The best books about Western culture

Who picked these books? Meet our 43 experts.

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

What type of Western culture book?


Book cover of The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories

Graeme Brooker Author Of 50/50 Words for Reuse: A Minifesto

From the list on interior architecture and reuse of buildings.

Who am I?

Graeme Brooker is a Professor and Head of Interior Design at the Royal College of Art London. He has written and published fifteen books on the histories and theories of inside spaces, many of which focus on the reuse of existing artefacts, buildings, and cities. Apart from teaching and writing, when he isn’t cycling, he is often staring intently at the sea in Brighton, where he currently lives.

Graeme's book list on interior architecture and reuse of buildings

Discover why each book is one of Graeme's favorite books.

Why did Graeme love this book?

This book is a provocative and stimulating read, offering a series of stories on and about interior spaces and the buildings they are situated in. The stories of buildings and their changes are fascinating, providing boundless enthusiasm to communicate the ideas and stories of each space. Hollis states that many conversations are started and that maybe not all of them are ever finished, this book provides an inspired beginning for any person who wants to begin an exploration of the art of adapting and altering existing buildings. 

By Edward Hollis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The plans are drawn up, a site is chosen, foundations are dug: a building comes into being with the expectation that it will stay put and stay for ever. But a building is a capricious thing: it is inhabited and changed, and its existence is a tale of constant and curious transformation. In this radical reimagining of architectural history, Edward Hollis tells the stories of thirteen buildings, beginning with the 'once upon a time' when they first appeared, through the years of appropriation, ruin and renovation, and ending with a temporary 'ever after'. In spell-binding prose, Hollis follows his buildings…

Tinsmith 1865

By Sara Dahmen,

Book cover of Tinsmith 1865

Michelle Rene Author Of Hour Glass

From the list on western historical fiction.

Who am I?

Growing up in West Texas, westerns were just as good as bedtime stories to me. I grew up with all the greats… and the not as greats. The quality didn’t always matter because the spirit was the same. Freedom, opportunity, and possible lawlessness. Survival of the quickest draw. An untamed place where anything could happen. Someone once said that the western genre was America’s genre. It was invented here and our frontier spirit inspired the world. When I decided to write Hour Glass, I channeled the independent spirit of those westerns I grew up with. I wrote the first draft in sixteen days out of pure passion for the subject matter. 

Michelle's book list on western historical fiction

Discover why each book is one of Michelle's favorite books.

Why did Michelle love 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 in this book, it’s enchanting. Since she’s a professional tinsmith, every scene is tangible. I can’t recommend it enough.

By Sara Dahmen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tinsmith 1865 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When her tinsmith father and brothers head West, Polish immigrant Marie Kotlarczyk has no choice but to go along. Family, after all, is family. The Dakota Territories are anything but welcoming to the Kotlarczyks, and as the months trip by, Marie must pick up the hammers she’s secretly desired but also feared. When she faces the skeptical people of Flats Town, the demands of the local Army commander, and her public failures, her inner voice grows destructively, forcing Marie to decide exactly who she is and what it means to be a woman smith.


By David Blayney Brown,

Book cover of Romanticism

Michael K. Ferber Author Of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

From the list on how romanticism transformed western culture.

Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.

Michael's book list on how romanticism transformed western culture

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

Art history also knows a Romantic movement, as does music history. Brown’s book has 250 color plates, mostly of painting from Constable, Turner, Blake, Friedrich, Delacroix, Goya, and many others, but also of some architectural wonders. Brown makes continual connections to the poetry and philosophy of the time, and to political events, as he organizes his chapters by theme: the cult of the artist, the religion of nature, the sense of the past, orientalism, and the exotic, and so on. There are several fine books on Romantic painting, but this is probably the best place to begin.

By David Blayney Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Romanticism was a way of feeling rather than a style in art. In the period c.1775-1830 - against the background of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars - European artists, poets and composers initiated their own rebellion against the dominant political, religious and social ethos of the day. Their quest was for personal expression and individual liberation and, in the process, the Romantics transformed the idea of art, seeing it as an instrument of social and psychological change.

