America's History
November 18, 2016 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Which is a good book to read about American History?

So I need to deep dive into the history of this great nation (America). My focus is to know more on how this country was formed, from the Founding Fathers to as close as yesterday. I have the Zinn book and I know about the Washington, Lincoln biographies. I also have come to the conclusion that just one book is not going to do it, as there are so many facets to this country and its history. However I love historical non fiction that is well written, well researched and insanely factual. That said if the story telling is lame, then I lose interest in the first few pages. So please suggest a book that would help me get a good sense of where we were and how we got here. The biographies I mentioned (and others) are also welcome recos, so your nod for anyone of those would be good too.
posted by metajim to Law & Government (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Fascinating. Very much not the history you may have been taught in school.
posted by Lexica at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I recommend this every time somebody asks for a good history book, but What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe is not just a really good, broad and deep history of a seminal and important period of American history most people know very little about, but it's probably the most engaging and best written history book I've ever read.
posted by General Malaise at 1:48 PM on November 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

One of my favorite history books, and one that's really enjoyable to read, is Pleasure and Privilege: Daily Life in France, Naples, and America, 1770-1790. It's about day-to-day living and social life, and the France and Naples chapters give really interesting context for what else was happening during that time. And the author doesn't hold back with the sensational details (like "what's the deal with wet nurses?" and Neapolitan nobility asking their carriage drivers to pull over so they can defecate in the gutters).
posted by witchen at 2:08 PM on November 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read Angel in the Whirlwind this year and it was a good primer on the American Revolution. It's a little heavy on details about each battle, but gives a strong overview of why the revolution started, how public opinion about it changed, and how it was eventually won.

I'm also currently reading the biography of Washington by Ron Chernow (the guy who wrote the Hamilton biography that inspired the musical) and really enjoying it. Chernow is a great and engaging writer.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might like Nathaniel Philbrick
posted by tiburon at 2:58 PM on November 18, 2016

Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise has an excellent history of Hawaii.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:32 PM on November 18, 2016

Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 is vividly written and deeply researched, and tells you quite a lot about how we got where we are.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:53 PM on November 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm also currently reading the biography of Washington by Ron Chernow

Washington: A Life. Was just going to recommend that. Wonderful book.
posted by christopherious at 4:17 PM on November 18, 2016

Books by Daniel J Boorstin, e.g. The Americans: The Democratic Experience plus several others.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:20 PM on November 18, 2016

Gotham - a comprehensive and acclaimed history of New York City

Path to Power the first volume of Robert Caro's bazillion page, acclaimed, unfinished and amazing biography of Lyndon Johnson.
posted by papayaninja at 5:42 PM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the Oxford History of the United States series is what you're looking for.
I have an MA in US History and I can further recommend specific books and historians for specific time periods, but the Oxford series will do the trick by covering the scope of US history in an accurate account by respected historians.
posted by Hop123 at 5:48 PM on November 18, 2016

April 1865 is a good short wrap of the civil war and Lincoln's assassination, both monumental episodes in US history.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:06 PM on November 18, 2016

Seconding Angel in the Whirlwind for the Revolutionary War.

For constitutional history, read Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May - September 1787, by Catherine Drinker Bowen.

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll does what it says on the cover.

For a Pulitzer Prize-winning overview of the Civil War, read Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James M. McPherson. It actually starts a decade before the Civil War so you can see the events and ideas and people leading up to the war.

Edmund Morris wrote a captivating trilogy about Theodore Roosevelt that will introduce you not only to Roosevelt but to the United States of his era.

Long Day's Journey Into War: Pearl Harbor and a World at War - December 7, 1941, by Stanley Weintraub is the best history book I've read. It's not solely U.S. history as it shows you what was happening both here and elsewhere in the world as the Japanese fleet neared and reached Pearl Harbor. It will set the stage for other reading you do.

And -- because it's not the sort of history most people will think of with a question like this -- Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist, by Chuck Jones. This is memoir, but it's also the history of works of entertainment that we still celebrate today. And it's funny as hell.

The common thread running through all of these books is that each is wonderfully well-written.
posted by bryon at 10:19 PM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Someone beat me to Foner's Reconstruction -- I would also highly recommend David Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory , which, among many other things, "is a history of how the unity of white America was purchased through the increasing segregation of black and white memory of the Civil War." It is a wonderful work of history, with a powerful narrative and lovely writing. (His Civil War and Reconstruction course is available through iTunes U and is well, well worth it.)
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 10:32 PM on November 18, 2016

If you can wait a couple of months, Gary Gerstle's completely amazing American Crucible is about to be reissued in its second edition with a new chapter taking us to the present, with two endings -- one on a Clinton victory and one on a Trump victory, because he could not bear to write the latter until it actually happened, and then had to this week.
posted by idlethink at 3:34 AM on November 19, 2016

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust is a really interesting look at the home front during the Civil War, with a specific interest in the role that death and grieving had. It's very readable and perceptive.
posted by Fister Roboto at 6:40 PM on November 19, 2016

I really love Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History by Richard Shenkman.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:13 PM on November 20, 2016

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