748 books directly related to the United States 📚

All 748 United States books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of The American Home Front: 1941-1942

The American Home Front: 1941-1942

By Alistair Cooke

Why this book?

At the end of February 1942, British-born journalist Alistair Cooke set off upon a road trip across wartime America, to “see what the war had done to people.” His observations provide a series of fascinating snapshots of the home front in the early months of the war. Shortages of civilian goods showed up everywhere, from the West Virginia soda fountain with the forlorn sign over an orange-squeezer that read, “Regret. Out of Coca-Cola,” to Houston, where rubber and gas rationing led to overcrowding on city buses that threw whites and Blacks into unwonted jostling proximity.

On the West Coast, Cooke…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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Book cover of One Man's Meat

One Man's Meat

By E.B. White

Why this book?

No one wrote better than E. B. White, and no one captured the essence of daily life on the home front better than White in this collection of essays. “This is my country and my night,” he wrote from his farm in Maine, “this is the blacked-out ending to the day, the way they end a skit in a revue.” Yet White acknowledged that it was nearly impossible for him or anyone else to truly convey all the ways that the war was changing ordinary Americans. “You write something that sounds informative, throwing the words around in the usual manner,…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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Book cover of Watching The World: 1934-1944

Watching The World: 1934-1944

By Raymond Clapper

Why this book?

Largely forgotten today, Ray Clapper was perhaps the most highly respected American newspaper columnist and radio personality of the 1930s and 1940s. Especially adept at sketching the domestic political scene, Clapper restores the nation's wartime leaders to life for modern readers in this collection of excerpts from his columns. President Franklin Roosevelt was "always supremely self-confident, sometimes angry, eager to exchange gossip, quick to make a humorous dig at the expense of some opponent or critic, and especially of a stuffed shirt." By contrast, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, who ran against Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1944,…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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Book cover of State of the Nation

State of the Nation

By John Dos Passos

Why this book?

Reading Dos Passos’ account of his own travels across wartime America is a valuable corrective to the long-standing myth of a united home front, with civilians cheerfully sacrificing for the boys overseas. Instead, Dos Passos found rising rates of worker absenteeism in defense plants, management executives turning blind eyes to defects in airplanes in the name of profits, and lonely wives of defense workers living in makeshift housing going “trailerwacky” for lack of companionship. And when coal miners walked out on strike in 1943, imperiling war production, one miner explained to Dos Passos that “it’s the tough guys make themselves…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

By Liza Mundy

Why this book?

Mundy’s unputdownable book tells the story of the women behind some of the most significant code-breaking triumphs of the war. The work of women like Elizabeth Friedman – who got her start unpicking the codes of Prohibition-era liquor smugglers – was one of the war’s best-kept secrets.

From the list:

The best books about American code-breaking in World War II

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Book cover of Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

By Joseph T. Glatthaar

Why this book?

The decision to recruit Black soldiers made an enormous difference in the war and in politics. Black recruits to the U.S. Army equaled all the northern men lost in the first two years of fighting and proved themselves on many battlefields. Their sacrifice also made an irrefutable case for Black rights. Joseph Glatthaar’s book admirably tells the story of these soldiers and their white officers.

From the list:

The best books on politics and race in the Civil War era

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Book cover of A Stillness at Appomattox: The Army of the Potomac Trilogy

A Stillness at Appomattox: The Army of the Potomac Trilogy

By Bruce Catton

Why this book?

These are the first books I read on the American Civil War as an adult (thank you, History Book Club). Catton lets the reader march with the Army of the Potomac through the war in the east. You don’t just learn what happened, and why. You feel what it was like to be there. Catton never forgets the need to make history a good read as well as a way to transmit information. 

From the list:

The best books on leadership in the American Civil War

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

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Why this book?

Howard Ziinn’s work led to a proliferation of Peoples’ Histories, and none are as important as this telling of history from the perspective of America’s indigenous people. Dunbar-Ortiz refocuses attention to the lives of Native Americans and their centuries-long struggle against settler colonialism and manifest destiny. The book is part of a Revisioning History series that includes works on Queer History, Disability History, and Black Women’s History.

From the list:

The best books on the real history of America

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Book cover of Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe

Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe

By Victoria de Grazia

Why this book?

This is an outstanding work, full of surprise and insight informed by excellent research. As the author explores the wave of American ideas that broke across the European Continent in the early decades of the 20th Century, we gain a deep insight into the power and creativity of American thinking in those years. The Chain Store revolutionised commerce, becoming "a machine for selling"; mass consumerism was underpinned by new kinds of currency and credit: postal money orders, travelers' cheques, credit cards, and installment plans; advertizing corporations promoted branded goods, spreading Coca Cola, Kellog’s Corn Flakes and Campbell’s Soups around the…

From the list:

The best books about the United States Of America

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Book cover of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman

Why this book?

This fifth pick isn’t fiction. But like the best fiction, poetry can pierce through to the very essence. Although shaggy poet Whitman was the furthest thing from a soldier imaginable, he was deeply involved in the war effort nonetheless. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Whitman traveled to Virginia to find his wounded brother. He then chose to remain in Washington, DC, nursing wounded soldiers. Whitman’s war-time experiences gave rise to some of the finest poems in Leaves of Grass such as “The Wound-Dresser,” “Come Up from the Fields Father,” and “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim.”

From the list:

The best fiction books for experiencing the vivid reality of the Civil War

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Book cover of A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement

A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement

By Kent Blansett

Why this book?

One of Zinn’s great insights that still inspires readers today is that there are all these histories of struggle that do not get taught. Not even Zinn could explore all of them. In the last four decades, historians have uncovered amazing tales of struggle in the face of incredible oppression.

Today, even as we pay more attention to the history of American racism than ever before, we do not learn nearly enough about Native American history. What we do learn is often far in the past. But Native Americans continue to fight for their rights today. Blansett’s biography of Richard…

From the list:

The best books to read after Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States

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Book cover of Journey to the United States Of North America

Journey to the United States Of North America

By Lorenzo de Zavala, Wallace Woolsey

Why this book?

I had never heard of Lorenzo de Zavala until I started researching El Norte, and his story deserves to be much more widely known. He was born in Mexico when it was still under Spanish rule, and later became involved in Mexican independence. He also participated in the formation of the breakaway Republic of Texas (Tejas) in 1836, and he served as its first vice-president. Before that period of his life, however, he took a tour of the United States. He started in New Orleans in 1830, working his way north and east. This book describes that trip and his…

From the list:

The best books on the USA by Hispanic writers who everyone should know

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Book cover of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

By Colin Woodard

Why this book?

Some of our state lines were cultural borders. The Colony of Massachusetts was founded by and for Puritans; Maryland was created for Catholics; Pennsylvania for Quakers. That process continued after the Revolution, regardless of state (or later-to-become state) lines. Colin Woodard’s book explores the founding of such cultural regions and reveals how those not-on-the-map lines influence our differing views to this day.

From the list:

The best books on boundaries

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Book cover of Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States

Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States

By Charles C. Royce

Why this book?

This book is not so much one to read, being more of an atlas. And atlases are expensive. Except this one. It’s free! Published by the U.S. Government in 1899 but still available online, it’s an extraordinary collection of Native American borders that got changed...and changed...and changed. It is history in the raw, from back in that time. More importantly, it is history we all need to know, if we are to know who we are as a nation today.

From the list:

The best books on boundaries

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Book cover of March

March

By Geraldine Brooks

Why this book?

This book is not as well known, but the author, Geraldine Brooks, did an amazing job in describing the war. She took an interesting spin by writing a side story to the famous novel, Little Women. Interestingly, Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott, who served as a Union nurse during the Civil War.

From the list:

The best novels to gain perspective about the American Civil War

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Book cover of This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War

This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War

By Bruce Catton

Why this book?

I picked up this book while on a study course in the United States – I was based in Washington DC and intended to visit some of the nearby Civil War battlefields, and decided that I needed to know more about the conflict. It was perhaps the first American history book I had read, and immediately I was struck by the very different style of writing when compared with European works.

For a single-volume account of a terrible conflict that did so much to shape the United States, this is probably unmatched. The people involved, from those in high-level political…

From the list:

The best books that changed my view of history

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Book cover of Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding

Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding

By David C. Hendrickson

Why this book?

David Hendrickson recovers the paradoxical origins of our nation in the contentious diversity of citizens who identified with their state rather than as Americans, and who dreaded those of other states as potential enemies. To avoid the bloodbaths of European-style wars in America, the founders framed a union of states meant to provide a framework for mutual peace. But they also generated a recurrent political struggle between those who feared the Union as too strong, as potential tyrannical, and those who wished to perfect that Union as a true nation.

From the list:

The best books on the early United States

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Book cover of A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

By Amy S. Greenberg

Why this book?

Challenging heroic legends, Greenberg thoroughly reveals the horrors of a conflict that devastated a neighboring people struggling to sustain their own republic. To increase the United States by a third, President Polk provoked a war that outraged his leading generals and political critics as a betrayal of American principles. By the end of the conflict, Polk had alienated even his political allies and acquired a blood-stained territory that would trigger, a dozen years later, a Civil War that nearly destroyed the United States.    

From the list:

The best books on the early United States

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Book cover of Stikky Night Skies: Learn 6 Constellations, 4 Stars, A Planet, A Galaxy, And How To Navigate At Night

Stikky Night Skies: Learn 6 Constellations, 4 Stars, A Planet, A Galaxy, And How To Navigate At Night

By Laurence Holt

Why this book?

I've bought this book at least a half-dozen times, giving it as a gift to friends who have kids in middle school or who are interested in how principles of learning can be applied in clever ways. This book is elegant in concept and design, and is one of a series of books Holt wrote that use similar applications of the science of learning to teach readers a set of interesting facts in a way that is almost effortless and a lot of fun.

From the list:

The best books on the science of learning

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Book cover of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

By Adam Grant

Why this book?

Full disclosure that I sit on some company advisory boards along with Grant. However, long before that became a reality I was a huge Adam Grant fan. Both as a fellow professor and writer. In particular, Grant’s breakthrough book Give and Take. Grant reminds us that if you look at life as a dog-eat-dog world then you will remain a dog. This book reminds us of what we know intrinsically but we so often forget in our quest to get ahead. 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Give and…

From the list:

The best books for self improvement & staying focused

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Book cover of A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States

By Howard Zinn

Why this book?

This book details the history of the United States that you didn’t learn in school. You may think you know the history of the United States of America but do you really? I knew a lot but I didn't know this much. A truly eye opening account of the history of America.
From the list:

The best life-changing books I ever read

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Book cover of American Gothic Tales (William Abrahams)

American Gothic Tales (William Abrahams)

By Joyce Carol Oates

Why this book?

As the best introduction to the American Gothic chosen by one of the most prolific modern masters of the genre, this anthology spans two centuries. It offers insightful context and an engaging historical road map to the current site of the genre, the weird and wounded world of the suburbs.

Joyce Carol Oates, who has written some of the most chilling contemporary examples of American Gothic fiction, dissects the shadowy heritage of our national preoccupation with the macabre themes that haunt the American Dream. From Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville through James and Wharton to Anne Rice, Raymond Carver, Stephen King,…

From the list:

The best books on the American suburban gothic

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Book cover of Spheres of Influence: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality

Spheres of Influence: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality

By Douglas S. Massey, Stefanie Brodmann

Why this book?

In addition to neighborhoods, Americans also experience rampant inequalities across other social settings such as families, schools, and peer networks. These settings define the ecological context within which humans develop and each “sphere of influence” determines the development trajectories of people as the move from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. This book examines how each of these spheres affects human development at different stages of the life course among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian young people in the United States to produce the racial and class inequalities that characterize contemporary American society.

From the list:

The best books on how neighborhoods perpetuate inequality

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Book cover of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

By Daniel Walker Howe

Why this book?

A preeminent scholar of the period, Daniel Walker Howe brings his unique humor, insight, and compelling narrative style to the definitive book on the era. This Pulitzer Prize winning volume from the Oxford History of the United States series combines excellent scholarship with delightful storytelling (beginning with the title) to bring the Early Republic alive.

From the list:

The best books on the USA in its formative years (1789-1845)

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Book cover of Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

By Gordon S. Wood

Why this book?

Gordon Wood is the foremost authority on the American Revolution and the Founding. In his contribution to the Oxford History of the United States series, he provides a masterful introduction to the history of the Early Republic. Prodigious research and profound insights deriving from it will enlighten readers for generations.

From the list:

The best books on the USA in its formative years (1789-1845)

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Book cover of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

By Caroline Fraser

Why this book?

Laura Ingalls Wilder maintains an avid fanbase in spite of reappraisals of her racial attitudes; and re-encountering her as an adult can be an exciting, disappointing, jarring, but fascinating experience. Caroline Fraser sorts through the semi-autobiographical sources, not least of which are their fictional writings, of Wilder and her collaborator daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, all of which they infused with their own nostalgia and libertarianism. The tortured landscape becomes almost another living figure, as well, since natural disasters set the scene for the novels and their writing. The books’ creation, their influences, and, in turn, their influence in the mythmaking…

From the list:

The best books to read to reconsider iconic American women

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Book cover of Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics

Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics

By Avidit Acharyo, Matthew Blackwell, Maya Sen

Why this book?

I love this book because it’s political science at its best; it uses a lot of great data to study how history affects us in the present; it shows us how hard change is and also what makes it possible. It’s depressing and hopeful and super smart. It’s social science but it’s also very readable.

