The best books about historic sites

7 authors have picked their favorite books about historic sites and why they recommend each book.

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Walking the Great North Line

By Robert Twigger,

Book cover of Walking the Great North Line: From Stonehenge to Lindisfarne to Discover the Mysteries of Our Ancient Past

Nature connection is also about having adventures in the outdoors. What better way to plan new outdoor adventures than to be inspired by someone else’s? This book follows the author on an unconventional new route through England.


Who am I?

Holly Worton is an author, podcaster, and speaker. She writes nonfiction books about her adventures to inspire people to get outdoors and reconnect with nature so they can reconnect with themselves. Holly enjoys spending time outdoors, walking and running long-distance trails, and exploring Britain's sacred sites. Travel is important to her: she's originally from California and now lives in England, but has also lived in Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. Holly is a member of the Druid order OBOD, and nature connection is an important part of her spirituality.


I wrote...

If Trees Could Talk: Life Lessons from the Wisdom of the Woods

By Holly Worton,

Book cover of If Trees Could Talk: Life Lessons from the Wisdom of the Woods

What is my book about?

Holly Worton has spent the last few years talking to trees – the birches, the oaks, the beeches, and the sycamores. You’re probably wondering: How is it that trees can talk? Is this for real?

Trees are living, breathing organisms which humans are able to connect and talk to on a deeper level through silent, telepathic communication. Trees have a much broader perspective on life compared to humans. Trees can live hundreds and even thousands of years. This means trees have thousands of years of wisdom that we’re able to tap into. This book is meant to gently encourage you to get back to Nature and turn to the magic and the wisdom of the trees. By reconnecting to Nature, you can improve your relationship with yourself, which will help you make better, more aligned choices in your life.

Controversial Monuments and Memorials

By David B. Allison (editor),

Book cover of Controversial Monuments and Memorials: A Guide for Community Leaders

Controversial Monuments and Memorials was published the year after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which saw whites rally around the monument to Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia campus. This event, and the murders of nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015, hastened public discord with symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy. Allison’s book was the first to step into the space where scholars, museum staff, and community activists came together to examine how monuments were used as tools for systemic racism as well as progressive social change. The book is a great resource for those looking to enter the conversation about controversies surrounding monuments and memorials in the United States.


Who am I?

Laura A. Macaluso researches and writes about monuments, museums, and material culture. Interested in monuments since the 1990s, the current controversies and iconoclasm (monument removals) have reshaped society across the globe. She works at the intersection of public art and public history, at places such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon.


I wrote...

Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

By Laura A. Macaluso,

Book cover of Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

What is my book about?

Monument Culture brings together a collection of essays from scholars and cultural critics working on the meanings of monuments and memorials in the second decade of the twenty-first century, a time of great social and political change. The book presents a broad view of the challenges facing individuals and society in making sense of public monuments with contested meanings.

From the United States to Europe to Africa to Australia and New Zealand to South America and beyond, the contributors tackle the ways in which different places approach monuments in a landscape where institutions and ideas are under direct challenge from political and social unrest. It also discusses sharply changed attitudes about the representation of history and memory in the public sphere.

Shadowed Ground

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Book cover of Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

Foote’s book engages the biographies of some battlefields, but I also list it because it goes beyond to include in his examination of the historic landscape sites of natural disasters, murder sites, and sites of terrorism. I find most helpful Foote’s categories: sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration. A marvelous, distinctive book.


Who am I?

I remember well my first visit to Gettysburg on a high school trip. I had trouble expressing what I felt until I read the words of a battlefield guide who said that he often sensed a “brooding omnipresence.” I have often felt such presences across the historic landscape in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am now Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, and former editor of the Journal Of American History. I have also written Preserving Memory: The Struggle To Create America’s Holocaust Museum; The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City In American Memory, and co-edited American Sacred Space; History Wars: The Enola Gay And Other Battles For The American Past; and Landscapes Of 9/11: A Photographer’s Journey.


I wrote...

Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

By Edward T. Linenthal,

Book cover of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

What is my book about?

This book is about processes of veneration, defilement, and redefinition at Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Little Bighorn, and Pearl Harbor. These “biographies” help us appreciate these sites as both ceremonial centers and civil spaces where Americans of various ideological persuasions come to struggle over the nature of heroism, the meaning of war, the significance of martial sacrifice, and the importance of preserving and expanding the patriotic landscape.

This second edition contains a 30-page epilogue that offers updated material—as of 1993--on each site, perhaps most significantly a detailed account of the 50th anniversary ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Marked, Unmarked, Remembered

By Andrew Lichtenstein,

Book cover of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

Photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and historian Alex Lichtenstein offer readers compelling visual expression of the instability of public memory. The authors ask who and what gets remembered and forgotten, and where and how? What is consigned to oblivion and why? What do such choices reveal about what national stories we prize and those we find uncomfortable, even indigestible? The powerful photographs suggest how volatile historic sites can be marked by absence as well as presence.


