Recommended reading

Clodius

Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
2,701
#1
Hi all,

I have recently had a big life-change, and I will be relocating from the UK to the East Coast of America next September. To my enormous shame, I am really quite ignorant about American history beyond a basic outline, and I'd like to get a more informed outlook on American history, as I think this will help me acclimatise quicker and also because I think it's important to understand the history of where you live. Any reading recommendations from the erudite posters in the American History subforums would be much appreciated (and who knows, once I get my learning underway I may even join you on this part of the forum every once in a while!)

What I really need are two sorts of books:

1) Broad overviews to start with, ideally from the colonial period to modern-ish times.

2) More detailed specific works on the key bits of American history, which by my reckoning are: colonial America; Independence; Civil War; the long 20th Century.

Any help would be much appreciated!
 

Gorge123

Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
4,833
Valles Marineris, Mars
#2
Some ACW books.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Lee-Biography-Emory-Thomas/dp/0393316319"]Robert E. Lee: A Biography: Emory M. Thomas: 9780393316315: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51A2jRuGcZL.@@AMEPARAM@@51A2jRuGcZL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Cry-Freedom-Oxford-History/dp/019516895X"]Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States): James M. McPherson: 9780195168952: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51iaK3xUYPL.@@AMEPARAM@@51iaK3xUYPL[/ame]
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#3
Hi all,

I have recently had a big life-change, and I will be relocating from the UK to the East Coast of America next September. To my enormous shame, I am really quite ignorant about American history beyond a basic outline, and I'd like to get a more informed outlook on American history, as I think this will help me acclimatise quicker and also because I think it's important to understand the history of where you live. Any reading recommendations from the erudite posters in the American History subforums would be much appreciated (and who knows, once I get my learning underway I may even join you on this part of the forum every once in a while!)

What I really need are two sorts of books:

1) Broad overviews to start with, ideally from the colonial period to modern-ish times.

2) More detailed specific works on the key bits of American history, which by my reckoning are: colonial America; Independence; Civil War; the long 20th Century.

Any help would be much appreciated!
First, welcome to the United States. I've been to the U.K. a couple times and I hope your stay is as fun here as mine were there.

I think the best solution to what you are asking is to read many volumes of the Oxford History of the United States series. When the series is completed (in the next couple years) it will cover all of American history from Columbus into the 2000's. As of now, only 8 of 12 projected books are completed. (see the chart at the end of this linked page).


[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_History_of_the_United_States"]Oxford History of the United States - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]


A problem is that the two project titles covering the colonial periods are not out yet (but #2 by Fred Anderson, is due out this year. I'm anxious to get it.) Until then, Allan Taylor's American Colonies is the best summary of the colonial era.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/American-Colonies-Settling-America-Penguin/dp/0142002100/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364691168&sr=1-1&keywords=taylor+american+colonies"]American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume1) (Hist of the USA): Alan Taylor: 9780142002100: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51SX7sRJleL.@@AMEPARAM@@51SX7sRJleL[/ame]

Or you can skip the colonial period for now. Start w/ Robert Middlekauf's book on the American Revolution, then read Gordon Wood's book on the post revolution era, Daniel Walker Howe's book on 1816-1848, and James McPherson on the Civil War era. All are highly credible historians. Each book is 800-1,000 pages, is very well written, and costs only about $13.

The OHUS volumes on the late 19th century are not out yet, but David Kennedy's on the Great Depression and WWII and James Patterson's on the U.S. after WWII through the 1960's are available. (Patterson also did the following entry which I haven't read). I also like George Herring's entry on all of U.S. foreign diplomacy from 1778 - 2000.

I think these for starters will cover both of your objectives. They cover U.S. history broadly but also provide fairly in-depth detail of many major events. They also have excellent bibliographical essays at end of each volume that will direct you to hundreds of more detailed books on more specific topics of a particular era.