From the list:

The best books on why American politics are terrible and what to do about it

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Book cover of With Sails Whitening Every Sea: Mariners and the Making of an American Maritime Empire

With Sails Whitening Every Sea: Mariners and the Making of an American Maritime Empire

By Brian Rouleau

Why this book?

It’s not possible to understand the United States without understanding its maritime past. Rouleau takes us onto the forecastle to show just how important US mariners were (how could they not be when 100,00 departed the republic each year?) in a vivid account with lots of surprising details drawn from scrimshaw and logbooks. These working-class diplomats shaped the foreign perception of the United States in port cities around the world through their (often violent) encounters with foreign peoples, their onshore carousing, and their spread of black face minstrelsy around the globe.

From the list:

The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

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Book cover of Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation

Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation

By Ikuko Asaka

Why this book?

This is transnational scholarship at its best. Asaka tells the story of how the history of emancipation in Canada and the United States is intertwined into the history of efforts to exile freed people to tropical climates around the world where they could be used to create a monopoly over indigenous lands. This is a tale of hemispheric proportions, taking the reader from North America to the Caribbean and the East Coast of Africa, but of global importance – telling as it does the history of the racialization of freedom in the Age of Empire. Just as important, and told…

From the list:

The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

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Book cover of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

By Jose Antonio Vargas

Why this book?

Vargas’s memoir begins, “I do not know where I will be when you read this book.”  An undocumented immigrant (and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) who was brought to the United States from the Philippines as a child, Vargas only learned that he was in the country illegally when he applied for a driver’s license at age 16.  In 2011, after two decades in the shadows, Vargas publicly revealed his legal status. His anxious, tireless quest for a driver’s license, like his quest to belong in the only country he knows as home, raises urgent questions about the power of documents and…

From the list:

The best books on identity documents in the modern world

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Book cover of All the King's Men

All the King's Men

By Robert Penn Warren

Why this book?

At my first paid reporting job, one college summer for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press, a veteran reporter told me that if I wanted to cover politics, in Louisiana or anywhere else, I had to read Penn Warren’s novel, a classic based on Huey Long’s life. I got a copy – and was hooked from the opening, when Sugar Boy, the boss’s chauffeur and gunsel, whipped their Cadillac around an oncoming gasoline truck and stuttered, “The b-b-b-b-bas-tud . . .” Penn Warren, a poet, brought to life the realpolitik and machine politics I’d studied. He showed me, through…

From the list:

The best books on political bosses

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Book cover of Women in American Music Women's Studies Kresge College University of California

Women in American Music Women's Studies Kresge College University of California

By Nancy Flixson

Why this book?

Possibly the best and rarest of all publications about the start of the women’s music movement, this volume was prepared by the students at the University of California at Santa Cruz to serve as a textbook (and record of their experiences) for the first-ever course on feminism and music. Still available to good sleuths who find used copies floating around, the title page is Women in American Music. Women’s Studies, Kresge College, University of California, Santa Cruz, Spring 1975.

The idea for the class was initiated by Karlene Faith, who went on to be an influential producer and distributor;…

From the list:

The best books on the women’s music movement

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Book cover of After the People Lights Have Gone Off

After the People Lights Have Gone Off

By Stephen Graham Jones

Why this book?

SGJ has such a unique voice, it’s hard to deny this collection its props. Here you have a wide range of themes and unique characterization, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from a collection such as this. Dialogue, character building, tension; this is like a guide to writing good fiction.

From the list:

The best short story collections

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Book cover of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways

Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways

By Jamie Jensen

Why this book?

Providing more of a guidebook than a rich travelogue, Jamie Jensen uses his experience in covering some 400,000 miles to give readers thinking of new road adventures more fuel for thought. The guide provides color-coded and cross-referenced routes, places to visit along the way, colorful photos, and seasoned advice. Jensen wrote his first Road Trip USA guide in 1996 and has been updating it ever since.

From the list:

The best books on road trips in the USA and beyond

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Book cover of Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip

Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip

By Richard Ratay

Why this book?

It’s one thing to take a road trip alone or with a partner or friend. It’s quite another to take the family, especially younger kids. Richard Ratay, an advertising copywriter, details the history of the family road trip in an entertaining and vivid manner. His anecdotes from years on the road with his family are at times comical, heart-warming, and awkward. Ratay puts the love-hate relationship many have with such adventures on full display, lending more clues why these journeys are perhaps best recalled from the perspective of time.

From the list:

The best books on road trips in the USA and beyond

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Book cover of Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

By Susan Zeiger

Why this book?

Most war books focus on soldiers, Entangling Alliances does not. Instead, it provides a fascinating look at the women who married soldiers. Despite the romanticism often associated with wartime marriages, many readers may be surprised to discover that war brides were rarely welcomed. In fact, these marriages were primarily treated as undesirable and problematic. Nevertheless, despite this opposition, tens of thousands of war brides immigrated to the United States throughout the 20th century and their entry forced America to confront its xenophobia and reevaluate its beliefs about the purpose and benefits of marriage. Through an exploration of wartime marriages, Entangling…
From the list:

The best books on the history of love and marriage

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Book cover of Proust and America: The Influence of American Art, Culture, and Literature on À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu

Proust and America: The Influence of American Art, Culture, and Literature on À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu

By Michael Murphy

Why this book?

Proust’s passion for the English writers George Eliot and John Ruskin is well known, as is his scrutiny of the Anglophilia of Parisians at the turn of the twentieth century, but his connection with American thinkers and painters has been less carefully scrutinized. ”It is strange," Proust wrote in 1909, "that, in the most widely different departments . . . there should be no other literature which exercises over me so powerful an influence as the English and American.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and James McNeill Whistler are examined as Proust's key American influences. Critic Michael Murphy also…
From the list:

The best books to expand your grasp of Marcel Proust

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Book cover of Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era

Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era

By Heather Marie Stur

Why this book?

Heather Stur’s Beyond Combat provides an incomparable gender analysis of the U.S. war in Vietnam and its coverage in the United States. Digging into images of dragon ladies, the girl next door, and gentle warriors, Stur shows just how deeply ideas about gender (and race) permeated public perceptions of U.S. intervention. Stur also uncovers the roles that U.S. women in the Women’s Army Corps played in Vietnam—primarily as support to combat troops—and examines whether women’s real-world experiences in a war zone reconfigured gender role assumptions back home in the United States.
From the list:

The best books on women and the US war in Vietnam

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Book cover of Zelda: A Biography

Zelda: A Biography

By Nancy Milford

Why this book?

This is the book that introduced me to astonishing research and the art of life writing when I was in high school. Milford’s vivid and deeply researched biography of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is unsurpassed; she found letters presumed lost and assembled her own archive. Milford’s feminist reading of Zelda’s life is subtle and convincing, suggesting that some of Zelda’s madness may have been induced by her frustration at never becoming a creative artist in her own right. Also possibly a contributing factor: Scott’s theft of many details of her life and letters to fuel his own writing!
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The best biographies of American women

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Book cover of Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate

Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate

By Ginger Strand

Why this book?

This unlikely thriller of a book explores a seemingly bland subject: the network of interstate highways built by the Federal Government after World War II. In fact, these highways transformed American culture, not only spelling the demise of many country roads and small towns but replacing the friendly hitchhiker with the terrifying “killer on the road.” Further, the highways led to the creation of rest stops and shadowy neighborhoods that came to harbor predators, while the interstates aided the criminals’ flight. Killer on the Road keeps you on the edge of your seat, unfolding into horror, mystery, and victimization.

From the list:

The best books about American culture that will surprise you

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Book cover of The Devil and Sonny Liston

The Devil and Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches

Why this book?

“A ghost story, a haunting unto itself”—thus, music journalist Nick Tosches opens his tough tale of the boxer Sonny Liston, two-time heavyweight champion of the world. Born in 1932 into a family of tenant farmers that lived on the border of Arkansas and Mississippi, Liston grew up with violence, reinforced by an early stint in prison. Deftly, Tosches conjures the grim, ruthless culture of professional boxing during the 1950s and 60s. Most poignantly, he shows that Liston never possessed his own life—not in the fields from which he fled as a youth and not as a winner in the ring.…

From the list:

The best books about American culture that will surprise you

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Book cover of Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America

Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America

By Kirk Savage

Why this book?

Kirk Savage’s book was one of the first critical monographs focusing on the presence and problems of race representation in American monument culture. Written well before monument removals in the 21st century, Savage identified what would become one of the central issues of our time: how Americans have created and sustained racial injustice in the public square via monuments and memorials. This book elevated the study of monuments in American classrooms—and society. The recent controversy over whether to remove the Emancipation Monument by Thomas Ball from public squares in Boston and Washington, DC indicates that Americans have been wrestling…

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The best books on monuments in the era of controversies and removal

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Book cover of The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

By Ambrose Bierce

Why this book?

Unlike so many writers, Bierce had actual Civil War experience, as a Union soldier who saw action in a number of key battles. His stories are characterized by a rigorous attention to detail. But Bierce enjoyed serving up verisimilitude with a twist. A strong sense of the macabre, rivaling Poe, is present in some of Bierce’s finest stories such as “Chickamauga,” “One of the Missing,” and “Parker Adderson, Philosopher.” His timeless “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” features one of the most mind-bending twists in all of fiction.
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The best fiction books for experiencing the vivid reality of the Civil War

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Book cover of Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic

Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic

By Jeanne Boydston

Why this book?

In this small, powerful book, Boydston shows how early capitalists paid their laborers less than subsistence wages, while unrecompensed wives struggled to fill the gap and feed their families. Poor, urban women foraged for food and clothing, took in boarders, and stretched what food they did have to keep their husbands and children fed and clothed. Wages, narrowly defined, did not extend to women’s efforts, but it was their efforts that made it possible to maintain and reproduce this early working class.   Manufacturers benefited from the surplus between what they paid workers and the real cost, that women produced, of…

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The best books to open doors to Early America

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Book cover of Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America

Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America

By George Mahood

Why this book?

Impecunious Brits George and his friend Mark decide to search for the ‘real’ America, crossing the continent from east to west in a clapped-out old car. 

At every point, amid clouds of smoke, impending mechanical Armageddon, and brushes with the law, it seems unlikely that they’ll make it. One night, in the middle of nowhere, when ominous sounds emanating from the engine, George pleads, “Not tonight, Josephine…!”

The author has a humorous conversational style and paints an unforgettable portrait of the unlikely places he passed through. I thoroughly enjoyed this bump-start, clunk, and judder across the States with the frustrating…

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The funniest road trip memoirs

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Book cover of Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry

Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry

By Nadia Nurhussein

Why this book?

Nadia Nurhussein’s book is critically important for understanding the role of dialect poetry in the African American poetic tradition. It is all too easy to dismiss the popularity of dialect poetry in America—including Black dialect—as an embarrassing phase in American taste and particularly problematic for poetry used in minstrelsy but Nurhussein argues for the importance of the craft of dialect poetry and the remarkable brilliance of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s work along with many other poets working in many other dialects.

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The best books on Black poetry

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Book cover of Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War

Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War

By Gerald Linderman

Why this book?

This book, first published in 1987, was (and is) harshly attacked by some scholars including James McPherson who blasted the book for its overreliance on postwar, published sources. Yet Linderman’s central thesis, that war negatively affected Civil War soldiers and for some, alienated them from families and communities at home, remains valid. It is not true that all Civil War soldiers were negatively affected by war, but many were, and Linderman was one of the first to challenge the mythology of the all-heroic and stoic Civil War soldier. For a book that makes you think differently about the war and…
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The best military history books about the Civil War and the soldiers who fought

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Book cover of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

By Kurt Andersen

Why this book?

The co-creator of SPY magazine, Kurt Andersen was my hero in high school. He’s been an NPR radio host, a novelist, a magazine editor, and a co-author with Alec Baldwin on their Trump book. But this book feels like all the thinking he’s done in those places put in one place. It’s a textbook of American history from the Puritans until today, through the lens of our special predilection for conspiracy, con artists, and fabulists, both on the left and the right, and how it all culminates in the 1960s. So smart, so funny, so jealous.

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The best books on saving democracy from populism

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Book cover of The Invention of the White Race Vol II

The Invention of the White Race Vol II

By Theodore W. Allen

Why this book?

In colonial North America, plantation owners were equal opportunity exploiters who mistreated European and African laborers alike, and workers frequently resisted by running away, stealing or destroying property, and engaging in occasional rebellions. Theodore Allen explains how colonial elites invented America’s racial divide through a series of laws that ended up enslaving most African Americans for life and reserving the rights of freedom and citizenship for European Americans. Since then, race and class have been intertwined, laying the basis for white supremacist practices and beliefs that shaped the development of the United States and continue to allocate wealth and power…

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The best books on race and class in the United States

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Book cover of Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy

Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy

By Eric Foner

Why this book?

This short and accessible book places the end of slavery in the United States in a comparative global context, illuminating the strategies used by employers in the American South, Haiti, the British Caribbean, and British colonies in Africa to deny economic independence to Black workers and ensure a continued source of cheap labor. The book is especially useful for its clear demonstration of how law and policy (rather than invisible market forces) structure economic relations. Foner shows that the fortunes of working people can shift dramatically depending on who controls the government and makes the laws—essential knowledge for countering the…

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The best books on race and class in the United States

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Book cover of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

By James Forman Jr.

