Popular history books are a good way for readers to get excited or interested in a historical period, person, topic or country. While academic works of history have to be very careful about what they say—and provide copious footnotes to back up any assertion—popular history books can take a few more liberties with their interpretations so that they can tell a compelling story and bring the reader along with them. In fact, it's the way many historians got interested in history, a stepping stone to more detailed history books. Or you can just enjoy popular history for what it is, an enjoyable way to learn about a piece of history before moving on to another person, place or time.
It’s tricky finding history books for teenagers at an age when they are too old for children’s books, but not yet ready to read long, weighty tomes with lots of footnotes. Alex, a UK-based history fan who previously chose books for us age 10, returns to Five Books to recommend his selection of the best history books for teenagers.
The Guns of August
by Barbara W Tuchman
The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present
by John Pomfret
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943
by Rick Atkinson
A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
by William Bernstein
Bolívar: American Liberator
by Marie Arana
It’s a golden age for narrative history, with lots of highly readable books bringing to life many different aspects of the past, says historian Donna McBride. A Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, she has led ‘The Historians’ reading group there for the last five years. Here, she recommends some of the best popular histories the group has read and shares some tips on how to set up and run your own history reading group.