The most recommended American history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 1,604 experts.

1,604 authors created a book list connected to American history, and here are their favorite American history books.
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Book cover of The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

Andrew R. Thomas Author Of The Canal of Panama and Globalization: Growth and Challenges in the 21st Century

From my list on the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad.

Why am I passionate about this?

My twenty-five books have explored topics around global trade, transportation networks, security, and development. Prior to becoming a writer, I had a moderately successful global business career; that came with the opportunity to travel to and conduct business in more than 120 countries on all seven continents. Being American (by birth) and Panamanian (by marriage), the role of Panama and both the Canal and the Railroad in the history of the world always fascinated me. My most recent book on the present and future of the Canal and Panama has been the fulfillment of much passion and interest over many years.

Andrew's book list on the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad

Andrew R. Thomas Why did Andrew love this book?

The earlier books on my list lay the foundation for McCullough’s masterpiece, which focuses on the French and American efforts at Panama.

While many readers interested in Panama and the Canal often start here, this book is best served at the end: like a great dessert and aperitif following a wonderful meal.

By David McCullough,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Path Between the Seas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Describes all the events and personalities involved in the monumental undertaking which precipitated revolution, scandal, economic crisis, and a new Central American republic.


Book cover of On Treason: A Citizen's Guide to the Law

Gerard N. Magliocca Author Of American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment

From my list on constitutional history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My books are about American constitutional history, especially the parts or people that are typically overlooked. In these polarized times, there is both wisdom and comfort that can be found in looking at our past. One lesson from looking back is that there was no “golden age” in which Americans all got along. Democracy is sometimes messy, sometimes violent, and almost always involves fierce disagreements. Judged at a distance, there is great drama and great satisfaction in looking at how prior generations addressed their problems. I hope you enjoy the books on my list!

Gerard's book list on constitutional history

Gerard N. Magliocca Why did Gerard love this book?

Professor Larson is America’s leading expert on treason and wrote this book for non-lawyers. He starts with treason in England, discusses the views of the Founding Fathers, and then goes through many entertaining treason cases or examples. Some involve familiar historical names like Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, and Jefferson Davis. Others involve notorious celebrities such as Tokyo Rose and Jane Fonda. A fun book on a serious subject. 

By Carlton F. W. Larson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A concise, accessible, and engaging guide to the crime of treason, written by the nation's foremost expert on the subject

Treason-the only crime specifically defined in the United States Constitution-is routinely described by judges as more heinous than murder. Today, the term is regularly tossed around by politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle. But, as accusations of treason flood the news cycle, it is not always clear what the crime truly is, or when it should be prosecuted.

Carlton F. W. Larson, a scholar of constitutional law and legal history, takes us on a journey to understand…


Book cover of Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

Lori Benton Author Of Mountain Laurel

From my list on life in the Antebellum South.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.

Lori's book list on life in the Antebellum South

Lori Benton Why did Lori love this book?

Though it was wealthy white planters who built plantations, the enslaved people who worked them imbued these landscapes with their own meanings. With over 200 photographs and drawings of Antebellum plantations, Vlach leads readers on a tour of plantation outbuildings, providing examples of how slaves used these spaces despite—and in defiance of—their masters’ intentions. Testimonies of former slaves (drawn from the Federal Writers’ Project collection) give the reader a sense of what it was like to live and work in these settings.

By John Michael Vlach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Back of the Big House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Behind the ""Big Houses"" of the antebellum South existed a different world, socially and architecturally, where slaves lived and worked. John Michael Vlach explores the structures and spaces that formed the slaves' environment. Through photographs and the words of former slaves, he portrays the plantation landscape from the slaves' own point of view. The plantation landscape was chiefly the creation of slaveholders, but Vlach argues convincingly that slaves imbued this landscape with their own meanings. Their subtle acts of appropriation constituted one of the more effective strategies of slave resistance and one that provided a locus for the formation of…


We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


Book cover of The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family

Jessica Scott Author Of A Soldier's Promise: A Coming Home Anthology

From my list on the Iraq War that go beyond bullets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a soldier, an author, and an army wife – the last fifteen years of my life have revolved around dealing with the fallout of the Iraq war, not only for my family but also as a soldier and a veteran. I write books because I wanted to read about people who stayed in the military after the war started. The best writing advice I ever got came from Robyn Carr who said, write the book that only you can tell. Wrestling with the legacy of a war that we as soldiers did not choose as we return home was something I deeply wanted to understand, both as an army officer and a novelist.

Jessica's book list on the Iraq War that go beyond bullets

Jessica Scott Why did Jessica love this book?

I served in the 1st Cav when Black Sunday happened and then, a few years later, read this book as a newly commissioned second lieutenant, serving in 3HBCT, 1st Cavalry Division several of the men featured in Raddatz’s book. 

It provided deeply personal insights into why the boss was driven the way that he was. It was absolutely devastating to read the horror of a lost platoon alongside the struggles of the families back home. Through deeply personal narratives, Raddatz drives home the importance of being prepared for the worst both for the soldiers deployed and the families back home, managing rumors and fear during a mass casualty event, and the will to stay connected to those you served with.

Coming up on the 20-year anniversary of Black Sunday, I give cadets who ask me to commission them a copy of this book – it reminds all of us of…

By Martha Raddatz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Long Road Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ABC News’ Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz shares remarkable tales of heroism, hope, and heartbreak in her account of “Black Sunday”—a battle during one of the deadliest periods of the Iraq War.

The First Cavalry Division came under surprise attack in Sadr City on Sunday April 4, 2004. Over 7,000 miles away, their families awaited the news for forty-eight hellish hours—expecting the worst. In this powerful, unflinching account, Martha Raddatz takes readers from the streets of Baghdad to the home front and tells the story of that horrific day through the eyes of the courageous American men and women…


Book cover of The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

This book surprised the scholarly community when the manuscript was first obtained at an estate sale.  A handwritten memoir that had lain largely unread for over a hundred and fifty years, this narrative depicts the sort of child we rarely see in the history books. A defiant apprentice, a runaway truant, a bartender, a prisoner, and author, Austin Reed offers us one plot twist after another. As a free person of color in the nineteenth century, Reed offers a compelling view into the life of one man who was determined to maintain his own sense of self, even in the face of a quickly growing carceral state that imprisoned him both as a child and as a man.

By Austin Reed, Caleb Smith (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer—recently discovered and authenticated by a team of Yale scholars—sheds light on the longstanding connection between race and incarceration in America.

“[A] harrowing [portrait] of life behind bars . . . part confession, part jeremiad, part lamentation, part picaresque novel (reminiscent, at times, of Dickens and Defoe).”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

In 2009, scholars at Yale University came across a startling manuscript: the memoir of Austin Reed, a free black man born in the 1820s who spent…


Book cover of The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order

Peter Shinkle Author Of Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II

From my list on American leaders who broke the rules during WWII.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been shocked in recent years by the bitter partisanship in America, and by how our politics have turned into a sort of sports grudge match – my team versus yours, no matter what – with very little interest in seeking the truth or working for the national good. So when I discovered a number of years ago that Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt built an alliance with Republicans that led the country to victory in World War II, I immediately set out to understand how such an extraordinary bipartisan alliance could take place – and whether America might do such a thing again. Uniting America provides an answer.

Peter's book list on American leaders who broke the rules during WWII

Peter Shinkle Why did Peter love this book?

In the 1930s, Wendell Willkie was a Democrat who sided with big business and criticized Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt. Then, in a whirlwind, Willkie switched parties and won the Republication presidential nomination in June 1940.

After FDR won the election of 1940, Willkie shattered party expectations again when he called upon Congress to pass FDR’s controversial Lend Lease program to send military aid to European nations facing the assault of Hitler’s Nazi armies. 

Willkie also took a strong stance in support of civil rights. Time and again, he proved he was a leader with a nimble mind unfettered by party politics. He broke the rules by defying those who would predict his politics according to his party affiliation. 

The compelling story of Wendell Willkie and his call for human rights in America and around the world comes to life in David Levering Lewis’s beautifully written biography, The Improbable Wendell Willkie…

By David Levering Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Improbable Wendell Willkie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the wake of one of the most tumultuous Republican conventions ever, the party of Lincoln nominated in 1940 a prominent businessman and former Democrat who could have saved America's sclerotic political system. Although Wendell Lewis Willkie would lose to FDR, acclaimed biographer David Levering Lewis demonstrates that the corporate chairman-turned-presidential candidate must be regarded as one of the most exciting, intellectually able, and authentically transformational figures to stride the twentieth-century American political landscape.

Born in Elwood, Indiana, in 1892, Willkie was certainly one of the most unexpected, if not unlikely, candidates for the presidency, only somewhat less unlikely than…


Book cover of Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion

Mark R. Cheathem Author Of Andrew Jackson, Southerner

From my list on explaining Andrew Jackson.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became interested in Andrew Jackson as an undergraduate student who worked at his Nashville plantation, The Hermitage. Nearly thirty years later, I am still fascinated by Old Hickory. We wouldn’t be friends, and I wouldn’t vote for him, but I consider him essential to understanding the United States’ development between his ascension as a national hero during the War of 1812 and his death in 1845. That we still argue about Jackson’s role as a symbol both of patriotism and of genocide speaks to his enduring significance to the national conversation about what the United States has represented and continues to represent.  

Mark's book list on explaining Andrew Jackson

Mark R. Cheathem Why did Mark love this book?

When I give talks about Jackson, audience members often bring up his “adoption” of Lyncoya, a Creek Indian boy, as an argument against his racist and violent treatment of Native Americans. Peterson delves into that episode, and similar events in the lives of Jackson and men like him, to explain what elite white “adoption” of Native children actually meant and how it reflected larger national themes of acquisition and subjugation. 

By Dawn Peterson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During his invasion of Creek Indian territory in 1813, future U.S. president Andrew Jackson discovered a Creek infant orphaned by his troops. Moved by an "unusual sympathy," Jackson sent the child to be adopted into his Tennessee plantation household. Through the stories of nearly a dozen white adopters, adopted Indian children, and their Native parents, Dawn Peterson opens a window onto the forgotten history of adoption in early nineteenth-century America. Indians in the Family shows the important role that adoption played in efforts to subdue Native peoples in the name of nation-building.

As the United States aggressively expanded into Indian…


Book cover of The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case

Jonathan Schneer Author Of The Lockhart Plot: Love, Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin's Russia

From my list on a historian's view about spies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a modern British historian who loves to read thrillers and non-fiction histories of spies. I’ve done it all my adult life. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated by the Russian Revolution: its early idealism, the curdling of idealism. When the daughter of Moura von Benckendorff, (R.H. Bruce Lockhart’s great love) told me about her mother and Lockhart, I realized I had an opportunity to combine my vocation and my avocation. The result is my book, The Lockhart Plot.

Jonathan's book list on a historian's view about spies

Jonathan Schneer Why did Jonathan love this book?

I grew up believing that the US Government framed and then executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 to whip up anti-Communist hysteria. I was wrong. First of all, Julius was guilty; secondly, it was not the government that framed Ethel, but her own brother, David Greenglass. He did it to save his own skin, for he had passed documents to his brother-in-law (although they proved worthless to the Russians). Also, he wanted to save his wife, who had typed a few things for Julius. Sixty years later he came clean to Sam Roberts. This book is a revelation, an examination of the mind of a sociopath. Like Kim Philby, David Greenglass had no heart, nor pity, nor regrets. 

By Sam Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A fresh and fast-paced study of one of the most important crimes of the twentieth century” (The Washington Post), The Brother now discloses new information revealed since the original publication in 2003—including an admission by his sons that Julius Rosenberg was indeed a Soviet spy and a confession to the author by the Rosenbergs’ co-defendant.

Sixty years after their execution in June 1953 for conspiring to steal atomic secrets, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg remain the subjects of great emotional debate and acrimony. The man whose testimony almost single-handedly convicted them was Ethel Rosenberg’s own brother, David Greenglass, who recently died.…


Book cover of Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

Brett Dakin Author Of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

From my list on the history of golden age comics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Brett Dakin is the author of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason and Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos. Brett's writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, the International Herald TribuneThe Washington Post, and The Guardian. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Brett grew up in London and now lives in New York City with his husbandand their dog, Carl.

Brett's book list on the history of golden age comics

Brett Dakin Why did Brett love this book?

Another readable academic work, Bradford’s book helped me situate the history of comics within the broader narrative of post-war America’s emerging youth, pop, and consumer cultures.

By Bradford W. Wright,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As American as jazz or rock and roll, comic books have been central in the nation's popular culture since Superman's 1938 debut in Action Comics #1. Selling in the millions each year for the past six decades, comic books have figured prominently in the childhoods of most Americans alive today. In Comic Book Nation, Bradford W. Wright offers an engaging, illuminating, and often provocative history of the comic book industry within the context of twentieth-century American society. From Batman's Depression-era battles against corrupt local politicians and Captain America's one-man war against Nazi Germany to Iron Man's Cold War exploits in…


Book cover of Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas

Mark Bollman Author Of Basic Gambling Mathematics: The Numbers Behind the Neon

From my list on people who challenged Las Vegas.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been playing card games since childhood, and have had a parallel interest in the mathematics behind the games for nearly as long. While I didn’t visit Las Vegas in person until 2000, the stories of how that city was built around the gaming industry quickly came to fascinate me. Digging into the details of the people who have made that city what it is and have come to make their way in the desert has been a fascinating sidelight that has enhanced my recent work writing books on gambling mathematics.

Mark's book list on people who challenged Las Vegas

Mark Bollman Why did Mark love this book?

Many people, including Bill Bennett from Forgotten Man, played big parts in the building, opening, and subsequent operation of the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas. They tell their stories in Super Casino. 

I am a big fan of logistics in general, and found the details of what goes into the Las Vegas casino industry in the 1990s (just before I started visiting Las Vegas and writing about gambling mathematics) to be a fascinating look behind the scenes.

By Pete Earley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Las Vegas was a mob town built on restlessness and hunger, on glitter, greed, and the firm belief that anyone can get lucky once. But in the last decade Las Vegas has had its own change of fortune, transforming itself from a gambler's fun house to one of the country's top family vacation spots. Now Pete Earley--the investigative journalist and award-winning author who stormed Leavenworth in The Hot House--takes us inside today's colossal theme casinos, in a fascinating look at the life, death, and fantastic rebirth of the Las Vegas Strip.

With 320 days of sunshine, 500 churches, 27 golf…