Why this book?

This book is an excellent companion to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and adds some important nuance to the story of how the United States came to imprison a higher proportion of its population than any other nation on earth. Forman notes that many African Americans in communities afflicted by rising drug abuse and crime rates in the 1970s were desperate to solve these problems and advocated more law enforcement along with greater investments in schools, jobs, and housing to address the root causes of the crisis. Instead, they got only increasingly…

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The best books on race and class in the United States

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Book cover of Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945

Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945

By Melani McAlister

Why this book?

McAlister’s book is one I return to time and again because it so beautifully illustrates that U.S. foreign relations history is bigger and broader than just the story of policymaking. McAlister is an expert at dissecting and explaining American culture, particularly religious culture. In this stimulating read, she uses films, television shows, and other media as key texts that reveal how post-World War II Americans portrayed and understood the Middle East—and what those portrayals can tell us about the United States’ vision for itself as a global power during the Cold War. In so doing, she reminds us of how…

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The best books on the history of religion in U.S. foreign relations

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Book cover of Secrecy: The American Experience

Secrecy: The American Experience

By Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Why this book?

A Democrat patriarch and long-time Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan led a congressional committee in the early 1990s recommending dramatic reductions in the size and scale of government secrecy. Moynihan even penned an opinion piece in the New York Times questioning whether there was still a need for the CIA. Secrecy is an offshoot of Moynihan's committee report that delves into the history of state secrecy in the United States from the early twentieth century, showing its corrosive effect on Cold War policymaking and society as a whole. The book is part of an unprecedented attempt by a…

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The best books on U.S. national security culture and the exposure of secrets

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Book cover of Etchings of a Whaling Cruise

Etchings of a Whaling Cruise

By J. Ross Browne

Why this book?

J. Ross Browne experienced first-hand whaling in the early-to-mid 1800s, serving as a crewman on a Yankee whaler. His vivid account of life on board, and the gruesome business of whaling, is beautifully written, enlightening, and dramatic. In his review of the book, Melville said, “It is a book of unvarnished facts … [which] unquestionably presents a faithful picture of the life led by the twenty thousand seamen employed in the seven hundred vessels which now pursue their game under the American flag.” So impressed was Melville that he used Browne’s book as one of his primary sources while writing…

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The best books on whaling history

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Book cover of Tenth of December: Stories

Tenth of December: Stories

By George Saunders

Why this book?

Tenth of December is a collection of brilliant, deeply touching, and often hilarious short stories by the greatest of modern American short story writers, George Saunders. He’s part Mark Twain, part Kurt Vonnegut, with an incredible knack for creating characters so real and pathetic that you will swear you have met them…maybe at Walmart. Don’t miss it.

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The best novels and short stories I've read lately

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Book cover of American Gods

American Gods

By Neil Gaiman

Why this book?

No one takes classic supernatural characters that we all know and spins them into enigmatic, mysterious characters like Neil Gaiman.  American Gods is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious Shadow Moon. The Old Gods have been forgotten, losing power to technology and media, new gods to a new generation of followers, but the oldest god of them all, Odin, has a plan to become relevant again and it all centers on Shadow Moon.

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The best books with a twist on supernatural monsters

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Book cover of The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II

The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II

By John C. McManus

Why this book?

The big question for World War II is what kept men fighting in appalling conditions, with high losses against an implacable enemy. McManus focuses on the American army to answer this question, but his answers could apply to many of the fighting men in other armies as well. The book explores the nature of combat and the psychological mechanisms used to cope with the conditions of modern war. This is a dimension of the history that too often gets overlooked as divisions and units are moved around on the historians’ map of the war, yet it is a central issue…

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The best books about key events in World War II and the soldiers who fought in them

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Book cover of Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States

Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States

By Louisa Jaggar, Shari Becker, Floyd Cooper

Why this book?

This is a story of an epic journey borne of determination and hard work. Despite facing discrimination, challenges to education, and lack of funds, Banning rose, literally, to the sky. The book deals with our history of racism but focuses on how Banning, with his high hopes and grit, was able to fulfill his dream. Floyd Cooper’s artwork will pull you into that place and time, heightening the experience. The backmatter shows the research that went into this book and how Banning’s fascinating story came to light.

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The best books to discover fascinating people

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Book cover of Wieland

Wieland

By Charles Brockden Brown

Why this book?

Charles Brockden Brown is the Founding Father of American gothic writing and Wieland is his weirdest but most readable novel. Written just after the Adams administration had banned speech criticizing the government, Wieland explores the dangers of uncontrolled speech and the threat of shadowy interlopers. The novel is narrated by Clara Wieland, whose family are plagued by increasingly threatening disembodied voices after the arrival of mysterious itinerant Frank Carwin. This domestic thriller not only showcases the development of the unreliable narrator but also questions the stability of the family and the nation in the early US.
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The best early US novels you’ve not heard of

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Book cover of Nightbitch

Nightbitch

By Rachel Yoder

Why this book?

A mother of a toddler thinks she’s turning into a dog. Sign. Me. Up. I love a weird and wild story, and this was everything I could ask for. And this mom has the perfect right to explore and embrace her animal side. She’s given up her dream job to be a full-time mom, she’s lonely and exhausted, and she’s overwhelmed and deeply sad. But when she taps into the anger beneath all of that, the rage at our culture that treats mothers with schizophrenic disdain, she becomes something otherworldly, deeply primal, and very powerful. The book is beautiful and…

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The best books celebrating angry women

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Book cover of Snowmen at Night

Snowmen at Night

By Caralyn Buehner, Mark Buehner

Why this book?

Snowmen at Night is such a creative tale about all of the fun and mischief snowmen get into when we are sleeping! It seems they slide away from our yards and gather together to play games, drink cocoa, ice skate, and sled. It explains why snowmen may look different from day to day. I also love the illustrations in this book, they really bring the story to life and there are even hidden images within the pages which are so much fun to find!

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The best rhyming picture books

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Book cover of Bigfoot!: The True Story of Apes in America

Bigfoot!: The True Story of Apes in America

By Loren Coleman

Why this book?

Loren Coleman is one of the original researchers from the ’60s & ’70s. His knowledge of the subject is unparalleled, which makes Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America, one of the best books written on the subject. With his extensive experience, Coleman takes a historical, scientific, and personal approach in developing a valid argument for the existence of Bigfoot in North America.
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The best books to believe in Bigfoot

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Book cover of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

By Elizabeth Rush

Why this book?

Rigorously reported and beautifully written, Rising takes readers to some of the places in the United States where sea level rise has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and people living in these periled places, the options are limited: migrate elsewhere, or perish. Rush gives voice to the people in such heavily impacted communities; she weaves firsthand accounts from those experiencing such rapid change in their shoreline communities and profiles biologists, activities, and other members of vulnerable communities.

She exposes the many inequitable…

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The best books to inspire climate action

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Book cover of Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era

Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era

By Chad L. Williams

Why this book?

Torchbearers is a pathbreaking history of the fight for American democracy during World War I, told from the perspective of African American servicemen who joined, fought, and returned from battle. Already engaged in conflict over civil rights in the US, African Americans took seriously the call to “make the world safe for democracy.” Through writing, activism, and organizing, they linked their domestic fight to the foreign fight against democracy’s enemies. Perhaps no other group in the US, Williams shows, was poised to engage the very biggest questions that animated the war – questions of citizenship, rights, freedom, and empire –…

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The best books on the history of the military, war, and society in the twentieth-century United States

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Book cover of Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

By Mark R. Wilson

Why this book?

You can’t understand today’s privatized military without this groundbreaking new book on the history of WWII and the military-industrial complex. Wilson’s political and economic history overturns celebratory myths of American business acumen winning the war. Instead, Wilson shows that the “arsenal of democracy” lay not in the private sector but in the massive public sector of military-owned and military-operated production facilities that churned out planes, tanks, bombs, and materiel. Government production angered American businessmen who had hoped to capture wartime profits and legitimacy. Corporate leaders and their allies resisted government production at every turn and launched political and public relations…
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The best books on the history of the military, war, and society in the twentieth-century United States

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Book cover of Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century

Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century

By Catherine A. Lutz

Why this book?

When I picked up Homefront, I couldn’t put it down. A study of perhaps the most iconic military community in the US, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Homefront brings a reader as close to everyday life in a military town as they can get without being there. Lutz burrows into Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, and pries open their histories and cultures. She offers glimpses into military subculture, the militarization of American infrastructure, the tensions surrounding town-and-installation relations. More than any other book, Homefront sensitized me to the complexities of twentieth-century US military culture and its deep influence on American people,…

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The best books on the history of the military, war, and society in the twentieth-century United States

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Book cover of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

By Linda Przybyszewski

Why this book?

Przybryszewski, a history professor at Notre Dame, had me from the start where she says she’s probably the only person to have spoken to the Supreme court wearing a ’suit that won a blue ribbon at a country fair.” Taking American fashion back to the Home Economics taught at Land Grant Universities and subsequently, at high schools, Przybryszewski argues that knowing how to sew was not just a practical skill, but also made us better consumers.

Making our own clothes might have seemed like drudgery, but it was empowering and now that most of us don’t have those skills, we’re…

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The best books for people who want to reimagine their relationship to stuff

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Book cover of Frayed: A Small Town Sports Romance

Frayed: A Small Town Sports Romance

By Laura Pavlov

Why this book?

Frayed is the first book in the standalone series, Willow Springs. It’s such a heartwarming story, as is every book in the series. It’s about young love, breaking away from people trying to hold you back, and will have you teary one minute and laughing the next. If you love romance and shows like Friday Night Lights, you’ll enjoy this book!

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The best books to warm your heart on a cold winter’s night

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Book cover of Joshua

Joshua

By Callie Carmen

Why this book?

Joshua's main character and fiery Italian babe Bella is spot on! She’s got the confidence, she’s sassy, and has that typical Italian hot temper. Not dominant per say, but she’s powerful and has a certain charisma and charm. She’s relatable to those who know what they want and seek it out. I also like her softer side…which you will have to read to find out about!

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The best romance books with strong, confident female main characters

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Book cover of A Midwife through the Dying Process: Stories of Healing and Hard Choices at the End of Life

A Midwife through the Dying Process: Stories of Healing and Hard Choices at the End of Life

By Timothy E. Quill

Why this book?

In 1991 I was a young lawyer, just learning about the death-with-dignity movement. I had practiced nursing and medicine for 20 years and tended many dying patients. But I’d thought little about patient choice and empowerment at the end of life. In my ignorance, I turned to Dr. Timothy Quill and was struck by his clarity and courage. Tim was the first mainstream physician to be candid and compassionate about patients’ legitimate wish to advance the time of death if cancer or other illness traps them in “their worst nightmare.” This book, and his earlier Death with Dignity, are…

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The best books about opening to death to live your most joyful life

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Book cover of Weather

Weather

By Jenny Offill

Why this book?

If you don’t have much time to read, this is the one for you. Offill is known for her brevity - her 2014 novel Dept. Of Speculation (equally worth your time) is similarly short, and similarly shot through with humor - and for the punch she can pack into a limited space. In Weather, she brings together the mundane grind of daily life with the larger existential terror many of us experience when we think about climate change, and bridges that gap, forcing her characters to confront how their daily lives are in fact not separate from these bigger…

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The best books that capture the grief of living with climate change

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Book cover of The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me

By Jim Thompson

Why this book?

In Jim Thompson’s 1952 Novel, The Killer Inside Me, the central protagonist and narrator, Lou Ford, is revealed to be a psychopathic serial killer. The character development is brilliantly written as is the rest of this novel and it is nearly impossible not to get drawn into the narrative.

Ford is the enigmatic but understated Deputy Sheriff of Central City, a small American country town. Prone to platitudes and rhetoric, at first he seems nothing more than a stereotypical American lawman, but his true character is soon revealed by the masterful depiction of his psychological interior. I recommend this…

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The best first-person serial killer novels

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Book cover of A Dog-Friendly Town

A Dog-Friendly Town

By Josephine Cameron

Why this book?

Oh boy! It’s a dog-centered mystery where celebrity dogs rule, and when a jeweled collar goes missing, everyone is a suspect. I adored the twists and turns here, and you will wish your dog could stay at the enchanting bed and breakfast where the action unfolds. Heck, I wish I could stay there. 

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The best middle grade novels where the dog lives

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Book cover of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

By Linda K. Kerber

Why this book?

Linda Kerber’s No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies offers a fantastic insight into the maleness of rights-bearing citizenship embedded within the United States legal tradition. As Kerber demonstrates, the notion that women were incapable of performing certain civic obligations formed a central reason for why early U.S. political and legal authorities had excluded women from certain rights of citizenship. I found Kerber’s study especially helpful for dissecting the history of the common law tradition of domestic relations, or the doctrine known as coverture. As I discuss in the first chapters of my own book, and as Kerber brilliantly illustrates in…

From the list:

The best books for understanding how gender has shaped the history of citizenship in the United States

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Book cover of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

By Alice Kessler-Harris

Why this book?

Alice Kessler-Harris’s In Pursuit of Equity is an essential book for anyone who is interested in studying how gendered ideas have shaped the history of rights and citizenship in the United States. As Harris reveals, for much of the U.S.’s history, men were defined as the primary rights-bearing citizens in U.S. society while women were defined as family members who were in need of extra-legal supervision and protection. This contrast has not only created stark differences in how the government and laws have treated men and women citizens, but it has also created striking limitations on women’s range of choices…

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The best books for understanding how gender has shaped the history of citizenship in the United States

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Book cover of Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor

Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor

By Evelyn Nakano Glenn

Why this book?

