself, books to be read by both children and adults. History has remained my passion all my life, and the five books I have chosen here are just some of the many fine history books that deal with the major events of the recent 20th century. I hope you enjoy my selection.


I wrote...

Eyewitness Titanic

By Simon Adams,

Book cover of Eyewitness Titanic

What is my book about?

The sinking of the Titanic in the North Atlantic in April 1912 sent shockwaves around the world. The liner was on its maiden voyage and was the most luxurious ship afloat. Above all, it was considered to be “virtually unsinkable.” But a fatal collision with an iceberg sent the ship to the bottom of the sea, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew. My book on the tragedy is part of the bestselling Eyewitness series and is written for children, although adults will enjoy it too!

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

By Antony Beevor,

Book cover of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

Why this book?

The epic battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43 changed the direction of World War II as the invading armies of Nazi Germany were eventually surrounded and defeated in the city of Stalingrad by the defending Red Army of the Soviet Union. At times, the fighting was so fierce that the two sides fought each other from different floors of the same building. Anthony Beevor’s magnificent book captures the intensity and horror of this epic battle.


The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth

By Sun Shuyun,

Book cover of The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth

Why this book?

In 1934 more than 200,000 members of the Chinese Communist Party left their bases in southern China and marched 8,000 miles across country to escape the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kaishek. The march is the founding myth of the Chinese Communist Party, but the reality, as brilliantly exposed in this book, was brutal and savage: just one-fifth survived a march that need never have taken place and which was mainly designed as a propaganda exercise to promote the leadership of Mao Zedong.


Guilty Men

By Cato,

Book cover of Guilty Men

Why this book?

In May 1940, as Britain fought for its survival against Nazi Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned to be replaced by the determined and forceful Winston Churchill. Chamberlain had been the face of appeasement, negotiating peace with the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the hope of buying him off. Many felt that he had brought Britain to the brink of disaster. Two months later three journalistsMichael Foot, Peter Howard, Frank Owen—writing anonymously as Cato, published this scathing attack on Chamberlain and the other appeasers, naming and shaming the guilty men responsible for betraying their country.


The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream

By Gary Younge,

Book cover of The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream

Why this book?

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, leader of the American Civil Rights movement, addressed the 250,000-strong crowd that had gathered in Washington DC to support the civil and economic rights of African Americans. As ever, his speech was good, but at a crucial point, prompted by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, he put aside his written notes and stated: “I have a dream.” And so followed the famous words of perhaps the most famous speech in history, a speech that transformed the civil rights movement and led to major civil rights and voting reforms in the next two years. Gary Younge’s book tells the story of that fine speech.


The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence

By Charles Townshend,

Book cover of The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence

Why this book?

In January 1919 the newly elected Sinn Fein MPs in Ireland met in Dublin and set up Dail Eireann, the assembly of the self-proclaimed independent Irish republic. As the new government, they took control of the local authorities, the administration of justice, the tax system, and other aspects of government, and ruled Ireland as if it were totally independent of British rule. Charles Townshend tells the remarkable story of the early years of the Irish Republic, and how the parallel Sinn Fein state came to effectively run the new country.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, Russia, and international relations?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, Russia, and international relations.

China Explore 399 books about China
Russia Explore 234 books about Russia
International Relations Explore 139 books about international relations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Battle Cry of Freedom, East West Street, and Former People if you like this list.