100 books like American Sphinx

By Joseph J. Ellis,

Here are 100 books that American Sphinx fans have personally recommended if you like American Sphinx. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Path to Power

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Robert Caro’s book is nothing less than a masterpiece.

I love it for the unique perspective Caro has for his subject, Johnson, which is rare among biographers. Most biographers love their subjects and want their readers to admire their subjects as well. They gloss over their faults or explain them away so the reader is left with the positive impression the biographer has. Not so with Caro. 

Caro admires Lyndon Johnson as a politician but also loathes him; he respects Lyndon’s radical ability to read and manipulate other individuals and Lyndon’s pure, unadulterated pursuit of power and higher office, but he despised Lyndon for his ability to use people, a “morality often bordering on amorality.” In this way, Caro’s biography helps the reader “be as wise as serpents, yet as innocent of doves,” to quote Matthew 10:16. He explains how Johnson committed deeds that were unjust and unethical and condemns…

By Robert A. Caro,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Path to Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The greatest biography of our era ... Essential reading for those who want to comprehend power and politics' The Times

Robert A. Caro's legendary, multi-award-winning biography of US President Lyndon Johnson is a uniquely riveting and revelatory account of power, political genius and the shaping of twentieth-century America.

This first instalment tells of the rise to national power of a desperately poor young man from the Texas Hill Country, revealing in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy and ambition that set LBJ apart. It charts his boyhood through the years of the Depression to his debut…


Book cover of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin ranks among the top of Isaacson’s excellent biographies.

He provides thorough detail and background of Franklin’s life, examining him through the eyes of the quintessential American: an entrepreneur, a writer, a small businessman, a cosmopolitan, and a statesman (albeit lacking the higher offices). 

Isaacson briefly treats Franklin’s religious views and the reasons why Franklin moved away from the Puritan faith of his forebearers and embraced a creed more akin to deism. 

By Walter Isaacson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During his 84-year life Benjamin Franklin was America's best scientist, inventor, publisher, business strategist, diplomat, and writer. He was also one of its most practical political thinkers. America's first great publicist, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public and polished it for posterity. In this riveting new biography Walter Isaacson provides readers with a full portrait of Franklin's public and private life - his loyal but neglected wife, his bastard son with whom he broke over going to war with England, his endless replacement families and his many amorous, but probably unconsummated, liaisons. But this is not…


Book cover of The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

James Monroe is my favorite Founding Father. He may not be the “indispensable man” like Washington or have penned the most influential words in American history, ”We hold these truths to be self–evident,” but Monroe’s contributions to the United States and American history rank among the most important of the Founding Fathers. 

Per the title, Monroe was the “last” of such influential leaders and the last president in the Virginia dynasty of presidents. Unger provides an excellent, thorough walk-through of Monroe’s life and the influences that shaped his character, as well as the sacrifices Monroe made on behalf of the United States.

Per Unger, Monroe could have used his position and his influence for personal enrichment but regularly turned down such opportunities because he felt these were not worthy of an American leader. In the end, Monroe died with significant debts coupled with a legacy as the last Founding Father. 

By Harlow Giles Unger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Founding Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this compelling biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals the epic story of James Monroe (1758-1831),the last of America's Founding Fathers,who transformed a small, fragile nation beset by enemies into a powerful empire stretching from sea to shining sea." Like David McCullough's John Adams and Jon Meacham's American Lion , The Last Founding Father is both a superb read and stellar scholarship,action-filled history in the grand tradition.


Book cover of His Excellency: George Washington

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Consider Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers more of a series of biographies–portraits of great individuals shaping history for the better–of such individuals during the most important period of their lives and in the history of our country.

Ellis’ masterful work focuses on the relationship between the Founding Fathers in the latter half of the eighteenth century, which, as the title suggests, was fraught with all the difficulties and rivalries one might expect as brothers. Figures like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were men not unlike the rest of us, driven by passion, ambition, and the vision to see the American republic become a beacon of hope and freedom for the entire world. 

Yet, these passions and contrary views of the American experiment in self-government, at times, spilled out into the open, and Ellis does a masterful job elucidating the rivalries between these great men and what was at stake…

By Joseph J. Ellis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National Bestseller

To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.

 

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to…


Book cover of Thomas Jefferson's Education

Seth Mallios Author Of Hail Montezuma! The Hidden Treasures of San Diego State

From my list on the surprising histories of college campuses.

Why am I passionate about this?

I find the archaeology of here to be just as interesting and enlightening as any faraway land. For those of us at universities, that means that the campus itself is worthy of historical, archaeological, and anthropological study. I have been San Diego State’s University History Curator for decades and never tire of uncovering new insights into an institution with a 125-year history, nearly 500,000 alumni, and a bevy of bizarre tales. Whether it be hidden student murals, supernatural claims from the gridiron, or disputed dinosaur footprints, the immediate landscape of our workplace is often full of historical treasures.

