The best books about Colonial America

34 authors have picked their favorite books about Colonial America and why they recommend each book.

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In the Devil's Snare

By Mary Beth Norton,

Book cover of In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

A fascinating exploration of the Salem witch trials that illustrates how the New England girls whose accusations lead to the wrongful execution of thirteen innocent women and imprisonment of some two hundred more were victims of war trauma in the Maine woods. During the so-called King Phillip’s War, Puritan immigrants who seized land as part of their Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter waged horrific, brutal battles with Native Americans defending their land from coveters and invaders. Their wives and children were there to witness and suffer it. This book was a key to my greater understanding of the land seizure and other events that led to and fueled the Salem Witch trials. 

In the Devil's Snare

By Mary Beth Norton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In the Devil's Snare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning historian Mary Beth Norton reexamines the Salem witch trials in thisstartlingly original, meticulously researched, and utterly riveting study.

In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees—including the main accusers of witches—had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony’s leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God’s people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the…


Who am I?

I love historical fiction because it brings history and people from the past to life, showing us their struggles and their secrets—especially the women! Since my first historical novel, The Miracles of Prato, I've been paying attention to the women whose stories haven't been told. When I realized Hester Prynne is our first American historical feminist heroine—indeed, our American Eve and our original badass single mom—I knew I had to let her tell her story.  

I wrote...

Hester

By Laurie Lico Albanese,

Book cover of Hester

What is my book about?

My novel Hester is a bewitched and bewitching update on The Scarlet Letter. It asks the questions, Who was the real Hester Prynne, and what if she could tell her own story? The answer, as you will discover in chapter one, comes in the form of 19-year-old Isobel Gamble, a newly married and mysteriously talented young Scottish needleworker who arrives in Salem in 1829, just as young Nathaniel Hawthorne is struggling to launch his writing career.

Witchcraft, secrets, and the mysterious magic of desire and creativity are integral to Hester and to Hawthorne’s personal history. When the writer meets young Isobel, and learns she is descended from Scotland’s so-called Queen of Witches, their tangled secrets fuel creation, deception, desire, and consequences you will not soon forget.

A Cold Welcome

By Sam White,

Book cover of A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe's Encounter with North America

Written by a first-rate historian of wide learning, this is one of those rare books that causes one to rethink your assumptions about history. White brings climate change to the forefront in a book that ranges widely over the European settlement of America and looks at it from a climatic perspective. This is technically an academic book but is so nicely written that you’ll be glued to the page.

A Cold Welcome

By Sam White,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Europeans first arrived in North America, they faced a cold new world. The average global temperature had dropped to lows unseen in millennia, and its effects were stark and unpredictable: blizzards and deep freezes, droughts and famines, and winters when even the Rio Grande froze. This period of climate change has come to be known as the Little Ice Age, and it played a decisive role in Europe's encounter with the lands and peoples of North America. In A Cold Welcome, Sam White tells the story of this crucial period in world history, from Europe's earliest expeditions in an…


Who am I?

Brian Fagan is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of numerous books about archaeology, the past, and climate change for general audiences. I was asked to write my first climate change book (on El Niños) and was astounded to find that few archaeologists or historians focused on the subject, whether ancient or modern. Now that’s all changed, thanks to the revolution in paleoclimatology. I’m convinced that the past has much to tell us about climate change in the future. Apart from that, the subject is fascinating and vital.


I wrote...

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization

By Brian Fagan,

Book cover of The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization

What is my book about?

Humanity evolved in an Ice Age in which glaciers covered much of the world. But starting about 15,000 years ago, temperatures began to climb. Civilization and all of recorded history occurred in this warm period, the era known as the Holocene-the long summer of the human species. In The Long Summer, Brian Fagan brings us the first detailed record of climate change during these 15,000 years of warming and shows how this climate change gave rise to civilization. A thousand-year chill led people in the Near East to take up the cultivation of plant foods; a catastrophic flood drove settlers to inhabit Europe; the drying of the Sahara forced its inhabitants to live along the banks of the Nile, and increased rainfall in East Africa provoked the bubonic plague.

