The best books about Massachusetts

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Massachusetts and why they recommend each book.

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Walden

By Henry David Thoreau,

Book cover of Walden: or, Life in the Woods

In 1845 Thoreau built a small cabin on land owned by his friend, the philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and conducted a two-year experiment in simple living. Walden is his account of this experiment. It's a hard book to summarize since, although quite short, it combines memoir, philosophical reflection, natural history, and social commentary. But it is beautifully written, and it has been an inspiration to countless readers who, like Thoreau, believe that we can deepen our experience of life by drawing closer to what is natural and elemental, reducing our dependency on things and, at least for a time, on other people. The book is required reading for anyone who delights in nature, is sympathetic to a philosophy of simple living, and who, like Thoreau, wishes "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

Walden

By Henry David Thoreau,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Henry David Thoreau is considered one of the leading figures in early American literature, and Walden is without doubt his most influential book.

Designed to appeal to the booklover, the Macmillan Collector's Library is a series of beautiful gift editions of much loved classic titles. Macmillan Collector's Library are books to love and treasure.

It recounts the author's experiences living in a small house in the woods around Walden Pond near Concord in Massachusetts. Thoreau constructed the house himself, with the help of a few friends, to see if he could live 'deliberately' - independently and apart from society. The…


Who am I?

I am a philosopher who is especially interested in relating philosophy to everyday life. So I like to ask–and try to answer– questions such as: Why is frugality considered a moral virtue? Are there times when rudeness is justified? What makes some kinds of work shameful? I earned my Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and am currently a Professor of Philosophy at Alfred University in Alfred, New York.


I wrote...

The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less

By Emrys Westacott,

Book cover of The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less

What is my book about?

From Socrates to Thoreau, most philosophers, moralists, and religious leaders have seen frugality as a virtue and have associated simple living with wisdom, integrity, and happiness. But why? And are they right? Is a taste for luxury fundamentally misguided? If one has the means to be a spendthrift, is it foolish or reprehensible to be extravagant?

In this book, Emrys Westacott examines why, for more than two millennia, so many philosophers and people with a reputation for wisdom have been advocating frugality and simple living as the key to the good life. He also looks at why most people have ignored them, but argues that, in a world facing an environmental crisis, it may finally be time to listen to the advocates of a simpler way of life.

Book cover of The Minutemen and Their World

This is a delightfully engaging book about Concord, Massachusetts, on the eve of the American Revolution. Robert Gross’ writing is a joy to read. It brings to life the ordinary townspeople who became revolutionaries. Gross shows how shifting demographics and social structures shaped the movement towards Independence. When the book first appeared it represented a fresh new approach to writing social history, and it justifiably won the Bancroft Prize.

The Minutemen and Their World

By Robert A. Gross,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Bancroft Prize

The Minutemen and Their World, first published in 1976, is reissued now in a twenty-fifth anniversary edition with a new Foreword by Alan Taylor and a new Afterword by the author.

On April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. The "shot heard round the world" catapulted this sleepy New England town into the midst of revolutionary fervor, and Concord went on to become the intellectual capital of the new republic. The town--future home to Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne--soon came to symbolize devotion to liberty, intellectual freedom, and…

Who am I?

I am an American historian and author of Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution and Without Precedent: Chief Justice Marshall and His Times. I teach constitutional law and history at the University of California Hastings Law School, where I am the Albert Abramson Professor. I have a new book on American history from the War of 1812 to the Civil War coming out in 2022.


I wrote...

Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times

By Joel Richard Paul,

Book cover of Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times

What is my book about?

No member of America’s Founding Generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and our republic than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. For the first half-century of the United States, Marshall was at the center of every important event. He was at Washington’s side at Valley Forge. He fought to ratify the Constitution and led the Federalists in Congress. As a diplomat and secretary of state, he defended American sovereignty against France and Britain, counseled President John Adams, and oversaw the completion of Washington, D.C. As the leading southern Federalist, he rivaled his cousin Thomas Jefferson in political influence. And as Chief Justice, he elevated the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of the federal government and breathed life into the Constitution.

