The most recommended modern history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 1,034 experts.

1,034 authors created a book list connected to modern history, and here are their favorite modern history books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of modern history book?


Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

TP Wood Author Of 77° North

From the list on stirring your heart and imagination.

Who am I?

It’s Saturday, 5 p.m. If you could peer back in time to the late ’60s, you’d find me plunked in front of our new colour RCA Victor, a Swanson TV dinner steaming before me, and the theme…da-da-DAAA-da-da-da-da-DAAAA, announcing my favourite show: Star Trek. I absorbed the logic of Mr. Spock, the passion of Dr. McCoy, and the fantastical world of Klingons, wormholes, and warp drives. Add to that a degree in history and English, and it set the stage for my passion to read and write in genres of science fiction and magical realism. I hope you find these books as stimulating and thought-provoking as I did.  

TP's book list on stirring your heart and imagination

Why did TP love this book?

Man’s Search for Meaning is a chronicle of twentieth-century evil, and how one man overcame it.

Viktor Frankl’s grisly ordeal in four Nazi death camps, and his capacity to survive their horrific conditions, is a mind-numbing account of our darkest period in history. This ninety-three-page narrative exposes an unparalleled genocide, and the power of the human spirit to transcend insurmountable odds.

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

36 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.

Outsourcing Empire

By Andrew Phillips, J.C. Sharman,

Book cover of Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

John Shovlin Author Of Trading with the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order

From the list on economics and geopolitics.

Who am I?

As a historian, I’ve always been fascinated by the mutual influence of power and economics. I’ve written about the political-economic origins of revolution, war, and the search for world peace. I believe that to understand the sweeping geopolitical transformations that have shaped recent centuries—imperialism, the world wars, decolonization, or the fall of the Soviet Union—we need to consider the deep pulse of economics. The books that really grab me open up the worldviews of people in the past, explain how they believed economics and geopolitics shaped one another, and show how these assumptions impelled their actions in the world.

John's book list on economics and geopolitics

Why did John love this book?

The “company-states” of the book’s title include the East India companies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their peers in other regions, like the Hudson’s Bay Company. These corporations enjoyed many of the powers of states: they hired troops, armed ships, waged war, and signed treaties with foreign rulers. Some came to govern empires. The authors explain how these hybrid geopolitical actors—part capitalist businesses, part polities—came to acquire a key role in global politics, and why they subsequently lost it. Modern multinationals can be geopolitical actors too, we imagine, but Phillips and Sharman show how different the capitalist order of the past was from the world we live in today.

By Andrew Phillips, J.C. Sharman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How chartered company-states spearheaded European expansion and helped create the world's first genuinely global order From Spanish conquistadors to British colonialists, the prevailing story of European empire-building has focused on the rival ambitions of competing states. But as Outsourcing Empires shows, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, company-states'not sovereign states'drove European expansion, building the world's first genuinely international system. Company-states were hybrid ventures: pioneering multinational trading firms run for profit, with founding charters that granted them sovereign powers of war, peace, and rule. Those like the English and Dutch East India Companies carved out corporate empires in Asia, while…

The Cold War's Killing Fields

By Paul Thomas Chamberlin,

Book cover of The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace

Jessica M. Chapman Author Of Remaking the World: Decolonization and the Cold War

From the list on the Cold War in the Third World.

Who am I?

At first glance, the Cold War in the Third World can seem like a mess of disjointed, misbegotten tragedies. My goal, though, is to understand the systemic conditions that not only link seemingly disparate cases together, but also help explain why they happened and what legacies they have left behind. The trick is to do that without privileging perspectives from the Global North, flattening historical complexities, and overlooking the unique nature of individual conflicts. This type of work, hard and imperfect as it may be, is essential to understanding the world we have inherited, and might just help us fix it. Making the effort makes me feel like a better human.

Jessica's book list on the Cold War in the Third World

Why did Jessica love this book?