The Long Summer illuminates for the first time the centuries-long pattern of human adaptation to the demands and challenges of an ever-changing climate-challenges that are still with us today.

Dunmore's New World

By James Corbett David,

Book cover of Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America

With a broader focus than the 1774 campaign into the Ohio Valley known as Dunmore’s War, James David’s book gave me a vivid picture of the late colonial North American and British landscape in which Dunmore lived and moved and had his being. An engaging read as well as an indispensable resource for a historical fiction writer.

Dunmore's New World

By James Corbett David,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dunmore's New World tells the stranger-than-fiction story of Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, whose long-neglected life boasts a measure of scandal and intrigue rare in the annals of the colonial world. Dunmore not only issued the first formal proclamation of emancipation in American history; he also undertook an unauthorized Indian war in the Ohio Valley, now known as Dunmore's War, that was instrumental in opening the Kentucky country to white settlement. In this entertaining biography, James Corbett David brings together a rich cast of characters as he follows Dunmore on his perilous path through the Atlantic world…


Who am I?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during the 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, particularly those set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultural and world views collided. Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore’s campaign against the Shawnee nation on the eve of the Revolutionary war, culminating in the Battle of Point Pleasant, is a fascinating, complex, and poignant example of the armies and individuals that planned, fought, and resisted the campaign.


I wrote...

Many Sparrows

By Lori Benton,

Book cover of Many Sparrows

What is my book about?

Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would... In 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year-old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail.

When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can to recover her son...especially when her second child is moments away from being born.

The Great Level

By Stella Tillyard,

Book cover of The Great Level

Fiction allows for the portrayal of a kind of absorption in the processes and materials of a historical period that is unusual in nonfiction. It can give a powerful sense of how time actually passed for people. Vermeer’s chaotic domestic routine as a painter was splendidly imagined by Tracy Chevalier in Girl with a Pearl Earring, for example. But the technical innovators of the Dutch Golden Age – the telescopists, the astronomers, the surveyors and engineers – are yet to be celebrated in this way. Sadly, nobody has written the story of Simon Stevin, who built a sand-yacht that could outrun a galloping horse as it whipped along the Dutch strand, or of Cornelis Drebbel, who demonstrated a submarine for King James I that mysteriously managed to stay underwater with its crew for several hours in the River Thames.

However, Stella Tillyard has performed this service on behalf of…

The Great Level

By Stella Tillyard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A 'magical, haunting' (Philippa Gregory) novel of a tragic love affair in a threatened world

In 1649, Jan Brunt, a Dutchman, arrives in England to work on draining and developing the Great Level, an expanse of marsh in the heart of the fen country. It is here he meets Eliza, whose love overturns his ordered vision and whose act of resistance forces him to see the world differently.

Jan flees to the New World, where the spirit of avarice is raging and his skills as an engineer are prized. Then one spring morning a boy delivers a note that prompts…


Who am I?

In my writing about science, I am always keen to include the artistic and literary dimension that links the science to the broader culture. In Huygens, a product of the Dutch Golden Age, I found a biographical subject for whom it would have been quite impossible not to embrace these riches. This context – including painting, music, poetry, mechanics, architecture, gardens, fashion and leisure – is crucial to understanding the life that Huygens led and the breakthroughs he was able to make.


I wrote...

Dutch Light

By Hugh Aldersey-Williams,

Book cover of Dutch Light

What is my book about?

Filled with incident, discovery, and revelation, Dutch Light is a vivid account of Christiaan Huygens’s remarkable life and career, but it is also nothing less than the story of the birth of modern science as we know it.

Europe’s greatest scientist during the latter half of the seventeenth century, Christiaan Huygens was a true polymath. A towering figure in the fields of astronomy, optics, mechanics, and mathematics, many of his innovations in methodology, optics and timekeeping remain in use to this day. Among his many achievements, he developed the theory of light travelling as a wave, invented the mechanism for the pendulum clock, and discovered the rings of Saturn – via a telescope that he had also invented.