In Unequal Freedom, Nakano Glenn provides a brilliant analysis of how the multiple axes of power relations, including race, gender, and labor, have shaped the terms of citizenship in the United States. In the process, Glenn unpacks how the history of the concept of citizenship is a powerful tool for understanding the various ways power dynamics have influenced the terms of belonging to a national community. Glenn’s book is an inspiring study that has pushed me to think more deeply about the notion of citizenship and to understand that the concept of citizenship involves more than just indicating one’s…

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The best books for understanding how gender has shaped the history of citizenship in the United States

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Book cover of Sold on a Monday

Sold on a Monday

By Kristina McMorris

Why this book?

This is a surprising backdrop for a romance, and I didn’t even buy the book for a romance read. The start is sad and intriguing – based on a true event – where a reported snapped a photo of a sign saying “children for sale” with the children in the background. The reporter is trying to build his career, and the photo was just a personal shot he took because he was shocked. But it ends up in the paper and causes a horrible cascade of events, which also brings him together with a woman who works at the same…

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The best romantic dramas with unique storylines

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Book cover of In the Valley

In the Valley

By Ron Rash

Why this book?

In the Valley by Ron Rash is a haunting collection of ten short stories told as lean and efficient as the author’s other works. Filled with surprise twists, I could hardly close the book at bedtime, so delicious were the varied plots. I particularly loved the stories that expanded our understanding of his captivating character, Serena, that was made into a movie in 2014. 

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The best southern books that transport us

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Book cover of Mosheim's Church History, of the First Two Centuries

Mosheim's Church History, of the First Two Centuries

By Mosheim, Johann Lorenz, Archibald, MacLaine

Why this book?

The theme of climbing out of traditional thought to discover new and better ways of thinking continues through Mosheim, even if indirectly accomplished. I’m recommending this book because my field of research has to do with the exercising of correct devotional habits, and to know what is decent, what is indecent must surface. This book thoroughly takes the reader through the development of the philosophy within the early church. This book educates on the negative doctrinal influences within the church, opening up the reader to better understanding how the age influenced the development of the Christian religion. 

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The best books challenging the traditional definition of education

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Book cover of Emile: Or Treatise on Education

Emile: Or Treatise on Education

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William H. Payne

Why this book?

Another brilliant book challenging the traditional definition of “education” that is a must-read for anyone seeking to meditate on the meaning of “school.” Rousseau brilliantly challenges traditional educational thought by bringing into the picture a philosophy that true education is holistic in nature, informing the student about their relationship not only to the material, but to the elements of life in general. Education should transform the mind, which transformation assists in the transformation of the body, allowing the individual to discover their essence within. I’m recommending this book because of its ability to enlighten on “learning,” and because of how…

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The best books challenging the traditional definition of education

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Book cover of Warrant For X

Warrant For X

By Philip MacDonald

Why this book?

Philip MacDonald fought in WW1 before becoming one of the most popular mystery writers of the 1920s and 1930s. Sheldon Garret, the successful American playwright, goes into a London tea shop and overhears two women plotting to kidnap a child and – maybe – murder. Sheldon turns to Anthony Gethryn and with the slender clue of an abandoned shopping list to guide him, Anthony must try to prevent a ruthless crime. Kidnap, murder and blackmail form the spine of this, one of MacDonald’s best novels as Anthony Gethryn races to prevent yet more deaths.
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The best classic mysteries ever written

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Book cover of Signs Preceding the End of the World

Signs Preceding the End of the World

By Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman

Why this book?

Translated from Spanish and 128 pages in length, Herrera’s short novel is a beautiful evocation of one woman's journey from Latin America to the US. Evoked with the brushstrokes of a fairy tale and suffused with a luminous surreality, the book has stuck with me. This is Herrera’s first novel to be published in English, and it has made quite a splash, giving me hope that more will soon follow.

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The best short contemporary novels in translation

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Book cover of An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Wyeth

An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Wyeth

By James H. Duff, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Hoving, Lincoln Kirstein

Why this book?

When I was a boy, like many others, I was infatuated with tales of adventure. Treasure Island, Last of the Mohicans to name but two. At that time the illustrations in these books just leapt off the paper and fired my imagination. It was later when I became a serious student of art that I discovered that many of these illustrations were made by N.C.Wyeth. An American artist (19th-20thc) whose later son, Andrew Wyeth, became world-famous. 

In Treasure Island, there is a painting of Blind Pugh, a ferocious pirate. I lost track of the times I…

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The best books on art influences

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Book cover of The Falcon

The Falcon

By John Tanner

Why this book?

The Falcon was one of the many books I studied while researching The Spirit Keeper, and John Tanner’s contemporary description of life among the Ojibwa continues to haunt me. Although captivity narratives were once very popular in America, Tanner did not achieve fame or fortune from his life story. What he did achieve, however, was a clear record of the steady destruction of the rich and varied native cultures of North America as Colonial forces slowly eroded the entire ecosystem of the continent. Because this story was written shortly after the events described, it’s a challenging read, but once…

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The best books about the destruction of North America

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Book cover of Before We Were Free

Before We Were Free

By Julia Alvarez

Why this book?

I was fascinated by this gripping story about a twelve-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960 because, while it is fiction, it is based on a very real and scary time in the history of the DR. My parents grew up in the DR under the dictatorship that was still in place in 1960, and Julia Alvarez does a beautiful job showing readers how young people and their families were impacted by that regime, as well as the bravery and hopefulness of those who fought for their country’s freedom.

From the list:

The best middle grade books about sensitive topics

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Book cover of Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures

Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures

By Diedricksen

Why this book?

Lots of color photos and enthusiastic commentary by the author, as well as six sets of affordable building plans. Deek specializes in using recycled and salvaged materials. He also uses a clear plastic Tuftex polycarbonate as a material, which is inexpensive, easy to install, and allows light in. A good book for beginner and intermediate builders.   

From the list:

The best books to inspire and build your own cabin or nature home

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Book cover of The Old Forest and Other Stories

The Old Forest and Other Stories

By Peter Taylor

Why this book?

Taylor is one of the authors who made me want to be a writer. He’s a magician of the short story, compressing events and characters from the upper South into luminous stories that can seem more real than life. He wrote longhand in poetic lines, usually drafting about a hundred pages for every ten he kept. The result is a rich reduction of scenes that move us to laughter and tears. Taylor holds the mirror up to life, and you can’t help but be drawn in.

From the list:

The best non-Faulkner books from the American South

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Book cover of Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home

By Jasmine Warga

Why this book?

You’ll want to get to know Jude. She’s a 12-year-old girl who loves her life in her quiet, coastal town in Syria. But when the war threatens her family’s peaceful existence, her parents decide she and her mother should leave Syria for the safety of her uncle’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jude navigates the highs and lows of middle school and grapples with the prejudice she and other Muslims face in the U.S. —  all the while desperately missing and fearing for her beloved Baba and brother an ocean away. Written in verse and narrated by Jude with humour, insight,…

From the list:

The best middle grade books for understanding what it’s like to be a refugee

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Book cover of Tinsmith 1865

Tinsmith 1865

By Sara Dahmen

Why this book?

I should preface this with some bit of transparency. One reason I love Tinsmith is because I personally know the author. Not only is she a great writer, but she’s one of the only female tinsmiths working in the United States. She makes her own cookware, and it is amazing.

The main character, Marie Kotlarczyk, moves to the Dakota territories with her tinsmith family. When the family encounters disaster, Marie has to learn the family trade in order to survive. It’s not an easy task when women were not meant to do such things. 

Sarah puts so much of herself…

From the list:

The best western historical fiction (and no, I don’t mean the hotel)

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Book cover of Light in August

Light in August

By William Faulkner

Why this book?

We tend to look to Black or other minority authors when we want to consider race, but racism is a white problem, and it’s important for white artists to face the issue. Joe Christmas passes for white in the post-Reconstruction South, but believes (without knowing for sure) that he might be partly Black. What would be a non-issue in any sensible society becomes, in a country where race defines a person’s value, the central feature of his life, plaguing his thoughts, driving his every decision, torturing him until his pain explodes in rage and violence. White society demands that the…

From the list:

The best novels to read while American democracy implodes

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Book cover of American Indian Myths and Legends

American Indian Myths and Legends

By Richard Erdoes

Why this book?

There are more than 160 tales from eighty tribal groups in this book. They are various tales of creation and love, heroes and war, animals, tricksters, and the world’s end, many from contemporary Indigenous voices. Hopefully, these stories enable others who are not Native American but still want to read what many indigenous tribes taught to their children as a reason for the history of their peoples.

From the list:

The best books on the paranormal to scare up myths and legends from the safety of your armchair

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Book cover of The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

By Lee Lefever

Why this book?

A lot of what we write online are explanations. In blog posts, we explain our ideas. In sales copy, we explain how our products or services help make our customers a little better. 

This book discusses the common pitfalls of explanation, and it teaches you how to really explain something so your readers feel enlightened. 

Lee LeFever is probably best known as the co-founder of Common Craft, where he wrote scripts for animated explainer videos. However, the advice in this book is equally applicable to written explanations. Improving our explanation skills is key to writing better online.

From the list:

The best books on writing for the web

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Book cover of Think Like a Breadwinner: A Wealth-Building Manifesto for Women Who Want to Earn More (and Worry Less)

Think Like a Breadwinner: A Wealth-Building Manifesto for Women Who Want to Earn More (and Worry Less)

By Jennifer Barrett

Why this book?

Essential Skill #1 for Creatives: the breadwinner mindset

Creative professionals tend to be number-phobes and therefore believe they are doomed to be “starving artists.” That’s why, when I heard the title of Jennifer Barrett’s book, I knew I had to invite her to be a guest on my podcast. She writes clearly and simply about the “breadwinner” mindset. Plus, we share the belief that there is nothing more empowering than having in place the mindset, the money, and the marketing so you are free to walk away from any situation or client that isn’t a good fit. That’s the only…

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The best business books for creative professionals

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Book cover of Good Enough

Good Enough

By Paula Yoo

Why this book?

I found this book when I was in high school – it was the first story I had ever read that was by and about an Asian person. Patti is desperately trying to abide by her parents’ rules and get into an Ivy League school, despite her Juilliard dreams. One of the first books of its kind, and a story that still rings true today. 

From the list:

The best children’s and teen novels that perfectly capture Asian American identity

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Book cover of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

By Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith

Why this book?

An outgrowth of the 1619 project, this masterful picture book traces a family’s roots from Africa through generations of enslavement in the United States to today. A young girl’s grandmother tells stories in the form of poems that convey joy, terror, heartache, persecution, struggle, and triumph. Illustrations move from light during the times in Africa to dark during the decades of enslavement and back to light in the present. The book ends on a positive note with the girl drawing an American flag—the flag of the country that her ancestors helped build and “that I will help build, too.”

From the list:

The best recent picture books with a message

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Book cover of American Hippopotamus

American Hippopotamus

By Jon Mooallem

Why this book?

This book doesn’t just read like a novel – it reads like a great novel: A battle between two compelling characters set against the absurd backdrop of an effort to establish a hippo population in America’s swampland. Mooallem’s understated wit showed me that sometimes the best way to understand history is by tracking the people we’ve never heard of, and the initiatives that never succeeded.

From the list:

The best books that are stranger – and funnier – than fiction

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Book cover of Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide

By Thomas S. Elias, Peter A. Dykeman

Why this book?

Putting a wild plant into one’s mouth must be preceded by positive identification. This book’s text and photos offer guidance and recipes. It doesn’t try to cover a huge number of plant species, but the plants that are included are covered in more detail than in most plant books. The introduction alone, in my opinion, is worth the price of this book.
From the list:

The best books on nature education and survival skills

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Book cover of The Jump-Off Creek

The Jump-Off Creek

By Molly Gloss

Why this book?

An immersive and atmospheric novel, The Jump-Off Creek follows a taciturn widow named Lydia into the Oregon wilderness where she hopes to homestead. Resourceful, fiercely independent (and determined to stay that way) she nonetheless finds herself drawn into a bedraggled community of homesteaders and frontiersmen. Yes, there’s a love interest, but that is a subplot, not the story. The story is one of survival and grit set in a landscape as beautiful and unforgiving as the weather.

Molly Gloss is a master storyteller. I find each of her books quite different but equally compelling. The Jump-Off Creek might be my…

From the list:

The best historical novels about badass 19th century American women

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Book cover of Aux Frontières du Jazz

Aux Frontières du Jazz

By Robert Goffin

Why this book?

Any aficionado follower of our music is aware that – for all the lists of books on jazz, worldwide nowadays – in truth the very first nations to study seriously and passionately this extraordinary music called jazz were the European countries.   They discovered in the 1930s the magic of those Black orchestras that entertained the wealthy cruise ships travelling from the United States to France and Europe. The local musicians welcomed their Black colleagues who became their teachers. While in the United States jazz music was considered just another form of dance music, in Europe, it was examined, dissected, catalogued,…

From the list:

The best books to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

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Book cover of Miguel Marmol

Miguel Marmol

By Roque Dalton, Richard Schaaf, Kathleen Ross

Why this book?

