35 books directly related to historiography 📚

All 35 historiography books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

In Defense of History

By Richard J. Evans,

Book cover of In Defense of History

Why this book?

This book is a reflection on the nature of historical research and the perils of history in the postmodern age. An influential current in the study of history has abandoned the aspiration of getting close to the truth and accepts ideologically motivated accounts of the past as equally valuable narratives. The repercussions of the controversy on ‘post-truth’ reach far beyond the limits of the academic world and are ubiquitous in contemporary Western society. Richard J. Evans knows that from his own experience, having served as an expert witness in Irwing v Penguin Books and Lipstadt libel case, relating to Holocaust denial. The book offers a lucid analysis of the conflicting trends in the theory and practice of historical research. It links between the study of the past and the possibility of attaining certainty on present-day issues.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,

Book cover of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Why this book?

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States does exactly what the title says—it tells the history of the territory that became the United States from the perspective of various and different indigenous communities since before the arrival of Europeans. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz tackles a difficult task—writing about a wide array of people for an audience interested in learning a more expansive and inclusive account of the United States. In the process, she creates an expansive yet nuanced view of historical trends impacting indigenous peoples across North America, and therefore is a good starting point for understanding the topic.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

By James W. Loewen,

Book cover of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Why this book?

Loewen’s book, updated since its original publication, explodes some of the many myths and falsehoods contained in textbooks on American history. Whether stories of the first Thanksgiving or America and the Vietnam War, the book challenges interpretations presented as facts and facts that are contested. The result is an indispensable argument for trying to get the facts right when discussing American history.

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

By David Reynolds,

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

Why 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.

History in the Making

By J.H. Elliott,

Book cover of History in the Making

Why this book?

John Elliott is a world-class historian of Spain and its Empire, his reflections on how to write history without becoming immersed in jargon or obscure theories are beautifully woven into the story of how he himself learned the craft of writing clear, accessible, and original works of history, taking the reader from Cambridge to Franco’s Spain. This is a charming book with a valuable message.

A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet

By Natalie Zemon Davis,

Book cover of A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet

Why this book?

A Passion for History is a conversation between Natalie Zemon Davis, a prominent historian and an extraordinary woman, with Denis Crouzet, also a historian and a sharp observer. Above all, they discuss how to do research, write, and teach history. In addition, Natalie Zemon Davis shares her memories of being an ambitious Jewish girl in America of the 40s and her way to combine academic aspirations with family life, and her views on other subjects, such as politics, feminism, cinema, and freedom. This lively dialogue of two remarkable intellectuals is a thrilling read.

Survivors of a Kind: Memoirs of the Western Front

By Brian Bond,

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

Why 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.

World History and National Identity in China

By Xin Fan,

Book cover of World History and National Identity in China

Why this book?

Over the last twenty years, China has become one of the most powerful nation-states in the world, both economically and politically. Since 1949 it has been ruled by a Communist Party which is still claiming today that is pursuing socialism with a Chinese face. It unites a turbo-capitalism with a strong nationalism that seeks to bring the Chinese people behind the Communist Party. This book shows how alien nationalism is to many of China’s most distinguished intellectual traditions over the course of the twentieth century. Especially those historians working on non-Chinese topics have for a long time attempted to use their cross-cultural competencies to counter nationalist historical narratives.

The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

By Herwig Wolfram, Thomas Dunlap (translator),

Book cover of The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

Why this book?

Herwig Wolfram is the Grand Master of Germanic history. His mighty History of the Goths is a work cited perhaps more than any other by any author writing about this period, and its influence of study of Early Middle Ages is unparalleled. But History of the Goths is a heavy, dense, scholarly work, and not easy to find these days. The Roman Empire is a more popular synthesis, focusing not just on Goths, but on all Late Antiquity Germanic tribes – Franks, Burgundians, Saxons, and others – providing a rich view of the barbarians from the perspective of their Roman neighbours. 

Contesting the Origins of the First World War: An Historiographical Argument

By Troy R. E. Paddock,

Book cover of Contesting the Origins of the First World War: An Historiographical Argument

Why this book?