Book cover of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

Chronicling the early days of the Dutch presence in Manhattan, New York, the book is full of rich stories from the earliest days of the colony; encounters with wildlife, Indians, and other Europeans. I have read this book three times, captivated by the multi-ethnic beginnings of New York, a characteristic that defines the city even today. Tidbits like how facets of the Dutch language have been incorporated into English, such as the words “boss,” “cole slaw,” and “cookie.” The orange colour in the New York Mets uniform is an homage to Dutch heritage. What if the Dutch had been able to repel the British invaders? Would we all be speaking Dutch? Don’t wooden shoes cause blisters? But take off those shoes, put your feet up and read, an excellent read.

The Island at the Center of the World

By Russell Shorto,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Island at the Center of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a riveting, groundbreaking narrative, Russell Shorto tells the story of New Netherland, the Dutch colony which pre-dated the Pilgrims and established ideals of tolerance and individual rights that shaped American history. 

"Astonishing . . . A book that will permanently alter the way we regard our collective past." --The New York Times

When the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the truth about its thriving, polyglot society began to disappear into myths about an island purchased for 24 dollars and a cartoonish peg-legged governor. But the story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was merely…


Who am I?

I have been fascinated by the concept of time travel since I was a kid wishing to return to simpler times; the days before computers, huge metropolises, and before people protested everything. Some of these books achieve that, others do not claim to. I have no expertise in the science of time travel; no one does. While “time travel” is real (check out “time dilation”), to travel through time as writers like me profess is impossible. Or maybe it’s possible, given an opportune gravitational wave... Enjoy my recommended books! You’re in for a treat.


I wrote...

Ticking: The Hawking Sequence

By Craig Vann,

Book cover of Ticking: The Hawking Sequence

What is my book about?

The Hawking Sequence continues the time travel adventures of Skypilot and Zachary after their historic inaugural mission to England in the year 1766 in Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers.

Sky’s Aunt Beatrice developed time travel. Now, she reveals to her friend and colleague, Alim, that she has sent two people back in time and that a young woman, Helena Harrison, was brought to Fraserdale from 1766. The story unfolds at the theme wedding of Sky and Helena, two young lovers who traversed through time to be together. Invited to witness their vows is family friend Sam Richter, a CSIS agent, who is not in town just for the wedding; he has been directed to investigate the work of the scientist, Beatrice Westover. What wonders will they see? What characters will they meet? 

Book cover of France and England in North America

When the deities dedicated to the history of the French and Indian War got together to recommend their own list of the best books on the war that made America, they made Francis Parkman’s multi-volume work required reading. And the good news is that even if they had not, it is worth diving into headfirst.

The French and Indian War is often overshadowed by the American and then French Revolutions that followed on its heels. Yet, neither of them would have ever happened without the completely lopsided British victory in the first. Parkman, writing in the Nineteenth Century, was among the first scholars to shed light on the immense impact wrought by the fight for control over North America in the 1750s. His work is massive as it digs into the very origins of both countries’ humble beginnings and rapid growth in the New World. But fear not! If his…

France and England in North America

By Francis Parkman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked France and England in North America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Library of America volume, along with its companion, presents, for the first time in compact form, all seven titles of Francis Parkman’s monumental account of France and England’s imperial struggle for dominance on the North American continent. Deservedly compared as a literary achievement to Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Parkman’s accomplishment is hardly less awesome than the explorations and adventures he so vividly describes.

Pioneers of France in the New World (1865) begins with the early and tragic settlement of the French Huguenots in Florida, then shifts to the northern reaches of the continent and…


Who am I?

Jason has written over twenty historical novels on topics ranging from the Roman Empire to the Islamic invasion of Spain and to the spread of the Viking Age into North America. His latest series, The Long Fuse, follows a young man as he navigates the deadly conflicts of the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War in Eighteenth-Century America.


I wrote...

Quaker's War

By Jason Born,

Book cover of Quaker's War

What is my book about?

Quaker’s War is the first thrilling episode of Jason Born’s latest series, The Long Fuse, which pits the fate of empire against the hearts of men. He breathes fresh life into familiar characters while introducing a host of new actors, both dear and detested.

