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Fifty Important Battles of
Modern History

History Reading Suggestions
By Bob Frost, 2010

This is Part Seven of a Seven-Part Article.
Go Here for the List of Categories.


"Science: A History" by John Gribbin (2001). See also Gribbin's "The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors" (2004) and his mind-bending "In Search of the Multiverse" (2009).

"Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction" by James McClellan and Harold Dorn (2006, second edition).

"Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man" by Bryan Appleyard (2004). A powerful indictment of science set in the framework of a history of the subject. Provides a valuable contrasting view to Jacob Bronowski (see the DVD "The Ascent of Man," the last item in this section).

"Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science" by John D. Barrow (2008).

"Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope" by Fred Watson (2004). Summarizes "much of the controversy and cultural context of the scientific revolution," writes teacher and librarian Charles Becker Jr.

"The Map That Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology" by Simon Winchester (2001).

"Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West" by Margaret C. Jacob (1997).

DVD: "The Ascent of Man" presented by Jacob Bronowski (1973). The impact of science over the centuries, presented by an erudite gentleman in gorgeous long takes of talk (apparently extemporaneous talk, outlined rather than scripted). Plus good visuals, though the production is not as flashy or fast-paced as more recent series along these lines. Episode 11, "Knowledge or Certainty," is especially notable. Bronowski wrote a book based on this series. See here for background on the TV series that inspired "The Ascent of Man."

Website: Here is an outstanding selection of books on the history of science put together by the History of Science Society.

The Industrial Revolution, Technology,
Technical Innovation, Engineering

(See here for a profile of Henry Ford, here for Andrew Carnegie, here for John D. Rockefeller, here for Thomas Edison, and here for Samuel F.B. Morse. See also the resources of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.)

"The Third Wave" by Alvin Toffler (1980) includes a solid, readable description and analysis of the Industrial Revolution.

"Building the World: An Encyclopedia of the Great Engineering Projects in History" edited by Frank Davidson and Kathleen Lusk Brooke (2006, two volumes). Examines a number of big building projects, from Solomon's Temple to Boston's Big Dip. "Unexpectedly fascinating," says Booklist.

"A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World" by Gregory Clark (2007). This book is also listed in "Economics."

"America as Second Creation: Technology and Narratives of New Beginnings" by David E. Nye (2003). Rich scholarship. See also Nye's "Technology Matters: Questions to Live With" (2006).

"The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective" by Robert C. Allen (2009).

"The Industrial Revolution" by T. S. Ashton (1968; new preface 1998). A brief and readable look at the early stages of the event in England. Includes a bibliography.

"The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World" by Jenny Uglow (2003).

"They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators" by Harold Evans (2004).

"Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914" by Gavin Weightman (2009).

"The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World" by Randall Stross (2007).

"The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" by T.J. Stiles (2009). This book, and "Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr." by Ron Chernow (1998), read back-to-back, provide more insight into the ways and means of the modern corporation than 20 run-of-the-mill management books. And they're infinitely more fun to read.

"Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time - The Building of the Panama Canal" by Matthew Parker (2007).

"The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge" by David McCullough (1972).

"Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers" by Fred Howard (1988).

"A Nation of Steel: The Making of Modern America 1865-1925" by Thomas J. Misa (1995).

"Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships" by Stephen Fox (2003). Also titled "The Ocean Railway: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Samuel Cunard, and the Revolutionary World of the Great Atlantic Steamships."

"Men, Machines, and Modern Times" by Elting E. Morison (1966).

"Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology" by Autumn Stanley (1993). Includes an excellent bibliography. See also "Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women" by Catherine Thimmesh (2000, aimed at younger readers).

"Rockdale: The Growth of an American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution" by Anthony Wallace (1978). Winner of the Bancroft Prize.

"One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw" by Witold Rybczynski (2000).

"A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor (2010). Spawned by a fascinating radio series.

Article: "Our Own Devices" by Jill Lepore (The New Yorker magazine, May 12, 2008; a review of "The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America" by Maury Klein [2008]). Lepore writes for The New Yorker on all manner of historical topics; here is a list of her stuff.

Radio Show: "Engines of Our Ingenuity" by John H. Lienhard and the University of Houston. Short radio pieces about technological creativity airing on a couple of dozen U.S. public radio stations. Transcripts and podcasts for more than 2,000 programs are available at the Website.