Who am I?

I remember well my first visit to Gettysburg on a high school trip. I had trouble expressing what I felt until I read the words of a battlefield guide who said that he often sensed a “brooding omnipresence.” I have often felt such presences across the historic landscape in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am now Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, and former editor of the Journal Of American History. I have also written Preserving Memory: The Struggle To Create America’s Holocaust Museum; The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City In American Memory, and co-edited American Sacred Space; History Wars: The Enola Gay And Other Battles For The American Past; and Landscapes Of 9/11: A Photographer’s Journey.


I wrote...

Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

By Edward T. Linenthal,

Book cover of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

What is my book about?

This book is about processes of veneration, defilement, and redefinition at Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Little Bighorn, and Pearl Harbor. These “biographies” help us appreciate these sites as both ceremonial centers and civil spaces where Americans of various ideological persuasions come to struggle over the nature of heroism, the meaning of war, the significance of martial sacrifice, and the importance of preserving and expanding the patriotic landscape.

This second edition contains a 30-page epilogue that offers updated material—as of 1993--on each site, perhaps most significantly a detailed account of the 50th anniversary ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Cool Gray City of Love

By Gary Kamiya,

Book cover of Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco

In this beautifully written book, you find yourself wandering the streets with the author as he comes upon the quirky and eccentric characters and locations that have charmed us all for generations. But you also meet the real people who do the real work that keep this city running, and he doesn’t shy away from visiting the parts of town that are mostly well off the beaten tourist (or local’s) path! There’s probably no other book about San Francisco that made me so glad to live here, but also felt so honest and true to the strange contradictions that define this place. Kamiya’s ongoing coverage of the city’s history via the online SF Chronicle has furthered his role as an indispensable chronicler of the city’s life, past and present.


Who am I?

I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was 20 in 1978. I helped launch Processed World in 1981, Critical Mass in 1992, and Shaping San Francisco in 1998. I’ve been co-directing and co-curating the archive at foundsf.org since 2009, and have been fully immersed for years in gathering and presenting local history online, on bike and walking tours, during Public Talks, and most recently on Bay Cruises. I have published three books of my own and edited or co-edited seven additional volumes, much of which covers local history. The more I’ve learned the more I’ve realized how little I know!


I wrote...

Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes and Radical Histories

By Chris Carlsson,

Book cover of Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes and Radical Histories

What is my book about?

In Hidden San Francisco Chris Carlsson peels back the layers of San Francisco’s history to reveal a storied past: behind old walls and gleaming glass facades lurk former industries, secret music and poetry venues, forgotten terrorist bombings, and much more. Carlsson delves into the Bay Area’s long prehistory as well, examining the region’s geography and the lives of its inhabitants before the 1849 Gold Rush changed everything, setting in motion the clash between capital and labor that shaped the modern city.

The definitive San Francisco ‘history from below’, Hidden San Francisco invites you to step out in the streets and use its self-guided walking and bike routes to immerse yourself in a history that is varied, contested, and still being written.

The Silk Road

By Valerie Hansen,

Book cover of The Silk Road: A New History

The Silk Road is a nineteenth-century invention, but the movements of people, things, and ideas in and through the immense and often terrifying space between modern Iran and China generated change in every sphere and engaged an astonishing variety of people. Valerie Hansen’s exploration of seven places along the imagined route and what has been found in them offers a lucid and lively introduction to a wider medieval world and how we know about it. 


Who am I?

I am a historian primarily of western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. My leading interest has shifted over many years from the people who were persecuted as heretics at that time to their persecutors, as it dawned on me that whereas scepticism about the teachings of the Roman (or any) church was easily understandable, the persecution of mostly rather humble people who presented no real threat to that Church or to wider society was not, and needed to be explained.


I wrote...

The War on Heresy

By R.I. Moore,

Book cover of The War on Heresy

What is my book about?

I wrote this book to understand why west Europeans acquired the habit of putting one another to death by burning in large numbers, which they continued to do until the eighteenth century. Such events were always surrounded by speculation and rumour-mongering, at the time and often for centuries afterward. It was necessary, therefore, to examine the sources with great care and strip away the accumulated crust of handed-down sensationalism and uncritically accepted conspiracy theories.

Much of this embedded error was a legacy of the sentimental medievalism of the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival, which evoked a never-never land of wandering knights, love-lorn ladies, and pious peasants, and in doing so reaffirmed that those centuries were not to be blamed for the grimy realities of the modern world.

A History Lover's Guide to Denver

By Mark A. Barnhouse,

Book cover of A History Lover's Guide to Denver

As the title indicates, history lovers will enjoy this book. I appreciated the short, easy-to-read entries. It was a well-written book with excellent photography. The author Mark Barnhouse is a Denver native and has published six history books on Denver. As a result of his experience, this book is of high-quality and polished.