Black Flags, Blue Waters

By Eric Jay Dolin,

Book cover of Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates

I am a sucker for a good non-fiction book, especially if it features pirates. Ever since childhood, growing up in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan, the water called to me, and learning about real-life pirates and the history kept me reading late into the night. Black Flags, Blue Waters is the epic history of America’s most notorious pirates and it tells riveting tales that are almost unbelievable. While non-fiction, the stories are so enthralling, it almost reads like they can’t possibly be true.  

Black Flags, Blue Waters

By Eric Jay Dolin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Flags, Blue Waters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the surprising history of American piracy's "Golden Age" - spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s - when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. "Deftly blending scholarship and drama" (Richard Zacks), best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them. Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them the…


Who am I?

I’m a criminal defense attorney, mom, and wife who grew up along Lake Michigan in Wisconsin and lived there for 35 years, staring out at the vast water of the “Inland Seas” aka The Great Lakes. Intrigued by pirates, the criminals of the water, and the stories of pirates roaming the lakes, when I began writing fiction, I absolutely had to write a modern pirate series set in the area where I grew up. I’ve read dozens and dozens of historical non-fiction books about pirates, watched all the classic films and shows about them, and have read pirate romances my entire life, so writing my own was the next logical step.


I wrote...

Squall Line

By Gwyn McNamee,

Book cover of Squall Line

What is my book about?

Warwick “War” Pike is the captain and leader of a crew of modern pirates who operate on the Great Lakes and work for the Italian mob in Chicago. War doesn’t have rules for his crew—lie, maim, steal, do whatever it takes. Except take hostages. When the crew tries to take a cargo vessel on Lake Michigan, he ends up on the wrong end of a shotgun held by the beautiful and feisty redheaded captain—Grace Albright. When War realizes Grace has alerted the Coast Guard, he’s forced to take her with them. Now that Grace is deep in their lair, she’s starting to realize all is not as it appears. Warwick isn’t just a barbaric criminal; there’s something more underneath the surface. Now, her life isn’t the only thing in danger. So is her heart.

Founding Mothers

By Cokie Roberts,

Book cover of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

I love reading about women from the past who asserted themselves in a world where there was little was expected from them besides obedience to the men in their lives. Founding Mothers is a story of influential women prior to and after the American Revolution, with many quotes from personal correspondence, from Abigail Adams to Martha Washington. Not only do we read of the activities in which they participated, including births and deaths of their own children, but the emotions that kept them company as well. Touching on the lives of those less renowned as well, Founding Mothers is a springboard for deeper research into the lives of women living in young America. 

Founding Mothers

By Cokie Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Cokie Roberts comes New York Times bestseller Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families—and their country—proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.

While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. #1 New York Times bestselling author Cokie Roberts brings us…


Who am I?

Ever since I started reading the Little House series at the age of ten, I’ve been in love with women’s history. In college I had the opportunity to write a paper on the topic of my choice and I chose women of the American colonial period. I found that while our daily life is now very different, our feelings as women are much the same. The more primary sources I discovered, the more I could feel the fears, sorrows, and joys of the determined women who came before us, unwittingly creating records of their experiences in their correspondence and journals as they built homes and businesses from the raw, wild land.


I wrote...

Jessie's Passion

By Ida Flowers,

Book cover of Jessie's Passion

What is my book about?

My book is about a passionate girl who grows from a headstrong child into a woman against the backdrop of pre-Revolutionary South Carolina. Having been spoiled by everyone around her to believe that she can have whatever she wants, she’s determined to have Robbie and will do whatever she must to be with him. Robbie sees her as a tag-along pest of their childhood and is much more concerned with defending the backcountry against outlaws. As unrest builds in the colonies, Jessie learns that the world is bigger than youthful desire and that choices made impetuously are followed inevitably by consequences—some of which are irreparable.

