These 13 Eye-Opening Books About History Will Give You a New Perspective

Updated 05/02/19
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In school, having a favorite class usually dependent on the teacher. History is a particularly divisive subject, but there have always been dedicated instructors who care about the topics and their students enough to make it exciting. As adults, we must make the decision to learn more about the past, and luckily there are plenty of lifelong students of history that want to make it easy.

When we sat down to compile great books about history, we thought to include tales that you may not know already. Everyone knows something about the destruction of World War II, but are you familiar with the Desert War in North Africa? The antebellum South gets a lot of attention because of the atrocity of slavery, but little is known about the communities of African Americans in the north at the same time.

Every book below tells its own story in its own unique way, using microhistories, memoirs, and even political cartoons to support their claims. Certain genres of history earn all the attention because of their significance to today’s society, but profiles on small states or forgotten nations can be just as rewarding. Peruse some of our book recommendations below.

Black Bostonians

Black Bostonians by James Oliver Horton; Lois E. Horton
James Oliver Horton; Lois E. Horton Black Bostonians $12

We often overlook the histories of people of color in the North around the Civil War, but communities of African Americans thrived. Black Bostonians is a thorough text that describes their social systems and the lengths that they took to become involved politically in order to win their brethren freedom and expand the rights of the already free.

The Great Cat Massacre

The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton
Robert Darnton The Great Cat Massacre $12

This title is filled with quirky aspects of French history that use a lens known as microhistory. The idea is to zoom in on a particular historical event and delve into the details of it, following its consequences and reverberations; the Great Cat Massacre is only one vignette.

The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De Gaulle

The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De Gaulle by Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De Gaulle $30

Charles de Gaulle was a prominent figure during the second world war, and immediately after the dust had settled, he penned several volumes on his experiences. Those are collected in his Complete War Memoirs, and savvy readers recommend reading them in tandem with Winston Churchill’s own lengthy accounts.

Cuba in the American Imagination

Cuba in the American Imagination by Louis A., Jr. Perez
Louis A., Jr. Perez Cuba in the American Imagination $5

Our relationship with Cuba has never been an easy one. Louis Perez looks at the whimsical side of history by exploring the reason and effect of infantilizing the neighboring island nation as seen through political cartoons.

Red Plenty

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford
Francis Spufford Red Plenty $10

While not strictly non-fiction, Red Plenty is a historical book about the boom times of the Soviet Republic. It is told in a familiar narrative structure, which makes it a true story that you will not want to put down.

Pendulum of War

Pendulum of War by Niall Barr
Niall Barr Pendulum of War $7

More for buffs of World War II, Pendulum of War focuses on the North African campaigns—specifically about the three battles at El Alamein, Egypt. This book looks at the Desert War on the eastern side of the continent, as other battles raged in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
Peter Frankopan The Silk Roads $14

On the other side of the spectrum from microhistory comes wide-ranging exploration into multiple eras. Such is the case of The Silk Roads, which considers how the crossroads of the world affect our society today.

Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals $16

When Barack Obama became president in 2009, many observers commented on his decision to reach out to those around him who had challenged him during his campaign. He used the same principles of Abraham Lincoln, who also earned respect from his critics in order to unite his cabinet and eventually, the country.

The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History

Rian Thum by The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History
Rian Thum The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History $31

The Sacred Routes is a special book because it challenges the accepted national history of the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. It has been called a “biography of history,” and it is bound to expand your perspective of what the concept of history really means.

Realm of the Black Mountain

Realm of the Black Mountain by Elizabeth Roberts
Elizabeth Roberts Realm of the Black Mountain $46

One of the world’s newest countries lacks an international reputation, but Realm of the Black Mountain is out to change that. Montenegro (and Serbia) was formed out of the dissolution Yugoslavia, and you can learn about what makes this tiny nation tick.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran $14

The title of this historic memoir is already rife with scandal. Iran has a reliable history of censorship, but one educator in Tehran did not let the law stop her from giving mature students a chance to learn through world literature. Reading Lolita in Tehran is Azar Nafisi’s account of learning in spite of the danger.

The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Timothy Egan The Worst Hard Time $10

Because of its timing, the Dust Bowl wreaked havoc on the dry Midlands near Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. The country was already suffering due to the Great Depression, which ruined the financial prospects for many Americans, and the natural destruction of the storms only made everything worse. It is safe to say that this is a book about a tragedy in our nation’s history.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel $11

We could have recommended a dense history of the world, but Guns, Germs, and Steel offers an alternative concept. Jared Diamond suggests that the totality of human history is based on how people interacted with their environments. Explore why civilizations begin near water and other minute details that we have come to accept without fully considering why?

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