The most recommended books about historic sites

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to historic sites, and here are their favorite historic site books.
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What type of historic site book?


Elephant Complex

By John Gimlette,

Book cover of Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka

David Humphreys

From David's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Reader Writer Podcast host Board game fanatic Traveler

David's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did David love this book?

Maybe it’s true that the best travel writers can convince you to consider doing things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. This year alone, I have entertained ideas about piloting an aircraft over Africa (Beryl Markham) and driving the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina (Tim Cahill). 

Then there’s John Gimlette’s Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka. His combination of meticulous research, compelling story-telling, vivid description, and insightful interview made me want to walk through the tropical jungle, sleep in a tree house, meditate in a serene Buddhist temple, and savor scalding curry in Colombo.

Last year, I was a person who was only peripherally aware of Sri Lanka. And now, a mere 450 pages later, I’m a person who desperately wants to go.

By John Gimlette,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A gripping account of an under-reported island' Spectator, Book of the Year
'[A] brilliant new book about an island that has a geography from heaven and a history from hell' Daily Telegraph
'A brilliant work of travel, history and psychological insight . . . astute and sympathetic . . . very funny' Wall Street Journal
Everyone has wanted a piece of paradise
John Gimlette - winner of the Dolman Prize and the Shiva Naipaul Prize for Travel Writing - is the kind of traveller you'd want by your side. Whether hacking a centuries-old path through the jungle, interrogating the surviving…

The Pursuit of Art

By Martin Gayford,

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

Amy Dempsey Author Of Destination Art: Art Essentials

From the list on Destination Art.

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. 

Amy's book list on Destination Art

Why did Amy love this book?

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.

By Martin Gayford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bestselling author of Modernists & Mavericks Martin Gayford recounts some of the extraordinary journeys he has made in the name of art.

In the course of a career thinking and writing about art, Martin Gayford has travelled all over the world both to see works of art and to meet artists. Gayford's journeys, often to fairly inaccessible places, involve frustrations and complications, but also serendipitous encounters and outcomes, which he makes as much a part of the story as the final destination. Entertaining and informative, Gayford includes trips to see Brancusi's Endless Column in Romania, prehistoric cave art in France,…

The Silk Road

By Valerie Hansen,

Book cover of The Silk Road: A New History

R.I. Moore Author Of The War on Heresy

From the list on the real Middle Ages.

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.

R.I.'s book list on the real Middle Ages

Why did R.I. love this book?

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. 

By Valerie Hansen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Silk Road is as iconic in world history as the Colossus of Rhodes or the Suez Canal. But what was it, exactly? It conjures up a hazy image of a caravan of camels laden with silk on a dusty desert track, reaching from China to Rome. The reality was different-and far more interesting-as revealed in this new history.

In The Silk Road, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archeological finds that revolutionize our understanding of these trade routes. For centuries, key records remained hidden-sometimes deliberately buried by bureaucrats for safe keeping. But the sands of the Taklamakan Desert have revealed…

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

Holly Worton Author Of If Trees Could Talk: Life Lessons from the Wisdom of the Woods

From the list on nature connection.

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.

Holly's book list on nature connection

Why did Holly love this book?

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.

By Robert Twigger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking the Great North Line as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Twigger, poet and travel author, was in search of a new way up England when he stumbled across the Great North Line. From Christchurch on the South Coast to Old Sarum to Stonehenge, to Avebury, to Notgrove barrow, to Meon Hill in the midlands, to Thor's Cave, to Arbor Low stone circle, to Mam Tor, to Ilkley in Yorkshire and its three stone circles and the Swastika Stone, to several forts and camps in Northumberland to Lindisfarne (plus about thirty more sites en route). A single dead straight line following 1 degree 50 West up Britain. No other north-south…

Cool Gray City of Love

By Gary Kamiya,

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

Elizabeth Linhart Veneman Author Of Moon: Northern California

From the list on San Francisco’s idealism, power, grit, and beauty.

Who am I?

My early memories of San Francisco in the late 1970s are anything but glamorous. We lived in a crummy apartment down the street from the People’s Temple, and my preschool, in the always gray Sunset, served carob, not chocolate. Despite decamping for the greener pastures and white sands of Carmel-By-The-Sea, I was forever hooked by the gritty magic of San Francisco. I eventually returned to the city’s foggy Richmond District, where now I ruminate on past adventures, plot new ones, and write about the place I love. I'm the author of Moon Napa Sonoma, Moon California, and Moon Northern California, and my work has appeared in 7x7, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Alaska Magazine

Elizabeth's book list on San Francisco’s idealism, power, grit, and beauty

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

Cool Gray City of Love is a portrait, in the most classical sense, of San Francisco, and Kamiya is the journeyman traveling the cityscape to capture his subject’s soul. Each chapter centers on a point on San Francisco’s vast landscape, which blossoms into a tiny universe of place and history at Kamiya’s hand. He begins at the Farallon Islands, then jumps to The Tenderloin, then to Alcatraz, followed by Glen Canyon. While the journey can seem as incongruous as Bullitt’s race through San Francisco, it is as equally compelling, entertaining, and stunning. You’ll find yourself pulled along, promising to put the book down at the end of each chapter but unable to, falling in love with the city as you go. 