Complete Writings

By Phillis Wheatley,

Book cover of Complete Writings

In 1761, the slave ship Phillis departed from Africa and headed toward America. Among the human cargo was a young girl. Judging by her missing incisors, she was seven or eight years old. Soon after the ship’s arrival in Boston, John and Susann Wheatley purchased the girl and named her after the ship that had delivered her to them. Mrs. Wheatley taught their servant to read and write and introduced her to classical and English literature, including revered poets. Around 1765, Phillis began writing poetry, and her first poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” published in 1767, when she was only about fourteen years old, rendered her the first black person in America to publish a poem. Carretta’s collection of Wheatley’s work includes a fascinating, thoroughly researched introduction.

Complete Writings

By Phillis Wheatley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The extraordinary writings of Phillis Wheatley, a slave girl turned published poet

In 1761, a young girl arrived in Boston on a slave ship, sold to the Wheatley family, and given the name Phillis Wheatley. Struck by Phillis' extraordinary precociousness, the Wheatleys provided her with an education that was unusual for a woman of the time and astonishing for a slave. After studying English and classical literature, geography, the Bible, and Latin, Phillis published her first poem in 1767 at the age of 14, winning much public attention and considerable fame. When Boston publishers who doubted its authenticity rejected an…


Who am I?

According to the eight generations of my family’s oral historians, I am a descendant of an enslaved cook and her enslaver, and half-brother, President James Madison. I am also a writer and a retired pediatrician. My essays, personal narrative, and commentaries have appeared in the Boston Herald, River Teeth, TIME, and the New York Times Magazine.


I wrote...

The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

By Bettye Kearse,

Book cover of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

What is my book about?

For more than 200 years, my family’s credo, “Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president,” has served as a source of inspiration and pride, but, for me, it resounds with the abuses of slavery, including the sexual violation of my five-greats-grandmother Mandy and her daughter Coreen. In this deeply personal memoir I reveal the obstacles, internal and external, I confronted while becoming my family’s oral historian, one determined to tell the whole story.

The Last American Puritan

By Michael G. Hall,

Book cover of The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather

Hall's biography of one of the most influential Puritans in colonial New England offers a rich reading experience. Mather had a finger in everything, and seeing New England through his eyes helps the reader make sense of the political and religious factions, doctrinal struggles, the relationship between lay people and ministers (always less conservative than their followers), and the sweetness and suffering inherent in family life.

The Last American Puritan

By Michael G. Hall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Powerful preacher, political negotiator for New England in the halls of Parliament, president of Harvard, father of Cotton Mather, Increase Mather was the epitome of the American Puritan. He was the most important spokesman of his generation for Congregationalism and became the last American Puritan of consequence as the seventeenth century ended. The story begins in 1639 when Mather was born in the Massachusetts village of Dorchester. He left home for Harvard College when he was twelve and at twenty-two began to stir the city of Boston from the pulpit of North Church. He had written four books by the…


Who am I?

Jenny Hale Pulsipher is a professor of history at Brigham Young University and the author of numerous articles and two award-winning books, Subjects unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest of Authority in Early New England and Swindler Sachem: The American Indian Who Sold His Birthright, Dropped Out of Harvard, and Conned the King of England.


I wrote...

Swindler Sachem: The American Indian Who Sold His Birthright, Dropped Out of Harvard, and Conned the King of England

By Jenny Hale Pulsipher,

Book cover of Swindler Sachem: The American Indian Who Sold His Birthright, Dropped Out of Harvard, and Conned the King of England

What is my book about?

Swindler Sachem tells the story of an ingenious and complicated 17th century Native American man--John Wompas. Wompas's life upends common wisdom about Native Americans in the colonial era. He was a Harvard-educated scholar who became a sailor; he called the Nipmuc village of Hassanamesit his home but spent his adult life living among the English of Boston and London; he cheated his kin by selling their lands, then bequeathed all of Hassanamesit to them in his will; he secured an audience with the king of England, who called him his "loyal subject," and he was denounced by Massachusetts officials, who threatened him with foreign slavery.

In Swindler Sachem, Pulsipher uses the life of John Wompas to examine Indian-English struggles over Native land and sovereignty during an era of political turmoil in the English empire and reveals how one remarkable man navigated those perilous waters for the benefit of himself and his people.

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