In this comprehensive volume, David Blayney Brown takes a thematic approach to Romanticism, relating it to the concurrent, more stylistic movements…

Peace Warrior

By Steven L. Hawk,

Book cover of Peace Warrior

K.A. Finn Author Of Ares

From the list on kick-ass heroes you don’t mess with.

Who am I?

I’m an Irish writer who is completely hooked on anything sci-fi related. I used to race home from school to do my homework as fast as possible so I could watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first character I ever wrote about began his life in my head as part of the Star Trek: TNG world before deciding he was too big and created his own. It’s still an area I am passionate about. Shows like Firefly, Dark Matter, Picard, etc are on my favourites list. I just love the endless possibilities with the genre. Endless exploration, hi or low tech, and incredible ships. What’s not to love?

K.A.'s book list on kick-ass heroes you don’t mess with

Discover why each book is one of K.A.'s favorite books.

Why did K.A. love this book?

I read this book a few years ago and again recently. I still love it. The whole series in fact. The main character, Grant Justice is instantly captivating. I have to admit his name is pretty great too! Like all my favourite heroes, Grant is a man who can look after himself. In fact, he can look after the whole planet. He’s that kick-ass. Loads of action, a bit of romance, and a lot of Grant. I think I’ll have to go and read it again…

By Steven L. Hawk,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


It’s the mid-21st century when Sergeant First Class Grant Justice is killed during an ambush on an enemy tank column.

Six hundred years later, his body is retrieved from the frozen, arctic lake where he perished. Re-animated by a team of scientists, Grant awakens to a civilization that has abolished war. A civilization that has outlawed violence and cherishes Peace above all else. A civilization that has been enslaved by an alien race called the Minith.

Grant is humankind’s final hope against the alien menace. He must be the... Peace Warrior.


Take a Chance on Me

By Sapna Bhog,

Book cover of Take a Chance on Me

Saz Vora Author Of My Heart Sings Your Song

From the list on Asian and South Asian cultures.

Who am I?

My debut duet came out of necessity to handle the grief of losing our first child almost thirty years ago. As part of my writing journey, I searched for stories by people like me, migrants who draw on their upbringing and living with their heritage in their adopted country. One thing I came across was the use of the language, the food, and the many family gatherings and music. I enjoyed reading of people from all communities and liked exploring new cultures and these books do just that for me. They take me to families who embrace the joy of their life in a foreign land.

Saz's book list on Asian and South Asian cultures

Discover why each book is one of Saz's favorite books.

Why did Saz love this book?

Bhog’s Sehgal saga takes you to the world of India’s mega-rich. Kabier Sehgal returns to India to take over the running of Sehgal Systems from his grandfather, Janak Sehgal. Janak is a loveable grandfather figure, who keeps a close eye on his grandchildren and is a mentor to many of their friends too. Keya Karia is one of the trio known as Janak’s Angels, the other being Sheena Sehgal and Raashi Dewan. In this enemy-to-lover romance, Kabier suspects Keya of selling company secrets, but their instant chemistry plays havoc with their lives. As Sheena’s wedding nears, they admit their feelings. Bhog’s books take you to the world of found families and the joy of lifelong friendships and to the world of crazy rich South Asians.

By Sapna Bhog,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Take a Chance on Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A must reader for all the romantic people out there." - Amazon Reader

Enter a world of glamour, wealth and beautiful people. Enter the world of the Sehgals!

He made a mistake and now he will pay the price for it...with his heart.
KABIER SEHGAL, scion of the Sehgal empire, has returned to India to take over the helm of his companies from his grandfather. His first mission is to find out who is selling his company's secrets. When the suspicion falls on KEYA KARIA, he decides to work closely with her to expose her fraud. He accuses her of…

An Ottoman Traveller

By Robert Dankoff (translator), Sooyong Kim (translator), Evliya Çelebi

Book cover of An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi

Caroline Finkel Author Of Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

From the list on the Ottoman Empire.

