What are some of your favourite Historians or History Books?
July 5, 2021 4:44 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to learn more about all kinds of History and to find more on Historians and books/academic papers. What are some of your favourite Historians from the past or present? Or favourite History books as well?

I am keen on the 18th century to the 20th century, like Candian history before or during colonisation, Briitish Empire in India, Russian Empire, History of medicine, Industrial Revolution, a social and cultural history of men, women, and children, the Slave Trade, history of food in cultures, microhistory, Irish history, Civil War, etc, but open to even older centuries like the Middle Ages (any fascinating or intellectually captivating books, academic papers or Historians that focus on these eras or centuries). Also, open to underrated or little known eras outside of the popular western sphere as well. I quite enjoy the Historians Margaret MacMillan and Charlotte Gray, but I still have not heard of many other Historians.
posted by RearWindow to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
My favorite history book is What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe, an installment of the Oxford History of the United States series. It's just terrifically written, and a part of US history that is largely forgotten by most. The other Oxford installments I've read have been pretty good as well, but this one just shines as it ties a multitude of threads together to give you an idea of not just what drove the era, but how those threads drove what came later.

Also absolutely required reading is Eric Foner's Reconstruction. He's the expert on the era for a good reason, and the failure of Reconstruction as a project is a failure that has continued to the present moment.
posted by General Malaise at 4:56 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you're not already following A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry (ACOUP), you could do worse than starting there. The author is a historian at NC State, and does a lot of ( what reads to me, speaking as as an educated person without a background in academic history, as) well-sourced writing about historical topics, and about the academic realities of being a historian. He's mostly focused on ancient history, but you might find some of his book recommendations and philosophical musings interesting.

Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) might or might not be of interest to you, as he's concerned with the history of science in particular.
posted by Alterscape at 5:25 PM on July 5, 2021 [3 favorites]


Favorite: Long Day's Journey Into War: Pearl Harbor and a World at War: December 7, 1941, by Stanley Weintraub.

Top authors: Ian W. Toll, Tony Horwitz, Lynne Olson.
posted by bryon at 6:06 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


A History of Histories by John Burrow is a survey of historians and approaches to history from ancient times to the present. A key idea is, what distinguishes history from chronicles -- mere lists of events -- is that historians try to construct a narrative -- a story line -- that explains what happened. The kind of stories and explanations vary a lot between times, places, and individual historians.
posted by JonJacky at 6:12 PM on July 5, 2021


History major here! Here are some of my favorites:

* The Reformation or anything else by Diarmaid MacCulloch for western church/religious history.

* The Penguin History of the British Empire books (I’ve only read the Bridgen and the Kishlansky but really enjoyed them both and think others in the series might work for you too).

* Britons by Linda Colley (her other stuff looks up your alley too). Colley is married to Sir David Cannadine who also looks like he writes stuff you might like.

* Peter Stansky is great. I liked On or About December 1910.

* Paul Robinson is amazing for human sexuality including LGBT, opera, and the history of psychoanalysis. Opera, Sex, and Other Vital Matters is great.

I’m pretty sure I have Irish history recs too but can’t think of them at the moment.
posted by bananacabana at 6:15 PM on July 5, 2021


Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R. is a great overview of Roman history, but also a look at how our understanding of that history has changed a lot (especially with some new scientific options, like being able to see where people grew up / lived from their bones...)
posted by jenettsilver at 6:27 PM on July 5, 2021 [5 favorites]


My current favourite historian is Prof. Ronald Hutton; I've read a bunch of his books about paganism and folk customs in Britain. A very interesting angle that he tends to highlight is how the interpretation of the past is coloured by the intellectual/political/cultural preoccupations of the historians (or cultural anthropologists) doing the interpreting. To that end, a couple of his books (particularly the one about Shamans and the one about Druids) are in some ways more about "what we thought we knew but don't actually" than just about the titular subjects.

For a bit of flavour, here's a 1-hour public lecture [YouTube] by Hutton about "the ways in which professional British archaeologists have written about the cosmological aspects of Neolithic ceremonial monuments over the past hundred years. Their interpretations have altered very significantly during the past five decades, and the alterations concerned may provide some very interesting insights into changes in modern British culture. The talk is intended to discuss those insights, and in the process to ask the question of whether some of the most important areas of human experience have become neglected as the result of these changes in academic thinking."
posted by heatherlogan at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Here are some that come to mind based on your interests:

Nature's Metropolis: lovely book about how Chicago become Chicago. You don't have to care about Chicago to enjoy the book. (I realize this isn't quite Canada, but it does concern parts of Canada)

Saltwater Slavery: Traces the journey of one slave ship, but gives the broader context for it.

The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915: Title basically says it.

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market: Again, pretty much what the title suggests - very well written, I know people like the historian's other work as well.

Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire: A global history that connects India, the UK, and the US.

Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South: Again, fairly self-explanatory.

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940: Again, the title mostly says it.

A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland: Concerns the area between Poland and the USSR, and how ethnic identity shifted during WWII. I knew very little about this subject when I read the book, but I found it riveting.

I'll also just note that Duke University Press publishes a lot of good social/cultural history - worth checking their website to see if anything piques your interest - they have sales fairly regularly.
posted by coffeecat at 7:38 PM on July 5, 2021


Bear with me here, I'm going to suggest something that might seem crazy, but since I found it it's been a delightful way to discover new historical eras and writers:

The Subreddit AskHistorians is actually really good.

It is very tightly moderated (more so even that Metafilter!), and the standard for answering questions is very high. The expectation is that an academic answer will be provided, and you are expected to show your sources if asked. (Many answerers include their sources at the bottom of the reply right off the bat, even if they technically don't have to.)

A few words of advice if you decide to check it out. These will help you. Read the FAQ there-- there are expectations on how questions will be asked, and you may be requested to reformat your question. Answers are held to a high standard, and they understand that they may take a week or more to be written. So there is a remind-me-bot, or the very helpful "HistoriansAnswered" subreddit which highlights which questions have been answered.

This group has more than a million members, all committed to reading interesting, serious academic history. Not a day goes by that I don't learn something new. And the subject matter experts ("flairs" they call them) are remarkable. Last month someone asked about the first nuclear weapons and the foremost expert in the world on that subject showed up to answer their question. Unlike many other parts of Reddit, this is absolutely not the place for jokes, one-off comments, memes, or drive-by negging. Those types of replies are all summarily deleted by the moderators.

I know we're taught to think Reddit is an internet sewer, but individual communities can have their own higher standards and culture. This one definitely does. It's one of my prouder accomplishments of the last few months that my answer as to why Eisenhower made no strenuous effort to capture Berlin was accepted as one of the best of the week. Check it out, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised-- It's a place to discover multiple new history writers, especially in eras you didn't know you wanted to learn about every single day.
posted by seasparrow at 8:40 PM on July 5, 2021 [7 favorites]


These are both pop historians, but I think relatively well-respected ones and they're popular because they're so interesting to read. Pierre Berton and Peter C. Newman. I highly recommend Pierre Berton's "Arctic Grail" and "The Great Depression". His railroad trilogy is I think considered his magnum opus, but I haven't read it, so I can't personally recommend (I really want to, though). And from Peter C. Newman, "The Empire of the Bay" is great.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:40 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Bush Runner, by Mark Bourrie about Pierre Radisson, if you want to go way back.
Judith Flanders has written extensively about daily life in England, and is one of my favourites
Inside the Victorian House
The Making of Home , a 500 year history
Consuming Passions.
Many others, too.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:26 AM on July 6, 2021


I really liked "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
posted by gudrun at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


You're outside my timeframe, but if you haven't read them, Sweetness and Power by Mintz, and, more recently, Mahongany: Costs of Luxury, by Anderson are really good looks at the actual, commodity-driven, material contexts of colonialism. Sweetness and Power in particular is apparently the emerging 'classic' of the genre.
posted by eclectist at 10:22 AM on July 6, 2021


Heather Cox Richardson. I first learned about her here on Metafilter and follow her daily publication of Letters from an American in which she explains current political events in the context of American history - especially as it relates to the Civil War. She's a professor at Boston University, has published a handful of books, and recently started a podcast called Now & Then with Joanne Freeman, another historian.
posted by kbar1 at 12:39 AM on July 7, 2021


Highly readable book by Diana Preston - The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900. This question reminded me that I would like to read her book on Australia as well.
posted by hiker U. at 6:35 AM on July 7, 2021


The Red Flag: A History of Communism
David Priestland

This one runs ~1789-2010. I (thought I) was already familiar with the major events of the 19th and 20th centuries, but the book offers a different perspective.
posted by kingless at 2:19 PM on July 8, 2021


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