The best books on American History, recommended by Brent Glass

Which are the best books on American history? Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the world’s largest museum devoted to telling the story of America, chooses five standout books in a crowded field.

The Best Books on the American Civil War, recommended by Drew Gilpin Faust

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner. Here, Drew Gilpin Faust, a leading historian of the American Civil War and former President of Harvard, recommends the best books to read about the conflict between North and South that tore the United States apart from 1861 till 1865 – and beyond.

African American History Books, recommended by Imani Perry

Princeton Professor Imani Perry—a prolific scholar of African American Studies whose biography of Lorraine Hansberry, Looking For Lorraine,  won the 2019 PEN Biography Prize—recommends five books she considers essential to an understanding of the history of black life in America.

The Best Vietnam War Books, recommended by Karl Marlantes

In 1968 Karl Marlantes was a 22-year old Rhodes scholar and did not have to go to Vietnam. He nonetheless joined the US Marine Corps, ending up with multiple medals but also lifelong PTSD. In this interview, he recommends the best Vietnam War books, exploring its moral ambiguities, the warrior mentality and the humanity of ‘the enemy.’

The best books on JFK, recommended by Fredrik Logevall

Of the thousands of books written about JFK, America’s iconic 35th president, which ones should you read first? Fredrik Logevall, professor of history and international affairs at Harvard University, talks us through five key books, starting with the first volume of his biography, tracking JFK’s coming of age in the years that also saw America transforming from economic powerhouse to global superpower.

The best books on New York History, recommended by Louise Mirrer

Like several of the great cities of the world, New York’s openness to people born elsewhere and relative tolerance lay at the foundation of its success, though darker episodes in the city’s 400-year history also need attention. Historian Louise Mirrer, President of the New-York Historical Society, recommends books that are essential to understanding the essence of the Big Apple.

The best books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, recommended by Cynthia Koch

Historians consistently rank FDR, the 32nd and longest-serving president of the United States, as among America’s greatest. Here, Cynthia Koch, Director of History Programing for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, talks us through his life and explains how, in many ways, his guile was key to his success.

The best books on The Venetian Empire, recommended by Georg Christ

The Venetian Republic was one of the mightiest empires of early modern Europe, with its Terraferma dominions on land and a maritime empire, the Stato da Màr,  that stretched across the Mediterranean. Its unique strength lay in long-distance trade and, as historian Georg Christ explains, in some ways, it resembled a company more than a state. Here, he recommends books to better understand the Venetian empire, what it was and how it grew.

The best books on Richard Nixon, recommended by David Greenberg

American president Richard Nixon will be forever remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his resignation in 1974, a blow for a man obsessed with his image who hoped to be remembered as a peacemaker on the global stage. Here historian David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers, recommends books on a man who elicited very strong emotions, both for and against.

The best books on The Civil Rights Era, recommended by Lerone Martin

The struggle for Black freedom in America has been going on since the first enslaved Africans were brought to the continent, but it was the civil rights era of 1954 to 1968 that finally resulted in a raft of legislation that gave equal citizenship to Black people in the United States. Here, Professor Lerone Martin of Stanford University recommends the best books to understand the American civil rights movement, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key to its success.

The best books on American Naval History, recommended by John Kroger

The story of the American navy is deeply intertwined with that of the nation, says John Kroger—former Chief Learning Officer to the US Navy—although we don’t always afford naval history the attention it deserves. Here he selects five of the best books about American naval history and predicts a renewed focus on Pacific naval defenses in the coming decades.

The best books on The US Cabinet, recommended by Lindsay Chervinsky

In contrast to many other countries, the secretaries who serve in the United States cabinet aren’t chosen from among the country’s elected officials but entirely reflect the president’s personal choices. Here, presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, talks us through the role of the cabinet and recommends which books to read to understand more about it.

Presidential memoirs (and biographies) as audiobooks, recommended by Robin Whitten

When you listen to presidential memoirs as audiobooks, you can hear an American president telling you their own story—at least when it comes to recent presidents. Going further back in time, biographies may be more useful. Veteran audiobook reviewer Robin Whitten, editor of Audiofile magazine, recommends the best audiobooks about US presidents, and explains the crucial role of professional narrators in bringing big books to life.

Best Books on the History of the American South, recommended by Edward Ayers

To understand the America of today, you must understand the American South of the past, says historian Edward Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Here, he recommends five books to get started with, and also explains what his own books were aiming to contribute to the field of Southern history.

The best books on 9/11, recommended by Yosri Fouda

Who was Osama bin Laden? How critical was he to the 9/11 attacks on the United States? What happened in the first 100 days at Guantanamo Bay? Who was in charge of the United States when George W Bush went into hiding? What should we make of all the conspiracy theories that have sprung up around the events of that day? Yosri Fouda, the veteran Egyptian investigative reporter, author and TV host talks us through his choice of the best books on 9/11.

The best books on Thomas Jefferson, recommended by Andrew Burstein

Thomas Jefferson is famous for having written the Declaration of Independence, with its ringing claim that “all men are created equal”.  In modern times he has been castigated for hypocrisy, given his ownership of slaves and his failure to campaign for abolition. Here, historian Andrew Burstein discusses Jefferson’s wider political career and whether it is fair to judge his attitude to slavery by contemporary standards.

The best books on Benjamin Franklin, recommended by D.G. Hart

The Founding Fathers of the United States were a remarkable bunch of people, but Benjamin Franklin might have been the most remarkable of them all. Coming from humble stock, he became a businessman, scientist, diplomat and politician—a giant of the Enlightenment. Historian D.G. Hart sheds some light on his character and background and puts him in his broader social and political context.