Who am I?

I am a Scottish Ottoman historian who has lived half my life in Istanbul. Realising that the archive-based research of my PhD and after was read by too few, I wrote Osman's Dream, which has been translated into several languages and is read generally, as well as by students. I am fascinated by the 'where' of history, and follow historical routes the slow way, by foot or on horseback, to reach the sites where events occurred. That's the thing about living where the history you study happened: its traces and artefacts are all around, every day. I hope I have brought a sense of Ottoman place to Osman's Dream.

Caroline's book list on the Ottoman Empire

Discover why each book is one of Caroline's favorite books.

Why did Caroline love this book?

Evliya Çelebi's Book of Travels has remained a well-kept secret—until now. Evliya was a seventeenth-century Ottoman courtier who wandered the empire and beyond for over 40 years and recorded his adventures in what is considered to be the longest travel account in world literature. This well-chosen selection of excerpts from his entertaining and informative masterpiece brings glimpses of the many climes and cultures he explored to an English-speaking readership, while luring us irresistibly into his idiosyncratic world.

By Robert Dankoff (translator), Sooyong Kim (translator), Evliya Çelebi

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Evliya Celebi was the widest-eyed, most intensely curious ... and prolific travel writer the Ottoman world ever produced. A learned and perceptive gentleman-observer from courtly Istanbul at the height of its power, Evilya's work records and preserves an entire world otherwise lost to history. A proper edition of his massive work has long been overdue, and Robert Dankoff magnificently translates the highlights ... a book which is likely to change for ever our perceptions of the Ottoman Empire.' - William Dalrymple


By Orlando Patterson,

Book cover of Freedom: Volume I: Freedom In The Making Of Western Culture

Paul Anthony Cartledge Author Of Democracy: A Life

From the list on freedom and freedom of speech in Ancient Greece.

Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.

Paul's book list on freedom and freedom of speech in Ancient Greece

Discover why each book is one of Paul's favorite books.

Why did Paul love this book?

I have met Orlando only once, alas, at the university where he has taught for many years (Harvard), he is both a novelist and historical sociologist. For a Black scholar originating from Kingston, Jamaica, to write approvingly of forms of freedom that he believes ‘made’ Western culture, when that culture arguably in both its ancient Greek and its modern Euro-American modes was also based on slavery, is in itself very remarkable. This is the first of a two-volume study.

By Orlando Patterson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This magisterial work traces the history of our most cherished value. Patterson links the birth of freedom in primitive societies with the institution of slavery, and traces the evolution of three forms of freedom in the West from antiquity through the Middle Ages.

Book cover of The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture: Volume 1: The Birth of Expectation

Brian J. McVeigh Author Of The 'Other' Psychology of Julian Jaynes: Ancient Languages, Sacred Visions, and Forgotten Mentalities

From the list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by how the human mind adapts, both individually and through history. Julian Jaynes, who taught me while pursuing my PhD in anthropology from Princeton University, provided me with a theoretical framework to explore how the personal and cultural configure each other. Jaynes inspired me to publish on psychotherapeutics, the history of Japanese psychology, linguistics, education, nationalism, the origin of religion, the Bible, ancient Egypt, popular culture, and changing definitions of self, time, and space. My interests have taken me to China and Japan, where I lived for many years. I taught at the University of Arizona and currently work as a licensed mental health counselor. 

Brian's book list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness

Discover why each book is one of Brian's favorite books.

Why did Brian love this book?

This book, in a fashion similar to Julian Jaynes’s theories about bicameral mentality and consciousness, challenges comfortable assumptions. It does this by demonstrating that though what we think (content) differs by place and period, mentalities (processes) themselves are neither invariant nor universal.

Specifically, it offers a detailed study of literature and shows how notions of causality and temporal thought processes that we take for granted were undeveloped in earlier centuries. 

