A Few of Our Biographies:
This is Part Two of a Seven-Part Article.
"Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" by E.D. Hirsch Jr. (1987). See here for an essay on the importance of this book and its controversial nature. See also Hirsch's "The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools" (2009). Hirsch's Website is here.
"A People’s History of the United States" by Page Smith (1976-1987, eight volumes). A powerful reading experience; available as a set and in individual volumes. See here for an excerpt. The work stops at World War II; a good next step is "The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972" by William Manchester (1984).
"The Oxford History of the United States" (published 1982 to the present). A multi-volume series covering different eras, with readable prose and strong scholarship. For background on the series, and an up-to-date list of what's available, see the series entry at wikipedia.com.
"The Oxford History of the American People" by Samuel Eliot Morison (1965). This eminently readable one-volume history is especially strong on the colonial, revolutionary, Federalist, and antebellum periods. (Note: This is the work where Morison goes overboard in the last pages praising the recently-deceased John F. Kennedy; his bizarre encomium is an interesting historical artifact in its own right.) A useful adjunct to this work, also good as a stand-alone, is "The Oxford Companion to United States History" edited by Paul S. Boyer (2001). See here for a sample of Morison's writing.
"Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing" edited by Ilan Stavans (2009). Essential to anyone seeking to fully understand the U.S.A.
"Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville. The classic work, but really, the best place to start with this great writer is "Souvenirs" (also known as "Recollections"), his memoir of the Revolution of 1848 in France. Odd, that a good inexpensive edition is not available.
"The American Century" by Harold Evans (1998).
"The Reader's Companion to American History" edited by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (1991).
"Pivotal Moments in American History." An excellent series of readable and authoritative books from Oxford University Press.
"Blackwell Companions to American History." Blackwell Publishing puts out authoritative, accessible companions to many aspects of American history, including technology, the West, the Vietnam War, foreign relations, African Americans, the Civil War, and women.
Websites: See the section of this article titled "Web Resources."
"A New World: An Epic of Colonial America" by Arthur Quinn (1995).
"Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America" by Gary B. Nash (2005, fifth edition). See here for a HistoryAccess.com interview with Nash.
"Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War" by Nathan Philbrick (2006).
"Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution" by Simon Schama (2006).
"Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution" by David Waldstreicher (2004).
"Portrait of America: Volume One, To 1877, From the European Discovery of America to the End of Reconstruction" by Stephen B. Oates and Charles J. Errico (2002, eighth edition).
"Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766" by Fred Anderson (2000). An exceptional work.
Historical Novel: "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Volume I - The Pox Party" by M.T. Anderson (2007).
DVD: "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower" produced by The History Channel (2006).
(See here for "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and for background on the poem.)
"The Oxford History of the American People" by Samuel Eliot Morison (1965). Contains a highly readable, relatively brief examination of the ramp-up to war and the conflict itself. The book is an amazing bargain if bought used; lots of copies are floating around. See here for a sample of Morison's writing.
"A New Age Now Begins: A People's History of the American Revolution" by Page Smith (1976). See here for a sample of Smith's writing.
"Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation" by Joseph J. Ellis (2000).
"Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different" by Gordon S. Wood (2006). See also Wood's "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" (1991), "The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America" by Gary B. Nash (2005), and "The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism" edited by Alfred F. Young (1976)). See also "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" by Bernard Bailyn (1967); see here for a thought from Gary B. Nash, who disagrees with Bailyn's thesis.
"The War for America: 1775-1783" by Piers Mackesy (1964). The British perspective.
"Washington’s Crossing" by David Hackett Fischer (2004).
"Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution" by Benson Bobrick (1997). Solid, if a bit dry.
"The Encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War: A Political, Social, and Military History" edited by Gregory Fremont-Barnes and Richard A. Ryerson. (2006, five volumes). A scaled-down set of books by the same folks is "American Revolutionary War: A Student Encyclopedia" (2006, five volumes).
"Noah Webster: The Life and Times of an American Patriot" by Harlow Giles Unger (1998).
"Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow (2004). Contains an excellent 100-page summary of the war from Hamilton's perspective, one of the better brief descriptions of the conflict. See a review of the book here and see here for an interview with a historian who challenges Chernow's view of Hamilton.
Recorded Book: "1776" by David McCullough narrated by the author (2005). The book is also eminently readable.
(See also "Abraham Lincoln" [next section]. See here for a guide to touring battlefields of the war's Western Theater of Operations.)
"A Short History of the Civil War: Ordeal by Fire" by Fletcher Pratt (1935).
"An American Illiad: The Story of the Civil War" by Charles P. Roland (2004, second edition).