By Gary Kamiya,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cool Gray City of Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A kaleidoscopic homage both personal and historical . . . Kamiya’s symphony of San Francisco is a grand pleasure." ―New York Times Book Review

The bestselling love letter to one of the world's great cities, San Francisco, by a life-long Bay Area resident and co-founder of Salon.

Cool, Gray City of Love brings together an exuberant combination of personal history, deeply researched history, in-depth reporting, and lyrical prose to create an unparalleled portrait of San Francisco. Each of its 49 chapters explores a specific site or intersection in the city, from the mighty Golden Gate Bridge to the raunchy Tenderloin…

Lose Your Mother

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Book cover of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Susan K. Harris Author Of Mark Twain, the World, and Me: Following the Equator, Then and Now

From the list on blending memoir, travel, and history.

Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed books that introduce me to faraway places, cultural narratives, and the writers behind the stories. After retiring from college teaching, I decided to write one myself. I’m a Mark Twain scholar, so I followed Twain’s lecture tour through Australasia, India, and South Africa. One of my goals was to expose my research methods to my readers, and writing in the first person made that easy. What I hadn’t foreseen was how much the process would force me to confront my own past—exposing the radical differences between Mark Twain and Me. 

Susan's book list on blending memoir, travel, and history

Why did Susan love this book?

Lose Your Mother is the story of Hartman’s investigation into the African side of the slave trade, an effort to understand the past as prelude to the present. Heading to Ghana, from which thousands of captive Africans were shipped into slavery in the Americas, Hartman spends a year immersing herself in Ghanian life and culture, or at least as much of it as she can access as an American. What she learns is as much about herself as about history, and what we learn is about how people construe local histories in order to understand their own place in the world.

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman journeys along a slave route in Ghana, following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast. She retraces the history of the Atlantic slave trade from the fifteenth to the twentieth century and reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy.

There were no survivors of Hartman's lineage, nor far-flung relatives in Ghana of whom she had come in search. She traveled to Ghana in search of strangers. The most universal definition of the slave is a stranger—torn from kin and country. To lose your mother is to suffer the…

Shadowed Ground

By Kenneth E. Foote,

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

Harriet F. Senie Author Of Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents, and the Quest for National Unity

From the list on reconsidering memorials.

Who am I?

I have been writing books on public art and memorials since the early 1990s and served on some major public commissions that select memorials and/or determine the fate of problematic memorials. These markers in our public spaces define who we are as a culture at a certain point in time, even though interpretations of them may evolve. They are our link to our history, express our present day values, and send a message to the future about who we are and what we value and believe in.

Harriet's book list on reconsidering memorials

Why did Harriet love this book?

Given the alarming number of recent deaths by gun violence it is especially illuminating to consider the various ways sites of violence have been commemorated.

Ranging from total disappearance, to informative plaques, and major memorials, communities have reckoned with the aftermath in radically different ways.

I loved this book because it made me think about the content of site - or rather the content we attribute to the ground - where something shocking happened, be it a mass shooting or any other tragic event. 

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shadowed Ground explores how and why Americans have memorialized-or not-the sites of tragic and violent events spanning three centuries of history and every region of the country. For this revised edition, Kenneth Foote has written a new concluding chapter that looks at the evolving responses to recent acts of violence and terror, including the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine High School massacre, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Assassination Vacation

By Sarah Vowell,

Book cover of Assassination Vacation

Philip R. Stone Author Of 111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn't Miss

From the list on 'dark tourism’ and our difficult heritage.

Who am I?

I first turned to the ‘dark side’ of travel when a student of mine introduced me to ‘dark tourism’. Sadly the world is littered with places of tragedy where our misfortunes are exposed by dark tourism. As a social scientist, I have been writing about visiting our significant dead for over 20 years. I am fascinated as to why particular deaths are remembered, by whom, and how our dead are (re)presented within visitor economies. I have lectured and published extensively within academia, as well as being a media consultant. I continue to tell tales of our dead and how we attach cultural importance to certain kinds of death. 

Philip's book list on 'dark tourism’ and our difficult heritage

Why did Philip love this book?

With a healthy dose of gallows humour, Sarah Vowell explores glorious conundrums of American history, politics, and culture. As such, the book provoked me to appreciate how visiting sites of the significant dead has long been in the touristic imagination. The book takes you on a journey – part history lesson, part travelogue – through the black spots of American political violence. Through a bizarre road trip to places where American politicians met a bloody end, I found Vowell’s own thoughts on the American character both witty and quirky. I also love how she explodes myths and, consequently, exposes a profound level of hypocrisy in the quest for (American) political and cultural advantage.  

