10 Eye-opening Books On American History

From casual readers to well-verse historians, these ten books provide some new ways to look at American History

One look at the news over the past year reveals that American history can be a contentious one. Some argue that the Founding Fathers founded America to give freedom to all, while others believe that America's foundation is not that clear-cut. This argument can be hard to follow if the last time you've learned about American history was in High School or freshman year of College. The best way to understand this argument is to read more about American history.

The ten books listed here provide a great starting point toward understanding the complexities of American history. 

1. Many-Headed Hydra 

Image Source

Many-Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker looks at Colonial American history in a new way. The book reveals that the American Revolution was not the first time Americans fought for freedom and equality. These Americans were the sailors, slaves, pirates, laborers, market women, and indentured servants who fought for their rights throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  

From the Levellers movement to radical early Abolitionist Robert Wedderburn, Many-Headed Hydra presents an Atlantic world where people attempted to challenge racial and social oppression through revolts and mutinies. The book argues that these forgotten revolutions influence the revolutions of the late 18th and 19th centuries.   

2. American Lucifers 

Image Source

Most people's understanding of the history of lighting is one of progress from candlesticks to lightbulbs. American Lucifers by Jermey Zallen reveals how this mindset is false and hides a violent history within the beginning of the Industrial Age.   

American Lucifers examines the intersection between the development of oil-based lighting and the upheavals caused by the Industrial Revolution. Starting with whalers and ending with a Civil War battle over an oil field, Zallen presents a new picture of how improvements in lighting unsettled 19th-century American society rather than improve it.

3. Sexual Revolution in Colonial American

sexual revolution in colonial america
image source

It's a common perception that people in Colonial America were rather prudish on sexual matters. Sexual Revolution in Colonial American by Richard Godbeer seeks to challenge this perception. 

Sexual Revolution in Colonial American examines Colonial America's sexual culture through investigating Colonial-era writings on the topic. From 17th-century Puritan preacher's advice for having a healthy marriage to reports of polygamous couples in 18th-century South Carolina, Godbeer argues that colonial America's sexual culture was both diverse and contentious. 

4. Ditch of Dreams 

Image Source

What can various attempts to build a massive canal through central Florida reveal about American History? According to historians David Tegeder and Steven Noll, a surprising amount. 

Ditch of Dreams examines three different efforts to build a cross-Florida canal in the 1890s, 1930s, and 1960s. The book considers both the groups that promoted this project and those that oppose it. This struggle paints a picture of competing interests and a changing political landscape within 20th century Flordia and the larger United States.  

5. Frontier Country 

Image Source

While most people thinking about Colonial America tends to think that the Thirteen Colonies co-existed peacefully with one another, the truth is more intricate than that pre-conception. Frontier Country by Patrick Spero shatters this notion by looking at border disputes in Colonial Pennsylvania. 

Frontier Country examines various Pennsylvanian border conflicts from the 1730s to the 1770s. Spero uses these conflicts to explained Pennslyvania's transformation from a pacifistic colony to a more revolutionary one. 

6. Captial Moves 

Image Source

A significant issue in America is the vanishing of the industry from the American Heartland. Captial Moves by Jefferson Cowie examines this trend both on the personal and transnational scale. 

Captial Moves examines how the quest for a cheap and stable labor source led RCA to move its plants between states and eventually countries. The book investigates both the reasons why RCA left a town and how that move affected that town. Cowie uses these case studies to ponder the larger movement of industry out of the US.  

7. German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie

Image Source

One of the more contentious aspects of the American Space Program was its use of German Scientists in the 1950s and 1960s. German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie by Monique Laney examines how these scientists acclimated to Huntsville, Alabama. 

German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie examines how the white inhabitants of Huntsville began to adore their new German neighbors. It also discusses how Huntsville's Jewish and Black communities responded to Germans' arrival. Laney uses these accounts to reveal a complex intersection of the "Space Race" and the Civil Rights Movement. 

8. Cold War Civil Rights 

Image Source

Last year's racial-fueled unrests had led many people to look towards the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Cold War Civil Rights by Mary Dudziak takes a more international approach towards her history of the movement. 

Cold War Civil Rights examines how the US government's effort to polish its image abroad led to it supporting Civil Rights inspired reform. The book examines both international reactions to the racial incidents and the Civil Rights movement and how the US government justify its Civil rights movement inspired reform. Dudziak argues that the Cold War was a significant factor for why Civil Rights became a central issue for the US government in the 50s and 60s.

9. A People's Army 

Image Source

Most Americans are familiar with how the American Revolution occurred, but many don't know why some colonists decided to declare independence.  A People's Army by Fred Anderson chooses an intriguing method to examine how this mindset developed.   

A People's Army uses first-hand accounts of Masschuestian militiamen to paint a picture of how they viewed their British allies during the Seven Year Wars. Anderson uses these accounts to paint a picture of how militiamen's negative impressions of the British help fueled the feelings that would lead to the American Revolution.

10. Twice the Work of Free Labor

Image Source

The issue of prisons profiting off prison labor has been a critical aspect of the debate over criminal justice reforms for the last couple of decades. Twice the Work of Free Labor by Alex Lichtenstein looks at the origins of this issue in the post-Civil War South. 

Twice the Work of Free Labor examines two systems of prison labor in the South between the 1860s and the 1960s, the convict lease system and the chain gang. Lichtenstein examines the various factor that shaped these two systems in the South and how they fueled the South's economic recovery from the Civil War. He concludes that these systems were fueled not by racist southern wanting to restore some of the antebellum racial order but those seeking a cheap labor source to make the South an industrial powerhouse. 


While these ten books do not paint a complete picture of American history,  These ten books instead provide a starting point for understanding it. From obscure 17th century maritime revolts to the southern chain gangs, these books expand one understanding of American history beyond that provided in school. 

These ten books will not only open your eyes to the complexity of American history but even gain you a bit of insight into what is going with present America. Something quite needed in today's world.

History Major that loves to write about entertainment and history.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.

Start Writing