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Updated by Scott Scanlon on Apr 20, 2017
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Best History Books

The top history books on this list are the best books I've read on one of the most interesting topics to exist--history. Every time I pick up a new book in this genre I'm amazed at how little I truly know about those who have came before us. Vote below for your favorite history book and if I missed one that should absolutely be on the best history books list please add it below.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1910
Best History Books | The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

SINCE ITS PUBLICATION FIVE DECADES AGO, William L. Shirer’s monumental study of Hitler’s empire has been widely acclaimed as the definitive record of the twentieth century’s blackest hours. A worldwide bestseller with millions of copies in print, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich offers an unparalleled and thrillingly told examination of how Adolf Hitler nearly succeeded in conquering the world.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 2226
Best History Books | The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has brought to life again the people and events that led up to Worl War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, THE GUNS OF AUGUST will not be forgotten.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1866
Best History Books | 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

Jan 09, 2014 by Jason Cleave - amzn.to - 1932
Best History Books | Guns, Germs, and Steel

Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas.

Jan 09, 2014 by Jason Cleave - amzn.to - 2182
Best History Books | A Short History of Progress

No hope, just an awareness of what's being done now and what's been done in the past, is what Ronald Wright will permit in A Short History of Progress, his grim, ammoniacal Massey Lectures, the 43rd in the series.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1663
Best History Books | The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II: Iris Chang

In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written the definitive history of this horrifying episode.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1955
Best History Books | A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

The 14th century gives us back two contradictory images: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a dark time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world plunged into a chaos of war, fear and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1686
Best History Books | Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals doesn't just tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. It is a multiple biography of the entire team of personal and political competitors that he put together to lead the country through its greatest crisis. Here, Doris Kearns Goodwin profiles five of the key players in her book, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and all of whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1842
Best History Books | The Histories, Herodotus

A Greek historian, Herodotus (c.485-425 BC) left his native town of Halicarnassus, a Greek colony, to travel extensively. He collected historical, geographical, ethnological, mytholgical and archaeological material for his histories. Aubrey de Selincourt has translated Livy, Herodotus and Arrian, all for Penguin Classics. John Marincola is Associate Professor of Classics at New York University.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 2022
Best History Books | Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

First published in 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee generated shockwaves with its frank and heartbreaking depiction of the systematic annihilation of American Indian tribes across the western frontier. In this nonfiction account, Dee Brown focuses on the betrayals, battles, and massacres suffered by American Indians between 1860 and 1890. He tells of the many tribes and their renowned chiefs—from Geronimo to Red Cloud, Sitting Bull to Crazy Horse—who struggled to combat the destruction of their people and culture.

Jan 10, 2015 by Sean Capaloff-Jones - amzn.to - 2112
Best History Books | A People's History of the United States

A pioneering work that looked at important historical events from the perspective of the people who lived through it, challenging the old maxim, "History is written by the victors."

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1663
Best History Books | Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Published in 1988 to universal acclaim, this single-volume treatment of the Civil War quickly became recognized as the new standard in its field. James M. McPherson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, impressively combines a brisk writing style with an admirable thoroughness. He covers the military aspects of the war in all of the necessary detail, and also provides a helpful framework describing the complex economic, political, and social forces behind the conflict. Perhaps more than any other book, this one belongs on the bookshelf of every Civil War buff.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 2157
Best History Books | Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. A recent prison massacre by Japanese soldiers elsewhere in the Philippines made the stakes impossibly high and left little time to plan the complex operation.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1844
Best History Books | Europe: A History

Here is a masterpiece of historical narrative that stretches from the Ice Age to the Atomic Age, as it tells the story of Europe, East and West. Norman Davies captures it all-the rise and fall of Rome, the sweeping invasions of Alaric and Atilla, the Norman Conquests, the Papal struggles for power, the Renaissance and the Reformation, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Europe's rise to become the powerhouse of the world, and its eclipse in our own century, following two devastating World Wars. This is the first major history of Europe...