DVDs: "Connections" presented by James Burke (three series: 1978, 1994, and 1997). "Westinghouse" directed by Mark Bussler (2008). "The Wright Stuff" directed by Nancy Porter (1996). "Engineering an Empire" directed by Chris Cassel et al. (2005).

Website: From the Smithsonian Institution: From Canada: The Canadian Museum of Making. From MIT: An impressive archive of short profiles of inventors in several fields.

The History Profession

(Q-and-A interviews with history people are available here.)

"In Defense of History" by Richard J. Evans (1999). A solid introduction to modern historiography that includes a comprehensive bibliography. Good companion volumes are "The Pursuit of History" by John Tosh with Sean Lang (2006, fourth edition) and "History in Crisis? Recent Directions in Historiography" by Norman J. Wilson (2005, second edition).

"Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing" edited by Kelly Boyd (1999). A sample of this outstanding two-volume work is available here at Google Books.

The "What is History?" series published by Polity offers a number of titles including "What is Military History?", "What is Cultural History?" and "What is Global History?" See Polity's Website here; scroll to the "What is History?" section.

"The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History" by Gordon S. Wood (2008).

"The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington" by Richard Hofstadter (1968). See here for Henry Steele Commager on this notable trio.

"On Historians" by J.H. Hexter (1979).

"Fair Game: What Biographers Don’t Tell You" by Denis Brian (1994).

"Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower" by Jon Weiner (2005).

The essay "The Skeletons in the Closet: How Historians Play God" by Robert Darnton is included in his collection "George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century" (2003).

Articles: "History and National Stupidity" by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. A summing-up of a long and distinguished career published in The New York Review of Books (April 27, 2006), available for a small fee at the link. "Disarming History" by Joyce Lee Malcolm, first published in Reason magazine (March, 2003), examines misdeeds by academic historians, with much to say about how history scholarship gets done.

Website: (History News Network).

Stephen Ambrose's List of
Books He Could Not Put Down

In 1999, historian Stephone E. Ambrose listed the four books – the only four books of his reading life - that he "absolutely" could not put down and could "never forget." All four are history related; one is fiction.

"Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier (1997). A novel set during the Civil War; a major bestseller.

"With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa" by E.B. Sledge (1981). The Marines in the Pacific in the Second World War. Recent editions include an introduction by scholar Paul Fussell.

"The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom" by Slavomir Rawicz (1956). An escape during World War II from Siberia to India.

"We Die Alone: A World War II Epic of Escape and Endurance" by David Howarth (1955). A Norwegian commando escapes the Nazis.

For Kids

(See here for additional suggestions.)

"The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children" by Eden Ross Lipson (2000, third edition).

"Best Books for Children: Preschool Through Grade Six" by Catherine Barr and John T. Gillespie (2005, eighth edition). Barr and Gillespie have also written books of this type for older kids.

"Early American History Timeline" by Rea C. Berg (1992). Part of a series of timelines offered by the estimable publishing house Beautiful Feet Books. Kids can create their own chronologies by cutting out, coloring, and pasting depictions of events.

"Titanic" by Martin Jenkins and Brian Sanders (2007). A pop-up book, one of many on the market. See also, for example, "The Pompeii Pop-Up" by Peter Riley (2007). Pop-up books were popular in Europe in the 1800s, and in America in the 1930s, but declined after World War II. An American advertising executive named Waldo Hunt (1920-2009) helped resurrect the genre in the U.S. in the 1960s. One of the best-selling authors in the field is Robert Sabuda; he's also a publisher - see for example "Castle: Medieval Days and Knights" by Kyle Olmon and Tracy Sabin (2006).

"Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter's Companion" by 'Capt. William Lubber,' edited by Dugald A. Steer (2006). Other books in the wonderful "Ologies" series from Candlewick Press include "Egyptology," "Oceanology," "Mythology," "Wizardology," etc. A complete list is here. One senses that writer and editor Dugald A. Steer is a sort of genius.

"Horrible Histories" by Terry Deary. Illustrations by Martin Brown. Deary is the world's best-selling non-fiction writer for children, according to his publisher. His "Horrible Histories" series, launched in 1993, offers books that are informative + funny + yucky-but-not-too-yucky, and thus actually get read (and loved). Among his contributions to the culture: "The Horrible History of the World," "Cruel Crime and Painful Punishment," "Dark Knights and Dingy Castles," "The Awful Egyptians," "The Frightful First World War," and "The Angry Aztecs." His books spark controversy, God bless 'em - "Cruel Kings and Mean Queens" drew the ire of the National Trust (a rather serious British organization) because it made fun of Prince Charles's spectacular ears, and "Bloody Scotland" drew pointed remarks from a Scottish nationalist group for the immortal line, "Cook the haggis until it looks like a hedgehog after the fifteenth lorry has run over it."

"Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon" by Catherine Thimmesh (2006). The best book title in the history of children's literature; the work itself is also first-rate. See also Thimmesh's "Girls Think of Everything" (2000).

"Archie’s War" by Marcia Williams (2007). What it was like to be a kid during the First World War.

"The Sea of Trolls" (2004) and its sequel "The Land of the Silver Apples" (2007) by Nancy Farmer. Vikings, trolls, and Norns through the eyes of two Saxon kids, Jack, 11, and Lucy, 5.

"What If You Met a Knight?" by Jan Adkins (2006).

"Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935, part of a series).

"Draw 50 Airplanes, Aircraft and Spacecraft" by Lee J. Ames (1977, part of a series).

"Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan (1985).

"Midnight and Jeremiah" by Sterling North (1947).

"Caddie Woodlawn" by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935).

"Maisie Dobbs" by Jacqueline Winspear (2003). The first in a much-loved series. "I really like these books," says reader J.L. of St. Paul, Minnesota.

"The Betsy-Tacy series" by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940s and '50s).

"Maritime Disasters" by Elaine Landau (2000). See also Landau's "Air Crashes" (2000).


Various & Sundry

"The History of Government" by Samuel E. Finer (1999, three volumes). See also "The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution" by Francis Fukuyama (2011).

"Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud" by Peter Watson (2005). See also "A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future" by Charles Van Doren (1991).

"The Religions of Man" by Huston Smith (1958). Also published as "The World's Religions."

"Death, Society, and Human Experience" by Robert Kastenbaum (2008, 10th edition).

"The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature" by Michael Murphy (1992). Includes a detailed history of humanity's quest for transcendence.

"Drinking in America: A History" by Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin (1987, revised edition). See also "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent (2010).

"Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick" by Jenny Uglow (2006).

"The Road to Oxiana" by Robert Byron (1937). Byron is wonderfully observant. See also "Robert Byron: A Biography" by James Knox (2003) and "Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars" by Paul Fussell (1980).

"The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History" by Katherine Ashenburg (2007).

"Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq" by Stephen Kinzer (2006).

"Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families" by J. Anthony Lukas (1985).

"Screening History" by Gore Vidal (1992).

"Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe" by Adam Zamoyski (2008).

"What Might Have Been: Imaginary History From Twelve Leading Historians" edited by Andrew Roberts (2004). Counterfactual history, with a cogent justification for the genre. See also "What If? The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been" by Robert Cowley (2001), which has a sequel, "What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been."

"The Atlas of Mysterious Places: The World’s Unexplained Sacred Sites, Symbolic Landscapes, Ancient Cities and Lost Lands" edited by Jennifer Westwood (1987).

"Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City" by Anthony Flint (2009). See also "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York" by Robert A. Caro (1974) and "Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary" by Alice Alexiou (2006).

"Mr. Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty" by Greg Dening (1992).

"The Kingdom and the Power" by Gay Talese (1969). About the New York Times. Someone should write a readable history of American journalism that draws on Talese, Page Smith, and journalist Benjamin Franklin, and on a lot of staring at microfilm.

"The Pirate Wars" by Peter Earle (2003).

"The Return of Martin Guerre" by Natalie Zemon Davis (1984).

"Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell (1938).

"The Bloody White Baron" by James Palmer (2008).

"Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles-Joseph de Ligne" by Philip Mansel (1992; 2003 translation).

"For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement" by Kathryn Shevelow (2008). See also the seminal work for the movement, "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer (1975).

"How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read" by Pierre Bayard (2007).

DVDs: "UFOs: Seeing is Believing" produced by ABC News and reported by Peter Jennings (2007; a history of strange stuff in the sky and sightings thereof; balanced, thought-provoking, and weird). "Coca-Cola: The History of an American Icon" directed by Jeff Martin (2001). "Cinema Combat: Hollywood Goes to War" directed by Terry Hughes (1999; the making of war movies). "The Wobblies" directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer (1979). "Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train" directed by Deb Ellis and Dennis Mueller (2004). "Guns, Germs and Steel" produced by National Geographic (2005). "Sideshow: Alive on the Inside" directed by Lynn Dougherty (1990). "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" directed by Steven Okazaki (2007).

-The End-

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