The best books on Asian American History, recommended by Melissa Borja

Anti-Asian incidents in America are bringing overdue attention to the history of Asian Americans. University of Michigan Professor Melissa Borja recommends five books that illuminate the understudied history of Asian Americans, explain the connection to empire and shine a spotlight on this “coalitional identity.”

The best books on African American Women’s History, recommended by Keisha N. Blain

Black women’s stories are often untold, but their critical role in American society and politics is finally being broadly acknowledged. Black activists today are building upon the legacy of African American women who have been using every open avenue to seek social justice for centuries. And “no matter how many obstacles are erected to impede them,” says award-winning historian Keisha N. Blain, Black women “are unstoppable.”

The best books on Abraham Lincoln, recommended by Ted Widmer

He came from humble beginnings and never went to high school. Going into the presidency, he had limited political experience and lacked business, legislative and military achievements. The one thing he did not lack was a moral compass, says historian and author Ted Widmer. He picks the best books on the ups and downs and Shakespearean-style plot twists that were the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

The best books on Migrant Workers, recommended by Mireya Loza

American society and American history marginalized migrant workers for too long. New scholarship shows that migrant workers were central to America’s cultural and economic development. Mireya Loza, a historian at Georgetown University and author of Defiant Braceros, talks us through the best books about migrant workers—and why their stories are integral to understanding the past and present of United States.  

The best books on The Gilded Age, recommended by Richard White

America’s Gilded Age, roughly from the end of the Civil War to the First World War, saw the United States go from being a rural, agricultural society to an urban and industrial one. National wealth soared and disparities between rich and poor exploded. Here, historian Richard White talks about how the Gilded Age transformed America and picks out some parallels with our own age that are not hard to see.

The best books on Congress, recommended by Julian E. Zelizer

Is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just as important as President Trump? Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton historian and CNN Political Analyst, thinks so—and he argues that to understand American politics, you have to understand Congress. He recommends the best books for getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of the Senate and House of Representatives.

The best books on Women’s Suffrage, recommended by Susan Ware

How many suffragists can you name? Feminist historian Susan Ware, author of a new history of the American women’s suffrage movement, urges us to remember how important suffrage was in the fight for women’s rights, on the cusp of its US centennial—and reveals the story of women getting the right to vote didn’t just begin at Seneca Falls.

The best books on The Supreme Court of the United States, recommended by Michael Klarman

It may be nice to think of America’s Supreme Court justices as neutral interpreters of the law, but the reality is that they are a reflection of the cultural and historical moment in which they operate. Legal scholar and author Michael Klarman, Kirkland & Ellis Professor at Harvard Law School, recommends the best books to learn more about the Supreme Court of the United States and its history.

The best books on Impeachment, recommended by Michael J. Gerhardt

In the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings, only one legal scholar was called as a joint witness: Michael J. Gerhardt, now a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a prolific expert on subjects of constitutional history, the legislative process, and impeachment. With the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump well underway, he recommends five books crucial to understanding the subject.

The Best Fourth of July Books, recommended by Gordon S. Wood

On the Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence from the British Empire. In its assertion that all men are created equal, the declaration was a milestone in the journey towards the more democratic world we have today. But it was still a product of the 18th century colonial society that created it. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood talks us through five books, including his own, for understanding the history we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

The Best Books for Juneteenth, recommended by Barbara Krauthamer

June 19th, or ‘Juneteenth,’ is a holiday commemorating the final end of slavery in the United States. Professor Barbara Krauthamer, a leading historian of African American slavery and emancipation, talks us through its significance down the decades and which books to read to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.

The best books on American Imperialism, recommended by A G Hopkins

When George W Bush declared that America “has never been an empire,” he elided a half century of colonial rule over its overseas dependencies. But American expansionism has manifested in other forms too, says A G Hopkins, imperial historian and author of a panoramic new work of American history.

The best books on US Militarism, recommended by Stephen Glain

American presidents may not want to send troops into battle or militarise foreign policy but, in the end, most of them do. The author and journalist explains how this happens, and why it’s not even the military that’s to blame. He picks the best books on American militarism.

The best books on New England, recommended by Mark Peterson

New England: it’s the northeastern-most region of the United States, encompasses six states, is slightly larger than England itself, and half of it is rural, remote Maine. Yale Professor Mark Peterson introduces us to the rich history of New England, going back to its Puritan roots and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The best books on Boston, recommended by Jane Kamensky

The idea of Boston as “a place of revolutionary fervour because liberty is somehow baked into its bones” is loaded with a “very heavy dose of self-mythologizing,” says American historian Jane Kamensky. Here, the Harvard professor lifts the veil on this quintessential New England city and recommends five books for understanding its history

The best books on White Supremacy, recommended by Kathleen Belew

Defined by University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew, white supremacy is a “broad system of laws, norms and customs that create a society with unequal opportunities for people based on race”. It persists to this day, and has surprising intersections with issues of labor and women’s reproduction. Here, she recommends books for coming to grips with the history of this complex topic.

The Best Speeches of All Time, recommended by Clarence B Jones

Which were the best speeches ever made? Clarence B Jones, lawyer, friend and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr—and contributor to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech—chooses his top five, and explains what is that makes these famous speeches so good.

The Best Donald Trump Books, recommended by Tony Schwartz

Around the world, people were taken aback when the populist candidate, a real estate developer and reality TV show star called Donald Trump, was elected as the 45th President of the United States. Here Tony Schwartz, Trump’s co-author on his bestselling book, The Art of the Deal, talks us through how that happened and why Trump is so mesmerising, even to those who oppose him.