Dalton was a wonderful poet and radical activist tragically executed by his Salvadorean comrades in 1975 when they erroneously believed him to be working for the CIA. The Salvadorean left has a poor record in devouring its own in bouts of paranoia that attended the civil war of the 1980s. Marmol, who survived deep into old age, was a ringleader of an uprising in 1932 that briefly promised a peasant overthrow of a state controlled by an oligarchy of a dozen families. The uprising was repressed with such force that the military was able to retain political power for the…

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The best books on Central American history and politics

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Book cover of The Life We Almost Had

The Life We Almost Had

By Amelia Henley

Why this book?

This book is heartbreaking and magical. I thought at first it was a romance novel, but a speculative twist took me by surprise. I became enthralled in those chapters not wanting to leave them. Not quite believing the brilliance of the premise. My daughter had gone through a very similar situation, so every emotion felt raw, and I completely engaged with Anna’s dilemma. How could she choose what to do? I tentatively told my daughter about it and after reading it, she agreed it was amazing too. The ending, which brought me to tears, is hopeful and poignant. It is…

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The best uplit books sprinkled with speculative magic

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Book cover of Public Journal: Marginal Notes on Wartime America

Public Journal: Marginal Notes on Wartime America

By Max Lerner

Why this book?

A former philosophy professor who joined the staff of the illustrious New York newspaper PM following Pearl Harbor, Lerner provides a scholarly perspective on home front developments. “America at war,” he decided, “is an America torn from many of its moorings, in which everything is having to move at a quicker pace.” Among Lerner’s subjects are juvenile delinquency, especially the rise of teenage amateur prostitutes; women in wartime (“the men make war happen, but it happens to women”); and the increase in racial intolerance — not only against Japanese-Americans, but Mexicans and Jews as well.

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

By Rebecca Mead

Why this book?

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on…

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The best offbeat memoirs

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Book cover of U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

By Joan Waugh

Why this book?

There are so many fantastic new biographies of Ulysses S. Grant. U.S. Grant is particularly good for a one-volume biography. It’s an incredibly fair treatment and does a great job of showing Grant’s cultural importance as a symbol for national reunification after the war. Waugh also demonstrates why Grant has been underappreciated by previous historians and generations, and why he deserves more recognition.

From the list:

The best books about American presidents

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Book cover of No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II

No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II

By Diane Burke Fessler

Why this book?

It’s almost impossible to embrace what deployed nurses went through in World War II. This book reveals some of the trials they endured, depending on their theater. Some suffered imprisonment and torture, while nearly all of these women worked under duress and danger we can scarcely imagine.

From the list:

The best books about the make-do women of World War II

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Book cover of Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I

Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I

By Henry Berry

Why this book?

Numerous fascinating first-hand accounts of American “Doughboys” who saw front-line service in World War I. Many of the stories are poignant and personal.

From the list:

The best books on America's crusade in the Great War 1917-1918

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Book cover of Lone Star Blue and Gray: Essays on Texas and the Civil War

Lone Star Blue and Gray: Essays on Texas and the Civil War

By Ralph Wooster

Why this book?

This book includes 16 important essays by prominent Texas historians exploring a wide variety of themes relating to Texas and the war. The editors provide a useful introduction to the subject and the essays themselves are among the best things ever written on the chosen subjects. Alwyn Barr’s article on “Texas Coastal Defense,” for example, is a short but complete description of the ways that Texas Confederates chose to creatively and successfully defend their large coast. If you are interested in Texas history, this book is essential reading. I find myself returning to its pages again and again.

From the list:

The best books on Civil War Texas

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Book cover of The Americans: The Colonial Experience

The Americans: The Colonial Experience

By Daniel J. Boorstin

Why this book?

The joy of this book (and its sister volumes on the “national” and the democratic” experience) comes from the panoramic journey across space and time that the reader is taken on. This work is, above all, a positive, life-enhancing view of the United States with its focus on continuity rather than conflict. There is an idealistic and romantic strain to this vision, as he pictures a young nation sloughing off the rigid carapace of the Old World, with the idea of a calling replaced by an idea of opportunity. Boorstin is an exemplary guide: his canvas is rich and complex,…

From the list:

The best books about the United States Of America

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Book cover of The Age of Suspicion

The Age of Suspicion

By James A. Wechsler

Why this book?

Wechsler was the editor of The New York Post, a short-lived Communist and lifelong liberal, and a favorite target of McCarthy and McCarthyism. Wechsler’s razor-edged analysis of the era is the ideal counterpoint to McCarthy’s, and offers a lens into the scare’s flesh-and-blood victims.

From the list:

The best books on red scares in the USA

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Book cover of Joe McCarthy And The Press

Joe McCarthy And The Press

By Edwin R. Bayley

Why this book?

Bayley, a political reporter for the Milwaukee Journal during McCarthy’s rise and reign, offers riveting details about how the press enabled the Red Scare in a book that is at the same time dispassionate and telling for today.

From the list:

The best books on red scares in the USA

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Book cover of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

By Samuel Eliot Morison

Why this book?

When I began researching and writing for my books this fifteen-volume set by distinguished historian Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, was one of my first purchases for my World War II library. I consider his series a must-have for any WWII researcher or history buff. I did much of my research and writing on freighters and always took selected volumes with me.

From the list:

The best books on World War II in the Pacific

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Book cover of The Razor's Edge

The Razor's Edge

By W. Somerset Maugham

Why this book?

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, a young American traumatized by his experiences in World War 1 seeking the Absolute. There are other characters in the story who have their own goals in life, which are materialistic, unlike Larry’s. The story indicates that how different people pursue different things in life, which ultimately define their life purpose. Larry’s abandonment of the conventional life and quest for the meaning of life provide him the freedom to live in the moment, whereas other characters are enslaved by their habits and fears.

From the list:

The best books for living a life of purpose

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Book cover of Arthur Young's Travels in France: During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789

Arthur Young's Travels in France: During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789

By Arthur Young

Why this book?

Young was an English agriculturalist who took time out from farming to analyse life and developments in the countryside. He toured Britain, then Ireland, and finally France. Here, he lucked in. He wandered the fields, lanes, and city streets of France as the Revolution was brewing and then erupting. Although not an aristo himself, he frequented nobility and royalty, and was amazed at the blissful indifference of the idle rich about what was going on around them. He saw the extreme poverty of the peasants, who were being worked and starved to death by their absentee landlords. He witnessed the…

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The best books on why the French seem to be in denial about their own history

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Book cover of Made Possible By...: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States

Made Possible By...: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States

By James Ledbetter

Why this book?

For a critical look at the financial structure of public broadcasting and its intricacies as and after it became a powerhouse, Ledbetter's book can't be beat. I just wish he'd update it! Few people understand how public radio in particular is financed. Having written a book about the great philanthropist Joan Kroc and her landmark gift to NPR when she died, I found this book particularly illuminating. Anyone who gives to the pledge drives should read this.

From the list:

The best books about National Public Radio and how it all works

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Book cover of The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America

The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America

By Gary B. Nash

Why this book?

The story of the mostly urban radicals – the unknowns -- who began the Revolution, and how they and their democratic passions were gradually but inevitably “tamed” to create a Constitution and a governable country.

From the list:

The best books on lesser-known figures in the American Revolution and early years

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Book cover of Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

By Sven Beckert

Why this book?

While perhaps not ‘business history’ in the strictest of senses, Empire of Cotton explores themes relevant to any business history – those of power, hierarchy, capitalism, and consumption, to name a few, and does so in a global context. This is a book not just about history, but about how this history has shaped the world we live in today. In places, it is a sobering story of power struggles and exploitation, of conflict between humans as well as between humans and the natural world. While not one for the faint-hearted, this award-winning tome is worth the effort it requires.

From the list:

The best books on early-modern business history

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Book cover of The Young Housekeeper's Friend; Or, A Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort

The Young Housekeeper's Friend; Or, A Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort

By Mary Hooker Cornelius

Why this book?

We consulted a wide variety of historical cookbooks while writing our book, but one in particular stands out: The Young Housekeeper’s Friend (or as we affectionately call it, YHF), first published in 1846. It is actually mentioned by name more than once in Little Women, so it became our first point of reference for the recipes we wanted to include. YHF was quite popular in its day, and went through several editions–with good reason, as we discovered. Of all the cookbooks we used in our research, the recipes in this one were always the tastiest and most reliable.

Even though…

From the list:

The best books on food and cooking in Victorian America

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Book cover of Food in the Civil War Era

Food in the Civil War Era

By Helen Zoe Veit

Why this book?

Of the many reference resources we encountered in the midst of our obsessive research for our Little Women Cookbook, this one was a favorite (along with the incomparable YHF). It’s just so satisfying to find the perfect book for a project, isn’t it? When we first started out, we thought, “We’d be so lucky to find anything about food from the Civil War era that doesn’t focus on soldiers’ rations, rich people, or the South — especially if it touches on the role of women in everyday culinary culture.” And as if our local university library were a magical…

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The best books on food and cooking in Victorian America

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Book cover of Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

By Jose Marti

Why this book?

José Martí was a poet and writer who became the leader of Cuba’s final independence movement from Spain. He died in battle in 1895 and is the island’s best-known hero – images and statues of him can be found in almost every town in Cuba. He spent much of his life in exile, including in the United States. He was a prolific journalist, and his essay ‘Nuestra América’ (Our America, 1881) is one of his most-cited works. His observations about the US and the rest of the Americas were astute, and his work continues to offer insights that are applicable…

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The best books on the USA by Hispanic writers who everyone should know

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Book cover of The New Geography of Jobs

The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti

Why this book?

Moretti’s book is, I think, woefully underappreciated. He gives a clear portrait of different regions of the United States, classifying them on the basis of their current economic structure and not on a predetermined political split or on industrial classifications from fifty years ago. It shows that we are in the midst of a substantial economic transformation that likely rivals the shifts seen during the early industrial revolution. This book gives you a real sense of what a “knowledge economy” will look like. More than that, though, he shows how that transformation could be beneficial to everyone (but might not).

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The best books on the economic challenges of the 2020s

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Book cover of Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

By Emily Yellin

Why this book?

For the first time during World War II, American women served in the US military, but their crucial wartime work reached into every corner of life and across Europe. Yellin explores the wide range of roles that American women undertook on behalf of the cause, from factory workers and journalists to spies and doctors. Told with dramatic stories and memorable details, Yellin reshapes how we understand the “total war” that World War II became.

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The best books that will challenge how your think about WWII in Europe

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Book cover of Encyclopaedia Biblica

Encyclopaedia Biblica

By John Sutherland Black, Thomas Kelly Cheyne

Why this book?

The official title of the book is ‘Encyclopedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political and Religious History, the Archaeology, Geography, and Natural History of the Bible.' This work was produced by various professors of Oxford University and was a continual work from 1899-1903. It seems to be rarely mentioned by historians and Biblical scholars today, and I am recommending this work because there is a considerable wealth of information in it, and any student of history would find it incredibly useful. The Oxford professors critically examined ancient folklore and legends, without being swayed by traditional opinions…

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The best ancient history books that challenge assumptions

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Book cover of Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison

Why this book?

This book was probably my first exposure to the magical realism genre when I was in High School. Toni Morrison, a friend of my English teacher while they were both at nearby Rutgers, donated a class set to my classroom. It was one of the few times I remembered having an actual fresh new book that wasn’t scribbled in or torn up from school. The book opens with a man attempting to fly by jumping off a roof as a community watches. It is written in this fluid, poetic way that just blew my high schooler mind. I wasn’t even…

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The best books for young adults who love a touch of magic

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Book cover of The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum's America

The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum's America

By Benjamin Reiss

Why this book?

Reiss tells the revealing story of Joice Heth, an enslaved woman presented by the showman P. T. Barnum as 161 years old and the childhood nanny of George Washington. Although less than half that age and unknown to Washington, Heth had survived a hard life in Kentucky by reinventing herself with inventive tales allegedly about the greatest American hero. By overtly asserting Heth’s reliability and anonymously casting it in doubt, Barnum appealed to the very American desire by people to test their own credulity by eyeing the controversy. When she died, Barnum reaped his biggest payday by charging admission for…

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The best books on the early United States

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Book cover of Pierce Egan's Book of Sports, and Mirror of Life

Pierce Egan's Book of Sports, and Mirror of Life

By Pierce Egan

Why this book?

Sub-titled ‘embracing The Turf, The Chase, The Ring and The Stage’ and published in 1832, this book gives you a real taste of what old-time ‘sport’ was all about. Anything amusing! Even better, because it was written by the first great sporting journalist, this is the book that takes you there. You can smell the stables and taste the claret. In the year of Rachael Blackmore, for instance, check out “The Gallant Spirited Race, at Knavesmire, in Yorks, 4 miles for 500 or 1000 guineas, between The Late Col Thornton’s Lady and Mr. Flint…a lasting moment of FEMALE INTREPIDITY”.…

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The best books on sport history from someone who is mad for history

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Book cover of The Only Living Witness: The true story of serial sex killer Ted Bundy

The Only Living Witness: The true story of serial sex killer Ted Bundy

By Steven G. Michaud, Hugh Aynesworth

Why this book?

The Only Living Witness is a disturbing account of Ted Bundy’s murderous rampage across the United States in the ‘70s, his capture, and his prosecution. More than that, the authors provide an insight into Bundy’s intellect, motives, and much more by providing the reader with an inside look at how Bundy was interviewed prior to his execution and how they were able to glean details of the murders simply by the way they phrased certain questions to the killer. This is a must-read book for anyone fascinated by serial killers.

