10 History Books About Events Worth Remembering
You may think you learned all you need to know in kindergarten, but the outdated textbooks you read in school only told part of the story. We've compiled a list of compelling narratives by authors who've uncovered the hidden stories behind famous people and events and come away with insights that can help us today. If you've got a particular historical niche that's your hobby, try these lists of the best war history books and the best ancient history books.
10 History Books About Events Worth Remembering
- "Jane Austen at Home: A Biography" by Lucy Worsley
- "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin" by Timothy Snyder
- "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution" by Nathaniel Philbrick
- "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari
- "The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook" by Niall Ferguson
- "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President" by Candice Millard
- "The Life of Elizabeth I" by Alison Weir
- "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" by Erik Larson
- "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- "A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America" by Stacy Schiff
Erik Larson Discusses "The Devil in the White City"
Who Said "Those Who Don't Learn From History Are Doomed To Repeat It"?
That famous line comes from George Santayana, a writer and philosopher, in his work "The Life of Reason." However, the commonly circulated wording above is incorrect. Though there are many versions that float around the Internet, the correct quotation is "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's a good reminder that history is always available to us as a resource, and just as we can learn from our own mistakes, we can learn from the mistakes of others.
The Assassination of President Garfield On "American Experience"
History gets a bad rap as a subject. You may have been forced to memorize dates in boring high school classes, but there are a lot of modern authors examining historical events in a new way, unearthing fascinating information that causes us to look at those who preceded us a little more honestly. In no particular order, here are 10 books that will give you a new perspective on famous events and eras.
Starting us off at #1 is "Jane Austen at Home: A Biography," written by Lucy Worsley, an author, historian, and television presenter from London.
The book is a journey through the places where Jane Austen spent her life, from her childhood home to the schools in which she was enrolled, and the houses where she lived and worked. Worsley describes them in detail to give an understanding of the world in which Austen wrote. Examining the culture that surrounded this influential woman helps to give perspective on why she matters.
The #2 selection is "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin" by Timothy Snyder.
"Bloodlands" examines the indiscriminate killing of many civilians in Europe during World War 2, particularly in Germany and Russia, where the two tyrants held power. It also notes the similarities between their regimes and how they interacted to intensify the massacre of innocent people despite their conflicting goals.
At #3 is Nathaniel Philbrick's "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution." Told in the style of a novel, the book is an account of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a fight between the Colonies and Great Britain which sparked the American Revolution. Philbrick chronicles the arrival of British forces in Boston and the locals' refusal to submit to them, and how their decisions impacted the future of the nation.
Our #4 choice is "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and professor who teaches at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The narrative style bolsters Harari's analysis of creation and evolution. He states that Homo sapiens came to rule the world because it is the only species that believes in abstract ideas such as gods and human rights, along with our ability to cooperate in systematic groups. The book features 27 photographs, 25 diagrams, and 6 maps to support his arguments. First printed in Hebrew in 2011, it was then published in English in 2014.
At #5 is "The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook" by British writer Niall Ferguson.
Ferguson brings a fresh perspective to examining cultures of the past, indicating that social networks have always been a part of society, even before the age of computers. He explains how human interconnection, in various forms, has played an important role through centuries of development, and that we aren't as different from our ancestors as we may think.
#6 on the list is Candice Sue Millard's "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President." Millard is an American writer and journalist who worked for National Geographic.
An account of the life and death of James Abram Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, the book explains how Charles Guiteau plotted Garfield's assassination, and how Alexander Graham Bell attempted to aid the ailing President using a metal detector he invented. This fascinating read won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Fact Crime in 2017.
The #7 choice is "The Life of Elizabeth I," by British biographer Alison Weir. It is an intimate portrait of the last monarch of the House of Tudor, which debunks many myths associated with her reign which persist due to representations in popular culture. Weir knows the subject matter, having authored profiles of other royals like Henry VIII of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Isabella of France.
Coming in at #8 is "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America." Penned by Erik Larson, the book portrays two men with wildly different intersecting stories: architect Daniel Burnham, Director of Works at the fair, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who used the 1893 World's Fair to entice victims to their deaths. The whole story is presented in the style of a thrilling true novel.
The #9 selection is Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and pundit whose book became a smash hit for its relevance to modern politics.
"Team of Rivals" is a biographical depiction of how Abraham Lincoln defeated his competitors in ascending to the presidency, how he was able to win back their respect, and how he eventually recruited many of them to join his cabinet. This bestseller became the basis for Steven Spielberg's film "Lincoln," which garnered both commercial success and critical acclaim.
At #10, the final book on our list is "A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America," by award-winning author Stacy Schiff.
The book follows an often-ignored part of Franklin's life, when he went to France in 1776 to convince the country to aid the United States in its goal of self-rule. Seventy years old at the time, Franklin had no experience as a diplomat, and his success is a reminder of just how much one old man can affect the course of history.
One thing these books all have in common is that they don't accept simple explanations, nor do they rely on accepted narratives. Delving into a well-researched and well-written history book means not only learning, but being willing to question what you believed about the past, even if that means accepting that our societal myths aren't always accurate.