Seth's book list on the surprising histories of college campuses

Seth Mallios Why did Seth love this book?

Whereas many books research the history of higher education are full of lofty ideals and collegiate high jinks, Alan Taylor’s book Thomas Jefferson’s Education is an insightful yet sobering look at the historical context and inception of the University of Virginia. This text is no hagiography and details how Jefferson’s university was deeply intertwined with slavery and many of the elitist vices common to Virginia gentry.

By Alan Taylor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By turns entertaining and tragic, this beautifully crafted history reveals the origins of a great university in the dilemmas of Virginia slavery. Thomas Jefferson shares centre stage with his family and fellow planters, all dependent on the labour of enslaved black families. With a declining Virginia yielding to commercially vibrant northern states, in 1819 Jefferson proposed to build a university to educate and improve the sons of the planter elite. He hoped they might one day lead a revitalised Virginia free of slavery-and free of the former slaves.

Jefferson's campaign was a contest for the future of a state and…


Book cover of Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

Francis D. Cogliano Author Of Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy

From my list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've spent three decades teaching the history of the United States, especially the American Revolution, to students in the UK. Invariably some students are attracted by the ideals they identify with the United States while others stress the times that the US has failed to uphold those ideals. Thomas Jefferson helped to articulate those ideals and often came up short when it came to realizing them. This has fascinated me as well as my students. I'm the author or editor of eight books on Jefferson and the American Revolution including, Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy and The Blackwell Companion to Thomas Jefferson. I'm currently completing a book about the relationship between Jefferson and George Washington.

Francis' book list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view

Francis D. Cogliano Why did Francis love this book?

Beginning with Jefferson’s death in 1826 Burstein seeks to answer some of the most vexing questions that confronted Jefferson (and have preoccupied historians) including the consequences of mortality, the nature of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s attempts to reconcile his dependence on slavery with his belief in liberty, and his attitudes toward women. Drawing on a subtle and sophisticated study of Jefferson’s library and his reading habits, Burstein offers an original and engaging book that helps us to understand Jefferson’s heart by studying the thoughts in his head. A remarkable book.

By Andrew Burstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he left behind a series of mysteries that have captured the imaginations of historical investigators for generations. In Jefferson's Secrets, Andrew Burstein draws on sources previous biographers have glossed over or missed entirely. Beginning with Jefferson's last days, Burstein shows how Jefferson confronted his own mortality. Burstein also tackles the crucial questions history has yet to answer: Did Jefferson love Sally Hemings? What were his attitudes towards women? Did he believe in God? How did he wish to be remembered? The result is a profound and nuanced portrait of the most complex…


Book cover of Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

David Ellerman Author Of Neo-Abolitionism: Abolishing Human Rentals in Favor of Workplace Democracy

From my list on a fair and just private property market economy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since my graduate student days in philosophy and economics, I have slowly come to understand more and more the case for workplace democracy based on normative principles (i.e., the inalienability, property, and democratic principles), not just the obvious consequentialist or pragmatic arguments based on increased productivity (people working jointly for themselves), less worker alienation, and eliminating the divide down the middle of most enterprises between employers and employees. In addition to two decades of teaching university economics, I have co-founded several consulting companies dedicated to implementing these principles in practice, the Industrial Cooperative Association in Massachusetts (now the ICA Group) and the Institute for Economic Democracy in Slovenia, where I have retired.

David's book list on a fair and just private property market economy

David Ellerman Why did David love this book?

The third leg of the stool supporting workplace democracy (in addition to the democratic and property arguments) is the inalienable rights argument based on the factual inalienability of people’s responsible agency, which the legal employment contract pretends to be alienated in the firm based on employment. The truth comes out when an employee commits a crime at the behest of the employer; then they suddenly become partners in crime. Since the responsible agency is factually inalienable in both criminous and non-criminous actions, the contract that legally alienates all agency to the employer in the non-criminous case should be abolished. Garry Wills traces the history of the inalienable rights clause in the Declaration of Independence back to its roots in the Scottish and European Enlightenment.

By Garry Wills,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From acclaimed historian Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg, a celebrated re-appraisal of the meaning and the source of inspiration of The Declaration of Independence, based on a reading of Jefferson's original draft document.