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The most detailed books about killers

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Book cover of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

By William S. Burroughs Jr., James Grauerholz, Barry Miles

Why this book?

The granddaddy of the borderland novel. An alien-scape of the good ol’ U. S. of A. No plot, no continuity, no narrative arc, no bourgeois psychology, no discernible structure, no comforting signposts whatsoever, just line after line of acidic corrosive prose whose sureshot relentless honesty will leave the perfect reader with lingering discomfort and a heady state of pure exhilaration. And it’s damn funny. This obsessively thorough psychic exploration of one drug-addled consciousness ensures that its elaborate mapping touches somewhere upon your own. And it’s damn funny. Pay special attention to the insects.

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The best liminal books guaranteed to drive you out of your skull

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Book cover of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

By Ibram X. Kendi

Why this book?

Everyone ought to read this book. It’s beautifully written and it’s a detailed history of the US and its relationship to racism. Kendi makes a convincing case that racism is about policy—what we do—more than it is about attitudes—what we feel and think. In focusing on the institutional and historical aspects of racism, he both offers a necessary corrective to many histories of the US, but also does so in a way that shows how the national history is deeply influenced by its political economy. 

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The best books on why American politics are terrible and what to do about it

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Book cover of Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter

Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter

By Barry Lopez

Why this book?

Barry Lopez is also an author that defies choosing among his many great books about nature, including the renown Of Wolves and Men. Less known is his collection of sixty-eight tales of Old Man Coyote, the Trickster, carefully gathered from forty-two Native American tribes. One might understandably take issue with reading a white man’s version of Native American stories, but give Barry a chance to explain himself in the introduction to the book. Of course, nothing can replace the great oral tradition of Native American storytelling, but short of the real thing, this collection will help you understand…

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The best books on American wild canids

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Book cover of The Great American Magazine: An Inside History of LIFE

The Great American Magazine: An Inside History of LIFE

By Loudon Wainwright

Why this book?

No other magazine ever burst upon the national scene with as much financial and editorial force as Life, founded by Henry Luce in 1936 to exploit the new technology of high-shutter-speed cameras that could capture events and activities like never before. Luce’s vision (actually, it came initially from his future wife, Clare Boothe Luce) was to stir the human spirit with photos of sports stars in action, the magnitude of huge structures such as the Grand Coulee Dam, a baby being born, the agony of war. With such photography mixed with probing and discursive long-form journalism, Luce transformed American magazine…

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The best books on the triumphs and struggles of American journalism

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Book cover of Decline and Fall: The struggle for power at a great American magazine: The Saturday Evening Post

Decline and Fall: The struggle for power at a great American magazine: The Saturday Evening Post

By Otto Friedrich

Why this book?

Before Life there was the Saturday Evening Post, a roaring success capturing the spirit of Middle America at a time when Middle America defined the cultural ethos of the nation. But by the late 1950s the potent reach of television advertising undermined the general-interest magazine business model, and the Post slipped into an inexorable spiral of decline that its top executives could never quite handle or even understand. There’s plenty of pathos and human drama as they struggle with forces beyond their control. 

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The best books on the triumphs and struggles of American journalism

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Book cover of Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law

Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law

By James Q. Whitman.

Why this book?

My first two picks concern the inhumanities that White Americans perpetrated against Black people, and my second two picks concern the inhumanities that Nazis perpetrated against Jews, Roma, and others. My fifth pick brings both of these seemingly independent strands together. In it, Yale University historian James Q. Whitman documents how, during the early years of the regime, Nazi lawyers looked to racist American legislation as a model for the infamous 1935 Nuremburg laws, which were the first step down the road that led to Auschwitz. This short, eye-opening book leads readers to see how American racist values were not…

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The best books on inhumanity

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Book cover of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood

We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood

By Dani McClain

Why this book?

This book is a beautiful combination of personal narrative and social commentary. McClain takes you through many of the complicated emotions of raising Black children in the United States while also leaving her reader with a sense of sisterhood and support. It’s a must when it comes to understanding the current landscape Black mothers are facing.

From the list:

The best books on Black motherhood

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Book cover of Why?: Explaining the Holocaust

Why?: Explaining the Holocaust

By Peter Hayes

Why this book?

To be honest, Hayes’s book has just a chapter on American and world response to the Holocaust (which he calls “Onlookers”) but the book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this subject. Hayes, a Holocaust studies professor emeritus at Northwestern University, basically took all his lectures to undergrads and put them into this book, explaining why and how the Holocaust happened. It’s an incredibly readable book reflecting the latest scholarship, answering all the most frequently asked questions, and giving you all the context you need to make sense of why the United States—the people and the government—responded…

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The best books on the Holocaust and the United States

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Book cover of Beards

Beards

By Reginald Reynolds

Why this book?

I came across this book unexpectedly in an American bookstore, and have since given it as a gift countless times. In essence, Reynolds provides a survey of human history through facial hair, creating a rambling, eccentric overview and proposing all sorts of improbable theories, many of which are probably right. The bookseller’s note on the back cover of my copy lists it as ‘History (?)’, which seems about right, but it has definitely made me think about history in a different way. I also now have a beard of my own (not connected).

Reynolds also wrote a similarly inspiring book…

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The best books for thinking about history in a different way

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Book cover of Untrue Stories of Fiction

Untrue Stories of Fiction

By Jack Handey

Why this book?

This is the guy who wrote Deeper Thoughts and some of the best sketches on Saturday Night Live. He is a regular in The New Yorker and American Bystander and one of our generation’s finest humorists. This collection I feel is his best yet. I read a passage before I go to sleep to deal with this crazy world.

You can only buy this book directly from the author here.

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The best books to make you laugh

Book cover of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist

Why this book?

What psychologists like me and historians have in common is a deep understanding that the past matters.  Past events shape our perceptions of the present and our expectations for the future. To understand the contemporary persistence of racism and racial inequality you have to know what happened in the past. Learning more about the establishment of slavery as a business practice foundational to the American economy is a good place to start. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist is a riveting historical account of both the brutal realities of enslavement…

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The best books on why racism persists and what we can do about it

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Book cover of The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931

The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931

By Adam Tooze

Why this book?

The book of Adam Tooze is a masterful synthesis of global history and offers an original reinterpretation of the interwar years. Readers not only gain intriguing insights about the relationships between military, financial, political, and diplomatic events. They will also be surprised by a new and well-founded view of US hegemony after 1916 that contradicts almost everything they learned in school or in other historical books.

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The best books on the Great Depression and its impact on history

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Book cover of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas

How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas

By Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, Zahara Heckscher

Why this book?

A comprehensive guide for potential volunteers wishing to make the world a better place. It includes first-hand stories, worksheets, and evaluative information about hundreds of volunteer organisations.

Written by veteran volunteers who are all founders of respected organizations, the book covers the whole process of volunteering, from how to decide if international volunteering is right for you, to choosing the right program, to what to do before and after you go abroad. It also covers the vital political and social contexts of people from the US volunteering abroad, and how to be aware of these factors to ensure you volunteer…

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The best books about international volunteering

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Book cover of Consumers' Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920

Consumers' Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920

By Kristin L. Hoganson

Why this book?

We are all aware of how modern homes are filled with goods from around the world, but have you ever wondered what this looked like for nineteenth-century Americans? This is the book for you. It’s a tour de force of synthesis and imaginative research. Join Hoganson on a tour of middle-class homes in the Gilded Age and see how decoration, cooking, fictive travel, dinner parties, and other household objects were all part of a strenuous effort to appear “cosmopolitan” and to exert power through consumption of the non-western world. This is the kind of book that makes you proclaim time…

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The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

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Book cover of Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire

Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire

By Ian Tyrrell

Why this book?

Reforming the World sees Ian Tyrrell, the master practitioner of transnational approaches to US history, at the peak of his powers. After tackling the world temperance movement, and US-Australian environmental connections, Tyrrell here turns to the “soft power” of Christian missionaries and evangelicals as they proselytized around the world and hoped to remake it in their image. You cannot fail to be gripped by the idiosyncratic personal histories of Tyrrell’s protagonists which he captures with characteristic attention to detail, humanity, and clear-eyed analysis. This is an important story in its own right, but what’s important is the way in which…

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The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

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Book cover of Betsy Ross and the Making of America

Betsy Ross and the Making of America

By Marla R. Miller

Why this book?

Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. That’s the legend, which did not appear until her grandchildren started to capitalize on tourism to the Philadelphia Centennial celebrations in 1876. The real Betsy Ross proves far more exciting. She sewed flags, but she was also an artisan, a businesswoman, a Quaker who was too political for her Meeting, and involved in the public protests leading up to the Revolution. Miller connects family networks, the material culture of the drapery and textile industries, British trade policies, and Revolutionary politics and protest into a whole cloth. This is a visceral look at the…

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The best books to read to reconsider iconic American women

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Book cover of American Homicide

American Homicide

By Randolph Roth

Why this book?

In this comprehensive study of homicide in America, Randolph Roth charts changes in the character and incidence of homicide in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. The book is particularly strong in addressing the South’s penchant for violence. In readable fashion, Roth argues that the United States, especially the South, is distinctive in its level of violence among unrelated adults―friends, acquaintances, and strangers.  Roth notes that the homicide rate rose substantially among unrelated adults in the slave South after the American Revolution; and it skyrocketed across the United States from the late 1840s through the mid-1870s, while rates…

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The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

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Book cover of Travels in West Africa

Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley

Why this book?

The Victorian era had no shortage of European men marching into Africa to plant flags and stake claims. However, there were extremely few women exploring the ‘dark continent’ at the same time, and none who related their experiences with the understated humour of Mary Kingsley. Her writing is frank, funny, and without self-interest. Alone and utterly indomitable, she pursues her anthropological and botanical interests and even makes the first female ascent of West Africa’s highest mountain.

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The best solo adventure books

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Book cover of New Jersey and the Rebellion: A History of the Services of the Troops and People of New Jersey in Aid of the Union Cause

New Jersey and the Rebellion: A History of the Services of the Troops and People of New Jersey in Aid of the Union Cause

By John Young Foster

Why this book?

There are a lot of legends regarding New Jersey and its role in the Civil War, including bogus stories that the state was considering joining the Confederacy. This book was the first attempt at relating the actual story of the state and the war. While it can be criticized in some respects, it is largely correct, and details the history of each of New Jersey’s units in the conflict. It is an invaluable starting point and a resource for anyone writing about the state and its role in the Civil War.
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The best books on New Jersey history

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Book cover of Distant Skies: An American Journey on Horseback

Distant Skies: An American Journey on Horseback

By Melissa A. Priblo Chapman

Why this book?

Travel memoirs can be fun to read, but this one is riveting. Melissa Chapman and her horse Rainy traveled nearly 3,000 miles across America when the writer was in her early twenties. Before cell phones and GPS devices, “Missy” and Rainy trekked through backwoods and on state routes, rarely knowing where they would spend the night. Without faltering, Rainy helps Missy see America in ways most of us never do.

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The best books on remarkable horses

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Book cover of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

By Martha S. Jones

Why this book?

Painting a broad picture of African-American women’s political advocacy and activism, Martha S. Jones presents women fighting for a voice in our political system from the early days of the Republic through women’s suffrage to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many of the women and their contributions to racial and gender equality were familiar to me. Others less so, including three generations of Jones’s own foremothers who worked for democratic participation in their day. Bringing home how very personal the political is, Jones finds Black women’s politics in parties, elections, government, and beyond. In churches and community institutions, in…

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The best books on the history of voting rights in the United States

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Book cover of History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810

History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810

By Yuen Yung Lun, Charles Friedrich Neumann

Why this book?

The original chronicle of the massive pirate outbreak along the China coast in the early 19th century. Written by a Chinese amateur historian, he makes his patriotic agenda clear on every page: to boost the maligned reputation of China’s imperial navy in allegedly quashing the pirates (by twisting the historical truth, to put it mildly). The main characters and incidents are based on fact, while he fills in the gaps with private conversations and meetings that no one could have been privy to. Translated into English by a German missionary in 1835, this mix of fact and speculation is…

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The best books on Chinese pirates

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Book cover of The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776-1941

The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776-1941

By Rebecca M. McLennan

Why this book?

In The Crisis of Imprisonment, McLennan examines the role of labor in the early prisons through to the Second World War. Labor was central to the motivation for adopting prisons, but also to their regular routines and functioning. After the Civil War, however, labor unions and others opposed to prisoner labor became more effective at restricting the sale of prisoner-made products, which helped to undermine the order of prisons.

The second half of the book explores the question of how do you maintain order in prisons if its central lynchpin is no longer available. It also has rich discussions…

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The best books on the origins of American prisons

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Book cover of Partial Justice: Women, Prisons and Social Control

Partial Justice: Women, Prisons and Social Control

By Nicole Hahn Rafter

Why this book?

Prisons were originally built for men (really, white men), not for women. But women were sent to prison, just not in big enough numbers to merit their own facilities until much later. Women were also viewed as a difficult population by reformers and prison administrators alike: Women who committed crimes were deemed so morally repugnant that they could not be rehabilitated, so the routines and purposes of prisons seemed not to apply to them (prisons were originally supposed to rehabilitate their prisoners).