This is the story of how a rough-cut frontiersman raised with little formal education rose to become one of the nation’s preeminent lawyers and leaders. With cunning, imagination, and grace, Marshall forged a stronger union and shaped the nation we have become.

Caleb's Crossing

By Geraldine Brooks,

Book cover of Caleb's Crossing

When Caleb’s Crossing came out I couldn’t wait to read it. Not only was it written by one of my favorite authors, it was inspired by a true story and set in the same place and time period as the novel I was working on. Brooks’ depiction of the love between a Puritan minister’s daughter and the son of a Wampanoag leader is fraught with tension as two very different cultures collide. The novel brings to life the forces driving the conflict through the characters of Bethia and Caleb as they struggle to navigate a perilous time and the looming prospect of war.

Caleb's Crossing

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Caleb's Crossing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha's vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. At age twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's father is a Calvinist minister who seeks to convert the native Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes a prize in the contest…

Who am I?

I write historical fiction set in New England and based on the lives of real people. My New England roots go back to the 1630s when my English ancestors first came to the region so I’m steeped in its traditions and literature. I love doing the research for my books, especially when my characters lead me in new directions. I spent ten years digging into the conflict between the Puritans and the indigenous Natives and in the process discovered a largely forgotten story that has long-lasting implications for our day.


I wrote...

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

By Amy Belding Brown,

Book cover of Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

What is my book about?

In the midst of King Philip’s War, Mary Rowlandson is captured and sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, where she becomes a pawn in the bloody struggle between English settlers and natives. As she battles cold, hunger, and exhaustion, she witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. She’s drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life and disturbed by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native.

All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she questions the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom she’s discovered among the Natives.

Of Plimoth Plantation

By Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Kenneth P. Minkema, Francis J. Bremer

Book cover of Of Plimoth Plantation

If you want to learn about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, the most essential source is Mayflower passenger and longtime governor William Bradford’s own history. Bradford explains the circumstances that led a portion of his congregation to transplant themselves to the New World, then goes year by year through the colony’s first three decades. His annals aren’t dry, though. Bradford also has a wicked sense of humor. If would-be colonists weren’t tough enough for what awaited them in New England, they should remain across the Atlantic “till at least they be mosquito proof.” You shouldn’t only read Bradford. He’s a partisan in this contentious history, after all. But you shouldn’t pass on one of the great works of seventeenth-century American non-fiction.

Of Plimoth Plantation

By Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Kenneth P. Minkema, Francis J. Bremer

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I write about the often contentious role of religion in U.S. history, from modern evangelicals to nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints to the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. In many history books these religious men and women function either as saints or sinners. Instead of resorting to caricatures, it’s worth taking the time to get to know people of the past in all the marvelous strangeness of their beliefs, practices, and habits. I am a professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


I wrote...

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

By John G. Turner,

Book cover of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

What is my book about?

In 1620, separatists from the Church of England set sail across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. Understanding themselves as spiritual pilgrims, they left to preserve their liberty to worship God in accordance with their understanding of the Bible.

There exists, however, an alternative, more dispiriting version of their story. In it, the Pilgrims are religious zealots who persecuted dissenters and decimated Native peoples through warfare and by stealing their land. The Pilgrims' definition of liberty was, in practice, very narrow. Drawing on original research using underutilized sources, John G. Turner moves beyond these familiar narratives in his sweeping and authoritative new history of Plymouth Colony. Instead of depicting the Pilgrims as otherworldly saints or extraordinary sinners, he tells how a variety of English settlers and Native peoples engaged in a contest for the meaning of American liberty.

One Small Candle

By Francis J. Bremer,

Book cover of One Small Candle: The Plymouth Puritans and the Beginning of English New England

Most people knows that the Pilgrims were religious, but most Americans today know very little about the beliefs and practices that animated the separatists who chose to leave England and the Dutch Republic and cross the ocean. Francis Bremer is the best possible guide to this essential part of the Pilgrim story. Bremer knows puritanism better than anyone, and he knows how to fit the Pilgrims into that larger framework. In One Small Candle (the title comes from William Bradford’s history), Bremer explains how the lay leadership of men and women was central to separatism and to the religious organization of the colony.