By Don LePan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LePan challenges the assumption that everybody thinks in the same way by examining a particular mental faculty - expectation. He concludes that certain forms of expectation did not exist in the minds of most medieval people, any more than they do in children or adults in many primitive societies.

Letting Go!

By Dr. Sharie Coombes, Ellie O’Shea (illustrator),

Book cover of Letting Go!

Jessica Sinarski Author Of What's Inside Your Backpack?

From the list on children’s books for mental health.

Who am I?

My super-power is making brain science accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike. I am living this out as an author, mental health counselor, and the founder of BraveBrains. In addition to training parents and professionals, I have the joy of sharing my passion and expertise through podcast appearances, blogs, and articles. The lightbulb moments are my favorite, and I'm committed to helping people bring what they learn home in practical ways. I write picture books because the magic of reading and re-reading stories light up the brain in a powerful way. But don’t worry…I always include some goodies for the adults in the back of the book.

Jessica's book list on children’s books for mental health

Discover why each book is one of Jessica's favorite books.

Why did Jessica love this book?

Grief, unfortunately, is a part of life. Western culture has a habit of ignoring and minimizing grief in detrimental ways. When we gently turn toward the difficult stuff in life, we can “feel and deal” in ways that benefit mental health. There are many books about grieving the death of a loved one (a list for another day, perhaps), but few acknowledge the other intense and life-altering kinds of loss and change that children are grieving. Dr. Coombes’ book is much more inclusive–plus, it delivers a treasure trove of activities to help children (and adults) navigate this challenging part of being human. The delightful doodles will appeal to upper elementary and quite a few tweens and teens.

By Dr. Sharie Coombes, Ellie O’Shea (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

These writing, craft, and doodling activities are designed to offer children support through experiences of loss, change, disappointment, and grief by using creativity to combat negative feelings and help them work through difficult times.

Survival Instincts

By May Dawney,

Book cover of Survival Instincts

Amy Marsden Author Of Survivors

From the list on post-apocalyptic with a variety of 'apocalypses'.

Who am I?

Survivors was actually inspired by a video game, The Last of Us, but after discovering my love of post-apocalyptic stories via games I quickly moved on to books. There’s something freeing about these kinds of stories, to people who feel society can often be suffocating, it’s nice to imagine it burning down and something new and better rising from the ashes. My Survivors duology is the first of many books I hope. I’m a biomedical scientist in microbiology, and while these types of stories always require a certain suspension of disbelief, I’ve used some of my knowledge to create the world of Survivors. I hope you enjoy it! 

Amy's book list on post-apocalyptic with a variety of 'apocalypses'

Discover why each book is one of Amy's favorite books.

Why did Amy love this book?

This is a post-apocalyptic book set well after a war decimated civilisation. We follow two main characters, and it was lovely to see their relationship unfold and grow. Survival and trust are two big themes in this book, as they are in my own, and it was nice to read a similar book. This is for those who are more romantic at heart, as romance is a major part of the book. I really liked the characters. Plus, there’s a dog!

By May Dawney,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Civilization ended long before Lynn Tanner was born. Wild animals roam the streets, but mankind is still the biggest threat to a woman alone in the ruins of a world reclaimed by nature. Lynn survives by sleeping with one eye open at all times and trusting no one but her dog.
When she is forced to go on a dangerous journey through the concrete jungle of New York City, Lynn does all she can to scheme her way to safety. Her guard, Dani Wilson, won’t be played that easily, however. As their lives become entwined, Lynn finds herself developing feelings…

The Secret Life of Puppets

By Victoria Nelson,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Puppets

Brandon R. Grafius Author Of Lurking Under the Surface: Horror, Religion, and the Questions that Haunt Us

From the list on horror and religion.

Who am I?

I’ve been a fan of horror since I got sucked into Scooby-Doo as a three-year-old. When I started my academic career, I kind of kept that passion tucked inside as something to be embarrassed about – after all, I wanted to do serious work, and horror movies aren’t serious, right? Graduate school made me rethink that assumption, and pushed me towards seriously considering the engagement of horror and religion. I wrote my dissertation on a chapter of the Book of Numbers as a slasher narrative, and I haven’t looked back since.

