The best books about Pennsylvania

28 authors have picked their favorite books about Pennsylvania and why they recommend each book.

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The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

In Shaara’s telling we learn the intellectual and spiritual grounding by which men lead themselves to give “their last full measure.” If a book of brilliant conversations between a New England academic commanding officer and an uneducated Irish immigrant top sergeant does not explain the choice to you then you may never learn it.  

Perhaps it is most simply put in the title which comes from a conversation between the two men. The professor from Bowdoin College says simply, “Man is an angel.” To wit his British-trained top sergeant responds, “Colonel, darlin’, if man is an angel he is a killer angel.”

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Killer Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

When I was 22, I joined the USMC for the same reason Socrates drank the hemlock. And since being so directly and harshly confronted with my own mortality at such a young age, I’ve not been able to shake the question, what is worth dying for? I study it in myself and I study it in others. We all die; we all know we will. That is boring in its ubiquity. What is fascinating is any choice that a man or woman may make which will cause him or her to give into it one breath early.   


I wrote...

A Panther Crosses Over

By Sam Foster,

Book cover of A Panther Crosses Over

What is my book about?

Following the French and Indian War, white settlers pour over the Appalachians and down the Ohio River.  But native tribes of the Northwest Territory have long inhabited this land—and they are willing to fight to remain. Leading the Shawnee is Tecumseh—courageous, discerning, and capable of assembling fifty thousand warriors to rise together to chase the white settlers back east when he commands. How will warriors from Florida to Canada know when the command has come? For twenty years his answer has been the same: “I will stomp my foot.”

Against Tecumseh stands an equally talented, implacable, and gifted opponent, William Henry Harrison. The decades-long struggle between cultures, and men, comes to a dramatic head at the Battle of Tippecanoe, with history-shaping consequences. 

Meltdown

By Wilborn Hampton,

Book cover of Meltdown: A Race Against Nuclear Disaster at Three Mile Island: A Reporter's Story

While this is not a comprehensive history of the TMI accident and its aftermath—none exists––you can happily read this book and understand the seriousness of what happened. It is not encumbered with anti-nuclear ideology, like some of the books written immediately after the accident were. It has many photos, a glossary of nuclear terms, and an index. 

Meltdown

By Wilborn Hampton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It was 5 a.m. at the nuclear power plant on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. Suddenly an alarm shrieked. Something was going wrong inside the plant. Within minutes human error and technical failure triggered the worst nuclear power accident in the United States and within hours, the eyes of the world were on Three Mile Island. Wilborn Hampton transports the readers to this pivotal moment in American history, telling the hour-by-hour story of covering the nuclear accident as a U.P.I. (United Press International) reporter. His fascinating account will compel readers to consider one of the most…

Who am I?

David DeKok became interested in environmental disasters in his native Michigan in 1974, when PBB, a fire-retardant chemical, was accidentally mixed with animal feed, entered the food chain, and then most people in the state, probably including himself. As a journalist in Pennsylvania, he wrote extensively about the Centralia mine fire and the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and is the author of four books. He tends to write about small towns and small-town people in crisis.


Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire

By David DeKok,

Book cover of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire

A history of the underground fire in abandoned coal mines that destroyed Centralia, a small town in Pennsylvania, including how it started in 1962, why it is still burning today, and the existential struggle of the people of Centralia to force government to either deal with the fire beneath their feet or get them out of there. They won, but at the cost of their beloved town. Beginning in 1982, nearly a thousand residents were relocated to new homes at government expense. Their old homes were demolished, and little remains of Centralia today.

Braddock's Defeat

By David L. Preston,

Book cover of Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution

Every author, when writing nonfiction about a particular time period, always hopes that one day readers will read their book and will declare it the best book written on the subject. For me, Dr. Preston’s book was the “mic drop” about a certain disaster in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1755 that changed the life of a young George Washington and history altogether. His vast research on the battle inspired me to uncover every detail as I began my own journey in writing my first nonfiction book.

Braddock's Defeat

By David L. Preston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Braddock's Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On July 9, 1755, British regulars and American colonial troops under the command of General Edward Braddock, commander in chief of the British Army in North America, were attacked by French and Native American forces shortly after crossing the Monongahela River and while making their way to besiege Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley, a few miles from what is now Pittsburgh. The long line of red-coated troops struggled to maintain cohesion and discipline as Indian
warriors quickly outflanked them and used the dense cover of the woods to masterful and lethal effect. Within hours, a powerful British army was…

Who am I?