One Small Candle

By Francis J. Bremer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Four hundred years ago, a group of men and women who had challenged the religious establishment of early seventeenth-century England and struggled as refugees in the Netherlands risked everything to build a new community in America. The story of those who journeyed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower has been retold many times, but the faith and religious practices of these settlers has frequently been neglected or misunderstood.

In One Small Candle, Francis J. Bremer focuses on the role of religion in the settlement of the Plymouth Colony and how those values influenced political, intellectual, and cultural aspects of New…

Who am I?

I write about the often contentious role of religion in U.S. history, from modern evangelicals to nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints to the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. In many history books these religious men and women function either as saints or sinners. Instead of resorting to caricatures, it’s worth taking the time to get to know people of the past in all the marvelous strangeness of their beliefs, practices, and habits. I am a professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


I wrote...

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

By John G. Turner,

Book cover of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

What is my book about?

In 1620, separatists from the Church of England set sail across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. Understanding themselves as spiritual pilgrims, they left to preserve their liberty to worship God in accordance with their understanding of the Bible.

There exists, however, an alternative, more dispiriting version of their story. In it, the Pilgrims are religious zealots who persecuted dissenters and decimated Native peoples through warfare and by stealing their land. The Pilgrims' definition of liberty was, in practice, very narrow. Drawing on original research using underutilized sources, John G. Turner moves beyond these familiar narratives in his sweeping and authoritative new history of Plymouth Colony. Instead of depicting the Pilgrims as otherworldly saints or extraordinary sinners, he tells how a variety of English settlers and Native peoples engaged in a contest for the meaning of American liberty.

Knowledge is Power

By Richard D. Brown,

Book cover of Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865

The key obstacle to communication in the pre-modern age was distance: this was particularly the case in the transported communities of European settlers in distant continents, often sparsely settled and without the familiar settled infrastructure of roads and trade. In this landmark study, Richard Brown considers the case of colonial America and the early Republic through a series of well-chosen case studies. These reveals that Americans relied on a multi-media experience of newsgathering, where conversation, gossip, and neighbour networks competed with new media innovations. An instant classic full of insight.

Knowledge is Power

By Richard D. Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the leading scholars dealing with early communication history in America, Richard Brown discusses how information moved through eighteenth and nineteenth-century American society, principally through the expansion of the printed word and its change from the property of the learned and wealthy into a mass-audience market.

Who am I?

I started academic life as a historian of the Protestant Reformation, and gradually shifted to the history of communication, in the process creating a major online resource documenting publications from all over the world in the first two centuries of printing, the Universal Short Title Catalogue. After several works on books, news, and information culture I teamed up with another St Andrews colleague, Arthur der Weduwen, to enjoy the pleasures of co-authorship: this book, a history of libraries and book collecting, is our fourth collaboration.


I wrote...

The Library: A Fragile History

By Andrew Pettegree, Arthur der Weduwen,

Book cover of The Library: A Fragile History

What is my book about?

The Library charts the rich and varied history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. This is not a story of easy progress through the centuries, nor a lament for libraries lost. Instead, we show that a repeating cycle of creation and dispersal, decay and reconstruction, turns out to be the historical norm as collections that represented the values and interests of one generation fail to speak to the one that follows. We trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes that dictated the fate of libraries, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts: the private collector, who offered a sanctuary for books throughout history, is at the heart of the story.

The Times of Their Lives

By James Deetz, Patricia Scott Deetz,

Book cover of The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony

James Deetz was an American anthropologist and his wife, a cultural historian. Their book was the result of studying Plymouth Colony court transcripts, wills, probate listings, and rare firsthand accounts, and then combining the facts with archeological evidence from various sites in Plymouth. This book shows a reality of the Pilgrims and Pilgrim life very different from the straight-laced, nearly mythical images from the 18th and 19th centuries: an all too human group who wore bright clothing, drank, believed in witches, had premarital sex and adulterous affairs, and committed petty and serious crimes. This book is informative and eye-opening.

The Times of Their Lives

By James Deetz, Patricia Scott Deetz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Times of Their Lives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title sets out to debunk the longstanding ideas about the life of the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Colony. The authors describe the arrival of the English settlers, the early years of the settlement, and the myths which have developed since.

Who am I?

Growing up in Plymouth, MA, I was steeped in the history of the Pilgrims, eventually working as a tour guide at Plimoth-Patuxet.  After I retired as professor emerita from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wrote and published a series of mysteries. That experience and my New England background buoyed my confidence that I could write about a Pilgrim woman, keeping true to the history of the Plimoth Colony. The story of Mary Allerton Cushman’s life was the result. It was long-listed for the Devon and Cornwall International Novel Prize. 


I wrote...

The Last Pilgrim

By Noelle A. Granger,

Book cover of The Last Pilgrim

What is my book about?

Mary Allerton Cushman was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower. Her unusually long life and her relationships with important men – her father, Isaac Allerton and her husband, Thomas Cushman – gave her a front row seat to the history of the Plymouth Colony from its beginnings as the first permanent settlement in New England to it becoming part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. The Last Pilgrim begins from her father’s point of view but gradually assumes Mary’s voice, as the colony achieves a foothold in New England’s rocky soil. Hers is a story of survival - the daily, back-breaking work to ensure food on the table, the unsettled interactions with local native tribes, the dangers of wild animals, and the endless challenges of injury, disease and death.

Sex in Middlesex

By Roger Thompson,

Book cover of Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Well, the title was amusing. The rest of the book was fascinating, alarming, and totally surprising for an author who was researching the lives of Puritans in early New England. The public records, Puritan laws, along with Thompson’s analysis opened up a world of new information and removed every myth I’d heard about these staunchly religious people.

Sex in Middlesex

By Roger Thompson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Thompson analyzes the court records of 17th century Middlesex County, searching for such sexually related crimes as fornication, breach of promise, sexual deviancy, and adultery. His findings help shatter the traditional historical caricature of New England Puritans as patriarchal, dour wife-beaters and child-abusers, a myth eloquently created by Perry Miller and most recently reinforced by Lawrence Stone. In the court records Thompson discovers Puritans who exhibited 'tolerance, mutual regard, affection, and prudent common sense' within the context of a popular Puritan piety. A well-written social history that places Puritanism in a human rather than an intellectual framework, Sex in Middlesex…

Who am I?

After living in, while restoring, an old farmhouse built in the late 17th century or very early in the 18th, it was impossible for me not to want to know the history of the house and the people who lived there. Combine that with the stories my grandmother told me about our ancestor, the suspected witch Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton, and I felt destined to know her story. That led to many years of research and writing. At the moment I am writing another 17th century New England historical fiction. I love this period of history and so few write about it. 


I wrote...

My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

By Karen Vorbeck Williams,

Book cover of My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

What is my book about?

Based on the lives of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton, takes us back to 1630s Puritan settlements along the Connecticut River. Amid Puritan superstition and religious piety, Mary’s father struggles to feed his large family, while Sarah’s father is well off. They spend their married lives in the villages of Springfield and Northampton. Sarah marries a carpenter and Mary’s husband becomes one of the richest men in the territory. Sarah’s babies die and Mary’s thrive. Jealousy festers into a reason to hate and then to fear. Sarah believes Mary’s good fortune is an act of witchcraft.

This fictional account of a true story describes two lives in conflict--one cursed and one blessed.

Midsummer's Mayhem

By Rajani LaRocca,

Book cover of Midsummer's Mayhem

I just had to include this book in the list. Shakespeare reimagined for middle-grade and with Indian American cultural elements and cookies? Yes, please with sprinkles on top! It’s got a fun girl lead you to want to spend time with, along with magic and baking and alternate worlds. All the right ingredients for an entertaining and engaging adventure. I loved the entire sampling! Now, if I could only find my way to that bakery….

Midsummer's Mayhem

By Rajani LaRocca,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Midsummer's Mayhem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Kirkus Best Book of 2019!
An Indies Introduce Selection for 2019!
An Indie Next Pick for Summer 2019!