Brandon's book list on horror and religion

Discover why each book is one of Brandon's favorite books.

Why did Brandon love this book?

Nelson’s book is a revelation in how it explores the work that both religion and popular culture can do – her readings of Lovecraft’s work are particularly evocative. I’m not on board with the sharp line she draws between high and low culture, but it’s one of those books that’s fascinating even when you disagree with it.

By Victoria Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret Life of Puppets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this work, Victoria Nelson illuminates the deep but hidden attraction the supernatural still holds for a secular mainstream culture that forced the transcendental underground and firmly displaced wonder and awe with the forces of reason, materialism, and science. In a backward look at an era now drawing to a close, "The Secret Life of Puppets" describes a curious reversal in the roles of art and religion: where art and literature once took their content from religion, we came increasingly to seek religion, covertly, through art and entertainment. In a tour of Western culture that is at once exhilarating and…

The Stoic Life

By Tad Brennan,

Book cover of The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate

Gregory Lopez Author Of A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control―52 Week-by-Week Lessons

From the list on Stoicism for modern Stoic practitioners.

Who am I?

I learned about Stoicism through its connection to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, whose founder, Albert Ellis, was influenced by Stoic philosophy. Since I had an interest in philosophy, I decided to look more into Stoicism, and—to my surprise—I learned that philosophy could be practical (who knew?!), and that others were trying to put Stoicism into practice today! This led me to try to find other Stoics by founding the New York City Stoics in 2013, followed by co-founding a non-profit—The Stoic Fellowship—to help other people do the same in 2016. I’ve now given talks on Stoicism worldwide in addition to co-writing a book on Stoic practice.

Gregory's book list on Stoicism for modern Stoic practitioners

Discover why each book is one of Gregory's favorite books.

Why did Gregory love this book?

Stoic practice involves a series of techniques to ultimately improve the state of your mind. To do that effectively, it’s immensely helpful to understand the Stoic conception of how the mind works. Part II of The Stoic Life is my go-to reference for reviewing the basics of Stoic psychology, in addition to covering key principles of Stoic ethics in Part III of the book. These two concepts are essential to understand for modern Stoics, and Brennan does a masterful job of explaining them.

By Tad Brennan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tad Brennan explains how to live the Stoic life - and why we might want to. Stoicism has been one of the main currents of thought in Western civilization for two thousand years: Brennan offers a fascinating guide through the ethical ideas of the original Stoic philosophers, and shows how valuable these ideas remain today, both intellectually and in practice. He writes in a lively informal style which will bring Stoicism to life for readers who are new to ancient
philosophy. The Stoic Life will also be of great interest to philosophers and classicists seeking a full understanding of the…

Book cover of Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

Lawrence Lipking Author Of The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England

From the list on the arts as crucial elements of human life.

Who am I?

I am a chameleon scholar. Though my first love is poetry, I have written about all the arts, about 18th-century authors (especially Samuel Johnson), about theories of literature and literary vocations, about Sappho and other abandoned women, about ancients and moderns and chess and marginal glosses and the meaning of life and, most recently, the Scientific Revolution. But I am a teacher too, and The Ordering of the Arts grew out of my fascination with those writers who first taught readers what to look for in painting, music and poetrywhat works were best, what works could change their lives. That project has inspired my own life and all my writing.

Lawrence's book list on the arts as crucial elements of human life

Discover why each book is one of Lawrence's favorite books.

Why did Lawrence love this book?

This book about rebels itself rebels against historians such as Abrams, who view Romanticism as a single movement unified by an expressive theory of art. 

Instead, Butler argues, there are many different sorts of Romantics, and they are best understood not through theories of art but through "the fierce personal and artistic politics of an age in the midst of profound change." That Age of Revolution had begun in the 1760s, and the ordering of the arts reflects debates about the social standing of the arts, not any consensus. Butler relishes these conflicts.