"Ordeal of the Union" by Allan Nevins (1947-71, eight volumes). A masterpiece.
"Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" by James M. McPherson (1988). Detailed, comprehensive, readable. Includes a bibliography covering every important aspect of the war. An illustrated edition is available.
"The American Heritage New History of the Civil War" by Bruce Catton and James M. McPherson (1996). Solid, supple text, and spectacular illustrations including coherent maps and haunting paintings. A sample of Catton's writing can be found here.
"The Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History" edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (2000).
"Company Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War" by Sam R. Watkins (1962). "A better book there never was," said novelist Margaret Mitchell. The favorite Civil War book of Joe Avalon, editor of civilwarinteractive.com. (The pronunciation of "Aytch" is "h." The book's title is often rendered "Co. Aytch.")
"Mothers of Invention:Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War" by Drew Gilpin Faust (1996).
"Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" edited by Robert Underwood Johnson, Clarence Clough Buel, and Peter Cozzens (six volumes). These first-person recollections of the war were originally published in the 1880s. "Crammed with facts, figures, maps, photographs, woodcuts, etc.," writes journalist and historian J. Brent Norlem.
"The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln" by Sean Wilentz (2005). Includes analysis of the ramp-up to the war.
"Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics" by Charles P. Roland (1964). See also Roland's "History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History" (2007).
"Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War" by Gerald F. Linderman (1987). Described by historian Russell F. Weigley as "the best account in American historical literature of what it is like to experience battle."
"The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-64" by Carol Bundy (2005).
"Memoirs of William T. Sherman" (1875, two volumes). The best Civil War memoir. Good companion books are "Sherman: Fighting Prophet" by Lloyd Lewis (1932) and "Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order" by John F. Marszalek (1993).
Historian John F. Marszalek of Mississippi State University wrote in 1995, "Often when Civil War military history is written and enthusiasts debate it, the result is a rigid tale of generals moving large numbers of faceless soldiers across endless battlefields. In those accounts, men die in heaps; officers are brilliant or incompetent; and politicians are an unwanted debilitating interference. Detail is piled on detail, and the humanity of the individuals is lost." Marszalek notes that "in recent times" the field of Civil War historiography has broken out of the standard mold, with an abundance of books studying the motivations, the relationship between men and women during the war years, and other aspects that can be classified as social history. An example of the new scholarship, Marszalek says, is "Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War" by Joseph T. Glatthaar (1994). See also "Goodmen: The Character of Civil War Soldiers" by Michael Barton (1981), "Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union" by Earl J. Hess (1988), "Civil War Soldiers" by Reid Mitchell (1988), and "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" by James M. McPherson (1997). See also these forerunners of Marszalek's revolution: "The Life of Johnny Reb" (1943) and "The Life of Billy Yank" (1952) by Bell Irvin Wiley.
"Cavalier and Yankee" by William R. Taylor (1961).
"The American Civil War: A Military History" by John Keegan (2009).
Historical Novels: "The March" by E.L. Doctorow (2005; Sherman’s march to the sea). "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara (1974; the Battle of Gettysburg). "House Divided" by Ben Ames Williams (1947; "so good I could hardly put it down," says Judy Lewis of St. Paul, a friend of this Website and world-class passionate reader).
DVDs: "The Civil War" directed by Ken Burns (1990). "Reconstruction: The Second Civil War" produced by Llewellyn Smith (2003, from the PBS series American Experience.) "CSA: The Confederate States of America" directed by Kevin Willmott (2003, mock documentary). "Fateful Lightning: A Narrative History of the Civil War" produced by Troubadour Interactive (1998, CD-ROM).
(See here for a list of this Website's Lincoln articles.)
"Abraham Lincoln: A Biography" by Benjamin Thomas (1952). Written with economy and insight, this is a good introduction to the 16th President and a decent primer on the Civil War. For background on the book and author, see the article "Benjamin P. Thomas" by John Hoffmann here.
"With Malice Toward None" by Stephen B. Oates (1977).
"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005). An excellent Lincoln biography incorporating the latest scholarship, embellished by profiles of his War Cabinet.
"Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America" by Andrew Ferguson (2007). A journalist hits the road in search of how we perceive Lincoln today. Funny and illuminating. A good companion work is "Lincoln in American Memory" by Merrill D. Peterson (1994).
"Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates" by Harry V. Jaffa (1959). The most important scholarly study of the legal/constitutional issues of the late 1850s.
"Lincoln and the Tools of War" by Robert V. Bruce (1989). Lincoln's fascination with the technology of war and his attempts to get decent stuff built.
"Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President" by Harold Holzer (2006).
"Lincoln the Lawyer" by Brian Dirck (2007).
