Note: The books that I have chosen to include below are works that I believe are engaging; not overly academic, theoretical, or conceptual; and very well suited for people who do not have much experience with the discipline of History beyond the high school level, yet are interested in getting started with History again. I believe that these books are, first and foremost, well written and enjoyable to read; but I did not list them here solely because they are my some of my favorite books and because they are captivating (even though they are). Rather, I believe that these books have something greater to offer our understanding of the past. As such, they were not books written purely for entertainment or commercial value. These books were intended to break open some of the myths and illusions that once shaped many of our high-school and middle-school History experiences; and, therefore, still shape many of our mainstream ideas about History. Hopefully, these works will expose new readers to many of the questions, topics, and subjects that professional historians are attempting to tackle today. They are presented in no particular order and cover a range of topics. Please, if you have a recommendation for a book that should be on this list, feel free to send me a message from the “Contact the Author” page or offer your opinion in the comments section below. Thanks.
Vine Deloria Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 1988. Second edition. Pp. xiii, 278. $17.97. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8061-2129-1. Originally published in 1969. An iconic compilation of eleven essays on Native American life in modern American society, written by the indigenous theologian, historian, lawyer, and professor at the height of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement.
Rodolfo Francisco Acuña. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. First edition. Pp. vi, 298. $28.99. Hardback. ISBN: 0205861784. Founding textbook of Chicano history, published by a Mexican-American historian at the height of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 70s. Covers 124 years of Chicano history in the US. Read first edition as a primary source on the rise of Chicano Studies.
Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 560. Hardback $45.00. ISBN: 9780520271852. An historical narrative covering the political and social history of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense during its heyday, from about 1966 to 1975.
Peniel E. Joseph. Waiting Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. New York: Owl Books of Henry Holt & Company, 2007. Pp. xviii, 416. Paperback $19.99. ISBN: 0-8050-8335-9. The first comprehensive narrative of the American Black Power movement and its leaders from the rise of Malcom X in the 1950s until about the year 1972.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries. Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt, New York: NYU Press, 2009. Pp. xx, 372. Paperback $25.00. ISBN: 9780814743317. An in-depth analysis of local, community organizing in a rural area of the Alabama Black Belt during the Civil Rights era; compare this case study to well-known urban counterparts in places like Selma and Montgomery.
JAMES LOEWEN. Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press, 1995. Pp. 383. ISBN 978-1-56584-100-0. A detailed examination of the myths that buttress our mainstream narrative of American history. Works particularly well as a supplement to a more traditional, textbook survey of American History.
HOWARD ZINN. A People’s History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Pp. 729. ISBN: 0-06-083865-5. Originally published in New York by Haper Collins in 1980. A Marxist-oriented survey of American history, written from the perspective of those people who are often overlooked, including minorities, laborers, women, and the poor.
JAMES WEST DAVIDSON AND MARK LYTLE. After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, Volumes 1 and 2. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982. Pp. 388. ISBN: 978-0394523224. A thematic and pedagogical exploration of historical methodology, including an analysis of its complications as discussed through a variety of unique case studies like the Salem Witch Trials and the WPA Slave Narratives.
DEE BROWN. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970. Pp. 487. ISBN: 0-03-085322-2. A declension narrative of the conflicted historical relationship between Native American peoples and Euro-American settlers. Examine this work as a primary source on the protest movements and revisionist histories of the 1960s and 70s
CYRIL LIONEL ROBERT JAMES. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: The Dial Press, 1938. Pp. xi, 396. $3.75. A riveting and classic account of the tumultuous Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804, written by the Afro-Trinidadian scholar and activist C.L.R. James.
JOHN PUTNAM DEMOS. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Pp. 336. ISBN: 0-394-55782-4. The engaging story of a white female captive in colonial America (1700s) who makes the decision to remain with her Native American captors.
SCOTT REYNOLDS NELSON. Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. 224. ISBN: 978-0-19-534119-5. An inside look at one historian’s attempt to investigate the iconic American legend of John Henry, an incarcerated African-American railroad worker.
MARCUS REDIKER. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking Press, 2007. Pp. 434. $27.95. ISBN: 978-0-670-01823-9. A captivating study of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that focuses on the machinery of control and the human cost of slavery. One of the best introductory sources on how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade operated.
MANNING MARABLE AND LEITH MULLINGS (eds.). Let Nobody Turn Us Around: An African American Anthology. Lanham, MY: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2009. Pp. 708. $53.00. ISBN: 978-0-7425-6057-4. An anthology of primary sources in the field of African-American history, from Phillis Wheatley in the 1780s to Barack Obama in 2008.
HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African-American History, 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Pp. 512. $23.39. ISBN: 978-0307476852. An illustrated survey that traces the history of people of African descent in America, from black conquistadors like Juan Garrido in the 1500s to the age of Barack Obama.