Modern History

Below are some of the best nonfiction history books out there, divided into subcategories. Click the book or the link to pick up a copy.

→ U.S. History

→ British History

→ Renaissance History


U.S. History

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

cover of the book "A People's History of the United States"

“Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, it is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers.”

1776 by David McCullough

book cover of the book "1776"

“It is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the King’s men, the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known.”

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

book cover of the book "Empire of the Summer Moon"

“The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne’s exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads, and the amazing story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.”

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

book cover of an American History book "Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation"

“Ellis argues that the checks and balances that permitted the infant American republic to endure were not primarily legal, constitutional, or institutional, but intensely personal, rooted in the dynamic interaction of leaders with quite different visions and values. Revisiting the old-fashioned idea that character matters, Founding Brothers informs our understanding of American politics–then and now–and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

cover of the American history book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln"

“We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through. This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.”

For more great books about U.S. history, see our 20 Best Books about American History.


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British History

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

book cover of The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

“Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.”

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

book cover of Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas

“At the center of this heroic life was a passionate twenty-year fight to abolish the British slave trade, a battle Wilberforce won in 1807, as well as efforts to abolish slavery itself in the British colonies, a victory achieved just three days before his death in 1833.”


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Renaissance History

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

book cover of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

“This eminently quotable treatise on the nature of rulers is unsettling in that it does not merely discuss the specific political geography of 16th century Europe, a world comprised of kings and nobles who ruled absolutely; it has endured for nearly 500 years because it is an all-encompassing understanding of men in power, and the common traits, motives and struggles which have characterized leaders from Roman emperors to modern-day presidents.”

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

book cover of The Swerve - How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

“From the gardens of the ancient philosophers to the dark chambers of monastic scriptoria during the Middle Ages to the cynical, competitive court of a corrupt and dangerous pope, Greenblatt brings Poggio’s search and discovery to life in a way that deepens our understanding of the world we live in now.”


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