As a small and unprofitable population (because they were assigned unprofitable labor like sewing and laundry), women prisoners…

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The best books on the origins of American prisons

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Book cover of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies

By Alan Taylor

Why this book?

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 injected new life into a largely sidelined subject in early American history, drawing a variety of contributions from a range of historians. The Civil War of 1812 is the contribution of one of the leading historians of early America. Beautifully written, as are all of Taylor’s books, this book focuses primarily on the political, social, and cultural aspects of the conflict that transpired along the United States-Canadian borderlands.  In so doing, he gives equal attention to divisions the war caused in Canadian, Native American, and U.S. communities.

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The best and most recent books on the War of 1812

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Book cover of Playing with History: American Identities and Children's Consumer Culture

Playing with History: American Identities and Children's Consumer Culture

By Molly Rosner

Why this book?

Toys! Dolls! Amusement Parks! They aren’t just playthings and play places; they are part of our national character and our consumer culture, as well as our private objects and experiences. Childhood is manufactured—created in our homes, communities, schools, and yes, by play. This book has a lot to say about our history but it is also a fun reminder of the things many of us grew up with or wish we had. It just might have you rooting through your attic or old photo books.

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The best books about American children and history

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Book cover of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change

All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change

By Michael T. Klare

Why this book?

Michael Klare mines reports written by each of the U.S. armed services over the last couple of decades to show how the Pentagon identifies a variety of threats that are multiplied by climate change. Klare organizes them in a “threat ladder” ranging from most to least likely but from least to most dangerous, making it a ladder of escalation that diverts military personnel and resources from their main mission of defending the American homeland from foreign adversaries. If you're a committed pacifist, as many climate activists are, this book will be eye-opening. If you want to reduce and then stop…

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The best books on solving the climate crisis

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Book cover of Come Hither, Vol. 1: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages

Come Hither, Vol. 1: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages

By Walter De La Mare

Why this book?

Rather than saying that he edited Come Hither, the poet, and author, Walter De La Mare (1873-1956) describes himself as having ‘made’ the anthology. Given the enticing notes to the poems and the selection of verses more than validates De La Mare’s assertion. Indeed the anthology of poetry is like a house designed to the finest detail by Mr. De La Mare, who might be considered the Poe of Poetry, as his verses tended towards the odd, ghostly and ineffable.

He was one of the last of the romantic school and Come Hither reflects his taste, Walter De La…

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The best books on decadence & the supernatural

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Book cover of Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene

Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene

By John R. Stilgoe

Why this book?

Railroads usually show up in American history books when they’re just getting started (1830), linking up the two coasts (1869), or going into catastrophic decline in competition with cars, trucks, and aircraft (the 1960s). Stilgoe, a professor of environmental design at Harvard, is much more interested in their long dominance from the 1860s to the 1950s and how they facilitated the development of American cities, the siting of power stations, the development of suburbs, and the rise of industrial parks. Nothing’s too humble and grimy to escape his notice. In one bravura passage, he even explains the truth behind the…

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The best books to understand American environmental history

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Book cover of Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement

Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement

By Katherine M. Marino

Why this book?

I am recommending this book as a history of women’s rights that extends out from the United States to the sister republics of Central and South America. Women’s rights has been a genuinely international movement and the author explores the links between veterans of the U.S. suffrage movement and women from Mexico to Chile, working to establish equal rights in their countries. Beginning as protégés of U.S. women, they eventually become independent leaders of their own movements, surpassing the tendency of their mentors to limit themselves to formal legal rather than expansive social and economic rights. The subtitle indicates the…
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The best books to read about the history of women's rights

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Book cover of The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between

The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between

By Michael Dobbs

Why this book?

The Unwanted is perhaps the best all-around book explaining the crisis faced by Jewish refugees trying to escape to the United States. Dobbs merges the intimate histories of members of the Jewish community in the small German town of Kippenheim, the work of the US State Department officials in Germany and France, American refugee aid workers, and President Roosevelt. By utilizing both personal and official sources, Dobbs allows all the people he writes about to speak for themselves. It’s beautifully written and heartbreaking, and whatever you think about this history when you start the book, those thoughts will be more…

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The best books on the Holocaust and the United States

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

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

By Richard D. Brown

Why this book?

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.
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The best books on the history of communication

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Book cover of American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States

American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States

By Nicholas L. Syrett

Why this book?

When American’s think of marriage, they tend to view it approvingly, as a good, wholesome institution that forms the foundation of American society. However, marriage has also been a back door to otherwise forbidden and harmful behavior. In American Child Bride, Nicolas Syrett explores the history of minor marriage in America as well as the shockingly high rates of underage marriages that continue today. The book highlights the complexity of these relationships, demonstrating that they could be dangerously exploitative but also, that the legal and social importance attached to marriage could make it an attractive option, even for children,…
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The best books on the history of love and marriage

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Book cover of American Daughter: A Memoir

American Daughter: A Memoir

By Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Elissa Wald

Why this book?

What I loved most about this book was the determined persistence of the author to rise above the negligence and abandonment she suffered in childhood to become a decent, functioning, compassionate adult, one who ultimately takes the time to understand her mother’s history. Stephanie Thornton Plymale had every reason to walk away from her damaged mother and never look back, but she doesn’t. I love that she found the courage and empathy to move beyond her own difficult past to understand her mother’s history. I was riveted by this compelling, beautifully crafted book.
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The best books on the drama, conflict, loyalty, and love of the mother-daughter knot

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Book cover of The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862

The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862

By Carol Sheriff

Why this book?

The Artificial River is so well-written, and features so many surprising and illuminating insights about early America, that I have assigned it many times in undergraduate classes. Sheriff speaks trenchantly about the concept of progress that inspired—and continues to inspire—so many of us. Yet by looking at how that concept played out over the course of the building of the Erie Canal, one of the most massive public works projects of the early Republic, she also shows the ways that Americans’ views of the common good were transformed. In a series of brilliantly executed chapters, Sheriff demonstrates the extent to…
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The best books on the surprising world of the early American Republic

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Book cover of Anne Sexton: A Biography

Anne Sexton: A Biography

By Diane Wood Middlebrook

Why this book?

This poignant narrative of Anne Sexton’s life takes you inside the complicated emotions of a prize winning poet who began her career as a suburban housewife and mother. I especially loved but also envied the portrait of Sexton’s long friendship with poet Maxine Kumin with whom Sexton took her first steps in the writing of poetry. Famously, the two women kept a separate phone line open between their houses so that they could share and craft lines between domestic chores. Sadly, despite the pulls of friendship, the biography shows, even the most talented writer has demons that can’t be vanquished.…

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The best books to read about how women's friendships shape the stories of their lives

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Book cover of Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915

Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915

By Peter Maresca

Why this book?

Warning: This book will make you build a new bookshelf. Like other oversized offerings from Peter Maresca’s Sunday Press Publishing, you need a tape measure, not a ruler, to determine its dimensions. This means that you can read this startling collection of strips from 1895 to 1915 in the grand size in which they first appeared in early newspapers, back when the colors and characters screamed off the page, reflecting and refracting the frenetic dawn of a new century. These old newspaper comics pages are where Americans first learned to laugh together. Society is Nix can be difficult to find…

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The best books for reading century-old newspaper funnies

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Book cover of The Americans

The Americans

By Robert Frank

Why this book?

I tried to do something different with this list than the usual photography books people often cite, however, there is just no avoiding how important Robert Frank’s The Americans has been on the medium. In 1955, Frank departed for a two-year road trip to document the people of the United States, which coincided with the evolution of new post-war classes – namely, the working poor and those who would eventually become the beatniks of the ‘60s. Focusing on the racial and socio-geographic divide, Frank was a pioneer, as his work defiantly contradicted the popular romanticized propaganda of Life Magazine,…

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The best books about documentary photography

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Book cover of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays

By Kiese Laymon

Why this book?

Finding your voice and using it to champion those in the world who mean the most to you is at the heart of this collection of essays. It is steadfast in its commentary on the world just as it questions the self and how to move beyond from what weighs you down in order to rise up.

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The best books for growing up and finding your voice

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Book cover of George Washington: The Political Rise of America's Founding Father

George Washington: The Political Rise of America's Founding Father

By David O. Stewart

Why this book?

This book delivers a full appreciation of Washington’s unique and unappreciated political skills which led to his being the unanimous choice for leading the American military during the Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and two presidential terms. The author makes the Father of our Country come alive as a human being who was always a cut above his colleagues.
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The best presidential biographies

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Book cover of National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

By John Charles Chasteen

Why this book?

In this fascinating study, Chasteen examines the historical experiences that molded Latin American popular dance from an Atlantic perspective. It delves into the “deep” history of Latin American culture and analyzes the development of dancing culture in its socio-historical context. This is not only a well-researched, but also a well written and oftentimes funny book that is broadly accessible. It is a must-read for any new scholar interested in the field of Black performance culture. Although the focus is on Latin America, Chasteen’s study reveals connections that are also of great importance to understanding the historical development of Black dance…

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The best books in Atlantic cultural history

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Book cover of Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Why this book?

Skilled communication is more vital than ever in a pandemic, post-pandemic, and Zoom world. Crucial Conversations has been and continues to be a best seller because it offers practical and powerful skills to help people work through tough conversations they typically dread. I first picked up this book when I was facing a crucial conversation with a co-worker. But after digging in I quickly realized how this book should be considered mandatory reading for every negotiator. The focus on specific skills and techniques to make conversations better is sure to come in handy in virtually all negotiations no matter what…

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The best books for negotiating great strategic business relationships

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Book cover of American Slavery, American Freedom

American Slavery, American Freedom

By Edmund S. Morgan

Why this book?

This is a classic of American history from one of our greatest historians. Morgan was a master of both the art and the craft of history, and that skill is on full display in this account of the Virginia Colony from its early seventeenth-century founding, through a series of Native American/colonial wars, to the rise and solidification of American chattel slavery. Morgan insightfully probes the question of how a nation founded on liberty could give rise to the extremes of slavery and freedom.

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The best books on seventeenth-century America

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Book cover of American Environmental History: An Introduction

American Environmental History: An Introduction

By Carolyn Merchant

Why this book?

There are many general introductions to American environmental history. This one, by a pioneering leader in the field, is excellent. The comprehensive narrative provides a good mix of facts and interpretation, and Merchant provides as well a list of agencies, concepts, laws, and people, in addition to resource guides to print, film, video, archival, and electronic sources, plus bibliographies and essays on a variety of topics

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The best books on the environmental history of the United States

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Book cover of Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay

Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay

By Shanna Greene Benjamin

Why this book?

Benjamin’s Half in Shadow is an excellent exploration of the life of Nellie Y. McKay (1930-2006), a pioneering scholar of black women’s literature. Fearing it could damage her career in the academy, McKay declined to be caricatured as an older, divorced, black single mother of two children. So, she hid this from all her academic colleagues and friends, including her closest ones. The driving force of Benjamin’s book is trying to make sense of the private life and professional motivations of McKay’s choice to live her life “half in shadow.” Benjamin suggests that black women in the academy face similar…

From the list:

The best biographies of Black women

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Book cover of Labyrinths

Labyrinths

By Jorge Luis Borges

Why this book?

Labyrinths is the most uncanny short story collection I’ve ever read. No other writing I know compares to it. Borges builds each story from a philosophical concept. 

For example:

What if the tree that fell in the forest really didn’t exist?

What if life was deliberately random?

What if you could only think of one thing?

What if you could remember everything?

Sound boring? No way. Just the opposite, because these mind-boggling ideas play out in the everyday world, the world of groceries, love letters, collies, fountain pens. 

No matter how often I do, each time I read a Borges…

From the list:

The best short story/short novel collections

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Book cover of Ecotopia

Ecotopia

By Ernest Callenbach

Why this book?

Philosopher Ernest Callenbach’s novel originated the ecotopia genre as well as the term itself, pioneering many green ideas, even as basic as sustainability: Callenbach called it “steady-state society”, and imagined some of the radical forms it might take (they’re still radical, alas), weaving them together into a story that is occasionally cringe-worthy (in hindsight, you know) but nonetheless paints a compelling and informative picture of an alternative, thoroughly environmentalist society.

PS. Will Weston, the protagonist, is no relation... though that was my grandfather’s name...

From the list:

The best ecotopian adventures (and misadventures)

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Book cover of Four Years in Rebel Capitals: An Inside View of Life in the Southern Confederacy From Birth to Death: From Original Notes, Collated in the Years 1861 to 1865

Four Years in Rebel Capitals: An Inside View of Life in the Southern Confederacy From Birth to Death: From Original Notes, Collated in the Years 1861 to 1865

By Thomas C. DeLeon

Why this book?

It is one of the best first-person accounts we have of the adolescent days of the Confederacy in Montgomery, AL. De Leon is a fine writer who provides great pen portraits of the people involved, endless anecdotal detail on political and social life among the founders and their Montgomery hosts, and some penetrating insights into the jealousies and rivalries that helped to cripple their efforts from the outset.

From the list:

The best books on the politics of the Confederacy: the inner world of the 'Lost Cause'

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Book cover of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

By Andrew Lichtenstein

Why this book?

Photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and historian Alex Lichtenstein offer readers compelling visual expression of the instability of public memory. The authors ask who and what gets remembered and forgotten, and where and how? What is consigned to oblivion and why? What do such choices reveal about what national stories we prize and those we find uncomfortable, even indigestible? The powerful photographs suggest how volatile historic sites can be marked by absence as well as presence.