"A delectable treat for food and literary connoisseurs alike." Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

"What a wonderful, intriguing, and magical book. And wow, did it ever get my tastebuds going! Each time I picked it up, I felt the urge to head to my kitchen. . . . What I loved most was the smartness of it. It never once doubted its young readers." Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor- and National Book Award-Nominated author

"Midsummer's Mayhem is an enchantment of a novel, bursting…

Who am I?

I love books. All kinds of books. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends outside of books. It’s no wonder that as an adult reader/writer/editor/book coach, I still read widely and voraciously. I believe all stories are magical, but I’m especially drawn to books that contain emotionally engaging characters and fun magical elements. I’m also a huge fan of good KidLit and getting a chance to see and explore other cultures and worlds, both real and imagined. (I even co-host a podcast: Coaching KidLit.) So, I read a ton of magical stories and a lot of KidLit. That’s how I discovered the books on this recommended reading list. 


I wrote...

Lostuns Found

By Sharon Skinner,

Book cover of Lostuns Found

What is my book about?

Lostuns Found is a middle-grade steampunk adventure about scrappy street urchins who face down a band of rotten smugglers to save their fellow streeters.

In the smoke-covered, steam-powered city of Landings, the filthy streets of the lower city are rife with criminals. It’s a rough place where orphans and lost children known as streeters struggle to survive by banding together, forming rival crews. Gage dreams of earning passage to a better place while Wynd has a promise to keep. When their fellow streeters begin to disappear, Gage and Wynd must put aside their long-standing rivalry and work together to rescue their mates from a crew of ruthless, kidnapping smugglers. But can a pact made under pressure be trusted?

Plymouth Colony

By Eugene Aubrey Stratton,

Book cover of Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691

Former Historian General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Stratton writes a complete treatment of the history and genealogy of the Plymouth Colony. While the book contains verbatim transcriptions of important documents and an annotated bibliography, which are manna to the writer of historical fiction, it also has informative chapters on law and order, inheritance, morality and sex, everyday life and manners, freemen and servants, and the diaspora of Pilgrim families to other towns in the colony. Thus, along with other books listed here, the research done by the author helped me to create the real world of the Plymouth Colony and allowed me to reinforce the concept that the Pilgrims were not so different from their millions of descendants four centuries later.

Plymouth Colony

By Eugene Aubrey Stratton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the first truly complete treatment of the history and genealogy of Plymouth Colony. It includes a concise history of the colony, both chronologically and topically, and more than 300 biographical sketches of its inhabitants. Richly documented and illustrated with maps and photographs, the three-dimensional Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691 was written for historians and genealogists alike and provides and in-depth view of this important epoch in American history. The researcher will find the verbatim transcriptions of important contemporary documents in the eleven appendices invaluable, and the annotated bibliography clearly describes the abundance of primary and secondary…

Who am I?

Growing up in Plymouth, MA, I was steeped in the history of the Pilgrims, eventually working as a tour guide at Plimoth-Patuxet.  After I retired as professor emerita from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wrote and published a series of mysteries. That experience and my New England background buoyed my confidence that I could write about a Pilgrim woman, keeping true to the history of the Plimoth Colony. The story of Mary Allerton Cushman’s life was the result. It was long-listed for the Devon and Cornwall International Novel Prize. 


I wrote...

The Last Pilgrim

By Noelle A. Granger,

Book cover of The Last Pilgrim

What is my book about?

Mary Allerton Cushman was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower. Her unusually long life and her relationships with important men – her father, Isaac Allerton and her husband, Thomas Cushman – gave her a front row seat to the history of the Plymouth Colony from its beginnings as the first permanent settlement in New England to it becoming part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. The Last Pilgrim begins from her father’s point of view but gradually assumes Mary’s voice, as the colony achieves a foothold in New England’s rocky soil. Hers is a story of survival - the daily, back-breaking work to ensure food on the table, the unsettled interactions with local native tribes, the dangers of wild animals, and the endless challenges of injury, disease and death.

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