AP World History Summer Reading Suggestions
March 27, 2012 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Help me compile a reading list menu for AP World History. Err.. Please?

What books did you read as an AP World History student, or assign as a AP World History teacher?

I am going to be teaching AP World History for the first time starting next year. I am already an experienced APUSH teacher, and I have a very diverse historical background that lends itself to world history.

However, most of the books on any given historical subject I'm familiar with are graduate-level works that are not really approachable by my students. Since I'm additionally hobbled by not being able to provide books for my students, one of my goals is to generate a diverse reading list that will allow students to utilize library and used book store resources. This means every student will not be reading the same book, and very possibly every student will be reading a DIFFERENT book, so I'm trying to make sure a wide variety of sources and topics are covered so that different students might bring their readings to bear in class throughout the year. Ideally, I would like to compile a list of 15-20 works, but at least a dozen.

This is for a high school audience, anywhere from grades 10-12. Historical literature is not out of place here, but regardless, I'd prefer not foisting anything to historiographic or epic-in-scope on them. Or me, since I'll be reading all of these over the summer. (Er, probably.)

Please do not recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel. I like it, but it is the go-to book for AP Human Geography. It's also kind of bludgeony and repetitive. Also no Thomas Krugman or, frankly, anything else OpEd focused.

Since the class is all of human civilization in 180 days, the broad is preferred over the narrow. Narrow is ok, especially if it speaks to some broad historical theme or is profoundly important. (Ex: Colonialism or the Black Death)

As a preliminary sketch, I've come up with :

1. _The World That Trade Created_
2. _Beginnings_ (Issac Asimov)
3. _Things Fall Apart_
4. _All's Quiet on the Western Front_

It is not a very exhaustive list, and a lot of the "typical" books I've excluded for various reasons, many listed above.

_Wild Swans_ was recommended by a colleague, and it sounds perfect, but I'm afraid it might be a little too long. That made me think of _The Makioka Sisters_, which is also kind of too long.
posted by absalom to Education (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Great War and Modern Memory.
posted by dfriedman at 7:57 PM on March 27, 2012

Andrea Smith's Conquest. VERY simply written, VERY radical approach to the conquest of Native peoples in the US.

Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
posted by spunweb at 8:04 PM on March 27, 2012

Oh, and the website for In Motion: African American Migratory Experience is amazing.

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/ has the entirety of "A People's History" on it.
posted by spunweb at 8:06 PM on March 27, 2012

I'm only saying this because you specifically mentioned the book, but when I had to read Things Fall Apart in AP English we all hated it. And when it somehow came up with my wife that I hated that book, she told me that most of her class hated it too. In fact, I just asked her about it. Her reply: "I hate that book. That's my least favorite book in the entire world. My favorite part was that the main character hanged himself at the end. I hate that book." Pretty strong words coming from the teacher who really loves books.

Not to say that it's not important at all or can't have something of merit in it. But if you're not going to make them read something specific you'll want to make sure things on your list are actually going to have a chance of being finished.

For AP US we read The Jungle. As long as it doesn't overlap with that class you could use it as a case study of immigrant treatment in the new country.
posted by theichibun at 8:12 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Treason by the Book by Jonathan Spence. Maybe not the whole thing.

It reads like fiction, but is based on Imperial documents. With proper discussion you could teach a lot about the Qing dynasty, traditional class structure in China, the relationship of Han Chinese to their Manchu leaders, and lots of good stuff like that.
posted by Winnemac at 8:22 PM on March 27, 2012

This might be a little heady for your students, but if it's an elective book anyway, I might suggest Wolf's Europe and the People without History, which is a really good look at the relations between Europe and other parts of the world. It does a particularly good job of combating the really common oversight that Asia, Africa, etc. were all just static cultures sitting around waiting for contact with Europe.

I might suggest assigning just a chapter or two. It is a difficult read, but I did all the AP history classes in high school, and I think I would have enjoyed the challenge of it and the exposure to an alternate way of thinking about history.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:24 PM on March 27, 2012

Ross Dunn's The Adventures of Ibn Battuta is an excellent overview of the post-Mongol Islamic world, wrapped around a biography of Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta traveled through pretty much the entire Muslim world in 30 years -- northern Africa to the middle east to Constantinople to India to the Maldives to maybe China -- and so it would be a great broad-strokes look at much of the fourteenth century world. Dunn does an excellent job using Ibn Battuta's experiences to look at everything from politics to law to religion to social history. It's probably a little too dense for 10th graders, but a good challenge for seniors; the students in the freshmen-level college course I TA for just read it and enjoyed it.
posted by lilac girl at 8:29 PM on March 27, 2012

Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking is compelling (though at times graphic) reading, and could provide material for a discussion about why some significant historical events are not well known, how nationalism and other forces affect perceptions of events, etc. The story behind the events that followed publication and Chang's eventual suicide are interesting on their own.

Letters from the End of the World by Toyofumi Ogura is a first-hand account of a Hiroshima survivor- I think grade 10-12 students would find this kind of first-person narrative interesting.