I grew up in western Pennsylvania where my dad loved history and always tried to stop at any battlefield or historic sign that happened to be within his field of vision. My mom was a passionate researcher of our family ancestry and I spent our childhood looking in cemeteries for specific names and gravestones. When I was ten years old, we joined a living history reenactment group that portrayed everyday life in the 1750s, and I was immediately hooked. I began researching about our group known as “Captain William Trent’s Company” and after almost thirty years of living and breathing summer weekends at 18th Century historic sites, the pages of Pittsburgh’s Lost Outpost: Captain Trent’s Fort came to life. I picked these five books because I want future readers to be transported like I was when I first read them.


I wrote...

Pittsburgh's Lost Outpost: Captain Trent's Fort

By Jason Cherry,

Book cover of Pittsburgh's Lost Outpost: Captain Trent's Fort

What is my book about?

As 1753 came to a close, European empires were set on a collision course for a triangular piece of land known as the Forks of the Ohio at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. The navigable waterways were valuable to the French to complete their control of the Ohio Valley as the British looked to create a center for their booming fur trade and westward expansion. Former soldier turned trader William Trent set out for the untamed wilderness to stake Britain's claim. He would build the first fort to form the humble beginnings of Pittsburgh and set the staging ground for the French and Indian War.

Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

By Paul A. W. Wallace,

Book cover of Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

This book is unique because it shows the reader how you can walk in the footsteps and travel like those trekking across Pennsylvania in the early 18th Century where there were no interstates or turnpikes, but instead, indigenous paths that influenced the roadways we know today. It also gave me a visual where I could experience firsthand what a traveler saw when he or she walked this route.

Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

By Paul A. W. Wallace,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I grew up in western Pennsylvania where my dad loved history and always tried to stop at any battlefield or historic sign that happened to be within his field of vision. My mom was a passionate researcher of our family ancestry and I spent our childhood looking in cemeteries for specific names and gravestones. When I was ten years old, we joined a living history reenactment group that portrayed everyday life in the 1750s, and I was immediately hooked. I began researching about our group known as “Captain William Trent’s Company” and after almost thirty years of living and breathing summer weekends at 18th Century historic sites, the pages of Pittsburgh’s Lost Outpost: Captain Trent’s Fort came to life. I picked these five books because I want future readers to be transported like I was when I first read them.


I wrote...

Pittsburgh's Lost Outpost: Captain Trent's Fort

By Jason Cherry,

Book cover of Pittsburgh's Lost Outpost: Captain Trent's Fort

What is my book about?

As 1753 came to a close, European empires were set on a collision course for a triangular piece of land known as the Forks of the Ohio at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. The navigable waterways were valuable to the French to complete their control of the Ohio Valley as the British looked to create a center for their booming fur trade and westward expansion. Former soldier turned trader William Trent set out for the untamed wilderness to stake Britain's claim. He would build the first fort to form the humble beginnings of Pittsburgh and set the staging ground for the French and Indian War.

The Secret Game

By Scott Ellsworth,

Book cover of The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph

Scott Ellsworth's account of a legendary game that took place between the Eagles of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and Duke University on Duke's campus in Durham, in 1944 (the Duke team comprised medical students but included several former college stars). John McClendon, a protege of the game's founder, John Naismith and coach of the Eagles is widely credited with having transformed the sport, refashioning a slow, stolid affair into a fast-paced, exhilarating game. In the process, he turned the Eagles in mid-century into a juggernaut in the Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a conference of Black colleges and universities. Jim Crow made it illegal for the Eagles to compete publicly against their intracity rivals, but both programs relished the prospect of playing one another, and a secret game was organized, widely considered the first integrated collegiate game to be played in the south. Ellsworth paints…

The Secret Game

By Scott Ellsworth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1943, at the North Carolina College for Negroes, Coach John McLendon was on the verge of changing basketball forever. His team was the highest-scoring team in America, and yet they faced danger whenever they traveled backcountry roads.

Across town, the best squad on Duke University's campus wasn't the Blue Devils, but an all-white team from the medical school. They were prepared to take on anyone -- until an audacious invitation arrived.

THE SECRET GAME is the story of a long-buried moment in the nation's sporting past. A riveting account of a barrier-shattering game, the evolution of modern basketball -…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

Crackpots

By Sara Pritchard,

Book cover of Crackpots

I laughed out loud reading Sara Pritchard’s Crackpots, the story of spunky Ruby Reese and her complicated coming-of-age. This book was a huge influence on the structure of my own novel. Pritchard plays with chronology and point of view in a way that made me think, wow, I didn’t know you could do that. And then, ooh, I want to do that. Lyrical, detailed, and hilarious, this ranks as one of my all-time faves.