Inventing America upended decades of thinking about The Declaration of Independence when it was first published in 1978 and remains one of the most influential and important works of scholarship about this founding document. Wills challenged the idea that Jefferson took all his ideas from John Locke. Instead, by focussing on Jefferson's original drafts, he showed Jefferson's debt to Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Lord…


Book cover of Those Rebels, John & Tom

Natasha Wing Author Of The Story of Eliza Hamilton: A Biography Book for New Readers

From my list on Founding Mothers and Fathers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love relearning history I learned way back in high school and looking at it with wiser eyes. I wanted to pay tribute to both the Founding Fathers and Mothers since it took quite a few brave, smart and determined people to figure out how the new nation of the United States of America would operate. After watching the musical, Hamilton, I was curious to discover more about some of the characters. That’s what’s so great about children’s books – they can be used to extend and deepen the learning process for kids and adults.

Natasha's book list on Founding Mothers and Fathers

Natasha Wing Why did Natasha love this book?

Here’s another take on America’s relationship with King George III. The story shows the differences between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson but despite their differences, they have a love of country and a hate for King George. They unite their strengths - John’s power of persuasion and Tom’s mighty pen - to formulate the Declaration of Independence. The endnotes are just as fascinating, talking about how their relationship continued - and almost ended. They both died on the same day, on July 4th.

By Barbara Kerley, Edwin Fotheringham (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Those Rebels, John & Tom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

A brilliant portrait of two American heroes from the award-winning creators of The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)!

"Adams and Jefferson help bring forth the Declaration of Independence and... model successful collaboration. Their secret: Speak up and listen to the other guy. Good lessons for today's Washington." --San Francisco ChroniceAn NCTE Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were very different. John Adams was short and stout. Thomas Jefferson was tall and lean. John was argumentative and blunt. Tom was soft-spoken and polite. But these two very different gentlemen did have two things in common: They…


Book cover of Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900

Sam Pizzigati Author Of The Case for a Maximum Wage

From my list on why we need a world without billionaires.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the 1950s next door to Long Island’s iconic Levittown. All my aunts and uncles lived in similar modest suburbs, and I assumed everyone else did, too. Maybe that explains why America’s sharp economic U-turn in the 1970s so rubbed me the wrong way. We had become, in the mid-20th century, the first major nation where most people—after paying their monthly bills—had money left over. Today we rate as the world’s most unequal major nation. Our richest 0.1 percent hold as much wealth as our bottom 90 percent. I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Studies, as co-editor of Inequality.org, to change all that.

Sam's book list on why we need a world without billionaires

Sam Pizzigati Why did Sam love this book?

The urge to limit vast accumulations of individual wealth, the historian James Huston reminds us in this 1998 deep dive into America’s largely forgotten past, turns out to be as American as apple pie.

The new American nation, as John Adams put in in 1776, would only be able to preserve the “balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue” by dividing the nation’s land “into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates.”

Thomas Jefferson fully agreed. A republic, he insisted, “cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” Our founders never lived up to these noble aims. We still can.

By James L Huston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Securing the Fruits of Labor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his comprehensive study of the economic ideology of the early republic, James L. Huston argues that Americans developed economic attitudes during the Revolutionary period that remained virtually unchanged until the close of the nineteenth century. Viewing Europe's aristocratic system, early Americans believed that the survival of their new republic depended on a fair distribution of wealth, brought about through political and economic equality.

The concepts of wealth distribution formulated in the Revolutionary period informed works on nineteenth-century political economy and shaped the ideology of political parties. Huston reveals how these ideas influenced debates over reform, working-class agitation, political participation,…


Book cover of Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier

Kevin Sites Author Of The Ocean Above Me

From my list on true-life sea adventures that blow you overboard.

Why am I passionate about this?

You have to appreciate the intrepid nature of those who ventured out to sea in the days before satellite-enabled navigation, modern weather forecasting, and Coast Guard rescue swimmers. The books I’ve listed span a time of great global exploration occurring simultaneously with the engines of novel economic development. Most of that development was based on the exploitation of human and natural resources. A thread of curiosity through all of these picks is how those individuals most directly involved in its physical pursuit and transport were rarely the same who benefitted from it. But instead lived lives of constant hardship and danger – profiting, if at all, only in the adventure itself.

Kevin's book list on true-life sea adventures that blow you overboard

Kevin Sites Why did Kevin love this book?

This is another early American expedition lost to modern memory. In 1810, one of America’s richest men, John Jacob Astor, sent out two expeditions to exploit the riches of the western coast of North America. Unclaimed at the time.

One was to progress overland the other by sea. Both ended in personal and economic disaster. Yet, showcasing moments of heroism and cowardice, selflessness, and greed – but ultimately awakening America to this untapped potential of this rich, rugged, and unforgiving territory.

Stark writes like a novelist weaving rich, character studies Into the narrative that helped invest me in the people and their mostly, unfortunate fates. 

By Peter Stark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeletons in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.

Six years after Lewis and Clark's began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, two of…


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