The most recommended historiography books

Who picked these books? Meet our 42 experts.

42 authors created a book list connected to historiography, and here are their favorite historiography books.
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Book cover of The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi

David Livingstone Smith Author Of On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It

From my list on inhumanity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been studying dehumanization, and its relationship to racism, genocide, slavery, and other atrocities, for more than a decade. I am the author of three books on dehumanization, one of which was awarded the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for non-fiction, an award that is reserved for books that make an outstanding contribution to understanding racism and human diversity. My work on dehumanization is widely covered in the national and international media, and I often give presentations at academic and non-academic venues, including one at the 2012 G20 economic summit where I spoke on dehumanization and mass violence.

David's book list on inhumanity

David Livingstone Smith Why did David love this book?

I recently described this book on social media as possibly the best book on National Socialism that I have ever read (and I’ve read quite a few). Chapoutot is a brilliant French historian, and in this book (which is a great follow-up to Coonz) he delves deeply into the Nazi mindset, focusing on the interlocking set of beliefs and values that made the extermination of the so-called inferior races not only possible but necessary. One of the unique features of this tour de force is Chapoutot’s description of how it was not just Hitler, Goebbels, and their ilk, but also distinguished German scholars and jurists, that shaped the genocidal Nazi agenda.

By Johann Chapoutot, Miranda Richmond Mouillot (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research

The scale and the depth of Nazi brutality seem to defy understanding. What could drive people to fight, kill, and destroy with such ruthless ambition? Observers and historians have offered countless explanations since the 1930s. According to Johann Chapoutot, we need to understand better how the Nazis explained it themselves. We need a clearer view, in particular, of how they were steeped in and spread the idea that history gave them no choice: it was either kill or die.

Chapoutot, one of France's leading historians, spent years immersing himself…


Book cover of Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

James M. Banner Jr. Author Of The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History Is Revisionist History

From my list on historians and how they think and write.

Why am I passionate about this?

An experienced historian who’s occupied both academic and public posts and written for popular as well as academic audiences, I’ve become absorbed by what’s behind the history so many of us read for all the reasons we read it: enlightenment, pleasure, and lessons about life in a fragile world. That’s taken me to write and teach about the professional lives of historians, about some fundamental realities of historical thought, and now about historians themselves: who they are, what they do, and why they do it. It’s often said that if you wish to understand books, know the people who write them. The books I’ve recommended help do that.

James' book list on historians and how they think and write

James M. Banner Jr. Why did James love this book?

This book is important, authoritative, and compelling because it demonstrates that a conservative historian can be comfortable with revisionist history. Kagan, a Yale historian noted as a leading academic traditionalist, terms Thucydides “the first revisionist historian” not because he was like today’s leftists but because he took issue with his pioneering predecessor, Herodotus. In his great history of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides threw down the gauntlet over which was the “best” and “right” way to do history. He thought its subjects should be politics, warfare, the relation between states, and—a surprise?—men. His views held the field for centuries. The Framers of the Constitution were its legatees. So were we until the late 20th century, when social and cultural subjects gained attention. This wonderful book shows why.

By Donald Kagan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A reconsideration of the first modern historian and his methods from a renowned scholar

The grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own time. In Thucydides, Donald Kagan, one of our foremost classics scholars, illuminates the great historian and his work both by examining him in the context of his time and by considering him as a revisionist historian.

Thucydides took a spectacular…


Book cover of Survivors of a Kind: Memoirs of the Western Front

Spencer Jones Author Of Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

From my list on the British Army in World War I.

Why am I passionate about this?

Spencer Jones is an award-winning historian who has written several critically acclaimed books about the British Army in the First World War. He teaches history at the University of Wolverhampton, serves as the Regimental Historian of the Royal Artillery, and is the President of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.

Spencer's book list on the British Army in World War I

Spencer Jones Why did Spencer love this book?

This is the kind of book that I wish I had written. In a series of individual essays, Brian Bond considers a variety of memoirs written by British participants of the Great War, detailing the author’s life and assessing the themes of their work. Some of the memoirs are familiar, such as Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, whereas others are long forgotten. The result is a fascinating book that reveals the sheer diversity of wartime experience and how the authors struggled to cope with it.