Crackpots

By Sara Pritchard,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I fell in love with quirky, funny, female protagonists early in my reading life, starting with Ramona Quimby and her unique way of seeing the world. As a kid, I always felt different, you know? I was sensitive, shy, and observant, and I delighted in finding characters in books who also bucked up against what I thought of as typical. As a writer, I love writing interesting, unconventional women, and I love using humor to elevate my characters’ voices. I think humor is one of the best ways to establish voice and also, paradoxically, to navigate tragedy. I hope to write many more quirky, funny female characters in future books.


I wrote...

The Baddest Girl on the Planet

By Heather Frese,

Book cover of The Baddest Girl on the Planet

What is my book about?

Evie Austin, native of Hatteras Island, NC, and baddest girl on the planet, has not lived her life in a straight line. There have been several detours—career snafus, bad romantic choices, a loved but unplanned child—not to mention her ill-advised lifelong obsession with boxer Mike Tyson. This is the story of what the baddest girl on the planet must find in herself when a bag of pastries, a new lover, or a quick trip to Vegas won’t fix anything, and when something more than casual haplessness is required.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet is inventive, sharp, witty, and poignant. The Baddest Girl on the Planet is the most recent winner of the Lee Smith Novel Prize.

Rust Belt Boy

By Paul Hertneky,

Book cover of Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood

This was one of the first of many childhood and youth memoirs I read while writing my book. The author, Paul Hertneky, had a similar experience to mine in a larger immigrant-filled steel mill town, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It’s an entertaining story of how he almost became a permanent resident, working in the mill like his father, but finally escaped this industrially-polluted environment, as I did. My hometown also had many newly-arrived immigrants and, at one time, I was also thinking of following in my father’s footsteps. The big difference is that my hometown never became part of the rust belt, although its deep water wells had to be closed down. It grew in size and the chemical factory, which once produced DDT and Agent Orange, remains in place today, very close to houses, but with more environmental controls. Still, the parallels between our two stories are interesting. 

Rust Belt Boy

By Paul Hertneky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

These stories are specific to one legendary riverfront plateau and one boy's journey, but are emblematic of immigrant life and blue-collar aspirations during the heyday of American industry and its crash, foreshadowing one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history. Approximately six million baby boomers, like the narrator, fled the Rust Belt. Another six million remained and stories of their youth, struggles, and aspirations echo throughout this book. Pittsburgh alone attracts die-hard affinity with its scattered natives.

Who am I?

As a creative nonfiction writer, I’m interested in exploring how the environments of our early years shape us. I read many different childhood memoirs while writing my own. Many of us have stories worth telling if we dig into our memories and let our creative juices flow. But it helps to have had an antagonist. The chemical stinks and pressure to conform in my hometown provided that, allowing me to use the humorous theme of escape. Everyone has had challenges to overcome, rivals, opponents, supporters, and friends, and that is the stuff of good stories. The feedback I have received indicates that, as I hoped, my memoir strikes a chord with many.


I wrote...

Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth

By Neill McKee,

Book cover of Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth

What is my book about?

Kid on the Go! is Neill McKee’s third work of creative nonfiction. In this memoir, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, early adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-40s to the mid-60s, in the then industrially-polluted town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada—one of the centers of production for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog, and self-drawn illustrations are a study of how a young boy learned to play and work, fish and hunt, avoid dangers, deal with bullies, and to build or restore “escape” vehicles.

You will laugh out loud as the author recalls his exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of 1960s’ “rock & roll” culture. 

Washington's Crossing

By David Hackett Fischer,

Book cover of Washington's Crossing

A book that won the Pulitzer Prize for History will tend to be a good read, and Washington’s Crossing does not disappoint. David Hackett Fischer paints a picture of the forces and people involved, and the critical decisions that shaped the campaigns of 1776 to 1777. I leaned heavily on Washington’s Crossing when researching my novel Times That Try Men’s Souls. More importantly, Fischer’s chapter on the aftermath of the Battle of Princeton directly inspired my third book, A Nest of Hornets. Growing up in Central New Jersey I was oblivious to the drama that played out there in the winter of 1777. Thanks to Washington’s Crossing, I not only learned about the “Forage War,” but wrote my own award-winning book about it.

Washington's Crossing

By David Hackett Fischer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.

Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington-and many other Americans-refused to let the Revolution die. On Christmas night, as a howling nor'easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a…

Who am I?

While I grew up in New Jersey, the “Crossroads of the Revolution,” with a passion for history, I was ignorant to the amount of fighting that happened in my home state. My decision to write coincided with a renewed interest in the American Revolution: when I realized how many stories of the Revolution remained untold, the die was cast. My passion for history, love for soldiering, wartime experiences, and understanding of tactics and terrain came together to produce something special. Now I can often be found, map, compass, and notebook in hand, prowling a Revolutionary battlefield so I can better tell the story of those who were there.