Paddock brings together the work of three revisionist historians, myself, McMeekin, and Schmidt, in one slim (136 pages) volume. In particular, Paddock gives access to Schmidt’s important work on French planning for those who do not read German. Paddock not only presents German, Russian, and French military planning, but correlates them. The result is a fundamentally new and convincing picture of pre-war military planning and diplomacy.

Lying about Hitler

By Richard J. Evans,

Book cover of Lying about Hitler

Why this book?

Another great hit in Evans’ long series of books about Nazism, this is a very particular one: Evans was invited to take part as an expert in a trial for defamation brought by a British historian, David Irving, long suspected of being a tad too friendly towards the Nazi regime. This 2002 book recounts the trial and focuses on Evans decisive role: he went through Irving’s voluminous, and meticulous, books, finding misleading interpretations favoring the Nazi view of controversial events in World War II and, very particularly, views minimizing the scale of the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it. This may be the ultimate book about detective work in the fight against misinformation.

The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington

By Richard Hofstadter,

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

Why 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.

Sherman's March in Myth and Memory

By Edward Caudill, Paul Ashdown,

Book cover of Sherman's March in Myth and Memory

Why this book?

The American Civil War would produce a number of legendary figures, but William Tecumseh Sherman has long interested me for the extreme reactions he continues to provoke. Northerners would view him as a heroic if ruthless conqueror, while Southerners attributed the Confederacy’s destruction and humiliation to this uncavalier “Yankee.”

Sherman’s March in Myth and History traces the mythmaking of Sherman by historians, poets, novelists, and filmmakers, but it also goes deeper in its exploration of how myths and memories about Sherman served to bolster present-day interests. The vilification of Sherman helped to boost the Old South aristocracy and the idea of the "Lost Cause," while northerners viewed Sherman’s march as positive evidence of a superior industrialism. Sherman himself attempted to shape his legacy through lectures and a memoir. Even so, his legacy remains deeply divisive even now, with the authors writing that “there is no conciliation in sight for the myth of the March.”

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

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

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

Why 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.

The Humanity of Thucydides

By Clifford Orwin,

Book cover of The Humanity of Thucydides

Why this book?

There is an equally strong tradition of reading Thucydides not as a historian, just interested in past events as an end in itself, but as a kind of political theorist who wanted to his work to be useful, as a guide to ‘the human thing’. Sometimes this produces incredibly crude readings of his work, such as the idea that Thucydides was a Realist who preached the power of the strong over the weak (actually those are ideas associated with people in his book), but there have been many powerful interpretations by political theorists who have deep knowledge of the text and relevant scholarship, and who can use this to explore contemporary issues of power, justice, and human motivation. I find Orwin’s account rich and thought-provoking, clearly the product of vast experience and deliberation.

The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi

By Johann Chapoutot, Miranda Richmond Mouillot (translator),

Book cover of The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi

Why 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.

Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

By Michel Biard, Marisa Linton,

Book cover of Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

Why this book?

Few studies of the French Revolution by French historians have been made available in English. This is a loss for non-French readers, for it is France’s own revolution after all. No one knows the subject in such formidable depth as do their best historians, and Michel Biard is indubitably one of the very best of his generation. While I myself collaborated in the writing of this book, my principal reason for recommending it here is that it makes Michel Biard’s work more widely available. This up-to-date book appeared in French in 2020, under the title, Terreur! La Révolution française face à ses démons. This study confronts the enigma of ‘the Terror’ head-on, comparing myth and reality. Be prepared for it to challenge many of the assumptions about the French revolutionary terror familiar from school, film, and literature. 

After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History

By Arthur C Danto,

Book cover of After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History

Why this book?

This book is an amazing combination of the philosophy of art, the philosophy of art history, and art criticism. The late Arthur Danto was not only a distinguished philosopher but also an award-winning art critic. In this book, Danto tracks the decline and fall of Modernism (which he describes as “the end of art”) and the advent of our present artistic moment which can be critically characterized as an era of post-historical pluralism. Danto, following GFW Hegel, proposes a partial definition of the artwork as an embodied meaning – thereby addressing the challenge to say what art is -- as it was posed by Clive Bell.

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

By Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

Book cover of Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Why this book?