By Brian Bond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Survivors of a Kind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This original book shows that many memoirs of the Western Front are not only literary masterpieces but are also of great value to historians. Brian Bond examines a range of works in this neglected genre which demonstrate the remarkable variety of combat experiences and postwar reflections, ranging from poets like Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden striving to overcome traumas; to warriors or ‘Fire Eaters’ like Lord Reith and Alf Pollard who enjoyed the war; and two exceptionally brave Old Etonians, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan whose military distinction proved to be an asset in their political careers. He…


Book cover of The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present

Brett Bowden Author Of The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought

From my list on humankind’s place in history.

Why am I passionate about this?

The search for meaning in history is all part of the search for meaning in life. Whether archaeologists or historians, economists or physicists, they are not just looking for artefacts when digging in the dirt or scanning the skies, they are looking for evidence to piece together a bigger picture—meaning in the minutiae. I’m sceptical, but the philosophy of history remains a fascinating subject, which is why I’ve explored ideas about civilization, progress, and progressive history in a number of books and articles. My primary concern about teleological accounts of history is that they tend to deny people's agency, especially non-Western peoples.

Brett's book list on humankind’s place in history

Brett Bowden Why did Brett love this book?

It is difficult to settle on just five books; I include Iggers here because this book transcends its primary subject, German historiography. It offers an insight into some of the key thinkers that have helped to shape predominant and pervasive thinking about human progress and socio-political development. Thinkers such as Kant and Herder, Hegel and Schiller. It is important to have a good understanding of the foundations of a train of thought, and Iggers knows his subject matter well and astutely highlights the various strengths and weaknesses. 

By Georg G. Iggers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the first comprehensive critical examination in any language of the German national tradition of historiography. It analyzes the basic theoretical assumptions of the German historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and relates these assumptions to political thought and action.
The German national tradition of historiography had its beginnings in the reaction against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789. This historiography rejected the rationalistic theory of natural law as universally valid and held that all human values must be understood within the context of the historical flux. But it maintained at the same time the Lutheran…


Book cover of The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington

James M. Banner Jr. Author Of The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History Is Revisionist History

From my list on historians and how they think and write.

Why am I passionate about this?

An experienced historian who’s occupied both academic and public posts and written for popular as well as academic audiences, I’ve become absorbed by what’s behind the history so many of us read for all the reasons we read it: enlightenment, pleasure, and lessons about life in a fragile world. That’s taken me to write and teach about the professional lives of historians, about some fundamental realities of historical thought, and now about historians themselves: who they are, what they do, and why they do it. It’s often said that if you wish to understand books, know the people who write them. The books I’ve recommended help do that.

James' book list on historians and how they think and write

James M. Banner Jr. Why did James love this book?

This splendid book, by another teacher of mine, one of the most influential 20th-century historians of the United States, takes up the works of three similarly prominent early 20th-century historians: Charles A. Beard, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Vernon L. Parrington. Their books, too, make rewarding reading, even though time may have left their interpretations in the dust—Beard’s on the Constitution being, writes Hofstadter, an “imposing ruin.” Turner’s on the frontier and Parrington’s on American thought are also mostly ignored by historians today. So why bother with them? Because they can still be read for what they cover—the creation of a constitutional republic, how democracy came into being, and core American convictions. Hofstadter’s easy colloquial style is a delight. It’s critical, albeit sympathetic, American history at its best.

By Richard Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A detailed look at the ideas and contributions of the 3 major interpretive historians of the U.S. in the 20th century: Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles A. Beard and V. L. Parrington.


Book cover of The Liberty and Ormond Boys: Factional Riot in Eighteenth-Century Dublin

Chris Lawlor Author Of An Irish Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

From my list on lesser-known aspects of Irish history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Irish writer and historian. I always enjoyed history, even in school, and I went on to study it at Maynooth University, receiving a BA. I became a history teacher and eventually head of the history department in Méanscoil Iognáid Rís. I began writing local history articles for the Dunlavin arts festival and the parish magazine. I went back to university and got a first-class honours MA from Maynooth, before being awarded a PhD from DCU. I’ve won the Lord Walter Fitzgerald prize and the Irish Chiefs’ Prize, and my students were winners in the Decade of Centenaries competition. Now retired, I continue to write and lecture about history!

