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Topic: Your Best American History Books

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Subject: Your Best American History Books
Date Posted: 7/6/2009 10:06 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
Posts: 5,931
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I'm a little late starting this topic, but what the heck, what are the best books you've read on American history?  Any person, topic, time period.

Mine would be:

  1. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  2. Team of Rivals by Dorothy Kearns Goodwin
  3. The American Plague: the Untold Story of Yellow Fever by Molly Caldwell Crosby
  4. The Ten-Cent Plague: the Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America by David Hadju
  5. 1776 by David McCullough
Date Posted: 7/7/2009 11:42 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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Some of my favs have been:

In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick - sailors from Nantucket but the setting is the Pacific Ocean

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 - Ulrich

Riding the Rails - Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression - Errol Lincoln Uys

Grand Avenues - Scott W. Berg - the building of Washington DC (dry in parts but overall very interesting)

1776 by McCullough and The Devil in the White City by Larson were very good.

Date Posted: 1/17/2010 12:27 PM ET
Member Since: 4/21/2008
Posts: 664
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John Adams by McCullough

Undaunted Courage by Ambrose

Team of Rivals by Goodwin

1776 by McCullough

Eleanor Roosevelt Volumes 1 & 2 by Blanche Wiesen Cook

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Last Edited on: 1/17/10 12:28 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/17/2010 4:42 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
Posts: 9,544
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1. REconstruction: : 1863-1877 by Eric Foner  belies the myth of the ignorant, incapable slave and shows how, in 1863, there were many black men ready, willing, and able to run their own affairs.

2. The Coldest Winter  by David Halberstam   I never knew we had ever faced a better supplied, better led, better equipped army like we did in the early days of Korea.

3. the three books that constitute The Age of Roosevelt  by Arthur M. Schlesinger.

4. The Best and The Brightest by David Halberstam.  It starts in the time of Roosevelt and related in great detail how the UnitedStates got inextricably involved before Kennedy, before Johnson, in the terrible debacle that those of us who paid the price just call Nam.

5. Thunder out of China by Theodore White.  in which Theodore White, who was there on the ground, describes how we never had China to lose 1936-1950.

Date Posted: 1/18/2010 2:36 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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I read embarrassingly little US history, but I'd like to add The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand.  A really excellent and thought provoking book.

Last Edited on: 1/26/10 3:43 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/18/2010 5:25 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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Dear Historians and readers of History:  Please do not overlook the works of the "muckrakers".   There is much history to be learned from Ida Tarbell, Jacob Riis, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Upton Sinclair, Jane Addams, and other such voices raised against some of the historic miscarriages of justice in U. S. history.  The list could easily include Helen Hunt Jackson, John Dos Passos,  John Steinbeck, Margaret Sanger, Dr. G. W. Carver, Booker T. Washington, and several others, some of whose written works were fictional but realistic, while others were journalistic.

I trust you remember the old saying about how "the newspapers of Today are the history books of Tomorrow".    And  Riis and  Matthew Arnold used cameras to record  pictorially, respectively,  the  history of the New York slums wherein dwelt the immigrants to the USA, and the unimaginable horrors of civil war (1861-65).  There was also the sensitive camera work of people such as Margaret Bourke-White and  A. Eisenstadt in the Great Depression, and of  artists such as Harvey Dunn in  World War I.  With World War II, pictorial history  proved itself as a powerful way of recording History for future generations.

Oops. . . . of course I didn't mean Matthew ARNOLD, but the American Civil War photographer, Matthew BRADY (1823?-1896)

Last Edited on: 6/22/10 3:49 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 1/18/2010 9:00 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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Jacob Riis is excellent. Along the same lines, Russell Freedman wrote some great nonfiction books for younger people. The ones I remember most are Freedom Walkers, Lincoln: A Photobiography, and Immigrant Kids.

Date Posted: 1/26/2010 11:59 AM ET
Member Since: 12/22/2008
Posts: 533
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The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.  Excellent retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg with great character studies of some of the major players.  Winner of 1975 Pulitzer Prize.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/28/2010 10:34 AM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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Are we talking Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Non-fiction: my favorite American History books are:

  1. Freedom from Fear by David Kennedy
  2. Trail of Tears by John Ehle
  3. Shadows by Bob Woodward
  4. All of the Stephen Ambrose books I have read so far


  1. Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  2. Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara (I like all of his books I have read so far, but this one is my favorite)
Date Posted: 6/21/2010 11:01 PM ET
Member Since: 10/13/2007
Posts: 951
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I am currently reading this book. My library didn't have it, but borrowed it from another in the area. It is a very good book. The beginning is pre-American Revolution...I am now at post American Revolution before G. Washington became our first president.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
Author:Joseph J. Ellis

Book Information
Book Type:Hardcover
Members Wishing:3

ISBN-13:9780307263698 -ISBN-10:030726369X
Publication Date:10/30/2007
Date Posted: 7/18/2010 1:42 PM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2008
Posts: 10,735
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During this past week I finished a book by Jay Bonansinga titled "The Sinking of the Eastland". It concerns a ship that sunk in the Chicago River, in 1914, while still tied to the dock - 844 people died in this tragedy! You never hear about this. When all was said and done, no one really suffered much hardship for the blame. Bonansinga goes into the lives of some of the passengers as well the reasons why the ship went down. It was a page turner and his writing is excellent! Highly recommended!!

Date Posted: 8/4/2010 9:50 AM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2009
Posts: 62
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An American Insurrection, by William Doyle, about the integration of Ole Miss. I was a child when this happened, knew nothing about it, learned nothing about it during my college years, and heard about the integration when I was talking to some of my fellow workers at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility. One had been sent to Ole Miss to support the integration, and talked about how awful it was, being cursed at, having things thrown at them, and threats made. He said he thought he was goingto be killed by mad Southerners, at one point. When I saw this book, I had to get it. I enjoyed it very much. It sure opened my eyes.

Russia at War, by Alexander Werth. He was actually in Russia for part of the war and was allowed to visit some of the fronts. If I remember right, his parents were white Russians who had fled after the communists took power. Interesting book.

Lone Star, by T. J. Fehrenbach. This is a very interesting and balanced history of Texas. I took Texas and US history in high school and college, but did not know about the massacre of 34 Germans from Fredericksburg who were leaving the state to go to Mexico, because they did not support the Confederacy. His book was the first place I learned about it.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer.I've readthis a couple of times, just trying to figure out how the German people could sit by and let the extermination of Jews, gypsies, and dissenters take place.Never got that.

Peter the Great, by Robert K. Massie. This is a fascinating look at a man who changed Russia, and at Russia itself during his time.

The Fatal Shore, bu Robert Hughes.This history of Australia was very interesting reading.

Byzantium: The Early Centuries,Byzantium:The Apogee, and Byzantium, The Decline and Fall, all by John Julius Norwich.These books were very interesting reading, and opened my eyes to what western civilization owes to Byzantium.

I could go on and on, but will stop here. I'm out of time.