By Sarah Vowell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Transporting us from Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, Vowell has crafted a narrative that is much more than a historical travelogue - it is the disturbing and mesmerising story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including film, literature, and - the author's favourite - historical tourism. Skilfully belying the undercurrents of loss and violence that course through her journey, Vowell injects a range of lighter detours along the way, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult - and exactly how Lincoln's Republican Party became Bush's Republican Party. Assassination Vacation…

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

Teresa Iacobelli Author Of Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

From Teresa's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Reader

Teresa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Teresa love this book?

How the Word is Passed considers the ways in which America has depicted, struggled with, and ignored its history of slavery through public monuments, museums, and other sites of remembrance.

I work in the field of public history, and I found this book to be an insightful critique of the differences between history, nostalgia, and memory. In some ways, this book reads as a travelogue, as we follow the author through the United States and to Africa as he struggles to understand how his nation has reckoned with its past.

The book is personal while at the same time revealing historical truths in a journalistic way. This book has helped me in my own work in public history.

By Clint Smith,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked How the Word Is Passed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight.' Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks - those that are honest about the past and those that are not - which offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in…

Marked, Unmarked, Remembered

By Andrew Lichtenstein,

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

Edward T. Linenthal Author Of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

From the list on American battlefields.

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.

Edward's book list on American battlefields

Why did Edward love this book?

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.

By Andrew Lichtenstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Wounded Knee to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and from the Upper Big Branch mine disaster to the Trail of Tears, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered presents photographs of significant sites from US history, posing unsettling questions about the contested memory of traumatic episodes from the nation's past. Focusing especially on landscapes related to African American, Native American, and labor history, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered reveals new vistas of officially commemorated sites, sites that are neglected or obscured, and sites that serve as a gathering place for active rituals of organized memory.

These powerful photographs by award-winning photojournalist Andrew Lichtenstein are interspersed with…

Book cover of A History Lover's Guide to Denver

Lisa J. Shultz Author Of Essential Denver: Discovery and Exploration Guide

From the list on to explore Denver for newcomers or locals.

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. 

Lisa's book list on to explore Denver for newcomers or locals

Why did Lisa love this book?

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.

By Mark A. Barnhouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History Lover's Guide to Denver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Founded in an unlikely spot where dry prairies meet formidable mountains, Denver overcame its doubtful beginning to become the largest and most important city within a thousand miles. This tour of the Queen City of the Plains goes beyond travel guidebooks to explore its fascinating historical sites in detail. Tour the grand Victorian home where the unsinkable Molly Brown lived prior to her Titanic voyage. Visit the Brown Palace Hotel suite that President Dwight and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower used as the "Summer White House." Pay respects at the mountaintop grave of the greatest showman of the nineteenth century, Colonel…

Controversial Monuments and Memorials

By David B. Allison (editor),

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

Laura A. Macaluso Author Of Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

From the list on monuments in the era of controversies and removal.

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.

Laura's book list on monuments in the era of controversies and removal

Why did Laura love this book?

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.

By David B. Allison (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Out of the chaos and pain of Charlottesville, museum professionals, public historians, and community leaders must move quickly to face the challenges of competing historical memory, claims of heritage desecration and the ongoing scourge of racism. This book takes on the tough issues that communities across America---and analogous locales overseas---must face as white supremacy, political quagmires and visions of reconciliation with the past collide.

The events of summer of 2017 that culminated in Charlottesville are outgrowths of ongoing dialogues and disputes about controversial history that encompass numerous historical situations and touch every part of US history. Strategies for working effectively…

Book cover of Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries

Seth Mallios Author Of Cemeteries of San Diego

From the list on the reality of cemeteries across America.

Who am I?

I have inventoried hundreds of cemeteries and thousands of historic gravestones, my mentor (Jim Deetz) wrote the seminal study that brought the study of gravestones into archaeology, and I truly believe the words of former English Prime Minister William E. Gladstone, who said, “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

Seth's book list on the reality of cemeteries across America

Why did Seth love this book?

Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond’s Historic Cemeteries is two books in one. It is a traditional survey of a particular region’s graveyards that is rich in history and lore. But it also exposes historical racial inequities in the care of a city’s dead and sets the stage for current activism that is seeking to reclaim important sites of memorialization for the area’s disenfranchised population and its current descendants.

By Ryan K. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death and Rebirth in a Southern City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This exploration of Richmond's burial landscape over the past 300 years reveals in illuminating detail how racism and the color line have consistently shaped death, burial, and remembrance in this storied Southern capital.

Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, holds one of the most dramatic landscapes of death in the nation. Its burial grounds show the sweep of Southern history on an epic scale, from the earliest English encounters with the Powhatan at the falls of the James River through slavery, the Civil War, and the long reckoning that followed. And while the region's deathways and burial practices…