"The Darkest Dawn: Lincoln, Booth, and the Great American Tragedy" by Thomas Goodrich (2006).
"The Assassination of Lincoln: History and Myth" by Lloyd Lewis (1929). Former title: "Myths After Lincoln." "To read or reread this book," says historian Mark E. Neely Jr., "is to realize what good writing can do for history."
"The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia" by Mark E. Neely Jr. (1981).
"Men to Match My Mountains" by Irving Stone (1956). An entertaining, well-researched work of popular history.
"Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West" by Wallace Stegner (1954). Available at Google Books.
"The West: An Illustrated History" by Geoffrey C. Ward (2003).
"Goodbye to a River: A Narrative" by John Graves (1960). The modern environmental movement is said to have begun with the 1962 publication of "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. "Goodbye to a River" should also get some of the credit.
"The Legend of Colton H. Bryant" by Alexandra Fuller (2008). A page-turner.
"The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America" by Douglas Brinkley (2009).
"We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher" by E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith (1939).
"Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West" by Stephen E. Ambrose (1996).
"The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890" by Richard Slotkin (1985).
"Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West" by William H. Goetzmann (1966).
"Son of the Morning Star" by Evan S. Connell (1984).
"Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer" by Michael A. Elliott (2007).
"The Louisiana Purchase" by Thomas Fleming (2003). Part of the Turning Points series on American history from Wiley: brief and entertaining books by prominent authors. Included in the series: "Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball" by Scott Simon, "The Beatles Come to America" by Martin Goldsmith, "Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism" by Bob Edwards, "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" by William F. Buckley Jr., and "Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment" by Eleanor Clift.
Historical Novel: "Little Big Man" by Thomas Berger (1964).
Recorded Book: "Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West" by Hampton Sides narrated by Don Leslie (2006).
DVDs: "The Way West" directed by Ric Burns (1995). "How the West Was Won" directed by John Ford et al. (1962, fiction; see here for background on the film's music). "The West" directed by Stephen Ives (1996, PBS, eight parts). "Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery" directed by Ken Burns (1997).
"The American Presidency" by Clinton Rossiter (1956, re-issued in 1987 with an introduction by Michael Nelson).
"Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership From Roosevelt to Reagan" by Richard E. Neustadt (1990, new edition).
"A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House" by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1965) in conjunction with the film "Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment" directed by Robert Drew (1963). The former is a readable narrative of the Kennedy presidency; the latter, also about JFK, is described by Docurama.com as "the first and only film ever shot candidly of a President making decisions during a crisis"; together they form an strong multimedia introduction to the modern presidency. (See also Drew's pioneering film "Primary"  which made use of new, smaller film cameras that he helped develop at Time Inc.) "Crisis" and "Primary" are available in a box set released in 2008 titled "The Robert Drew Kennedy Films Collection." See here for more on JFK.
"The Age of Reagan" by Steven F. Hayward. (Two volumes, 2001 and 2009).
"Ulysses S. Grant" by Josiah Bunting III (2004). One of the best entries in The American Presidents Series.
"Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72" by Hunter S. Thompson (1973). Thompson's masterpiece.
DVDs: "The War Room" directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (1992). "The Presidents Collection" produced by the PBS series American Experience. "Thomas Jefferson" directed by Ken Burns (1996; a good companion film is "Thomas Jefferson: A View From the Mountain" directed by Martin Doblmeier ). "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election" directed by Joan Sekler and Richard Ray Perez (2002). "Recount" produced by HBO (2008, docudrama).
"Masks in a Pageant" by William Allen White (1928).
"A Political Education: A Washington Memoir" by Harry McPherson (1972).
"The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R." by Richard Hofstadter (1955). From the 1890s to the New Deal. A classic work by a great historian. See also his essential "The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It" (1948).
The Crisis of the Old Order: The Age of Roosevelt, Volume I, 1919-1933" by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1957). This work, writes historian Stephen B. Oates, "may be the most perfectly sculptured work of historical art produced in this country....distinguished for its novelistic use of time, its symphonic organization, its vivid scenes and graphic vignettes, its telling quotations and dramatic narrative sweep." See also Schlesinger's "Journals: 1952-2000" (2007).
"The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court" by Jeffrey Toobin (2007). Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a key figure in the book; Toobin sees her as the most important woman in American history.
"Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties" by Richard N. Goodwin (1995).
"The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York" by Robert A. Caro (1974).
"Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago" by Mike Royko (1971).
DVD: "Taking on the Kennedys" directed by Joshua Seftel (1996).
(See here for a profile of Malcolm X and here for a piece about Booker T. Washington. See here for an interview with historian Nell Irvin Painter and here for an interview with historian David M. Johnson.)
