The 30 Undeniably Best History Books Everyone Should Read

Whether you are into World War I, World War II, general world history, or the Civil War, history buffs may have difficulty finding the best history books to suit their specific interests. History books exist in our modern world to inform us of what happened in our past so that we may appreciate our history’s epic story.

Many Options for Any Interest or Preference

Not all history books are created equal. Some books tell stories in a narrative way that captivates our imaginations. Some books are full of equations and diagrams, charts and maps. Some books are just facts, full of lists, statistics, and dry information made for study rather than entertainment. Regardless of your preference, rest assured that there is a book out there for you.

A Comprehensive List of the Best History Books

This article provides a comprehensive list of some of the very best history books available to everyone. Whether you are already a history buff or just getting into the subject of history, or if you would simply like the idea of what our planet was like before it was the modern world that we know now, learning and reading about history benefits all of us.

read these 30 great history books

1. Brothers in Arms (James Holland)

This story follows just one tank regiment throughout World War II. World War II is a part of human history that many people are fascinated by, but this story exclusively follows just one unit from D-Day to the end. Not only do you get to know the soldiers in this bloody war, but you are taken along for a ride that is intense, sad, heroic, and at times frightening.

2. Battle Cry of Freedom (James McPherson)

The Civil War is one of the biggest events to have taken place in American history. It is the only time in the history of the U.S. that states have openly rebelled against the government, and fighting has occurred on American soil. This book tells the extensive story of the events and climate in society that led up to the war, the battles of the Civil War era, and life immediately following the end of the war.

Hailed as essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil War, this history book covers nearly everything you could need or want to know about the war that divided America.

3. Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century (Konrad H. Jarausch)

From Nazis to the Cold War, ordinary German people experienced a lot in one short century. Many changes occurred, and the people trying to get by experienced a whirlwind of events and circumstances to overcome. In this book, you will learn what the ever-changing life of an ordinary German person looked like in the 20th century, taking place between World War II and the Cold War partition.

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

This book tells the story of how the Pope raised, organized, and sent an army of Christians into battle to fight over and claim ownership of the Holy Land, also known as Jerusalem. The Christians, specifically Catholics, viewed Jerusalem as the origination city of Christianity and did not believe that anyone else of any other faith should have any right to claim the land. Bloodshed in the name of God ensued. Since this period in the Middle Ages, the area has continued to see unrest and fighting over the city.

5. A Woman of No Importance (Sonia Purnell)

This is the astounding and inspiring story of personal triumph about an American spy during WWII who helped to win the war. She is vital to global history, women’s history, and American history because she was impossibly brave. Virginia Hall was chosen to be a spy despite being a woman who was also an amputee.

6. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Judy Judt)

This book is a complete dose of European history since 1945. It follows an earlier text that goes from 1045. This is a history book extensively explaining Europe’s history and its many countries in the twentieth century.

7. The History of the Ancient World (Susan Wise Bauer)

From explaining everyday life in the ancient world to the fall of Rome, this massive book that is nearly 1,000 pages in length spans the beginnings of civilization in the oldest countries of the world (think Egypt, China, Rome, Sumer) until the fall and merger of many of these civilizations.

8. Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Eric Hobsbawm)

This book takes a critical and somewhat pessimistic look at the last century regarding its downfalls, catastrophes, and failures. The point made by the author is that the 20th century was no age of moderation. With the extreme behaviors, politics, differences, and inequality that have transpired in this century, the 20th century fails. This book takes a very harsh look at things like socialism, capitalism, communism, and other such things that, in small doses, can be beneficial, but in extremes, are catastrophic.

9. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Viet Vanh Nguyen)

Highlighting the hardships and lives of the Vietnamese people during and after the Vietnam War, this book looks at the war through a lens that no one ever thinks about. A narrative history from a viewpoint most people, especially Americans, are not used to—this is a riveting history of a war we still talk about but do not consider anyone but us going through. This book is an eye-opening read.