Who am I?

A few years ago, I began rediscovering my hometown of Denver as I walked neighborhoods and revisited landmarks of the city that I had not seen since I was a kid. Essential Denver highlights the fabulous things the city offers from my perspective as a Denver native. I encourage readers to explore Denver, plan outings, and become involved in the community. I hope this Denver book list sparks more interest in landmarks, treasures, and the history of Denver to ensure the city’s future is strong and vital. 


I wrote...

Essential Denver: Discovery and Exploration Guide

By Lisa J. Shultz,

Book cover of Essential Denver: Discovery and Exploration Guide

What is my book about?

Perfect for newcomers and tourists to learn about the city. Great for those born in Denver and long-standing residents to rediscover and appreciate the rich history of the city. 

Written by a Denver native to be different from the usual guidebook. The author shares her unique view of her hometown to inspire exploration and appreciation of Denver's treasures. If you are looking for the standard template of most travel guides, this isn't it. If you are looking for fun facts, great lists, and plenty of ideas to plan your next outing, this book is a good choice. 2021 Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Awards: First Place Winner in Travel/Outdoors.

The Pursuit of Art

By Martin Gayford,

Book cover of The Pursuit of Art: Travels, Encounters and Revelations

Art critic Gayford’s engaging and entertaining essays recount his adventures over the years when meeting artists and visiting destination art sites around the world, such as Brancusi’s Endless Column in Romania and the Chinati Foundation in Texas. A great storyteller, his writing is both chatty and informative and the book is a pleasure to read.


Who am I?

I am an art historian and the author of various books about modern art, including Styles, Schools & Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art and three editions of Destination Art. I coined the phrase ‘Destination Art’ in order to discuss artworks in which location is an integral ingredient, as is the journey to find them. I had noticed projects like these happening all over the world, but often in a quiet way. They needed someone to shine the light on them – so I did! My goal is to educate, enthuse and excite – and to continue my mission of spreading the word about intriguing and inspiring art projects. 


I wrote...

Destination Art: Art Essentials

By Amy Dempsey,

Book cover of Destination Art: Art Essentials

What is my book about?

Fancy a tour of art and nature installations on the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily? A visit to Britain’s first quarry sculpture park where you can also learn to carve stone on-site?  How about sculpture and classical music on a working cattle ranch in Montana? Or a swim off the coast of Norway into an underwater sculpture park? These are but a few of the unique creative destinations you can find in Destination Art, whether you are an intrepid art explorer or an armchair traveller. 

The journey to the sites is often part of the thrill, with artworks to be found in deserts, forests, rivers, and seas, on farmland and mountains, and in ghost towns, nature reserves, former industrial sites, quarries, and monasteries. 

How the Word Is Passed

By Clint Smith,

Book cover of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

While David Blight helps us understand how a post Civil War reunion was built on a terribly incomplete and racially-biased foundation, Clint Smith’s beautifully written book probes the way various Americans, black and white, Northern and Southern, as well as some non-Americans, are currently reckoning with the slave past. In the book, we follow Smith, an African-American journalist and poet, on his travels to several historic sites, among them Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation in Virginia; the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana; a Confederate cemetery; and Gorée Island in Senegal. Along the way, we not only learn a lot about the history of these sites but also how individual Americans, many of them regular folk visiting these places, are grappling with the past and the present, and how to make sense of our nation’s long history of slavery.

Who am I?

Having grown up visiting lots of historic sites – and hearing my father sing old Civil War tunes (frequently off-key!) on long car trips – I gravitated pretty quickly to studying the Civil War, and its aftermath, when I was in college and then in graduate school. I was particularly interested in the way Americans experienced the Civil War after it was over: the sentimental novels they read; the romantic movies they watched; the reconstructed battlefields they visited. In my work as a professor at Boston University, I try to get students to think about the stories that do, and do not, get told about the Civil War and other events from the past. I suppose the question that always piqued my interest was why people might find the often wildly inaccurate versions of the past so appealing.


I wrote...

This War Ain't Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America

By Nina Silber,

Book cover of This War Ain't Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America

What is my book about?

Nina Silber deftly examines the often conflicting and politically contentious ways in which Americans remembered the Civil War era during the years of the Depression, the New Deal, and World War II. In doing so, she reveals how the debates and events of that earlier period resonated so profoundly with New Deal rhetoric about state power, emerging civil rights activism, labor organizing and trade unionism, and popular culture in wartime.

At the heart of this book is an examination of how historical memory offers people a means of understanding and defining themselves in the present. Silber reveals how, during a moment of enormous national turmoil, the events and personages of the Civil War provided a framework for reassessing national identity, class conflict, and racial and ethnic division. 

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