15 History Books You Didn't Get Assigned In School But Definitely Need To Read
Right now all around the country, Confederate statues are being taken down, and the issue has the nation divided. On one side, Americans are ready to let go of memorials that glorify the leaders who fought to preserve slavery and promote racial discrimination, and on the other, people are claiming the removal of these monuments is an erasure of history. For those people who are worried that this country's narrative won't survive taking down these painful reminders of hatred, racism, and bigotry, these essential history books you didn't read in school will fill in all those gaps and more.
They say that history is written by the victors, but what happens when those victors decide to leave the important details out? All too often, history texts and academic courses leave out the narratives of indigenous Americans, immigrants, forced and otherwise, black Americans, including slaves, the LGBTQ community, and the other marginalized groups that are a crucial part of U.S. history, but who are left our of every text book.
To be able to fully grasp the present political, cultural, and historical moment, it's important to understand the past, and that including the dark and painful parts, the uncomfortable moments, the untold stories of every kind of American. That's why you need to read these essential history books that your history teacher never assigned you.
'A People's History of the United States' by Howard Zinn
A classic among progressive history texts, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States tells America's story from the perspective of the people who are often left out of textbooks: Native Americans, African Americans, immigrant laborers, women, and others. Covering the country's long and complicated history, from Christopher Columbus to President Bill Clinton, this American Book Award-winner doesn't shy away from the most controversial topics, including slavery, genocide, child labor, women's oppression, and so much more. An eye-opening text that sheds light on some of America's darkest moments, A People's History of the United States is an engaging book that will change the way you think of our country's past.
'Columbus and Other Cannibals' by Jack D. Forbes
A history book told from the perspective of Native Americans, Columbus and Other Cannibals exposes one of our country's most celebrated heroes for what he really was: a thief, a liar, a murderer, and a destroyer. In his seminal text, historian Jack D. Forbes describes how Columbus and the other "civilized" Westerners have spent centuries committing genocide, acts of terrorism, and environmental destruction. A hard-hitting look at the ways in which exploitation and imperialism have been slowly killing the planet, this anti-civilization manifesto will reshape your beliefs of America's past, present, and future.
'The Making of Asian America: A History' by Erika Lee
Since the mid-20th century, Asian Americans have played a crucial role in the development of the nation, but their narrative is often left out of the history books. Celebrated scholar and expert Erika Lee seeks to correct that in The Making of Asian America, a history book of Asian Americans that spans centuries and the globe. An engaging text about Asian Americans' past — as slaves in the Caribbean, as railroad laborers in the Pacific Northwest, as prisoners in internment camps during WWII — as well as their present, racially charged status as America's "model minorities," this book offers a new way of looking at race, immigration, and identity in the United States.
'An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States' by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Another much-needed history lesson about the United States as told from the perspective of the people who were here first, this eye-opening text explores the more than four centuries of oppression, colonialism, genocide, and resistance that is all too often left out of traditional history books. In An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, activist and celebrated historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz re-frames America's founding story and subsequent history to include the policies and practices of American settlers, colonists, and later citizens that not only drove indigenous people from their land, but attempted to wipe them from the map (and the history books) forever. A remarkable work that shatters the heroic myths of Christopher Columbus and provides new context for understanding the struggles of modern day indigenous peoples, this history book will make you think twice before celebrating Columbus Day.
'When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America' by Ira Katznelson
In this groundbreaking history book, Ira Katznelson reveals how the discriminatory roots behind some of America's key programs of the 1930s and 1940s has lead to the inequality between white Americans and people of color today. When Affirmative Action Was White uses historical examples from the New Deal and Fair Deal era to explain the ways politicians, specifically Southern Democrats, forced the gap between black and white Americans to widen, and how that divide still exists in the modern day United States. A fascinating look at the ways the American government has worked to prop white people up and keep black people down, this book will change the way you see affirmative action.
'1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus' by Charles C. Mann
Despite the fact that most American history books start with Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of America, the country's rich history starts long before the Europeans stepped foot on its shore. In 1491, award-winning author Charles C. Mann draws from historical, archaeological, anthropological, scientific, and literary evidence to shine a light on what pre-Columbian America was really like: a large populated nation of thriving Americans actively shaping the world around them. Engaging and thought-provoking, Mann's account of Native American history will transform your ideas of indigenous life in North America.
'Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution' by Susan Stryker (Nov. 7)
Even in the most inclusive texts about civil rights, transgender stories are all too often left out. Susan Stryker seeks to correct those omissions in her Transgender History, a book dedicated to the history of the American transgender community that spans the mid-twentieth century to present day. Including chapters on everything from transsexual and transvestite communities to the identity politics of modern-day America and featuring sidebars with important quotes, facts, and biographies, this pioneering text should be in every library and school in the country.
'The Slave Ship: A Human History' by Marcus Rediker
Dark, disturbing, and historically accurate, The Slave Ship recounts the deeply human true story of the evil institution that shaped British and American history for centuries. Historian and scholar Marcus Rediker uses archival information, journal entries, court records, and first-person accounts to recreate the experience of imprisoned slaves on what the author calls "floating dungeons." Powerful and heartbreaking, this is a crucial text about an all-too-often skimmed-over piece of American (and British) history.
'The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism' by Edward E. Baptist
In most American history books, slavery is painted as a dark and distant chapter in the country's otherwise glowing history. But in Edward E. Baptist's revolutionary text, the award-winning author describes slavery's full-blown legacy as the foundation on which the country's capitalist economy was built on. A comprehensive and extensive history that re-frames the modernization of the United States, The Half Has Never Been Told is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the troubling but undeniable connection between slavery and American prosperity.
'Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America' by Lillian Faderman
Fascinating as it is informative, Lillian Faderman's carefully researched text explores the history of lesbian life in the United States in the twentieth-century. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers draws from intimate journals, news articles, literature, medical records, pop culture, and more to trace the evolution of lesbianism across different ages, races, and classes. A unique historical account that never quite makes it into text books, this scholarly account breaks down stereotypes and corrects misconceptions about lesbian love, sexuality, and relationships.
'Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life' by Roger Daniels
Updated to include a new history of immigration in the context of the modern globalized world, Roger Daniels's seminal Coming to America traces the history of immigration in the United States. Starting with the colonial settlers, this informative text includes chapters on a wide variety of groups who came to this country, including those forced to come here as a result of the African and pan-Caribbean slave trade. Revealing and engaging, this is one of the most authoritative text of immigration to the United States.
'Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008' by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
From the arrival of the first conquistadors in 1513 to the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s formative text traces the history of African Americans in stark detail and deep insight. A book filled with important and often ignored stories, Life Upon These Shores explores the many different experiences of black Americans, including slavery, the Civil War, the Great Migration, Civil Rights, and beyond. This image-heavy volume, which includes ancient maps, primary documents, photographs, artwork, posters and more, truly illustrates African American history.
'A Queer History of the United States' by Michael Bronski
Contrary to popular belief, queerness has always been apart of American history. Unfortunately, stories about it have been almost entirely left out of the books. In A Queer History of the United States scholar, activist, and award-winning author Michael Bronski draws from primary sources, literature and cultural histories to trace gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history from pre-1492 to the present. Including not only notable figures and revolutionary movements, this radical text sheds a light on the disregarded aspects of American history and the important roles the LBGTQ community played in them. A truly illuminating read.
'The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration' by Isabel Wilkerson
In this award-winning book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson recounts the untold history of the migration of six million black Americans from the South to the north and west over the course of over six decades in the twentieth century. The Warmth of Other Suns traces the exodus through the experience of three people: Ida Mae Gladney in 1937, George Starling in 1945, and Robert Foster in 1953. Gripping, enlightening, and richly detailed, this remarkable narrative should be apart of every American history course.