From the list:

The best books about American battlefields

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Book cover of How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America

How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America

By Karen Brodkin

Why this book?

Now that I’ve raised the issue of whiteness – ways in which American structures and institutions reflect the agendas and interests of white people, and the role those structures play in shaping opportunity and life experiences -- here I want to bring it front and center. Many white people don’t recognize how they benefit from having white skin (called “white privilege”) and many white ethnic groups, including many white Jews in the U.S., deny their white privilege altogether, insisting that they too have been the victim of white discrimination, and that anti-Black racism is no different. Brodkin offers a powerful…

From the list:

The best books on Black-Jewish relations

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Book cover of Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide

Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide

By Lane Windham

Why this book?

Labor unions played a key role in lifting millions of Americans—mostly white male industrial workers—into the middle class in the mid-twentieth century. The passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s opened access to unionized manufacturing jobs and led to new waves of labor activism by women and people of color, but these were undermined by political and economic shifts that eliminated millions of jobs in the late twentieth century. Windham shows how anti-union policies and practices made it more difficult for workers to organize and force employers to the negotiating table, which explains the persistence of racial and economic…

From the list:

The best books on race and class in the United States

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Book cover of Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition

Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition

By William J. Rorabaugh

Why this book?

Rorabaugh argues convincingly that alcohol of several types—but mostly rum and whisky—were part and parcel of, and at times even drove, early national American culture. Solo and group binges increased from 1790 to 1820 as the population tried to adapt to anxious and uncertain changes in their lives. Drinking became aligned with liberty—taverns were the “seedbeds of the revolution” and the “nurseries of freedom.” And although boozing came to be an early element in what was defined as the American character, the temperance movement was not far off.

From the list:

The books books on the history of booze

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Book cover of The Just and the Unjust

The Just and the Unjust

By James Gould Cozzens

Why this book?

This novel is in many ways the precise opposite of a “courtroom thriller.” The murder trial depicted is not upended by surprise evidence, witnesses do not blurt out confessions, and the outside world takes little notice of what is transpiring in the courtroom. But prosecutor Abner Coates is a memorable portrait of a man for whom the law has become an entire world. A powerful courtroom moment punctures Abner’s professional irony, when he imagines looking at himself through the eyes of the defendants, and he realizes that despite his good nature and intentions, to them he is a savage enemy…

From the list:

The best legal novels that you can't put down

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Book cover of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy

Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy

By Andrew Preston

Why this book?

This is a magisterial work and the perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning about how religious beliefs and religions of all types have played a role in U.S. foreign policy since the colonial era. It is an incredibly comprehensive and deeply researched book, but do not let its heft deter you—Preston is a skilled narrator and you will find yourself immediately immersed in and absorbed by the stories he shares. His ability to illuminate the links between religion and the core ideas that have guided the U.S. engagement with the world over the past four hundred years is…

From the list:

The best books on the history of religion in U.S. foreign relations

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Book cover of Dreamers

Dreamers

By Yuyi Morales

Why this book?

A non-fiction picture book that reads like poetry, this gorgeous book describes the author’s own journey from Mexico to the U.S. with her young son. The illustrations are as poetic as the language, which infuses English with Spanish words, simple words with more challenging ones, and words of pain with those of pride, resilience, and creativity. The book explores not only the refugee’s journey, but also, and most especially, the challenges and small victories of integrating and trying to make a new life in a new land. I also love the central role that books, words, and libraries play in…

From the list:

The best children’s books to spark conversations about refugees

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Book cover of Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America

Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America

By Deborah Diesen, Magdalena Mora

Why this book?

The United States of America has a proud but checkered tradition of freedom. This book gives kids nuance about the past while celebrating expanding access to freedom. The text rhymes and is satisfyingly rhythmic. A refrain carries us through the sweep of history: “We heard ever louder/ Equality’s call:/ A right isn’t right/ Till it’s granted to all.” The illustrations show the slow accumulation of more and more people gaining access to civil rights, culminating in an image of people of all genders, colors, and abilities celebrating their right to vote. The trim size of this book about equal rights…

From the list:

The best children’s books for young activists

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Book cover of Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition

Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition

By Aaron Sachs

Why this book?

While some of us like to imagine humans as separate from nature, one moment where that boundary dissolves is with death. Inescapably, we will all eventually decompose and become a part of our environment. In Aaron Sach’s book, nineteenth-century Americans reckon with death through the creation of carefully landscaped cemeteries. What I particularly love about Arcadian America is how Sachs weaves his own memoir about his encounters with mortality in with the history he’s telling, making it a gripping page-turner.
From the list:

The best histories of nature in unexpected places

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Book cover of Deaf Culture: Exploring Deaf Communities in the United States

Deaf Culture: Exploring Deaf Communities in the United States

By Irene Leigh, Jean Andrews, Raychelle Harris, Topher Gonzáles Ávila

Why this book?

The authors explore the complexity of deaf identities, looking at race, sexual behavior/orientation, disability, and the range of different experiences deaf people have, from being born into a family that signs to not even learning about sign languages until they are (nearly) adults.

From the list:

The best books about deaf culture

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Book cover of The Darling

The Darling

By Russell Banks

Why this book?

At times a difficult (but great) read, The Darling tackles some big ethical and political subjects. Banks addresses the power of speech (and silence), the separation of emotions from choice, and the sometimes necessity of compartmentalizing traumatic experiences in order to survive. I found the protagonist’s voice compellingly detached with just the right amount of compassion and engagement (similar, in fact to Frank’s voice in The Sportswriter).

(Side note, Banks’ Rule of the Bone almost made this list as well…)

From the list:

The best fiction books that are secretly philosophy books

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Book cover of Wolfsbane (Discarded Heroes Vol. 3)

Wolfsbane (Discarded Heroes Vol. 3)

By Ronie Kendig

Why this book?

The Discarded Heroes series holds a special place for me, as these books gave me the push I needed to face my fears and finally pursue publishing my writing. The entire Nightshade team was written so authentically, they feel like part of my extended family. I’m recommending book three specifically, because of Canyon and Dani. Their ability to acknowledge their weaknesses, take responsibility for their mistakes, and push through anything to finish their mission still inspires me.

From the list:

The best books with characters you’d want in your crew

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Book cover of Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream

Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream

By Matthew Christopher

Why this book?

We often think of travel photography as limited to exotic overseas locales, but Matthew Christopher set out to show that the United States has fallen into just as much decay and deterioration as any third-world nation. Part of his Abandoned America book series, Dismantling the Dream follows up on his debut, The Age of Consequence, with evocative scenery of properties and venues – malls, factories, schools, farms, homes – forsaken by their original inhabitants. Anyone who has not deluded themselves into disbelieving that the U.S. is in a permanent state of demise will appreciate these apocalyptic yet nonetheless lovely…

From the list:

The best books about travel photography

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Book cover of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores

By Jen Campbell

Why this book?

For any friend of yours that loves laughing or is a bookseller or wonders about the strangeness of human mankind often or has ever been in a bookstore, or all of that together, this is a perfect present. Jen Campbell is a bookseller herself and has a fine and hilarious sense of humour that is very contagious and perfectly capable to turn a rainy Saturday afternoon into some well-lived hours.

From the list:

The best books to give a book lover

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Book cover of Just Like Home: Como en Mi Tierra

Just Like Home: Como en Mi Tierra

By Elizabeth I. Miller, Mira Reisberg, Teresa Mlawer

Why this book?

I like this book because the protagonist compares her food, traditions, and weather of her native country and her new country. In both English and Spanish, a young girl shares the story of how she and her family arrived in the United States. She describes her experiences as being "just like home" or "not like home".

From the list:

The best children’s books about the Latino immigrant experience

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Book cover of Pop. 1280

Pop. 1280

By Jim Thompson

Why this book?

Set in Potts County, Texas, around 1910, this is a down-and-dirty noir novel. It works for me a little better than his The Grifters, though, because it has more tonal variety, with moments of near farce rather than the continuous despairing sociopathy of his full-bore hard-boiled characters. It unapologetically shows the racism and bigotry of historic American back country. Its first-person narrator is a seemingly jovial small-town sheriff who plays dumb while he takes bribes and keeps several moment-to-moment cons running within his small community. One of the amusing things about this utterly hard-boiled character is that the reader…

From the list:

The best books of back country crime fiction

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Book cover of A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

By Hudson Stuck

Why this book?

The oldest of my choices, published in 1920, this classic account of an epic 2,000-mile dogsled journey in northern Alaska, written by an Episcopal missionary, still makes lists of the best books about the 50th state. A masterpiece of adventure and ethnography, with lyrical descriptions of nature, A Winter Circuit is the work of a man not only deeply and widely read about polar exploration and the history of the Far North, but also keenly aware of the social forces bearing down on Alaska’s Native peoples, and eager to support and defend their time-honed way of life.

From the list:

The best first-person books about the outdoors that should be better-known

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Book cover of The Blue Hen's Chick: An Autobiography

The Blue Hen's Chick: An Autobiography

By A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

Why this book?

Guthie’s autobiography describes the wild, western United States from his perspective as a 64-year-old westerner. Born in 1901, Guthrie provides a compelling account of the rugged beauty of the West. Guthrie’s writing is lucid and compelling. I had read most of his books by the time I turned 30.
From the list:

The best books about the beauty and power of the American West

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Book cover of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

By Dorothy Roberts

Why this book?

I go back to this book again and again and so do all the people I know who are committed to understanding reproductive politics in the United States. I read and reread this book because it’s a brilliant, basic, and perennially relevant explanation of the history, politics, and legal supports sustaining racialized reproduction in the United States, from the slavery regime to its long aftermath.

From the list:

The best books for understanding why we need reproductive justice

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Book cover of A Queer History of the United States for Young People

A Queer History of the United States for Young People

By Michael Bronski

Why this book?

After reading all that historical fiction, you might be ready to learn more about the time periods and events that you’ve been introduced to. This non-fiction book is based on the author’s 2012 Stonewall Award-winning A Queer History of the United States and is adapted for teen readers. It includes some well-known figures, alongside profiles of many people that readers may never have heard of. Engaging and easy to read, this is a fascinating and richly detailed telling of queer American history, particularly in the years before the Stonewall Riots.

From the list:

The best young adult books about queer community throughout history

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Book cover of Imagine

Imagine

By Juan Felipe Herrera, Lauren Castillo

Why this book?

I love books in which children can imagine themselves in the story. This gorgeous book, with its perfect match of gentle text and engaging illustrations, asks readers to imagine a child picking flowers, playing in a stream, moving with his migrant worker family, learning how to speak English, and beginning to write. As the child grows and changes, readers will delight in discovering that the narrator is actually Herrera, a U.S. poet laureate, writing about his own path to finding his voice and becoming a poet. Herrera points to his own journey as a way for children to imagine the…

From the list:

The best picture book biographies to inspire young poets

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Book cover of Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans During World War II

Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans During World War II

By Takashi Fujitani

Why this book?

Takashi Fujitani offers a surprising historical narrative, telling the story of Korean soldiers in the Japanese army alongside that of Japanese-American soldiers in the United States during World War II. What is striking here is how total global war pushed both the United States and Japan to similar policies toward minority populations. Both abandoned more “vulgar” forms of racism (explicit discrimination) for what Fujitani calls a “polite racism,” where minority groups were now deemed as capable of cultural assimilation. But what really is inspiring is that Fujitani juxtaposes two wartime enemies—the United States and Japan—to show just how similar they…

From the list:

The best books on the Japanese Empire

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Book cover of Reading American Photographs: Images as History-Mathew Brady to Walker Evans

Reading American Photographs: Images as History-Mathew Brady to Walker Evans

By Alan Trachtenberg

Why this book?

The late Alan Trachtenberg (he died in 2020) did more than any other scholar or critic to further our understanding of photographs as cultural documents. This book – probing, detailed yet precise, and endlessly interesting – is his masterpiece. The chapters devoted to Civil War photographs and to American Photographs (1938), the extraordinary photobook produced by artist Walker Evans, are especially powerful. There is a sense in which the books I commend by other authors here – including my own The Grass Shall Grow (2020) -- would not be possible without Trachtenberg’s example.

From the list:

The best books on American photography

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Book cover of Braving the Storm, Volume 1

Braving the Storm, Volume 1

By Jennifer Brooks

Why this book?

Personal reveal – I love weather. I am in my happy place with a good thunderstorm overhead, shaking my house, lighting up my backyard in the dead of night. And so, I was drawn to read Braving the Storm.

The entire eastern seaboard of the United States is struck by Superstorm Nicole. The power grids fail, millions of residences and businesses are unprotected, in the dark. Anarchy erupts as gangs rule the streets forcing residents to make a choice; leave their homes or stay and fight. Four families flee the city, and join together, to live in a cabin…

From the list:

The best novels on surviving and survival

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Book cover of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

By Robert Whitaker

Why this book?

This book may keep you up all night – it is hard to put down! Robert Whitaker challenges us to take a cold hard look at whether conventional psychiatric medications really deserve our respect. If not, why has the public been led to think that the psychopharmacology ‘revolution’ that began in the 1970s would solve mental problems

Why would I suggest this book for people interested in brain health and nutrition? Because it illuminates the progression over the last 50 years, during which all the previous knowledge of the role of nutrition in brain health was suppressed. And…

From the list:

The best books for improving your brain health

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