She pays attention to the groundswell of "art for the people" as well as "the war of the intellectuals," and she is not afraid to embrace the chaos and complications that thwart any effort to paint all arts and artists with one brush.

By Marilyn Butler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Age of Revolutions and its aftermath is unparalleled in English literature. Its poets include Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats; its novelists, Jane Austen and Scott. But how is it that some of these writers were apparently swept up in Romanticism, and others not? Studies of Romanticism have tended to adopt the Romantic viewpoint. They value creativity, imagination and originality - ideas which nineteenth-century writers themselves used to
promote a new image of their calling. Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries puts the movement in to its historical setting and provides a new insight in Romanticism itself, showing that one…

American Bastard

By Jan Beatty,

Book cover of American Bastard

Karen Elizabeth Lee Author Of The Full Catastrophe: A Memoir

From the list on showing human life in its reality.

Who am I?

I have a great interest in personal stories, well written. My memoir, The Full Catastrophe, was published in 2016. I wanted an answer to my own question “How could a well-educated, intelligent woman marry an abusive man?” Writing allowed me to find my answers. From that time on, I have taught people to write their own memoirs, have lectured on memoir, facilitated group discussions on memoir, and written articles on memoir. I am now in the process of writing another memoir. 

Karen's book list on showing human life in its reality

Discover why each book is one of Karen's favorite books.

Why did Karen love this book?

This recommendation returns to one of my most passionate intereststhat of adopted children and the families they are placed in. Beatty is a poet and this is reflected in her memoirit is not the usual chronological narrative as most memoirs are. She breaks the myth of the “special” or “chosen baby” to tell her truth of the lives of adopted children. Beatty exposes, through vignettes and her poetry, her meetings with her birth mother, her adopted family, her attempts to know who she is and where she came from. She breaks open the belief that you can “create” a perfect family using children from other birth mothers, when all her life, she feels, is a lie and she has no grounding in the world. This memoir is her quest to find out who she is.

By Jan Beatty,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

American Bastard is a lyrical inquiry into the experience of being a bastard in America. This memoir travels across literal continents-and continents of desire as Beatty finds her birthfather, a Canadian hockey player who's won three Stanley Cups-and her birthmother, a working-class woman from Pittsburgh. This is not the whitewashed story, but the real story, where Beatty writes through complete erasure: loss of name and history, and a culture based on the currency of gratitude as expected payment from the adoptee. American Bastard sandblasts the exaltation of adoption in Western culture and the myth of the "chosen baby." This journey…

The Collapse of Western Civilization

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Book cover of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

Chris Rapley Author Of 2071: The World We'll Leave Our Grandchildren

From the list on the climate crisis and the need for action.

Who am I?

I'm a Professor of Climate Science at University College London. My early career was spent as a ‘rocket scientist’ designing, building, and operating instruments to fly on sounding rockets and satellites to study the cosmos and the Sun. I established the UCL satellite Remote Sensing Group, with special attention to the polar regions. I then ran an international Global Change research programme that coordinated Earth science activities in 75 countries. Since then I've run the British Antarctic Survey, responsible for the UK’s research access to Antarctica, and the Science Museum in London. The museum’s collection traces the evolution of the industrial revolution, which started in the UK, and of which climate change is the unintended consequence.

Chris' book list on the climate crisis and the need for action

Discover why each book is one of Chris' favorite books.

Why did Chris love this book?

What if we get it wrong? What if the scale and pace of our collective measures to address climate destabilisation and the biodiversity crisis remain insufficient?

Oreskes and Conway provide the imagined view of a historian of the “Second People's Republic of China” from 2393. His account describes how the political and economic elites of the early decades of the twenty-first century ignored or dismissed the clear warnings of climate catastrophe.

Soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations resulted in “The Great Collapse of 2093”. Three centuries later as the world emerges from the “Penumbral Age’ it is a more subdued and thoughtful place. 

By dramatizing an all-too-plausible ‘ghastly’ outcome, the authors seek to galvanise the energies of readers to rise from their armchairs and act. We should all strive to ensure that the book remains firmly on the shelves of fiction.

