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Creative Writing Historical 15 min2023-10-20 00:00

75 Best History Books of All Time

best history books

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Learning history can give us valuable insight into our place in the world and how to move forward from here. There are countless different periods of history you can explore: ancient Mesopotamia, the Edo period of Japan, America during WWII, and so much more.

So, what are some of the best history books of all time?

This article will give you our recommendations for 75 history books to add to your reading list.

New History Books

History might focus on the past, but that doesn’t make it a stagnant field of study. Historians are always working to develop a more nuanced understanding of different time periods, and new history books are published every year.

We’ll start our list with some exciting new history books published in 2022 and 2023.

new histiry books

1. River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millard (2022)

Candice Millard traces a series of mid-nineteenth-century expeditions led by Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to search for the source of the Nile.

2. The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White (2022)

April White describes the fascinating history of how many women went to Sioux Falls at the turn of the twentieth century to seek divorces from their husbands.

3. About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks by David Rooney (2022)

David Rooney’s history of timekeeping covers ancient Roman sundials, medieval Chinese water clocks, modern GPS satellites, and more.

4. Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, & Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández (2022)

Bad Mexicans follows the revolutionary group led by anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón and how their activism laid the groundwork for the Mexican Revolution.

5. The Humanity Archive: Recovering the Soul of Black History from a Whitewashed American Myth by Jermaine Fowler (2023)

This New York Times bestseller surveys Black history in America, focusing on overlooked and marginalized human stories.

6. Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster (2023)

Paul Auster takes a fearless look at gun violence in America and why over 1.5 million Americans have been killed by guns since 1958.

Best World History Books

World history books focus not on a single time and place but on patterns in history across the entire planet. Most books choose a specific focus, such as the way salt has influenced world history, or the way different cultures have interacted with the sea.

Here are some of the best world history books to help you understand the bigger picture.  

world history books

7. Democracy: A Life by Paul Cartledge (2016)

Democracy, based on a series of lectures Cartledge taught at Cambridge, narrates the history of democracy from ancient Athens to modern day.

8. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (2002)

Salt explains how ordinary table salt has played an enormous role in human history by starting wars and even building empires.

9. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (2010)

Bill Bryson walks us through a modern home and shows us some of the innovations and amenities that we now take for granted.

10. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2011)

Sapiens is an overview of the entire history of the human race, covering the agricultural revolution, the invention of writing, and more.

11. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage (2005)

Tom Standage describes the history of six influential beverages: beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and soda.

12. Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s by Paul Johnson (1983)

Modern Times ties together different events, ideas, and key figures to create a cohesive overview of the twentieth century.

13. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)

If you’re looking for a history not just of our planet but of the universe as a whole, A Short History of Nearly Everything is the book for you.

14. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine (2013)

Learn about how civilizations around the world have used the sea for trade, conquest, connection, and more.

15. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1997)

Jared Diamond attempts to explain why some human societies have succeeded while others have failed, using three key factors: guns, germs, and steel.

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Best Historical Books About Europe

European history is full of fascinating stories. Here are our recommendations for history books about Europe.

history books about europe

16. The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst (2009)

This clear and witty history book explains the history of Europe in just 200 pages.

17. The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman and Robert K. Massie (2004)

Historian Barbara W. Tuchman describes the first 30 days of World War I in the summer of 1914.

18. The English and Their History by Robert Tombs (2014)

Robert Tombs explains the complicated history of the people who have lived in the British Isles.

19. The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy (2015)

Serhii Plokhy explains how Ukraine has been used as a strategic gateway between the East and the West from Roman times to the modern day.

20. African Europeans: An Untold History by Olivette Otele (2020)

Olivette Otele debunks the myth that Africans only recently started living in Europe by following various European Africans throughout history.

21. Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts (2014)

Andrew Roberts provides a full biography of French visionary Napoleon Bonaparte, covering his childhood, battles, and exile.

22. Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman (2011)

Classicist Philip Freeman’s book is an authoritative biography of Alexander the Great, a famous Macedonian conqueror.

23. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer (1960)

This National Book Award-winning book studies the rise of Nazi Germany and how Hitler attempted to conquer the world.

24. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge (2010)

The Crusades tells the story of the eleventh century wars that occurred when a Christian army marched across the Muslim world.

25. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (2018)

Say Nothing is a historical true crime book that describes the Troubles, a violent 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland.

Best History Books About Asia

Asia is a vast continent with many unique stories to tell, from the life of Genghis Khan to the aftermath of WWII. Here are some fantastic history books about Asia.

history books about asia

26. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (2004)

Jack Weatherford elucidates the life of Genghis Khan, the surprisingly progressive civilization he ruled, and the ways it’s shaped the world we know today.

27. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (1991)

This book ensures that we never forget the atrocities committed by the Japanese army when they invaded Nanking in December 1937.

28. A History of Southeast Asia by Arthur Cotterell (2014)

Arthur Cotterell describes the history of Southeast Asia, including present-day Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, and East Timor.

29. Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari (2015)

This book explains the tumult that occurred when British India separated into two independent countries: India and Pakistan.

30. The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire by William Dalrymple (2019)

William Dalrymple explains how the East India Company abused corporate power and devastated India.

31. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (2009)

If you’re used to seeing history entirely from a Western lens, read Destiny Disrupted to see an Islamic recounting of world history from the time of Mohammed to modern day.

32. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dover (2000)

Embracing Defeat describes Japan’s experience after the Second World War, having experienced two atomic bombs and U.S. occupation.

33. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016)

Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a Vietnamese perspective on the Vietnam War and how Western politics traumatized an entire country.

34. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (2009)

Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick compiles personal accounts from six people who escaped North Korea.

35. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991)

Wild Swans is both a memoir and an eyewitness history, detailing the stories of three remarkable women in Jung Chang’s family who experienced Chairman Mao’s impact on China.

Best History Books About Africa

African countries are often underrepresented in Western history books, but there’s plenty to read about. These are our top picks for history books about Africa.

african history books

36. Precolonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop (1988)

Learn about influential and often little-known precolonial African civilizations from an acclaimed Senegalese historian.

37. Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader (1997)

British writer and photojournalist John Reader explains Africa’s environments and cultures, as well as the painful legacies of colonialism and exploitation.

38. Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen by Linda M. Heywood (2017)

This book explains how Queen Njinga, a legendary African queen who ruled in the seventeenth century, skillfully used her military prowess and political savvy to rule her country.

39. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch (1998)

This book, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, is a firsthand account of the Rwandan genocide, when the Rwandan government called on the Hutu majority to massacre the Tutsi minority.

40. The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire by Raymond Jonas (2011)

The Battle of Adwa describes how in March 1896, the brilliant Ethiopian army defeated the invading Italian army and ended Italy’s conquest of Africa.

41. A History of Namibia: From the Beginning to 1990 by Marion Wallace (2011)

A History of Namibia describes the precolonial history of Namibia, its experience under German rule, the period of African nationalism and apartheid, and modern independence.

42. South Sudan: From Revolution to Independence by Matthew Arnold and Matthew LeRiche (2012)

South Sudan covers the modern history of the Republic of South Sudan and the long civil war that led to its independence in July 2011.

43. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954–1962 by Alistair Horne (1977)

A Savage War of Peace describes the Algerian War, which brought down six French governments, nearly provoked a French civil war, and shaped the face of modern Algeria.

44. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (1998)

Adam Hochschild describes the megalomania and cruelty of King Leopold, who plundered the Congo and brutalized its population in the 1880s.

45. The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence by Martin Meredith (2005)

Martin Meredith looks at Africa’s many independence movements and how colonialism continues to shape the continent today.

Best History Books About America

America is a melting pot full of different types of people. Here are some great history books that represent various viewpoints.

american history books

46. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1980)

History is often told by the winners. This book tells the other side of the story, including the shameful parts of America’s past.

47. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman (2015)

Lillian Faderman describes the history of the LGBTQ+ movement in the United States, complete with detailed interviews.

48. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown (1970)

Dee Brown explains the genocide committed by the U.S. government against Indigenous people at the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and beyond.

49. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano (1971)

Eduardo Galeano looks at Latin America’s turbulent history through the lens of European exploitation and American interventionism.

50. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson (2003)

This thrilling book centers around H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who murdered people at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

51. The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee (2015)

Erika Lee reveals the often invisible histories of Asians living in the U.S., from early trans-Pacific sailors in the 1500s to the harmful “model minority” myth of the modern day.

52. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson (1988)

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book explains the full history of the American Civil War, from its inception to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

53. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis (2000)

Joseph Ellis explores the lives and work of the Founding Brothers: Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison.

54. The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (2003)

Rick Atkinson’s three-volume series is a comprehensive explanation of America’s role in World War II, with one book about North Africa, one about Sicily and Italy, and one about Western Europe.

55. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)

Isabel Wilkerson weaves together personal accounts from many of the six million Black people who fled the South during the Great Migration.

Ancient History Books to Read

Human civilization has been around for almost 6,000 years. Here are some incredible history books that address the earlier parts of that time period.

ancient history books

56. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer (2007)

Susan Wise Bauer tells the stories of many ancient societies, including Europe, the Middle East, and China, using private letters, stories, and personal accounts.

57. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (2015)

Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, describes how ancient Rome became a superpower over the span of nearly a thousand years.

58. Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo (2022)

Papyrus explores the importance of books and libraries in the ancient world, tracing the history of books from oral stories to scrolls to codices.

59. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson (2010)

Toby Wilkinson tells the story of ancient Egypt, from its origins as the first nation-state to its eventual absorption into the Roman Empire.

60. Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty by Jing Liu (2016)

This book uses comics to present Chinese history in a fun and accessible way, covering philosophies like Confucianism and Daoism, the Silk Road, and more.

61. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 by Edward Gibbon (1776)

Though this book was published in 1776, it’s still one of the definitive historical works on why the Roman Empire fell.

62. When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara Cooney (2018)

Learn about ancient Egypt’s many queens, such as Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra, and their incredible accomplishments.

63. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization by Paul Kriwaczek (2010)

Paul Kriwaczek traces the birth of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, when people first began to build sophisticated societies.

64. Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World by Philip Matyszak (2020)

Philip Matyszak chronicles 40 ancient civilizations that are largely forgotten today.

Good History Books About Technology

Technology has drastically shaped the lives we lead today. Here are some history books that explain how science and innovation led us to where we are.

history books about technology

65. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)

Homo Deus explains the technological challenges that humans will face in the twenty-first century, such as creating artificial intelligence, overcoming death, and continuing to evolve.

66. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson (2014)

Steven Johnson explores the nature of innovation and how different inventions have shaped history and the world we know today.

67. The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America by Margaret O’Mara (2019)

Margaret O’Mara explains the history of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley and how these institutions both help and harm modern society.

68. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester (2018)

The Perfectionists takes us through the development of precise machine tools, which allowed us to mass produce mirrors, lenses, cameras, microchips, and even the Hadron Collider.

69. The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case (2016)

The Third Wave explains the history of the internet and how our modern online world came to be.

Best History Textbooks

If you’re a student or educator, you might be looking for history textbooks that work well in a classroom setting. So, to close our list, let’s look at some history textbooks that can help students learn more about the past.

histiry textbooks

70. Glencoe World History by Jackson Spielvogel and the National Geographic Society (2002)

Glencoe World History, designed for high school and early college, is a definitive textbook on historical events throughout global history.

71. A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present by John M. Merriman (1996)

A History of Modern Europe guides students through a simple and digestible overview of European history.

72. The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer (2010)

The History of the Medieval World is a tapestry that weaves together important events across the ancient world, spanning many continents and decades.

73. Africa in World History: From Prehistory to the Present by Erik Gilbert and Jonathan T. Reynolds (2004)

Africa in World History is a comprehensive survey of how African societies have interacted with the rest of the world, perfect for anyone interested in African Studies.

74. American History: Connecting with the Past by Alan Brinkley (1961)

This textbook is an accessible read for college students and anyone looking for a great overview of American history.

75. History of Africa by Kevin Shillington (1989)

History of Africa is an illustrated overview of African history, including maps, photographs, and a companion website with further information.

There you have it—our top recommendations for history books to add to your bookshelf.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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