The Kingdom of Auschwitz by Otto Friedrich is another good read, and at 103 pages is reasonably concise.

FWIW, my degree is in history. These recommendations are all books I read for my classes and liked enough to keep.
posted by EKStickland at 8:38 PM on March 27, 2012

We read The Jungle, O Pioneers, and a few others that I'm blanking out on but will think of in the middle of the night, I'm sure...
posted by SMPA at 8:44 PM on March 27, 2012

C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins. It puts the Haitian Revolution in a world historical context and offers a unique perspective on familiar Enlightenment ideals.
posted by Dr. Lurker at 9:00 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you're trying to avoid textbooks here (or find additional texts?), but when I took the course a few years ago we used Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, which I thought was really well done.
posted by kylej at 9:11 PM on March 27, 2012

I thought Technology in World Civilization was pretty interesting when I read it for APWH
posted by Wulfhere at 9:25 PM on March 27, 2012

excerpts of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution.
posted by scody at 9:46 PM on March 27, 2012

Other books that I've taught and students have enjoyed include:

Farewell to Manzanar (about the Japanese internment camps)

Coming of Age in Missippi (about a student/civil rights activist)

Olaudah Equiano's autobiography (he was a slave and freedman: http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/chronautobio.html)

Zitkala Sa's autobiography (she was a Native woman at the turn of the century)

Having Our Say (the biography of the Delany sisters, two black women who lived through the 20th century)
posted by spunweb at 10:26 PM on March 27, 2012

I also STUDENT taught Year of Impossible Goodbyes (it's about a girl escaping the Japanese occupation of Korea). I thought it went over well, and for a short book was really accessible.

Upstairs Room and The Journey Back are, imo, some of the best YA Holocaust biographies. They're a great introduction to both the timeline of WWII, as well as a beautiful, painful discussion of PTSD and family dynamics. In fact, one of my former students recently emailed me because she was thinking about the scene at the end of The Upstairs Room where the narrator, Johanna, brings her daughter to the room and house where she hid from Nazis, and realizes that she can't fit into the cubbyhole that had been her world and sanctuary for more than 2 years.

Maybe this is kind of dorky, but have you thought about looking at the Newbery Awards list?
posted by spunweb at 10:42 PM on March 27, 2012

I didn't get a chance to read it until many years after my AP World History course, but I would highly recommend Islam: A Short History. It does a great job not only covering the rise of Islam, but bringing the history of the Arabic world beyond the "Golden Age of Islam, Caliphates, and then Renaissance" viewpoint of most world history curricula.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 10:51 PM on March 27, 2012

World lit I read in high school:

Nectar in the Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (that might have been middle school actually)
The Guide by R. K. Narayan

We read Heart of Darkness before Things Fall Apart so comparing the two was interesting, but yeah I really didn't like either of them.
posted by book 'em dano at 10:57 PM on March 27, 2012

What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers
posted by rube goldberg at 11:01 PM on March 27, 2012

There are lots of great suggestions here, but I'm going to add this comment (since I deal with this issue at my school) -- make sure you vet the books carefully. You'll want to make sure that the books you ultimately choose are not going to create issues with parents. You'll also need to check your selections with the Language Arts Department as many of the suggested titles here would also qualify as "English class" books that might already be in use. (Also, while I think Having Our Say is a fascinating book, it seems more appropriate for a US History class -- and it has a very low reading level, so it might be more appropriate with a non-AP course.)
posted by tmharris65 at 1:55 AM on March 28, 2012

Maybe George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, for your Spanish Civil War needs?
posted by Beardman at 4:10 AM on March 28, 2012

Currently reading Europe: A History by Norman Davies. It's a history of the development of modern Europe. Around 1100 pages, which might be too long, but it isn't a challenge to read.
posted by Apoch at 5:23 AM on March 28, 2012

Some of the recent popular material history stuff might be interesting, like Salt or Banana. Plus it would give you a chance to talk about different approaches to history, political history vs. social history vs. history of things. Or 1491 and Lies My Teacher Told Me and you want to talk about the construction of historical narrative .
posted by lillygog at 5:34 AM on March 28, 2012

I personally don't think Things Fall Apart would be a good choice even if it wasn't so frequently hated by students; it's a very limited, novelistic take on a tiny portion of African history, and while it was (obviously) important as a literary event, it seems lazy to use it as representing African history. How about some of the excellent and very readable Basil Davidson instead? Another author you should look into is Amin Maalouf; I particularly recommend his The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, which is an excellent counter to the automatic Western view of the Crusades and gives a useful look at life in the Middle East at the time.

You may also find this thread useful.
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on March 28, 2012

A fun one: A History Of The World In Six Glasses
posted by PJMoore at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2012

Salt: A World History, The Empire of Tea, and Bananas: How United Fruit Shaped the World could make for a fun food-oriented look at world history.

My fiancee liked How Soccer Explains the World.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 7:57 AM on March 28, 2012

I just saw this on a listserv:

It's basically a free, well reviewed US history textbook available online. It's gotten pretty awesome reviews.
posted by spunweb at 4:05 PM on March 28, 2012

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