The 10 Best U.S. History Books

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This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Discover how the past has shaped our world today with our selection of the top U.S. history books. They offer a variety of writing styles and subject matter, from cultural studies and controversial issues to war chronicles, adventures, and moments that defined the country. Dive into a single topic or choose a broader, more general work - either way, you'll walk away with greater understanding. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. David McCullough's 1776

2. American Nations

3. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Editor's Notes

December 08, 2020:

There's always something new when it comes to the study of history. For this update, we've added two 2020 releases that focus on very different aspects of the American story. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an Oprah's Book Club selection by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author that explores the unspoken structures of social hierarchy that underpin life in the United States. The Pioneers tells the story of five 18th-century frontiersmen as they venture into the Northwest Territory, its narrative brought to life by first-person sources including diaries and letters.

We've added American Nations, an incredibly insightful look at the 11 different regional cultures that make up the country. It offers fascinating historical explanations for America's current political divisions that go back many centuries before the country even existed. We've also replaced the hardcover version of The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects with the paperback version, which gets better reviews and has a more interesting cover (not to mention it's easier to tote around).

We removed the ambitious American Colonies; many readers felt it was a bit monotonous and too much like a textbook. George Washington's Secret Six is gone because of its specific topic and because its focus on entertainment value often came at the expense of historical accuracy. We've also updated the information for several items, including A People's History, David McCullough's 1776, and the Children’s Encyclopedia of American History.

Finally, we've added a new listing under Special Honors for history lovers who want to get out of the armchair and discover places where the past is alive.

February 28, 2019:

In light of the present political climate, we felt there was a need for a book examining the often-frosty relationship between the United States and Russia. However, that's far from the only reason we included Rocket Men, as it's incredibly engrossing, not to mention a celebration of cooperation and scientific achievement. Still, David McCullough's 1776 was able to hold onto the top spot, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better nonfiction title on any subject.

Special Honors

Viator U.S. Heritage Tours Reach out and touch the past on guided trips to historical locations, from the French Quarter in New Orleans and Old Town Key West to Pearl Harbor, Fort Sumter, and the streets of San Francisco.

4. Rocket Men

5. Battle Cry of Freedom

6. Children’s Encyclopedia of American History

7. A People's History

8. History of America in 101 Objects

9. Lies My Teacher Told Me

10. The Pioneers

Shilo Urban
Last updated by Shilo Urban

Shilo lives for adventures in far-away lands and reads books like it’s going out of style (which it is). Dogs are her co-pilots. She’s traveled to 60 countries and has lived in Austin (where she received a BA from the University of Texas), Maine, Paris, Seattle, New Zealand, Los Angeles, and now—Fort Worth. Before becoming a freelance writer over a decade ago, she had more than three dozen jobs, including high school teacher, record label manager, tour guide, and farmhand for endangered livestock breeds. She speaks fluent French and horribly mangled Spanish, which she is working every day to improve. Shilo geeks out over history and culture, and her areas of expertise include travel, art and design, music, pets, food, crafts, toys, and home furnishings. Current obsessions: Gobekli Tepe, tassels, and fresh lemonade.

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