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Collapse of Western Civilization as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The year is 2393, and the world is almost unrecognizable. Clear warnings of climate catastrophe went ignored for decades, leading to soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, widespread drought and-finally-the disaster now known as the Great Collapse of 2093, when the disintegration of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet led to mass migration and a complete reshuffling of the global order. Writing from the Second People's Republic of China on the 300th anniversary of the Great Collapse, a senior scholar presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment-the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced…

A History of Histories

By John Burrow,

Book cover of A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century

James M. Banner Jr. Author Of The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History Is Revisionist History

From the list on historians and how they think and write.

Who am I?

An experienced historian who’s occupied both academic and public posts and written for popular as well as academic audiences, I’ve become absorbed by what’s behind the history so many of us read for all the reasons we read it: enlightenment, pleasure, and lessons about life in a fragile world. That’s taken me to write and teach about the professional lives of historians, about some fundamental realities of historical thought, and now about historians themselves: who they are, what they do, and why they do it. It’s often said that if you wish to understand books, know the people who write them. The books I’ve recommended help do that.

James' book list on historians and how they think and write

Discover why each book is one of James' favorite books.

Why did James love this book?

Historical thought, like everything else, has a history. But contrary to what you may think, such history doesn’t have to be dull, especially when told by a masterly writer who was also among the world’s most knowledgeable experts on the subject. So don’t think that this overview of what historians have written about the past since ancient Greece will be hard going. It isn’t. Sometimes it’s even fun. In fact, I know of no more enjoyable introductory guide to history’s history or a better place to start your journey within it than this book. Burrow canters through the major developments in historical writing and practices in the West over 2,500 years. His pages are peopled by pagan, Christian, Marxist, feminist, and many other kinds of thinkers and scholars. They’re a treat.

By John Burrow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Treating the practice of history not as an isolated pursuit but as an aspect of human society and an essential part of the culture of the West, John Burrow magnificently brings to life and explains the distinctive qualities found in the work of historians from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to the present. With a light step and graceful narrative, he gathers together over 2,500 years of the moments and decisions that have helped create Western identity. This unique approach is an incredible lens with which to view the past. Standing alone in its ambition, scale and fascination, Burrow's history…

Art, Politics, and Development

By Philipp H. Lepenies,

Book cover of Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World

Brett Bowden Author Of The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought

From the list on humankind’s place in history.

Who am I?

The search for meaning in history is all part of the search for meaning in life. Whether archaeologists or historians, economists or physicists, they are not just looking for artefacts when digging in the dirt or scanning the skies, they are looking for evidence to piece together a bigger picture—meaning in the minutiae. I’m sceptical, but the philosophy of history remains a fascinating subject, which is why I’ve explored ideas about civilization, progress, and progressive history in a number of books and articles. My primary concern about teleological accounts of history is that they tend to deny people's agency, especially non-Western peoples.

Brett's book list on humankind’s place in history

Discover why each book is one of Brett's favorite books.

Why did Brett love this book?

I love the way this book brings together two seemingly unrelated topics, art, and socio-political organization, to offer a new perspective on the development of human societies—linear, of course. The policies and practices of development agencies do not just draw on the latest fads of economics, rather, our thinking about the shape and trajectory of ideal societies has long been influenced by the way we quite literally see and perceive the world.

By Philipp H. Lepenies,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In his groundbreaking study, Art, Politics and Development, Philipp Lepenies contributes to the ongoing controversy about why the track record of development aid is so dismal. He asserts that development aid policies are grounded in a specific way of literally looking at the world. This "worldview" is the result of a mental conditioning that began with the invention of linear perspective in Renaissance art. It not only triggered the emergence of modern science and brought forth our Western notion of progress, but ultimately, development as well.Art, Politics, and Development examines this process by pulling from a range of disciplines, including…

From Dawn to Decadence

By Jacques Barzun,

Book cover of From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life

Don Hollway Author Of The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada

From the list on to make a history buff into a history expert.