Chris' book list on lesser-known aspects of Irish history

Chris Lawlor Why did Chris love this book?

I chose this short book because it casts light on a hidden history—that of faction fighting. Contrary to widespread belief, factions were not confined to rural areas in Ireland, nor were they a wholly nineteenth-century phenomenon. Kelly’s book provides a detailed account of the development of factions in eighteenth-century Dublin, from the Kevan Bail to the Ormond and Liberty Boys (and other little-known factions), and vividly describes the periodic disorder associated with them as they tried to establish control in the city. Kelly also outlines how the city’s economic and demographic growth led to the social conditions which nurtured factionalism, and he traces changes in the nature of factionalism as the eighteenth century progressed. An enthralling read about a topic that has often gone under the historiographical radar!

By James Kelly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Compared with organised agrarian protest, factional disorder (rural and urban) in eighteenth-century Ireland has escaped close scrutiny. The Ormond and Liberty Boys have achieved a considerable measure of renown but the picture of them available to date is misleading and incomplete. The object of this study is to set the Liberty and Ormond Boys in their contemporary context. The conditions necessary to enable factions to develop and flourish in Dublin were in place by the 1720s, when the city was sufficiently developed physically and demographically to sustain the local and sectoral identities that faction required. Nonetheless, the growth of faction…


Book cover of In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War

Steven Casey Author Of The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan

From my list on understand WW2.

Why am I passionate about this?

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the LSE. A specialist in US foreign policy, he is the author of ten books, including Cautious Crusade, which explored American attitudes toward Nazi Germany during World War II; Selling the Korean War, which won both the Truman Book Award and the Neustadt Prize for best book in American Politics; and When Soldiers Fall which also won the Neustadt Prize. In 2017, he published War Beat, Europe: The American Media at War against Nazi Germany, which won the American Journalism Historians Association 2018 book of the year, the panel judging it “a landmark work.” 

Steven's book list on understand WW2

Steven Casey Why did Steven love this book?

“Another book on Churchill?” asks Reynolds on the first page. “Can there be anything new to say?” Yes, is the emphatic answer. Churchill’s magisterial memoir shaped how many readers came to understand World War II. In this equally magisterial book, Reynolds dissects how Churchill wrote his memoir, exploring how the politics of the post-war era were often as important in shaping Churchill’s judgments as the events of the war itself. Methodologically sophisticated and elegantly written.

By David Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Command of History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winston Churchill fought the World War II twice over-first as Prime Minister during the war, and then later as the war's premier historian. From 1948-54, he published six volumes of memoirs. They secured his reputation and shaped our understanding of the conflict to this day. Drawing on the drafts of Churchill's manuscript as well as his correspondence from the period, David Reynolds masterfully reveals Churchill the author. Reynolds shows how the memoirs were censored by the British government to conceal state secrets, and how Churchill himself censored them to avoid offending current world leaders. This book illuminates an unjustly neglected…


Book cover of Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic

Mark R. Cheathem Author Of The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson

From my list on early U.S. presidential campaigning.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of the U.S. presidency, I have long been fascinated by the ways in which aspirants for the White House energize and harness popular support for their candidacy. Tracing the development of electioneering practices from the early 1800s to today has been fascinating. Is there a connection between the hickory sprigs worn by Andrew Jackson’s supporters and the MAGA hats worn by Donald Trump’s supporters? Between the political rallies of William Henry Harrison and those of every modern presidential candidate? Between the derision leveled at politically active women in the 1830s and that directed at Sarah Palin and Hilary Rodham Clinton in the twenty-first century? You betcha!

Mark's book list on early U.S. presidential campaigning

Mark R. Cheathem Why did Mark love this book?