10. The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World (Allen Lane)

This book reads more like historical fiction than a nonfiction history book. It is the story of the witch trials in America in the 1600s. In this book, a woman who admits to being a witch blames her husband and accuses him of witchcraft.

11. Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond)

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book explains that wars occurred because another country or group of people wanted, needed, or hated what another country or group of people had accomplished, which may have been more advanced. Jared Diamond does not believe that wars occurred the way most historians say they did.

history books to read about the second world war and middle ages amongst others

12. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard)

This book tells Roman history in a whole new way. Most of us think of ancient Rome as a beautiful place ahead of its time, decorated lavishly, with upstanding geniuses making up its general population. This book discusses the realities of living in Rome during the short history of its heyday. Like every culture or society, there were democratic struggles, issues, poverty, and a thousand years of learning and growing. This book normalizes ancient Rome in a way that we are not used to.

13. Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age (Annalee Newitz)

This book tells the fascinating stories of four cities that were urban hubs of society and culture and then all at once abandoned. In detail, this book tells of Cahokia, Angkor, Pompeii, and Catalhoyuk. The author goes into scientific and societal history to explain the rise and fall of these societies. Annalee Newitz explained the way of life in each city, the people and their culture, and the unique features of these cities.

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

This book tells the groundbreaking and necessary new history of Wounded Knee and the needless slaughter and terrible treatment of the Lakota people. It points out that the winners dictate the history of wars and conflicts, which often steers the world in the wrong direction and gives subsequent generations the wrong idea of what occurred in history.

In this book, Brown tells the new history of Native Americans and their awful treatment by Americans and whites as they were killed, moved, divided, and their culture was largely stomped out.

15. Hidden From History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight Against It (Sheila Rowbotham)

This book tells the story of women in England as they emerged from the shadows and worked towards equality. It talks about family life, the pressure to fit in with society, the role of women according to society’s perception, and how social class determines a person’s worth.

This book spans over 300 years of remarkable women enduring historical events while leading families. It is the untold history of women who risked a lot to be seen as equals, and it is a gripping story that all women should read, especially those who care about such things as women’s rights.

16. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon)

Written by the first “modern historian of ancient Rome”, Gibbon set the standard and mold by which Roman history would be looked at, researched, and evaluated. A massive magisterial history of Rome, this book, published in several parts, begins with the birth of the Empire and ends with the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

17. The Liberation Trilogy (Rick Atkinson)

This author takes the reader to Western Europe to the battlefronts of some wars that define nations and the world. Three separate books, Volume One is called An Army at Dawn and covers the War in North Africa between 1942 and 1943. It provides a detailed understanding of overlooked African civilizations as many tried to go about their everyday lives while war took place around them. Volume 2 of the trilogy is called The Day of Battle, and it covers the wars in Sicily and Italy. Volume 3 is titled The Guns at Last Light, and it tells the story of the war in Western Europe in 1944 and 1945.

18. The History of the Peloponnesian War (Thcydides)

Written nearly three thousand years ago, this is the incredibly dense and detailed book of the conflict between Athens and Sparta and the Great War that resulted. This book is a massive undertaking for anyone to read and is often used as a resource to look up one thing or a lot of small things.

19. Revolutionary Russia: 1891-1991: A History (Orlando Figes)

This is a complete history that includes the earliest accounts of the Soviet Union and the people who lived and ruled there. This book offers one of the best ways to understand history in an ever-changing and evolving society such as Russia. Every bit of the history has been carefully researched and is included in the book.

20. 1776 (David McCullough)

A more truthful story of American history than what most people are used to, McCullough presents the birth of America in a way that shows George Washington as more than just a genius who had everything figured out. His adversary on the British side is depicted as he was: worthy. The British army fought bravely, although many American history texts treat them with shocking adversity that is not an accurate depiction.

