If in doubt, get a book. History lovers adore books. Some our recommendations are less academic then some of the books that appear on our other booklists, but they do represent outstanding recent books that most history lovers should enjoy. Here are some releases that are worth your history lovers attention. In addition to the standard paper format, some of these books are also available on Kindle, iTunes Books, and Audible.
The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire by Karl Jacoby (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017)
How did a former slave from Texas named William Ellis, transform himself into a fabulously wealthy Mexican millionaire named Guillermo Elliseo after the Civil War? Historian Martha A. Sandweiss stated that Jacoby’s tale of William Ellis crafts “a powerful narrative about the porous borders of class, race, and national identity in late 19th and early 20th century American life.” Jacoby’s book successfully illuminates both a life of a unique and fascinating American while addressing broader issues of race and the American borderlands. The book was also the recipient of the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the OHA.
The concept of God and his historical development is an extraordinarily complex topic and it is not easily addressed in ten books. These books seek attempt to explain a complex story on how the concept of God, or single divine being, developed in different cultures, places, and across time. The history of the idea of God is long and has its roots from prehistoric to early historic periods in the ancient Near East. Later cultures developed concepts that derive from ancient Iran, Greece, Egypt, and perhaps other regions. In a period over several hundred years, in the late first millennium BC and during the first centuries AD, several faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism emerged that took the idea of God to levels that influence us today. While no easy task, here are the ten best books that try to make sense of this complex history.
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the American Civil War. The four years of bloody carnage forever altered the course of the nation. Perhaps the pivotal period in American History, the Civil War was led by some of the most renowned figures in American History.
The library of texts pertaining to the Civil War Era ranges from scholarly research to pure fiction. Some of the most informative works come in the biography genre. The countless memoirs and autobiographies are essential to professional researchers and historians and have proved indispensable to the modern biographer. Cohesively combining letters, memoirs, reports, and oral histories is a monumental task for the biographer; yet when successfully completed, a Civil War biography brings the 19th century legends to life. Below is our list of the biographies essential to library of any student of the Civil War.
This is the Top Ten Social History of American Medicine Booklists. First, why did we leave Paul Starr’s The Social Transformation of American Medicine (Basic Books, 1984) off this Top Ten list? It is perhaps the best known American medical history book, and it is an essential reference. Pretty much anyone who has written about the history of American medicine has cited it. Should you read it? Yes. Check it out or buy it and skim the parts that interest you. It is probably the one book on the list that most historians are aware of and that is why we left it off.
Historians have always had a tough time writing about media. The danger of technological determinism tends to loom over any discussion of technologies such as television or the Internet—the risk of arguing that a particular medium or device causes people to behave or think a certain way. That fear has been present since the earliest days of media studies, when the War of the Worlds and the pioneering audience research of Paul Lazarsfeld and the Bureau of Applied Social Research in the 1930s raised questions about the “effects” that mass media had on people, both as individuals and groups. Meanwhile, the power of Hitler’s megaphone implied that people as a mass were pliant, susceptible to a sort of top-down manipulation that sits uneasily with most historians, with their concern for contingency, complexity, and agency in the past.
The French Revolution has been seen as a world-altering event. The revolution demolished a long standing monarchy and showed that it was a natural form of government. The Revolution also showed that it was possible to change society, using reason, for the better and worse. The French Revolution inspired many to agitate for democracy and equality around the world. It also unleashed an extraordinary amount of violence and paved the way for Napoleon’s takeover of France. Many historians (not all) have argued that the French Revolution can be seen as the start of the modern world.
The Civil War is the most written about event in United States history. There are an extraordinary number of books covering all aspects of the war from large overviews like James McPherson’s Battle Cry Freedom, Gary Gallagher’s books on The Union War and The Confederate War, Allan Nevins 8 volume set on the conflict, and Shelby Foote’s three volume set of books on the war. Like a lot of people, I started with Shelby Foote’s books, but over the years I have drifted towards more academic works. Unsurprisingly, all kinds of different authors have written non-fiction books on the topic. Some of these authors are academic historians such as James McPherson and Gary Gallagher, more literary authors such as Winston Groom (author of fiction works such as Forest Gump and Civil War nonfiction works Shiloh, 1862 and Vicksburg, 1863) and Shelby Foote, and an extraordinary number of independent scholars. I would not be surprised to learn that there are more self-published books on the American Civil War than any other American historical topic.
Creating this list has been both very easy and extraordinarily difficult. It is easy to find great books on Civil War Battles, but it is almost impossible to pick only ten. If you are a stickler and count the books listed, you will notice that the final is little bit higher than 10. Therefore, this list is not comprehensive. That would be impossible. Additionally, it only focuses on specific battles or campaigns of the war. Even when you intentionally restrict the number of total books on the war, you are still left with thousands of book titles. There are over 1,000 books available on Amazon discussing some aspect of the battle of Gettysburg. At the very least, these books are a great place to start an exploration of the Civil War.