Who am I?

As a history buff—one can never be expert enough—by looking to the past I hope to glimpse the future, but mostly to make sense of the present. Power, greed and sex have driven people since before history was written, but there have always been those willing to die for something more. What causes are worth such dedication? Who were these people who were willing to give all? I was never in the military (my contact lenses are thick as bottle caps) but I try never to write battle porn, only to tell their stories as accurately and entertainingly as I can.

Don's book list on to make a history buff into a history expert

Discover why each book is one of Don's favorite books.

Why did Don love this book?

This is the big one. 912 pages, from the Protestant Reformation to the end of the 20th Century. Barzun, a French-American historian who died in 2012 just short of his 105th birthday, actually lived for about 20% of the era covered. He finished this magnum opus when he was 93, better positioned than most to lend some perspective (and as the title indicates, not optimistic). Still, with so much ground to cover, it’s amazing how much time he gives to obscure yet pivotal personalities and events—hence all those pages, cross-referenced, linking forward and back, following threads within the weave. This is not something you’re going to read in one sitting. On the other hand, open it to any random page and instantly dive back in time.

By Jacques Barzun,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked From Dawn to Decadence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A stunning five-century study of civilization's cultural retreat."  — William Safire, New York Times

Highly regarded here and abroad for some thirty works of cultural history and criticism, master historian Jacques Barzun has set down in one continuous narrative the sum of his discoveries and conclusions about the whole of Western culture since 1500.

Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaissance and Reformation down to the present in the double light of its own time and our pressing concerns. He introduces characters and incidents with his unusual literary style and grace, bringing to the fore those that have…

Omega Sub

By J. D. Cameron,

Book cover of Omega Sub

Justin Oldham Author Of Haven's Legacy

From the list on action-oriented post-apocalyptic stories.

Who am I?

My firsthand experience of the Cold War influenced my taste in reading and entertainment from an early age. I’ve spent my entire adult life collecting books and movies that showcase adventure and adversity in situations where combinations of war and climate change have brought about the end of life as we knew it. All those influences have inspired me to make my own contributions to this form of literature.

Justin's book list on action-oriented post-apocalyptic stories

Discover why each book is one of Justin's favorite books.

Why did Justin love this book?

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed submarine stories. This author got my attention when he put a post-apocalyptic twist on it. Action and adventure are blended with mystery solving in a way that I still enjoy. The author describes a variety of familiar locations around the world in haunting ways that remind us just how fragile civilization can be.

By J. D. Cameron,

Why should I read it?

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

Book cover of Women of the French Revolution

Stew Ross Author Of Where Did They Put the Guillotine?-Marie Antoinette's Last Ride: Volume 2 A Walking Tour of Revolutionary Paris

From the list on the French Revolution without losing your head.

Who am I?

I’m not a trained historian (I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking). However, I grew up in Europe during the 1960s and developed a passion for history. I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days. I enjoyed it so much that I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Well, that day came in Nashville when I was running a small company. Then I found Leonard Pitt’s book called Walks Through Lost Paris. As we walked through the streets of Paris, I turned to my wife and said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did.

Stew's book list on the French Revolution without losing your head

Discover why each book is one of Stew's favorite books.

Why did Stew love this book?

Women played a major role in the French Revolution. Providing fuel for the core of the revolution, the female sans-culottes, poissardes, and other working-class women were instrumental in shaping the events and opinions of the revolutionaries such as Robespierre and Danton.

During the revolution, prominent women became agitators, hosted politically influential salons, led several major revolutionary clubs, wrote contemporary political position papers, organized and led women in para-military groups, and murdered key revolutionaries. The women of the French Revolution were no “shrinking violets.”

Ms. Stephens’s book is an excellent introduction to the various women who influenced the revolutionaries on a day-to-day intellectual basis. Madame Guillotine did not discriminate by gender⏤many of these women ultimately lost their heads.

By Winfred Stephens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of the French Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the "public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank…