Books on the History of the United States


January 15, 2024

973. Books on the history of the United States

Further Reading:

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Edward Achorn Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of  Abraham Lincoln, 2020.

In this time capsule of a book, Edward Achorn captures one day in American history—March 4, 1865. That day, Abraham Lincoln gave the best inaugural address in history to a nation still at war. In just over 700 words, Lincoln laid the blame for the war on both sides. From the speech, Achorn moves out to examine the crowd that turned out to hear Lincoln, both the famous and the unknown. He describes the conditions of the city itself and the forces afoot that would continue to impact the country even today.

Nick Bunker An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America, 2014.

Most Americans are familiar with the story of the Boston Tea Party, which tipped off the American Revolution. However, British author Nick Bunker tells the story from the British point of view, and from that vantage, it looks different. While freely admitting that the British made mistakes, he gives the entire event a new perspective to most Americans.

Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg Madison and Jefferson, 2010.

Burstein and Isenberg shed light on one of the most critical relationships in the early history of the United States, between Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, and James Madison, the fourth. Both privileged young Virginians placed Virginia’s needs ahead of the union’s. But, while Jefferson gets most of the press, the authors assert Madison had the most influence.

Bruce Catton This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War, 1955.

Historian Bruce Catton provides a narrative history of the United States Civil War from the Union perspective. Covering the events before, during, and after the war, he tries to find deeper meaning by analyzing the issues.

Don H. Doyle The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the Civil War, 2014.

During the Civil War, the entire world was watching to see if America’s experiment in democracy would die before the nation’s one-hundredth birthday. Don H. Doyle says many hoped it would fail, bolstering the claims for monarchy and other causes.

Drew Gilpin Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, 2008.

Over half a million soldiers died in America’s Civil War. Historian Drew Faust looks at the impact of the carnage on the young country in terms of the economy, politics, intellectual life, and spirituality. She looks at the practical aspects of dealing with so many corpses and how that changed processing the dead.

Niall Ferguson Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist, 2016.

Henry Kissinger is both the most celebrated and abhorred diplomat of 20th-century America. Niall Ferguson provides this first of a two-volume biography that traces the rise of Kissinger, from being a brilliant, young Jewish refugee who fled Hitler when he came to America to his rise to the White House in 1968.

Nicholas Lemann The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, 1995.

After the Civil War, African Americans began a vast exodus out of the rural South to the urban areas of the North in the United States. Nicholas Lemann tells the story of the communities and lives they forged and their enduring impact on American society and politics ever since.

Jill Lepore These Truths: A History of the United States, 2019.

Jill Lepore looks at events in U.S. history and asks whether the nation lived up to its ideals of upholding truth in each instance. She also looks at recent events and our political strife. She maintains that the ability to look at and discuss hard questions will make us stronger in the end.

Jon Meacham The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018.

Jon Meacham looks at division in crucial periods in U.S. history and assures us today’s strife is nothing new. He examines presidents, activists, and demagogues from the Civil War onward. Finally, Meacham details how we corrected course and came together by allowing Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” to come forward. He encourages us to believe we will get through this period as well.

Rick Perlstein The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, 2014.

America was suffering from a national sense of depression and chastisement in the wake of the Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War. So when Ronald Reagan entered the political scene in 1976 with his message that America was still on top, he ushered in a new era of conservatism. Perlstein compares his message with reality.

Nathaniel Philbrick Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, 2016.

Nathaniel Philbrick tells how Benedict Arnold, a general under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, was a hero to the Continental cause by detaining the British navy from reaching Washington’s army in New York in 1776. But by 1780, Arnold had defected to the enemy after failing in his attempt to surrender West Point to the British. Philbrick shows how Washington’s ability to focus on what mattered in the crisis helped the fledgling nation.

Nicholas Thompson The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War, 2009.

The Cold War era was a harrowing time for the entire world. The stakes were enormous. Nicholas Thompson tells of the relationship of two of the most influential men of the era, each representing a completely different approach to the conflict. For Paul Nitze, the best way to win a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was to prepare for it. For George Kennan, the best response was to work with the Soviet Union as best as possible while waiting for it to collapse from within.

Garry Wills Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, 1991.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln gave a speech commemorating the battle. The address contained 272 words that changed the world. Historian Garry Wills shares how Lincoln put his life’s experience into the speech and how and why it galvanized the world.


For more information on the Further Reading series, see “Further Reading: Start Here.”




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