Best American History Books

From the Civil War to World Wars, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, there has been a lot of conflict. Ulysses Grant to Genghis Khan. Spies, assassins, and politicians are all on the loose.

In a year marked by a terrible pandemic, a tumultuous presidential election, and an ongoing reckoning with systematic racism in the United States, recent events have made the superpower country’s past more accessible while also deeper to comprehend.

John F. Kennedy once said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Academics, historians, and critics continue to publish groundbreaking volumes on American history, altering the country’s perception of its own past by unearthing new facts or following down lines that were previously invisible to the naked eye. If one wants to brush up on American history or if they’re already an expert and want to go even deeper, there are plenty of nonfiction books to choose from.

Some of the top history books are included below, including bestsellers, Pulitzer Prize winners, and editor’s selections from eminent historians and biographers.

1: The Promised Land

The Promised Land

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  • Author: Barack Obama
  • Publisher: Crown
  • Publication Date: November 17, 2020
  • Pages: 768

Book Description:

A Promised Land is a deeply personal and introspective story about one man’s wager with history and the faith of a community organizer put to the test on a global stage. Obama is frank about the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making while campaigning for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change”.

He takes the readers on a captivating journey from his early political ambitions through his election as the 44th President of the United States, the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office, following a key Iowa caucus victory.

Book Author:

Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, had two terms in office. He has written two prior New York Times best-selling books and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

Our Opinion:

Obama is without a doubt the best writer in the history of the White House. This book will be required reading for anybody interested in politics, history, or simply remembering an important period in our country’s history.

2: The Four Winds: A Novel

The Four Winds: A Novel

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  • Author: Kristin Hannah
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: February 2, 2021
  • Pages: 450

Book Description:

The Four Winds is a complex, sprawling novel that vividly depicts the Great Depression and the people who lived through it, as well as the harsh truths that split everyone as a nation and the everlasting conflict between the haves and the have-nots. A monument to hope, resilience, and the human spirit’s ability to overcome hardship.

An unforgettable depiction of America and the American ideal as seen through the eyes of one courageous lady whose heroism and sacrifice will define a generation.

Book Author:

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author who has written over 20 books. She is a former lawyer who now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her spouse.

Our Opinion:

I could sense Elsa’s and her children’s pain since this story was so well researched and written. I respected Elsa and all of the other parents who worked tirelessly to help their children through this difficult period in American history. Not a simple book to read.

3: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Killer

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  • Author: David Grann
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Pages: 400

Book Description:

The author revisits a horrifying series of murders in which dozens of victims were brutally slain. The book is a masterwork of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the inquiry discloses a succession of sinister secrets and reversals, based on years of research. But it’s also a damning indictment of the callousness and prejudice against American Indians that allowed the killers to escape justice for so long.

Book Author:

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and an author. His work has received numerous awards for excellence in journalism, including the George Polk Award.

Our Opinion:

The book is a window into a very dark moment in American history, one that deserves to be told, one that will engross the reader in the story as it unfolds, and one that adds to the tragedy and legacy of Native Americans’ mistreatment.

4: Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America (Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series)

Killing Crazy Horse

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  • Author: Bill O’Reilly
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • Publication Date: September 8, 2020
  • Pages: 320

Book Description:

Tippecanoe’s deadly battle was simply the beginning. The year is 1811, and President James Madison has ordered the Great Lakes region’s Shawnee warrior Chief Tecumseh’s confederation of tribes to be destroyed. Despite the fact that General William Henry Harrison would win this battle, the violent confrontation between Native Americans and the newly founded United States would last for decades.

Book Author:

Bill O’Reilly is a trailblazing television journalist who has had exceptional success on cable news. The Killing series has sold over 17 million copies in the United States.

Our Opinion:

This is an incredible, fast-paced book about the history of Native American Indian tribes and their extinction at the hands of the US government. Every American should read this to gain a better understanding of how our country got to be what it is today.

5: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

The Spy and the Traitor

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  • Author: Ben Macintyre
  • Publisher: Crown
  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019
  • Pages: 384

Book Description:

Ben Macintyre’s latest novel may be his best yet, as it unfolds the exquisite three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, culminating in the compelling cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985.

It immerses readers in a world of deception and betrayal, where personal and professional borders blur and one man’s hate of communism has the potential to alter the fate of nations.

Book Author:

Ben Macintyre is a bestselling author and a writer-at-large for The Times of London. Macintyre’s work has also been documented via BBC documentaries, which he wrote and presented.

Our Opinion:

I agree with him that it is the best spy story he has ever read. I read it in three days and found it to be a gripping novel with excellent writing. The author must have access to some high-quality MI6 material as well as their assistance.

6: A People’s History of the United States

A People's History of the United States

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  • Author: Howard Zinn
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Publication Date: November 17, 2015
  • Pages: 784

Book Description:

A People’s History of the United States tells the story of the United States from the ground up, rejecting the official narrative taught in schools and focusing instead on the street, the family, and the workplace. The book provides incisive analysis of the most important events in American history from Christopher Columbus’ arrival until President Clinton’s first term.

Book Author:

Howard Zinn was a historian, writer, and social activist who lived from 1922 to 2010. For his writing and political activism, he received the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Eugene V. Debs Award.

