The best books about Colonial America 📚

Browse the best books on Colonial America as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Witchcraft in Old and New England

Witchcraft in Old and New England

By George Lyman Kittredge

Why this book?

Nearly a century old now, this was one of the first books to open up this subject for me, and to connect witch-beliefs (and trials) in England and colonial America. It’s more of a collection of essays than a coherent monograph, but they’re thoughtful essays, and, crucially, not excessively lofty. Kittredge was at pains to understand witchcraft in the past rather than judging it from the vantage point of an enlightened present.

They are chapters on image magic, shape-shifting, diagnostic tests, witches’ sabbats, and many other subjects – all discursive explorations, drawing in examples from here and there, and presented…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Colonial America

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Book cover of Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts

Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts

By Richard Weisman

Why this book?

This is another sociologically inflected study, which broadens the context of belief behind witchcraft accusations. Like all the best work of the last forty years, it helps us to grasp the internal logic of witch-beliefs in the minds of intelligent and actually very sophisticated people, rather than falling back on the old chestnuts of hysteria, prejudice and the madness of crowds.

Weisman constantly reminds us that a supposed superstitious consensus (in contrast to the sceptical consensus of the modern world) simply didn’t exist. So much of the furious energy of thinking about witches was generated by disagreement and doubt. We’re…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Colonial America

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Book cover of The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

By Carol F Karlsen

Why this book?

A ground-breaking work, which demonstrates how the theoretical witch was embodied by real women, and how a seemingly bizarre fantasy was plausible in among the shapes and rhythms of daily life. This influential study is as much a social, economic and cultural history of seventeenth-century New England as it is strictly speaking a history of witchcraft – indeed, Karlsen demonstrates clearly that the latter cannot be assimilated with an appreciation of the former. Context is everything, and without it we just fall back on stereotypes and tired assumptions.

Witches and neighbours were two-sides of the same coin, the former a…

From the list:

The best books on witch hunting in Colonial America

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Book cover of The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757

The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757

By James Fenimore Cooper

Why this book?

This one will probably surprise a few people, but it is a historical romance. For those who haven’t read the book, please know that the movie starring Daniel Daydream- Lewis does not accurately parallel the book. I chose this novel because it is an American story with American characters, published in 1826. Cora is another very strong character, certainly ahead of her time and admired by Hawkeye, who was also an unusual character for the period. I enjoyed the historical details intertwined with fiction. Definitely worth your time to read.

From the list:

The best historical romance novels that will make you fall in love with the genre

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Book cover of Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History

Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History

By Carol Zisowitz Stearns, Peter N. Stearns

Why this book?

Many historians before the Stearnses thought it would be good to study the emotions of the past, but this book on anger was the first to offer a rigorous and satisfying technique for doing so. By carefully researching the advice books offered to middle-class Americans in the nineteenth through twentieth centuries, the authors show how standards for emotional expression changed over time. Emotional standards are in fact key to understanding how different groups at different times evaluate their emotions, understand their uses, and feel their mental and physical impact.

From the list:

The best books in the history of emotions

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Book cover of Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865

Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865

By Richard D. Brown

Why this book?

The key obstacle to communication in the pre-modern age was distance: this was particularly the case in the transported communities of European settlers in distant continents, often sparsely settled and without the familiar settled infrastructure of roads and trade. In this landmark study, Richard Brown considers the case of colonial America and the early Republic through a series of well-chosen case studies. These reveals that Americans relied on a multi-media experience of newsgathering, where conversation, gossip, and neighbour networks competed with new media innovations. An instant classic full of insight.
From the list:

The best books on the history of communication

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