I wrote...

A Nest of Hornets

By Robert Krenzel,

Book cover of A Nest of Hornets

What is my book about?

Winter, 1777. After the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, the British have withdrawn to a handful of overcrowded positions in Northeastern New Jersey. In order to feed their men and horses the British must venture into the countryside to seize supplies, but the Continental troops and Jersey Militia challenge every British foray. One British officer describes the experience of walking into an American ambush as stumbling into “a nest of hornets.” Gideon Hawke and Ruth Munroe find themselves in the middle of this fighting. Not only must they battle the British, but it appears someone in the American camp is feeding information to the enemy. Will they find the spy before his efforts cost Gideon and his men their lives?

The Light in the Forest

By Conrad Richter,

Book cover of The Light in the Forest

The Light in the Forest is a classic beloved by generations of school children and surely reigns as one of the first great Young Adult novels. I read it several times as a child in the 1960s and still recall scenes from the book, which tells the tale of young John Cameron Butler, who was captured at the age of four by the Lenni Lenape Indians and raised as the adopted son of a war chief. Eleven years later an angry and unwilling 15-year-old John is returned to his white family at the end of the French and Indian War. He longs to return to his Indian family, having forgotten the ways of white settlers.

This is the forerunner of many books about settlers captured by the Indians who are unwilling to return to white society, including the likes of News of the World and Flight of the Sparrow.…

The Light in the Forest

By Conrad Richter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Light in the Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautifully illustrated edition of a novel that has enthralled young American readers for generations. It is the story of John Cameron Butler-captured as a small child in a raid on the Pennsylvania frontier by the Indian tribe Lenni-Lenape. Adopted by the great warrior Cuyloga and renamed True Son, he has spent 11 years living and thinking of himself as fully Indian. But when the tribe signs a treaty that requires them to return their white captives, 15-year-old True Son is returned against his will to the family he had long forgotten, and to a life that he no longer…

Who am I?

I’ve written seven books, all along the theme of adventure in one way or another, but my best-known work is that of my novels of the Ojibwe Indians. As a child, I grew up on a farm where my dad discovered scores of arrowheads and artifacts while plowing the fields. This was a deep revelation for me as to the extent of Indian culture and how little we know of its people. In my books, Windigo Moon and The Wolf and The Willow, I try to bring the world of the 1500s and its Native peoples to life.


I wrote...

The Wolf and The Willow

By Robert Downes,

Book cover of The Wolf and The Willow

What is my book about?

The Wolf and The Willow is a novel of first contact between Native peoples and European explorers. Willow, a house slave of a Moroccan lord, is swept up in the 1528 expedition of conquistador Panfilo Narvaez to the New World. There, she meets Animi-Ma’lingan (He Who Outruns the Wolves), a young trader and storyteller who is on a mission to find a mysterious animal for the shamans of the Ojibwe people. Together, Willow and Wolf must outwit their captors on a journey up the Mississippi River through the heart of many thriving Indian civilizations.

The novel delves into the culture of the Ojibwe, Odawa, Mandan, Dakota Sioux, Caddo, and other tribes, culminating in a showdown at the great pyramid of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis.

Woods Runner

By Gary Paulsen,

Book cover of Woods Runner

What an exciting tale! I've done lots of research about life on the American frontier during the Revolutionary War, but Gary Paulsen provided information that was new to me about British attacks on small frontier villages and prison ships anchored in New York Harbor. I couldn't stop reading. The author alternated the fiction story with nonfiction segments providing further explanation. Rather than interrupt the reading, they enhanced it, elevating the excitement I felt as Samuel searched for his missing parents.

Woods Runner

By Gary Paulsen,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

As a child in New England, I climbed over stone walls wondering about the lives of those who built them. I devoured biographies and historical fiction, but I never imagined that I'd become a writer of such books for kids 8-14. First, I became a social studies teacher and, later, a librarian. I wanted my students to read about honorable characters striving to make the best of difficult but often little-known, historical situations. I demanded reliable details, a challenging conflict, and a resolution filled with hope for a better future. That is now my goal as a writer of children's books – and as a reader. These books meet those high standards. Enjoy! 


I wrote...

A Kidnapping In Kentucky 1776

By Elizabeth Raum,

Book cover of A Kidnapping In Kentucky 1776

What is my book about?

The Kentucky frontier was a beautiful place, but it was also a dangerous one. Jemima Boone and John Gass often heard wolves howling, bears growling, and snakes slithering through the tall grasses. There was no store, no school, no doctor at Fort Boonesborough. The settlers were on their own to deal with whatever threats arose. On a sunny summer day in July 1776, the crisis they faced was a kidnapping... based on a true event. 

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