As present-day historians set out to set things right and end the old inaccuracies, this is an excellent book to read if you are interested in reading the story of the birth of a nation that no longer glorifies one side while belittling the other. If you want to know how American history started, this is the book you should read.

21. The Century of Revolution: 1603-1714 (Christopher Hill)

Known as the best author on the subject, Hill covers both the social history and the politics of the English Revolution in this book that outranks all other books on the same subject. Going deeper than just the politics and royalty of the time, Hill also studied regular society and their lives, roles, and the effects of the war on the average man and woman.

22. The Search for Modern China (Jonathan Spence)

Starting at the Ming Dynasty and working its way forward, this book tells China’s rich and captivating history and human societies throughout the different dynasties. This book goes all the way to modern China. It covers many events, such as the opium wars, the emergence of other civilizations to China, changes in rules and culture, struggles and triumphs of the people, and where China is headed.

best history books

23. The Talented Women of the Zhang Family (Susan Mann)

This book takes a rare glance at not just one but three generations of women in China who were educated during the imperial period. Often overlooked, women are the focal point in this rich history that its author brilliantly researched.

24. America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion since the 1960s (Elizabeth Hinton)

More relevant than ever, this is the story of police brutality on minorities, especially Blacks, and the pivotal moment when a Black Rebellion rose to demand equality and justice. Ignored and allowed to continue by politicians, racists, and police departments all over America, police brutality against Blacks is back, but now it is being seen by the world with the emergence of technology such as smartphones and body cameras.

This book gives a gripping account of the struggles of Black people everywhere, but especially in poor neighborhoods and areas, to be treated fairly by police, not be reacted to by them with violence, and be granted the same rights to justice as their white counterparts.

25. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Karl Polanyi)

This book covers the profound changes that have taken place in the economy and human society since the Industrial Revolution. With the Industrial Revolution came the free market, which many experts say is flawed. This book discusses all of these points at length.

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

Rather than an impartial history of Latin America, this book has no issue with calling a spade a spade and observing and explaining its history as changing due to 500 years of exploitation and pillaging at the hands of other countries chasing after its resources. This book is eye-opening and fascinating, a daring and honest look at the terrible treatment of beautiful land and interesting culture.

27. Grant (Ron Chernow)

This is the story of Ulysses S. Grant, told in a way that few have read it before. In this book, Grant is dissected through his letters, actions, and leadership, breathtakingly and beautifully, an ordinary man who rose to extraordinary circumstances.

28. The Face of Battle (John Keegan)

This book covers war not from the generals or politicians who start it or plan it but from the viewpoint of the soldier who fights in it. The physical, emotional, and psychological toll that war takes on a soldier is looked at in this book through a not so often viewed lens.

29. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (Gar Alperovitz)

This book argues that the use of the atomic bomb by the U.S. was not necessary. It was used to send a message to Russia that the U.S. would use this level of force to keep control. Using U.S. government documents as his case study and evidence, this author offers an enlightening view on the devastating attack in human history.

30. The Korean War: A History (Bruce Cumings)

This book is about the Korean War and its effects on the soldiers who fought for their country. Many veterans were wholly disregarded rather than respected. This book focuses on bringing this war to the forefront of minds, as it was largely forgotten right after the war. 

History: Not Just a Boring School Subject

Our history as a planet has made us who we are, and if we are ever to improve, we must learn from it. Reading about your own history and that of other countries is a great way to shape and grow your knowledge so that you can shape your future in the direction you want to head.

Not All History Books are the Same

It is strongly encouraged that you read more than one book about any one place or subject when it comes to history. We are learning more and more that what we as Americans were taught in school can at times be an incomplete picture. Having multiple resources at your disposal is a tool you should use liberally.

Historical Fiction is Still History

It may be a good idea to start with historical fiction, which tells a story within the parameters of nonfiction historical events if you find history books boring or stuffy but still want to gain historical knowledge. This is a great way to expose yourself to history while still being entertained.

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