This collection set me on the road of thinking about how politics consisted of more than just voting and holding office. Essays by Nancy Isenberg (on Aaron Burr and sexual politics), Jeff Pasley (on Thomas Jefferson and blocks of cheese), Andrew Robertson (on electioneering rituals), and Rosemarie Zagarri (on women and political parties) have been particularly influential in shaping my thinking about the interaction between traditional politics and cultural politics.

By Jeffrey L. Pasley (editor), Andrew W. Robertson (editor), David Waldstreicher (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In pursuit of a more sophisticated and inclusive American history, the contributors to Beyond the Founders propose new directions for the study of the political history of the republic before 1830. In ways formal and informal, symbolic and tactile, this political world encompassed blacks, women, entrepreneurs, and Native Americans, as well as the Adamses, Jeffersons, and Jacksons, all struggling in their own ways to shape the new nation and express their ideas of American democracy. Taking inspiration from the new cultural and social histories, these political historians show that the early history of the United States was not just the…


Book cover of Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

John Wood Sweet Author Of The Sewing Girl's Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America

From my list on Revolutionary America focus on the lives of women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an American historian and former director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Program in Sexuality Studies—and former pizza maker, gas pumper, park ranger, and tour guide at the house in which Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. As a historian, I've spent my career trying to understand the lives of people in early American history who weren't well known at the time. In writing the Sewing Girl's Tale, which focuses on a survivor of a sexual assault, it was especially important to keep her at the center of the story. Ultimately, I wanted to know: What was life in the aftermath of the American Revolution like—not for some Founding Father—but for an ordinary young woman.

John's book list on Revolutionary America focus on the lives of women

John Wood Sweet Why did John love this book?

This book brings the format of a graphic novel to the subject of women's resistance during enslavement and the trans-Altantic slave trade—and the result is fresh and compelling. As a historian myself, I appreciated the interwtined narratives of Hall's own research quest as a historian following the documentary record—and her reconstruction of the extraordinary revolt of the women held captive in 1772 on the slave-ship Unity. Both the search for truth and the dramatic uprising are conveyed with great skill and emotional power. The account of the Unity revolt calls attention to what we know, how we know it, and what we don't know. But Hall refuses to stop there. Instead, carefully marking speculation as such, Hall offers a fascinating, well-informed, effort to imagine a fuller account of what might have actually happened. We are left with a powerful sense of why this history matters two and a half…

By Rebecca Hall, Hugo Martínez (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A must-read graphic history. . . an inspired and inspiring defence of heroic women whose struggles could be fuel for a more just future' Guardian

'Not only a riveting tale of Black women's leadership of slave revolts but an equally dramatic story of the engaged scholarship that enabled its discovery' Angela Y. Davis

Women warriors planned and led slave revolts on slave ships during the passage across the Atlantic. They fought their enslavers throughout the Americas. And then they were erased from history.

In Wake Rebecca Hall, a historian, a granddaughter of slaves, and a woman haunted by the legacy…


Book cover of Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe

Theodor Pelekanidis Author Of How to Write About the Holocaust: The Postmodern Theory of History in Praxis

From my list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian and author, passionate about how the past influences current ideas and perceptions. While reading for my Ph.D. in Historical Theory, I started to realise that it is not the past that influences us, but we that actually create it. The books in the list came up at different points in my life and research and made me think and rethink the concept of historical knowledge, how we acquire it, how we narrate it, and what we retain from it.

Theodor's book list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history

Theodor Pelekanidis Why did Theodor love this book?

It’s a tough nut to crack, but totally worth it when you finally read it.

Although I write historical texts myself, I hadn’t considered how these texts are structured and mediated by historians. H. White showed me and many others that writing a historical text does not differ in form from writing a literary one.

Through a thoroughly structured argument, the book is a trip in the history of historiography and a careful analysis of the most important people who formed the way we look at our past today. Definitely one of the most influential theoretical texts of the last century.

By Hayden V. White,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In White's view, beyond the surface level of the historical text, there is a deep structural, or latent, content that is generally poetic and specifically linguistic in nature. This deeper content - the metahistorical element - indicates what an "appropriate" historical explanation should be.