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1977
Best History Books | The Mediterranean: And the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (Volume II)

The focus of Fernand Braudel's great work is the Mediterranean world in the second half of the sixteenth century, but Braudel ranges back in history to the world of Odysseus and forward to our time, moving out from the Mediterranean area to the New World and other destinations of Mediterranean traders. Braudel's scope embraces the natural world and material life, economics, demography, politics, and diplomacy.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1709
Best History Books | From Beirut to Jerusalem

One of the most thought-provoking books ever written about the Middle East, From Beirut to Jerusalem remains vital to our understanding of this complex and volatile region of the world. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman drew upon his ten years of experience reporting from Lebanon and Israel to write this now-classic work of journalism. Rich with anecdote, history, analysis, and autobiography, From Beirut to Jerusalem will continue to shape how we see the Middle East for many years to come.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1798
Best History Books | Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade

Warriors of God is the rich and engaging account of the Third Crusade (1187-1192), a conflict that would shape world history for centuries and which can still be felt in the Middle East and throughout the world today. Acclaimed writer James Reston, Jr., offers a gripping narrative of the epic battle that left Jerusalem in Muslim hands until the twentieth century, bringing an objective perspective to the gallantry, greed, and religious fervor that fueled the bloody clash between Christians and Muslims.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1710
Best History Books | The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

This is the first volume in a bold new series that tells the stories of all peoples, connecting historical events from Europe to the Middle East to the far coast of China, while still giving weight to the characteristics of each country. Susan Wise Bauer provides both sweeping scope and vivid attention to the individual lives that give flesh to abstract assertions about human history.

Dozens of maps provide a clear geography of great events, while timelines give the reader an ongoing sense of the passage of years and cultural interconnection. This narrative history employs the methods of “history from beneath”—literature, epic traditions, private letters and accounts—to connect kings and leaders with the lives of those they ruled. The result is an engrossing tapestry of human behavior from which we may draw conclusions about the direction of world events and the causes behind them. 13 illustrations, 80 maps

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1979
Best History Books | Churchill: A Life

Distilled from years of meticulous research and documentation, filled with material unavailable when the earliest books of the official biography's eight volumes went to press, Churchill is a brilliant marriage of the hard facts of the public life and the intimate details of the private man. The result is a vital portrait of one of the most remarkable men of any age as well as a revealing depiction of a man of extraordinary courage and imagination.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1866
Best History Books | A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution

A comprehensive, one-volume account of the Russian Revolution covers every moment, from the end of the nineteenth century to the death of Lenin, and explores how Russian pre-revolution social forces were violently erased and replaced.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 2067
Best History Books | The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

This monumental book is the enthralling story of one of the greatest events in our nation's history, during the Age of Optimism -- a period when Americans were convinced in their hearts that all things were possible. In the years around 1870, when the project was first undertaken, the concept of building an unprecedented bridge to span the East River between the great cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn required a vision and determination comparable to that which went into the building of the great cathedrals. Throughout the fourteen years of its construction, the odds against the successful completion of the bridge seemed staggering. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, political empires fell, and surges of public emotion constantly threatened the project. But this is not merely the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time and of the heroes and rascals who had a hand in either constructing or exploiting the surpassing enterprise.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1889
Best History Books | Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Instead of the dying Old Regime, Schama presents an ebullient country, vital and inventive, infatuated with novelty and technology--a strikingly fresh view of Louis XVI's France. A New York Times bestseller in hardcover. 200 illustrations.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1641
Best History Books | Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day--and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 2202
Best History Books | 1066: The Year of the Conquest

Everyone knows 1066 as the date of the Norman invasion and conquest of England. But how many of us can place that event in the context of the entire dramatic year in which it took place? From the death of Edward the Confessor in early January to the Christmas coronation of Duke William of Normandy, there is an almost uncanny symmetry, as well as a relentlessly exciting surge, of events leading to and from Hastings.

Nov 27, 2012 - amzn.to - 1777
Best History Books | Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

In the fifth century B.C., a global superpower was determined to bring truth and order to what it regarded as two terrorist states. The superpower was Persia, incomparably rich in ambition, gold, and men. The terrorist states were Athens and Sparta, eccentric cities in a poor and mountainous backwater: Greece. The story of how their citizens took on the Great King of Persia, and thereby saved not only themselves but Western civilization as well, is as heart-stopping and fateful as any episode in history. Tom Holland’s brilliant study of these critical Persian Wars skillfully examines a conflict of critical importance to both ancient and modern history.