Admittedly, nothing beats a barbecue and some fireworks to ring in the Fourth of July. While the birth of our country is definitely something worth celebrating, for those of us who prefer a more low-key way of honoring our country, a good old book about American history just might be the move.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid the outdoors (no one’s judging!). But, if you’re looking for the perfect book to read while you watch firecrackers lighting up the sky, these eight American history books are great company. From thrilling colonial accounts to riveting tales about White House personnel, these books are guaranteed to get you in the American spirit.
This compelling account of the nation's first president was written by a National Book award-winning author. Flexner, who won the National Book Award and a special Pulitzer for his four-volume biography of George Washington, compresses his more lengthy work into a concise and masterful single volume in this biography of our nation's first commander. Filled with dramatic details about his exploits during the Revolutionary War and the eventual rise to the presidency, Washington covers it all. This biography is accessible thanks to its shorter length but thorough in its details, and the perfect way to get to know Washington more deeply.
A Slave No More
A Slave No More consists of both the original narrative of two escaped former slaves and the research done by David W. Blight to illuminate those men's lives and journey. John Washington and Wallace Turnage made a harrowing escape towards the North–and freedom. Both men were fathered by white slaveholders and seized advantage of the chaos caused by the Civil War to flee their owners and join the Union Army. Blight uses information passed down from family and friends of the former slaves to paint a compelling historical image of their struggle, both before and after their escape. This moving journey is sure to resonate with Civil War enthusiasts who are seeking a powerful piece of American history.
Whether the Whiskey Rebellion or Prohibition, spirits and distilleries that produce them are an important part of America’s identity. Dead Distillers explores the country’s drunken roots–including a couple presidents who were involved in the production of alcohol over the centuries. Profiling 50 distillers over the centuries, this books contains many delightful, and sometimes scandalous, vignettes about America's boozy history.
The Dawn's Early Light
Only a few decades off its feet, America found itself embroiled in another war with England in 1812. In The Dawn’s Early Light, New York Times-bestselling author Walter Lord delivers a comprehensive look at the War of 1812. Often a less-studied war, Lord's thrilling battle scenes will leave readers questioning why they've never looked into the War of 1812 before. You'll also learn about the creation of our national anthem–the poem that would become the anthem was written by Francis Scott Key as he gazed upon a naval attack upon a Baltimore fort.
Upstairs at the White House
This New York Times bestseller is a delightfully gossipy autobiography from the sixth chief usher of the White House, J. B. West. The former White House staff member discusses what it was like to live through six presidencies. Littered with intriguing interactions with First Ladies, family members, and other politicians, Upstairs at the White House offers readers insight into daily life in the heart of our nation. Highlights from the book include a first-hand account of Jackie Kennedy’s grief following her husband’s assassination and the intelligent ideas of Eleanor Roosevelt. If you’re seeking a behind the scenes look at the White House, search no further.
Related: 10 Books About the Kennedys
Long before it was the lifeblood of southern plantations, tobacco was an important aspect of culture in the lives of indigenous people. Used medicinally and religiously, tobacco became something entirely different upon the colonialization of the Americas. As tobacco went global, everything from the crop's cultivation to its purposes shifted. The focus of Gately's narrative reveals a shocking amount of insight into history in general, from the slave trade to industrialization. A key factor in the United States's continued economic dominance, this is the story of how one crop changed the world.
From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Kluger comes a comprehensive overview of America’s expansion during the 19th century. At this point in American history, the country was starting to take shape and form its own identity outside of its former status as British colony. As America differentiated itself, its citizens began to believe in the concept of Manifest Destiny. Settlers believed that it was both their American-born right and their God-given duty to expand across the continent from sea to shining sea. In Seizing Destiny, Kluger explores the era in American history that set the course of our country for newly arrived settlers and displaced Native American populations. A clear-eyed view of how Americans took power and land regardless of former claims, this is a vital read for anyone searching to understand American exceptionalism.
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years
To some, the Civil Rights era may seem a distant past. But it was far less than a lifetime ago that the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black activists began the fight that continues to this day. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch provides a riveting account of the Civil Rights Movement alongside the rise of King. Branch closely follows King’s life, allowing readers to gain insight into his personal life and the struggles King faced as an icon for civil rights activists. Filled with interviews and perceptive thoughts from people who were close to King, Parting the Waters unveils the events that took place behind closed doors during the movement.
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