Turning our eyes toward the red, white, and blue, here are some top recommended 15 Classic United States History Books you should put on your reading list.
As we near Memorial Day and with the 4th of July just around the corner, my reading choices wander toward all things patriotic.
As a young person, I devoured books, most especially historical novels. I learned to love our nation’s history in the pages of a book.
Unfortunately, one of my historical series is lost to me now. I’ve searched in vain and cannot find it. Why I didn’t keep one, I’ll never know. But the search has led me to explore more authors and materials I’ve also dearly loved.
Whether your literary tastes run toward fiction or non-fiction, this compiled list contains both. The following is our picks we think you’ll love. If I missed your favorite, I’d love to hear about it!
15 Classic United States History Books You Should Read
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The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough
A timely collection of speeches by David McCullough, the most honored historian in the United States—winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many others—that reminds us of fundamental American principles.
1776 by David McCullough
America’s beloved and distinguished historian presents, in a book of breathtaking excitement, drama, and narrative force, the stirring story of the year of our nation’s birth, 1776, interweaving, on both sides of the Atlantic, the actions and decisions that led Great Britain to undertake a war against her rebellious colonial subjects and that placed America’s survival in the hands of George Washington.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America’s first president. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow shatters forever the stereotype of George Washington as a stolid, unemotional figure and brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods.
Grant by Jean Edward Smith
Ulysses S. Grant was the first four-star general in the history of the United States Army and the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve eight consecutive years in the White House. As general in chief, Grant revolutionized modern warfare. Rather than capture enemy territory or march on Southern cities, he concentrated on engaging and defeating the Confederate armies in the field, and he pursued that strategy relentlessly. As president, he brought stability to the country after years of war and upheaval. He tried to carry out the policies of Abraham Lincoln, the man he admired above all others, and to a considerable degree he succeeded. Yet today, Grant is remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
How did America begin? That simple question launches the acclaimed author of Bunker Hill and Valiant Ambition on an extraordinary journey to understand the truth behind our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony. As Philbrick reveals in this electrifying history of the Pilgrims, the story of Plymouth Colony was a fifty-five year epic that began in peril and ended in war. New England erupted into a bloody conflict that nearly wiped out the English colonists and natives alike. These events shaped the existing communites and the country that would grow from them.
Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts
In this engrossing and informative companion to her New York Times bestsellers Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history.
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts
Cokie Roberts’s number one New York Times bestseller, We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, examined the nature of women’s roles throughout history and led USA Today to praise her as a “custodian of time-honored values.” Her second bestseller, From This Day Forward, written with her husband, Steve Roberts, described American marriages throughout history, including the romance of John and Abigail Adams. Now Roberts returns with Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families — and their country — proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.
Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark
Charming, insightful and immensely entertaining in its unique presentation of one of America’s legendary figures, Mount Vernon Love Story, by famed suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark, shows the reader the man behind the legend, a man of flesh, blood and passion, and in the author’s skilled hands, the story and the man come fully and dramatically alive.
Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
Filled with fresh interpretations and information, puncturing old myths and challenging new ones, Battle Cry of Freedom will unquestionably become the standard one-volume history of the Civil War.
Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook
A classic bestseller for over a century, the Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book contains an incredible offering of 1,380 recipes, from boiling an egg to preparing a calf’s head. Farmer’s instructions also go beyond recipes to include how to set the table for proper tea, full menu ideas for holiday dinners, housekeeping tips, and so much more. This book is known for pioneering the standardization of measurements in recipe instructions, which made the creation of better meals possible for even the most inexperienced of cooks. Farmer’s thorough text is chock full of fabulous Americana for cooks and non-cooks alike.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat and ambitious civil servant, set out from post-revolutionary France on a journey across America that would take him 9 months and cover 7,000 miles. The result was Democracy in America, a subtle and prescient analysis of the life and institutions of 19th-century America. Tocqueville looked to the flourishing deomcratic system in America as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, believing that the egalitarian ideals it enshrined reflected the spirit of the age and even divine will. His study of the strengths and weaknesses of an evolving democratic society has been quoted by every American president since Eisenhower, and remains a key point of reference for any discussion of the American nation or the democratic system.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen E Ambrose
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first map of the trans-Mississippi West, provided invaluable scientific data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information about weather, terrain, and medical knowledge at the time to provide a vivid backdrop for the expedition.
Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
Jeff Shaara dazzled readers with his bestselling novels Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, and Gone for Soldiers. Now the acclaimed author who illuminated the Civil War and the Mexican-American War brilliantly brings to life the American Revolution, creating a superb saga of the men who helped to forge the destiny of a nation.
Finally, a few personal historical fiction novels I loved.
Dawn’s Early Light by Elsyth Thane
Elswyth Thane is best known for her Williamsburg series, seven novels published between 1943 and 1957 that follow several generations of two families from the American Revolution to World War II. Dawn’s Early Light is the first novel in the series.
In it, Colonial Williamsburg comes alive. Thane centers her novel around four major characters: the Aristrocratic St. John Sprague, who becomes George Washington’s aide; Regina Greensleeves, a Virginia beauty spoiled by a season in London; Julian Day, a young schoolmaster who arrives from England on the eve of the war and initially thinks of himself as a Tory; and Tibby Mawes, one of his less fortunate pupils, saddled with an alcoholic father and an indigent mother.
But we also see Washington, Jefferson, Lafayette, Greene, Patrick Henry, Francis Marion, and the rest of that brilliant galaxy playing their roles not as historical figures but as men. We see de Kalb’s gallant death under a cavalry charge at Camden. We penetrate to the swamp-encircled camp which was Marion’s stronghold on the Peedee. We watch the cat-and-mouse game between Cornwallis and Lafayette, which ended in Cornwallis’s unlucky stand at Yorktown.
Dawn’s Early Light is the human story behind our first war for liberty, and of the men and women loving and laughing through it to the dawn of a better world.
Candle in the Darkness (Fiction Series) by Lynn Austin
Caroline Fletcher is caught in a nation split apart and torn between the ones she loves and a truth she can’t deny
The daughter of a wealthy slave-holding family from Richmond, Virginia, Caroline Fletcher is raised to believe slavery is God-ordained and acceptable. But on awakening to its cruelty and injustice, her eyes are opened to the men and women who have cared tirelessly for her. At the same time, her father and her fiance, Charles St. John, are fighting for the Confederacy and their beloved way of life and traditions.
Where does Caroline’s loyalty lie? Emboldened by her passion to make a difference and her growing faith, will she risk everything she holds dear?