Our Opinion:

This book is vital to the national conversation. This book also makes a significant addition to the “People’s” history of the United States. This book was given to me as a reference, and I couldn’t put it down.

7: Grant

Grant

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  • Author: Ron Chernow
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Publication Date: October 10, 2017
  • Pages: 1104

Book Description:

The life of Ulysses S. Grant has often been misrepresented. He is frequently portrayed as a perpetual loser and unskilled businessman, or as the victorious but cruel Union general of the Civil War. Grant is a magnificent blend of rigorous study and literary brilliance that makes sense of all aspects of Grant’s life, explaining how this humble Midwesterner could be both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Book Author:

Ron Chernow is the author of six prize-winning books and the 2015 National Humanities Medal laureate. Chernow, a former president of PEN America, has received eight honorary doctorates.

Our Opinion:

As a historian and history teacher, I think that history should be accessible to everyone. Chernow’s Hamilton reignited interest in American history, and his new book on Grant will undoubtedly continue this trend.

8: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

The Pioneers

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  • Author: David McCullough
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication Date: May 5, 2020
  • Pages: 352

Book Description:

The story via five main characters: plus two more men, one a carpenter who went on to become an architect, and the other a physician who went on to become a distinguished American scientist.

The author describes the experience of a brave and broad-minded group of people who crossed raging rivers, cut down forests, plowed kilometers of land, endured immeasurable sufferings, and faced a lonely frontier to establish a new American ideal with clarity and incisiveness.

Book Author:

David McCullough has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, and the National Book Award twice. He has also received the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Our Opinion:

This is the author’s second fantastic book. It was well-written and entertaining. I’ve read a number of novels about this period in American history, but this one stood out.

9: The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

The Forgotten 500

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  • Author: Gregory A. Freeman
  • Publisher: Dutton Caliber
  • Publication Date: September 2, 2008
  • Pages: 336

Book Description:

The incredible, never-before-told story of World War II’s largest rescue mission—the OSS’s attempt to recover more than 500 airmen stranded behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia.

The whole tale of this extraordinary story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery, which was classified for nearly half a century for political reasons, is now being told for the first time ever. The Forgotten 500 is a dramatic behind-the-scenes account into World War II’s greatest escape.

Book Author:

Gregory A. Freeman is a bestselling author and a thought leader in the field of narrative nonfiction. His book “The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys”, makes a factual narrative read like a thrilling, fast-paced novel.

Our Opinion:

The plot was interwoven with the complicated politics of Pre-WWII to the contemporary day and bounced about a little, which made it difficult for me to understand. Nonetheless, it was a hitherto unreported narrative that deserved to be told.

10: Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Four Hundred Souls

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  • Authors: Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
  • Publisher: One World
  • Publication Date: February 2, 2021
  • Pages: 528

Book Description:

The story begins in 1619, a year before the Mayflower, when the White Lion unloads “some 20-and-odd Negroes” upon the Virginia shoreline, marking the beginning of the African presence in the United States.

It takes us to the present day, when African Americans, descendants of those who came to this country via the White Lion and a thousand other routes, are continuing a journey marked by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, breathtaking achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.

Book Authors:

Ibram X. Kendi is the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University. He is a CBS News correspondent and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He was named one of the 100 most influential persons in the world by Time magazine in 2020.

Keisha N. Blain is a historian, educator, and author who has won numerous awards. She is currently an assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, the president of the African American Intellectual History Society, and an editor for the “Made by History” section of The Washington Post.

Our Opinion:

This is one of the most interesting histories I’ve read in a long time. I enjoy how it highlights historical events in African-American history while still making them relevant to today’s challenges.

GUIDE:

When one begin reading great history books, users will discover things perhaps things that will help to understand current events. “What is past is prologue,” Shakespeare stated in The Tempest.

Far from being a study of no longer relevant events, history is the explanation of everything that has made each of us who and what we are, and only by knowing what has gone before can one hope to manage what is yet to come, for the future is constructed, not born.

Ron Chernow, the Pulitzer Prize winner, returns with a broad and dramatic picture of Ulysses S. Grant, one of the most captivating generals and presidents.

Chernow weaves together Grant’s diverse stories with lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, giving new light on the man described by Walt Whitman as “nothing heroic and yet the greatest hero.”

Americans have experienced numerous famines, plagues, and wars as a species. If humans are indeed being honest, it’s a miracle we’re still alive.

FAQs:

Who is history’s greatest historian?

The Greek historian Herodotus is known as the “Father of History.”

Who has ever sold the most books?

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is the best-selling book series in history, with more than 500 million copies sold worldwide.

Is the history of the United States the same as the history of the United States?

The study of the history of the United States is known as American history. It focuses on the evolution of the country from the days as British colonies to the present day. The emphasis is on what has happened in and to the United States over the course of its history.

Who are America’s original owners?

Native Americans, also known as indigenous peoples of the Americas, are descendants of pre-Columbian populations of North and South America.

Name the father of the USA.

George Washington known as the “Father of the Country” because he was the country’s first president.

Before 1492, what was America like?

Before 1492, a region known as Meso or Middle America included modern-day Mexico, most of Central America, and the southwestern United States.

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