Easy to read, but sometimes hard to swallow, Chamberlin’s global military history of the Cold War argues that a conflict once known as the “Long Peace” actually resulted in the slaughter of millions across the postcolonial world.

The Cold War’s Killing Fields forces readers to grapple with the violence unleashed on the Global South, bringing to life the experiences of those who suffered most.

By Paul Thomas Chamberlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cold War's Killing Fields as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant young historian offers a vital, comprehensive international military history of the Cold War in which he views the decade-long superpower struggles as one of the three great conflicts of the twentieth century alongside the two World Wars, and reveals how bloody the "Long Peace" actually was.

In this sweeping, deeply researched book, Paul Thomas Chamberlin boldly argues that the Cold War, long viewed as a mostly peaceful, if tense, diplomatic standoff between democracy and communism, was actually a part of a vast, deadly conflict that killed millions on battlegrounds across the postcolonial world. For half a century, as…

Book cover of Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960

Edward Berenson Author Of Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

From the list on the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans.

Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my career teaching and writing about French history. In the 1990s, it became belatedly clear to me and other French historians that France shouldn’t be understood purely as a European nation-state. It was an empire whose imperial ambitions encompassed North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Indochina, and India. By the twentieth century, and especially after 1945, large numbers of people from those colonial places had emigrated to mainland France, claiming to belong to that country and asserting the right to live there. Their presence produced a great deal of political strife, which I wanted to study by looking at France’s colonial past.

Edward's book list on the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans

Why did Edward love this book?

In this superb, prize-winning book, Cooper shows that despite France’s often gruesome treatment of its African colonies, its postwar leaders tried to make amends. After taking power in 1958, Charles de Gaulle gave each of France’s African territories three choices: 1) full departmental status within the French Republic (à la Martinique and Guadeloupe); 2) internal autonomy and democratic self-government in a newly dubbed French Community modeled on the British Commonwealth; 3) complete independence with a cutoff of all financial assistance. Every territory voted for option 2, except Guinea, which chose independence. Although the Community option ultimately fell apart, Cooper shows nonetheless that there was nothing inevitable about the devolution of France’s African empire into a series of independent nation-states.

By Frederick Cooper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Citizenship Between Empire and Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the French public debates its present diversity and its colonial past, few remember that between 1946 and 1960 the inhabitants of French colonies possessed the rights of French citizens. Moreover, they did not have to conform to the French civil code that regulated marriage and inheritance. One could, in principle, be a citizen and different too. Citizenship between Empire and Nation examines momentous changes in notions of citizenship, sovereignty, nation, state, and empire in a time of acute uncertainty about the future of a world that had earlier been divided into colonial empires. Frederick Cooper explains how African political…

The Thirty Years War

By C.V. Wedgwood,

Book cover of The Thirty Years War

Laurence W. Marvin Author Of The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1209–1218

From the list on premodern western warfare.

Who am I?

From my earliest memories I’ve always been interested in military history, and as a young man I served in the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine. As an ardent bibliophile, my home and office overflows with books. As a professor, for the past 25 years I’ve been fortunate enough to teach a broad survey on western military history, which gives me the opportunity to experiment with many books for my own and the students’ enjoyment. The books on this list are perennial favorites of the traditional-age undergraduates (18-22) I teach, but will appeal to any reader interested in premodern military history. 

Laurence's book list on premodern western warfare

Why did Laurence love this book?

Wedgewood published this in 1938, on the cusp of World War II.

In many ways the disaster that was the Thirty Years war provided an allegory of what was to come. Many authors have tackled this subject since Wedgewood wrote, some far more massive than her 500 pages, but there’s a reason this one remains in print. Wedgewood wrote an eminently readable narrative that is as delightful to read as its subject is dreadful. She excelled at what narrative should provide: a sense of development, how a huge event happens from beginning to end, all while keeping the reader’s attention. 

Wedgewood conveyed the nastiness, carnage, and utter craziness of the conflict in a dispassionate, easily understandable way.