Why are some stories remembered or silenced? How does power influence the production of history? Is the past really past, and what is history anyway? First published in 1995, this weaving of personal narrative with stories of slave rebellion, black Jacobins in the Haitian Revolution, and the ‘discovery’ of the Americas was an instant classic. There’s a reason so many teachers use this book in their courses – no other text tackles the questions of silence and sources in such an accessible and succinct way. It totally shaped my understanding of how history works and I’m pretty sure it’s the reason I’m an archivist. Thanks Michel-Rolph Trouillot! 

Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

By Donald Kagan,

Book cover of Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

Why 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.

The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past

By Douglas Hunter,

Book cover of The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past

Why this book?

Dighton Rock in Massachusetts is covered in incised images, some in geometric patterns, others in the shape of animals, and others still depicting human-like figures. It’s fascinating and, like many before me, when I saw it I wondered about the meaning and origin of that rock writing. As soon as European settlers encountered the artifact in the seventeenth century, they vigorously contested its origins. Some claimed the highly eroded markings reflected an assortment of Old World languages including Phoenician and Norse. Others asserted that its message recorded the presence of Portuguese explorers in the early 1500s. Author Douglas Hunter shines an investigative light on Dighton Rock, masterfully debunking all of these speculations, proving the rock’s messages should be credited to the Native People of New England.

King John (Mis)Remembered

By Igor Djordjevic,

Book cover of King John (Mis)Remembered

Why this book?

Like Nero, King John’s awful reputation has been subject to revision in recent years, though others insist that his “lechery and treachery,” not to mention his cruelty, still places him as England’s worst king. John’s image was rehabilitated in the sixteenth century, however, when the king, in Djordevic’s words, became a “virtual obsession” among writers, dramatists, and contemporary historians.  Shakespeare created a tragic John seeking to defend his crown from rival claimants, foreign invasion, and an intrusive pope, while Protestant writers displayed an even more favorable stance towards John, who had opposed an intrusive papacy. John-as-tyrant was a crowd-pleaser, however, which accounted for the production of plays and poems that continued the traditional portraits of the mad, bad king.   

Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 C.E.

By Jonathan J. Price,

Book cover of Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 C.E.

Why this book?

Based upon a stellar doctoral dissertation written at Princeton University Jonathan Price’s monograph about the first four years of the war of Jews against Romans is a treasure trove of information and insights about Jewish history, the various factions within Jewish society, and the tragic destruction of the Jewish Temple and a large part of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Sharp intelligence, learning, engagement, and balanced judgment can be found on every page of this impressive and readable book.

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

By Camilla Townsend,

Book cover of Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

Why this book?

Townsend recently published three books on Aztec history, all excellent, but I recommend Fifth Sun be read first, as the most accessible and important (followed by Malintzin’s Choices, and then Annals of Native America). It is important because—more than any other book—it treats the Aztecs as human beings to whom we can relate, not as exotic or strange beings. She writes that the Aztecs would not recognize themselves in the portrait of their world created in films and books; her efforts to reconstruct their culture and past in ways that would make sense to the Aztecs result in a history that is an absolute revelation.

Emperors and Biography

By Ronald Syme,

Book cover of Emperors and Biography

Why this book?

Ronald Syme was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, and probably the greatest Roman historian. This may seem like one for specialists only, unlike his classic Roman Revolution, but it’s got his distinctive style – florid and lapidary all at once – and is a master class in how to wring valuable information out of poor and deceptive sources.

Thucydides and the Shaping of History

By Emily Greenwood,

Book cover of Thucydides and the Shaping of History

Why this book?

Thucydides is generally seen to be a kind of historian; one of the two inventors of history in fifth-century BCE Greece (together with Herodotus) and, according to many of his modern admirers, someone who had anticipated the modern idea of history as critical and scientific. On the other hand, he never thought of himself as a historian, and many aspects of his work do not fit at all with our expectations. Emily Greenwood does an excellent job of exploring these issues from different perspectives: considering Thucydides in his original context and his relationship to different contemporary traditions of making sense of the world, and thinking about his relevance to the writing of history today.

The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

By Nicola Terrenato,

Book cover of The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

Why this book?