"America in the King Years" by Taylor Branch (1988 to 2007, three volumes: "Parting the Waters," "Pillar of Fire," and "At Canaan's Edge"). The phrase "the King years" speaks volumes. As historian Garry Wills notes, "More than any single person (King) changed the way Americans lived with each other in the sixties."
"From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans" by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss Jr. (2000, eighth edition).
"W.E.B. Du Bois" by David Levering Lewis (1993 and 2000, two volumes). This book, says historian Clayborne Carson of Stanford University, is "the one to read if you’re not familiar with African American history but want to read one great work about it."
"White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812" by Winthrop Jordan (1968). An essential, ground-breaking work.
"There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America" by Vincent Harding (1993).
"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave" by Frederick Douglass (1845).
"The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914" by George M. Fredrickson (1987).
"Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1965" by David Mark Chalmers (1965).
"The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions" by William Julius Wilson (1978).
"Voices in Our Blood: America’s Best on the Civil Rights Movement" edited by Jon Meacham (2001).
"Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944" by J. Clay Smith Jr. (1993).
"Collected Essays" by James Baldwin (1998). A good starting point for a sense of the intellectual roots of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.
"Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" by Jules Tygiel (1983). See also "Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training" by Chris Lamb (2006).
"The Malcolm X Encyclopedia" edited by Robert L. Jenkins (2002).
"The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr." edited by Clayborne Carson (1998). A compilation of pieces.
"An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy" by Gunnar Myrdal (1944).
"What Virtue There is in Fire: Cultural Memory and the Lynching of Sam Hose" by Edwin T. Arnold (2008).
"Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980" by August Meier anad Elliott Rudwick (1986).
Historical Novel: "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker (1992 reprint).
DVDs: "4 Little Girls" directed by Spike Lee (1997). "A Time For Burning" directed by Bill Jersey (1966). "Paul Robeson: Here I Stand" directed by St. Claire Bourne (1999). "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till" directed by Keith A. Beauchamp (2004). "Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind" directed by Stanley Nelson (2001).
(See here for a chronology of Chinese cooking in America, with background on the Chinese immigrant experience.)
"Dictionary of Asian American History" edited by Hyung-Chan Kim (1986).
"The Asian American Encyclopedia" edited by Franklin Ng (1995, six volumes). More than 2,000 entries by some 240 contributors. Many illustrations. An extensive list of sources and resources including books, museums, libraries, and research centers.
"Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans" by Ronald Takaki (1998 revised edition).
"Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People" by Helen Zia (2000).
(See also "Latin America" in this article.)
"Everything You Need to Know About Latino History" by Himilce Novas (2007, revised edition). Not everything, needless to say, but a useful introduction.
"Hispanic Firsts: 500 Years of Extraordinary Achievement" by Nicolas Kanellos (1997). Kanellos is also editor of "The Hispanic-American Almanac" (2002, third edition) and co-editor with Cristelia Perez of "Chronology of Hispanic-American History: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present" (1995).
"Dictionary of Hispanic Biography" edited by Joseph C. Tardiff and L. Mpho Mabunda (1995). From the fifteenth century to the present.
"The Latino Encyclopedia" edited by Richard Chabran and Rafael Chabran (1996, six volumes).
"The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States Since 1960" by David G. Gutierrez (2006).
"This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native North Americans" by Wendell H. Oswalt (2008, ninth edition). An excellent introductory survey.
"1491" by Charles C. Mann (2005). "Flying over eastern Bolivia in the early 1960s," writes Mann, "the young geographer William Denevan was amazed to see that the landscape - home to nothing but cattle ranches for generations - still bore evidence that it had once been inhabited by a large, prosperous society, one whose very existence had been forgotten. Incredibly, such discoveries are still being made."
"Encyclopedia of North American Indians" edited by F.E. Hoxie (1996). See also Hoxie's "Parading Through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America, 1805-1935" (1995).
"The Native North American Almanac" edited by Duane Champagne (2001, second edition).
"Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux" as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow) by Nicholas Black Elk (2000 reissue).
"Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry" by Sarah H. Hill (1997).
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West" by Dee Brown (1970). One of the key books of the emergence of New Indian History in the 1970s. "Should be compulsory reading for all students of American history," says the British newspaper the Independent.
"Native North American Biography" edited by Sharon Malinowski and Simon Glickman (1995).
"Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto" by Vine Deloria Jr. (1969).
"Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life" by Kingsley M. Bray (2006).
"Sitting Bull" by Bill Yenne (2008).
"The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest" by Alvin M. Josephy Jr. (1965).
"The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815" by Richard White (1991). A pioneering work of scholarship.