Geography, Biography, & History Books: Home Library Organization

April 23, 2021

People who love books often have large collections. If you can relate to that, you might find tracking down a particular book a frustrating experience. You’re pretty sure you have it, but it’s lost among all the others. In an earlier post, I outlined using the Dewey Decimal Classification system for organizing your nonfiction books. If you have a lot of nonfiction print books in your collection, that would be a good place to start.

Every book collection is different. But if you group similar books together, you will be able to locate the books effortlessly when you need to find one. An added benefit is the serendipitous connections that can be made when similar books are placed close together.

900s    Geography, Biography, & History

Who doesn’t love a good story? This section is packed with them.

Biographies can be found under the subject category (an example would be Albert Einstein biographies in the science section). But many libraries shelve all the biographies either in the 920s or in a separate section altogether (usually labeled “B”).

900-909     General geography, biography, and history

This section has books on the study of history. World history books belong in this section too.

Recommended books in general geography, biography, and history:

  • The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
  • Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History by John Clive
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Conflict by William Shawcross

910-919     Geography and travel

Many people love to travel. This section has books on traveling all over the world. There is practical information about countries and their currencies, food, tourist attractions, accommodations, and travel tips. Memoirs of travel stories and maps also go here too. 

Recommended books in geography and travel:

  • In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • The Mapmakers by John Noble Wilford
  • Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
  • Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  • Coming into the Country by John McPhee
  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
  • Endurance: Shackleford’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

920-929     Biography, genealogy, and insignia

Books about how to write biographies, memoirs, family histories, and traditional biographies are shelved in this section. 

Recommended books in biography, genealogy, and insignia:

  • American Dreams: Lost & Found by Studs Terkel
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright
  • The Founding Father: The Story of Joseph P. Kennedy by Richard J. Whalen
  • Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • Roots by Alex Haley
  • A Dictionary of Heraldry edited by Stephen Friar

930-939     History of the ancient world to ca. 499

One odd thing about this section is that the dates that end the ancient history period in one area of the world may be different from those in another. For example, the cut-off point for ancient China is ca. 420 but for the Iranian Plateau it is ca. 637.

Books on archaeology as a discipline, biographies of archaeologists, and archaeological discoveries belong in this section.

Recommended books in ancient history:

  • Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations by Mary Beard
  • Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  • Spirit Stones  by Dianne Ebertt Beeaff
  • The Life and Times of Constantine the Great: The First Christian Emperor by D.G. Kousoulas
  • Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J.E. Lendon
  • The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Clapp

940-949     History of Europe

From here to the end of the 900s, are histories of geographical areas which pick up at whatever date their ancient history cuts off. So for the British Isles, this section would contain books that begin with events at any point after ca. 410 to the present. The 940s contain all histories of Europe as a whole. 

Recommended books on the history of Europe:

  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
  • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and a Warning by Timothy Snyder
  • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Stachey
  • The Armada by Garrett Mattingly
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • Blood Royal: A True Story of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager
  • Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  • The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1986 by Anne Applebaum
  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
  • Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History by Robert D. Kaplan

950-959     History of Asia

The histories of Asia, regions of Asia, and specific countries in Asia go in the 950s.

Recommended books on the history of Asia:

  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler
  • Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
  • The Bin-Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll
  • India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking by Anand Giridharadas
  • The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks
  • Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA by Steve Coll
  • First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

960-969     History of Africa

The history of Africa begins in the North with Tunisia and Libya and moves South.  It also includes the South Indian Ocean islands and Madagascar.

Recommended books on the history of Africa:

  • Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life by Martin Meredith
  • The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach
  • The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria by Elsa Marston
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ismael Beah
  • King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  by William Kamkwamba

970-979     History of North America

Histories beginning with the native peoples of North America and Central America and moving forward are in the 970s.

Recommended books on the history of North America:

  • A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz
  • Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer
  • The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough
  • American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
  • Colored People: A Memoir by Henry Louis Gates
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  • The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
  • The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

980-989     History of South America

This section covers the history of South America as a whole.

Recommended books on the history of South America:

  • Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana
  • The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon by Monte Reel
  • Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon by Patrick Tierney
  • Peron: A Biography by Joseph A. Page
  • Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

990-999     History of Australasia, Pacific Ocean islands, Atlantic Ocean islands, Arctic islands, Antarctica, and extraterrestrial worlds

The history of New Zealand begins this section, which next moves on to Australia, New Guinea, the countries of Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Hawaii, the Atlantic Ocean islands, Arctic islands, and Antarctica. This is followed by the interesting place marker for the extraterrestrial worlds, their civilizations, intelligence, and SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence).

Recommended books on the history of the rest of the world and beyond:

  • The Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty by William Bligh
  • In Search of Lemuria: The Lost Pacific Continent by Mark Williams
  • The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes
  • Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
  • Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii by Susanna Moore

Your geography, biography, and history books are in order

Once you have further subdivided your religion books, be sure to update any spreadsheets or card catalogs you may have made for them.

Do any of these areas sound intriguing to you? Leave a comment below if there is one you would like to explore.

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  1. TCLeavitt

    Valuable post! Guidance on organizing a home library is much needed for those of us who have far too many books, in far too many places, most of which are disorganized. Please extend this important research with a Marie Kondo-esque “The Art of Organizing Books” : in-person home library interventions, to help people get their book act together. Great work, can’t wait to buy/read your upcoming book. It will be amazing to have a guidebook to shine a searchlight on the best books, because “Life is too short to read ALL books”!

    • Library Lin

      Thank you for reading the post, TCLeavitt! I will put your suggestion for combining this advice with that of Marie Kondo in a future post. What a great idea! Best wishes on corralling your extensive collection.


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