This book rewrites the story of how Roman imperialism got started. It is written by one of the best archaeologists in the field, and it shows. It is brilliantly illustrated, and it explains the world into which Rome emerged. Instead of the traditional story of virtuous Roman heroes and bold wars of conquest, it shows why other Italian peoples decided to join up with Rome. We get a sense of how other Italians saw things. And we understand how the ruling families, Roman and Italian alike, came together and built a state that would conquer the Mediterranean in all their interests. Revolutionary!

The Historian’s Craft

By Marc Bloch,

Book cover of The Historian’s Craft

Why this book?

Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft is the exact translation of the French title of this book, written in 1941-42 by Marc Bloch, a great historian who was executed in 1944 as a member of the French Resistance. In his testament, Marc Block wished two words to be incised on his tombstone: dilexit veritatem (‘he loved the truth). The book is about the technique of understanding the present by means of studying the past. The fact that Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft was written in the midst of the war explains the original title. The ultimate defense of history is that proper research allows comprehension of complex human situations, such as wars, therefore every detail of the historian’s craft is of profound importance.

Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization

By Michael Rothberg,

Book cover of Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization

Why this book?

Rothberg is not a historian but I love what he accomplished with this scholarly book. He examines film, literature, and paintings to suggest that our memories are multidirectional: meaning they often move in different directions at the same time. This allows him to place the holocaust side-by-side the colonial/decolonial project and produce a devastating story of how each fed upon the other. For example, he looks at moments in 1960s Paris that places Jewish survivors of Auschwitz in conversation with Algerian survivors of French concentration camps during the Algerian war to suggest their memories could work together to produce an honest remembrance of the past. I try to do something similar in my own book by illustrating how the war dead could link domestic and foreign places together in building an American Empire.   

A Pueblo Social History: Kinship, Sodality, and Community in the Northern Southwest

By John A. Ware,

Book cover of A Pueblo Social History: Kinship, Sodality, and Community in the Northern Southwest

Why this book?

This is a bit more of a technical archaeology book dealing with the ethnographic and archaeological Pueblo communities of the American Southwest. For those interested in secret societies, it deals extensively with the nature of Pueblo ritual organizations (sodalities) and deftly provides critiques of views that these were egalitarian communities and ritual organizations. In fact, he argues that some were among the most non-egalitarian societies in North America, beginning with the Chacoan culture about 1,000 years ago. Puebloan ritual organizations are prime examples of secret societies.

The Battle for the Catholic Past in Germany, 1945-1980

By Mark Edward Ruff,

Book cover of The Battle for the Catholic Past in Germany, 1945-1980

Why this book?

Ruff has produced a tour de force examination of the behind-the-scenes historiography of the Catholic Church in Nazi Germany. A deeply and richly researched study, it enables both specialists and non-specialists alike to comprehend the complex and tempestuous writing of the history of the Catholic Church’s choices during Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s years in power. In particular, Ruff delves into the storm over Rolf Hochhuth’s controversial play, The Deputy, to help us understand the current controversies over the choices of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust.  

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

By Rebecca Hall, Hugo Martínez (illustrator),

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

Why 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 centuries later. Vivid, unsettling, and compelling.  

Tracing Archaeology's Past: The Historiography of Archaeology

By Andrew L. Christenson (editor),

Book cover of Tracing Archaeology's Past: The Historiography of Archaeology

Why this book?

I was at the landmark conference in 1987 that legitimated critical analyses of archaeological work and the socio-cultural parameters in which it takes place. We were all surprised at the numbers, range of interests, range of professional standing of the participants, and enthusiasm––all reflected in the papers in this book.  Dipping into it startles with the diversity of persons and places and times affecting the history of archaeology. Feminist concerns were loud and clear and critiqued from a supportive standpoint. Pair this with Trigger's magisterial history to see how he distilled a multitude of disparate activities oriented to the past, into his deeply discerning long story.  

China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism

By Rana Mitter,

Book cover of China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism

Why this book?

I am disturbed by what is happening in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but it’s important to take a long and balanced view if we want to influence China. Chinese dynasties harbour long memories including the humiliation of the Opium Wars and the sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace by colonial powers and the atrocities committed by Japan in WW2 in China. If we start by empathising with this shared but forgotten history of China in WW2, maybe we can help swing the pendulum to one that respects the diversity that is needed in both East and West.

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

By Georg G. Iggers,

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

Why 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.