By C.V. Wedgwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Thirty Years War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Europe in 1618 was riven between Protestants and Catholics, Bourbon and Hapsburg--as well as empires, kingdoms, and countless principalities. After angry Protestants tossed three representatives of the Holy Roman Empire out the window of the royal castle in Prague, world war spread from Bohemia with relentless abandon, drawing powers from Spain to Sweden into a nightmarish world of famine, disease, and seemingly unstoppable destruction.


By Colin Jones,

Book cover of Paris: The Biography of a City

Katrina Lawrence Author Of Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick

From the list on the history of Paris (and Parisians).

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with Paris since the age of five. For most of my life I’ve travelled there regularly and read every book on the subject I could find. After working as a beauty editor, I decided to try to make my passion my day job. That inspired me to write Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick, and launch a travel consultancy business, Paris for Dreamers. I work with like-minded lovers of Paris, who constantly yearn for the city’s beguiling beauty and fascinating history, and who are always planning their next trip—or visiting Paris virtually, through the pages of a book!

Katrina's book list on the history of Paris (and Parisians)

Why did Katrina love this book?

If you’re new to the history of Paris, this is an ideal book to start with. It’s a sweeping account of this fabled city’s story, from Roman times to the turn of the twenty-first century, but while lofty in aim it’s charmingly fun to read, the author being adept at packaging wide-ranging information into a fast-paced narrative. One neat feature is the way Jones highlights certain Parisians or Paris locations, giving them breakout sections that allow readers to delve deeper into the likes of Madame de Sévigné, Rose Bertin, and Josephine Baker. You realise that Paris is so much more than the sum of its stones. Yes, it’s about beautiful monuments, but just as much about the people who have breathed such life into Paris that their spirit lives on to this day.

By Colin Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones's masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes-on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance-that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has…

Alabama in Africa

By Angela Elisabeth Zimmerman,

Book cover of Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South

Marc-William Palen Author Of The 'Conspiracy' of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896

From the list on late-19th-century American capitalism and empire.

Who am I?

I am a historian based in England, raised in Texas. While undertaking a summertime spoken Latin course at the Vatican in 2001 I found myself in the midst of Italian protests against that year’s G8 summit in Genoa. The strength of the anti-globalization movement, and the violent response from the Carabinieri, sparked an early interest in the historical controversies surrounding globalization and US foreign policy. Ten years later, I had a PhD in History from the University of Texas at Austin and the first draft of what would become my book, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade

Marc-William's book list on late-19th-century American capitalism and empire

Why did Marc-William love this book?

Zimmerman’s groundbreaking book combines histories of labor, agriculture, and industry with histories of the German and American empires in Africa.

Black Americans like Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois are key players within this remarkable tale of how the Jim Crow South’s cotton industry and racial politics became a global export.

By Angela Elisabeth Zimmerman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1901, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, sent an expedition to the German colony of Togo in West Africa, with the purpose of transforming the region into a cotton economy similar to that of the post-Reconstruction American South. Alabama in Africa explores the politics of labor, sexuality, and race behind this endeavor, and the economic, political, and intellectual links connecting Germany, Africa, and the southern United States. The cross-fertilization of histories and practices led to the emergence of a global South, reproduced social inequities on both sides of the Atlantic, and pushed the American South and the…


By Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,

Book cover of Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth

David Hardiman Author Of Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas

From the list on Mahatma Gandhi and his life.

Who am I?

I have for over fifty years studied and written about the Indian nationalist movement, examining it from many different angles. I lived and worked for many years in India. I have throughout had an appreciative but often troubled relationship with Gandhi – admiring him for much of what he stood for, while finding it hard to accept many of his beliefs and actions. This will be apparent to anyone reading the books that I have written. Despite this, I have a deep respect for a man who was undoubtedly a towering figure in twentieth-century history.   

David's book list on Mahatma Gandhi and his life

Why did David love this book?

Gandhi wrote this book, his autobiography, between 1925 and 1929, when he was in his late fifties. It focuses on his formative years, showing how he forged his distinctive style of activism in South Africa and India. It is remarkable for its honesty, even when Gandhi had shameful memories to relate, as when he struck his wife, Kasturba, in anger.  His aim is to show how he changed himself in ways that would make such violent behavior on his part impossible. His ‘truth’ is that of nonviolence and he describes the experiments that he undertook in establishing his nonviolence at both a personal and political level. It is a compelling read that brings out brilliantly Gandhi’s style of thinking and his personality. It is in my opinion a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

By Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who was Gandhi? In the midst of resurging interest in the man who freed India, inspired the American Civil Rights Movement, and is revered, respected, and misunderstood all over the world, the time is proper to listen to Gandhi himself — in his own words, his own "confessions," his Autobiography.
Gandhi made scrupulous truth-telling a religion, and his Autobiography inevitably reminds one of other saints who have suffered and burned for their lapses. He gives a simply narrated account of his boyhood in Gujarat, marriage at age 13, legal studies in England, and a growing desire for purity and reform.…

The Age of Reform

By Richard Hofstadter,

Book cover of The Age of Reform

Benjamin M. Friedman Author Of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

From the list on economics, religion, and society.

Who am I?

I’m an economist, now in my fiftieth year as a professor at Harvard. While much of my work has focused on economic policy – questions like the effects of government budget deficits, guidelines for the conduct of U.S. monetary policy, and what actions to take in response to a banking or more general financial crisis – in recent years I’ve also addressed broader issues surrounding the connections between economics and society. Several years ago, in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, I examined the implications of our economy’s growth, or stagnation, for the social, political, and ultimately moral character of our society. My most recent book explores the connections between economic thinking and religious thinking.

Benjamin's book list on economics, religion, and society

Why did Benjamin love this book?

A classic book by one of our country’s most eminent historians, The Age of Reform traces the interplay between American politics and the clashing forces within American society from the time of Jefferson to the time of Franklin Roosevelt. In between, the great social movements – pro-and anti-slavery, populism, progressivism, the New Deal – all play out on a vast canvas. Religion is not the centerpiece of Hofstadter’s narrative, but it’s there throughout, sometimes on stage and at other times in the background. I’ve been recommending this book to my students for years.

By Richard Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and preeminent historian comes a landmark in American political thought that examines the passion for progress and reform during 1890 to 1940. 

The Age of Reform searches out the moral and emotional motives of the reformers the myths and dreams in which they believed, and the realities with which they had to compromise.

Book cover of How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Softcover

Esther K. Bowen Author Of Mind Games

From the list on government oppression and courageous resistance.

Who am I?

As a child, I read stories of courageous women and men who risked their lives for their faith, for their freedom, or for the freedom of others. Many of these stories were dark and brutal. History taught me that governments are capable of atrocities that defy understanding. Fiction stories led me to envision dark futures. But I do not enjoy stories that discourage or depress. Instead, I believe stories should display hope, faithfulness, and sacrifice. I admire the heroes of our history and I seek fiction that speaks these same truths. We need stories that inspire us to stand up, to speak out against injustice, no matter the consequences.

Esther's book list on government oppression and courageous resistance

Why did Esther love this book?

In this short, but incredibly powerful book, Andrews asks questions every citizen should consider. The reader is confronted with questions about truth, freedom, and the price of apathy. This book transformed my understanding of oppression and why people allow it. It is a call to think, to seek truth, and to hold government leaders accountable. It can be read in about twenty minutes.

By Andy Andrews,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Softcover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How do you get away with the murder of 11 million people? The answer is simple-and disturbing. You lie to them. Learn how you can become an informed, passionate citizen who demands honesty and integrity from your leaders in this updated and expanded edition of the original New York Times bestselling book.

In this updated and expanded nonpartisan New York Times bestselling book, Andy Andrews emphasizes that seeking and discerning the truth is of critical importance, and that believing lies is the most dangerous thing you can do. You'll be challenged to become a more careful student of the past,…