-Later: I've added links to the OHUS series entries I've read-

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Glorious-Cause-American-Revolution-1763-1789/dp/019531588X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692684&sr=1-1&keywords=middlekauff"]The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States): Robert Middlekauff: 9780195315882: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51QnIHIKTSL.@@AMEPARAM@@51QnIHIKTSL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Liberty-History-Republic-1789-1815/dp/0199832463/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364693366&sr=1-1&keywords=empire+of+liberty+a+history+of+the+early+republic+1789-1815"]Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States): Gordon S. Wood: 9780199832460: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51itdtw6RYL.@@AMEPARAM@@51itdtw6RYL[/ame]



[ame="http://www.amazon.com/What-Hath-God-Wrought-Transformation/dp/0195392434/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692808&sr=1-1&keywords=what+god+hath+wrought"]What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States): Daniel Walker Howe: 9780195392432: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51B0IYA-IPL.@@AMEPARAM@@51B0IYA-IPL[/ame]

I see George123 already recommended this one..

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Cry-Freedom-Oxford-History/dp/019516895X"]Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States): James M. McPherson: 9780195168952: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51iaK3xUYPL.@@AMEPARAM@@51iaK3xUYPL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Fear-American-Depression-1929-1945/dp/0195144031/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364693236&sr=1-1&keywords=freedom+from+fear+the+american+people+in+depression+and+war"]Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States): David M. Kennedy: 9780195144031: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/614H9W67ypL.@@AMEPARAM@@614H9W67ypL[/ame]


[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Expectations-United-1945-1974-History/dp/0195117972/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692923&sr=1-1&keywords=grand+expectations+the+united+states.+1945-1974+oxford+history+of+the+united+states"]Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (Oxford History of the United States): James T. Patterson: 9780195117974: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/510OlSa1fkL.@@AMEPARAM@@510OlSa1fkL[/ame]


[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Colony-Superpower-Foreign-Relations-History/dp/0199765537/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364693296&sr=1-1&keywords=from+colony+to+superpower+u.s.+foreign+relations+since+1776"]From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States): George C. Herring: 9780199765539: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51J6iz5U-SL.@@AMEPARAM@@51J6iz5U-SL[/ame]
 
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Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#4
For the Civil War, these are a few of my recommendations. Some of these books take a less abstract, more intimate view of their topics, but if you were to read most of these titles, you'd have a very good idea of what this chapter of our history is about:)

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Cry-Freedom-Oxford-History/dp/019516895X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1364692345&sr=8-1&keywords=battle+cry+of+freedom"]Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States): James M. McPherson: 9780195168952: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51iaK3xUYPL.@@AMEPARAM@@51iaK3xUYPL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/American-Civil-War-Military-History/dp/B0058M7ORW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692416&sr=1-1&keywords=john+keegan+civil+war"]Amazon.com: The American Civil War: A Military History: John Keegan: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Ibedg4p0L.@@AMEPARAM@@51Ibedg4p0L[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Ulysses-S-Grant-Butcher-Military/dp/1596986417/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692448&sr=1-1&keywords=grant+victor+not+a+butcher"]Ulysses S. Grant: A Victor, Not a Butcher: The Military Genius of the Man Who Won the Civil War: Edward H. Bonekemper III: 9781596986411: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51usEtNbP7L.@@AMEPARAM@@51usEtNbP7L[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Manhunt-12-Day-Chase-Lincolns-Killer/dp/0060518502/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692464&sr=1-1&keywords=manhunt"]Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (P.S.): James L. Swanson: 9780060518509: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/517-OzH8NxL.@@AMEPARAM@@517-OzH8NxL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/State-Jones-Southern-Seceded-Confederacy/dp/0767929462/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692515&sr=1-1&keywords=jones+county"]The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy: Sally Jenkins, John Stauffer: 9780767929462: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51WGYsBTHCL.@@AMEPARAM@@51WGYsBTHCL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Tried-War-Abraham-Lincoln-Commander/dp/0143116142/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692542&sr=1-1&keywords=tried+by+war"]Amazon.com: Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (9780143116141): James M. McPherson: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51gySyG0gfL.@@AMEPARAM@@51gySyG0gfL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Defeat-Military-Failure-1861-1865/dp/0803210353/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692561&sr=1-1&keywords=fighting+for+defeat"]Fighting for Defeat: Union Military Failure in the East, 1861-1865: Michael C. C. Adams: 9780803210356: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31YLFMfwXGL.@@AMEPARAM@@31YLFMfwXGL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Life-Johnny-Reb-Soldier-Confederacy/dp/0807133256/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364692575&sr=1-1&keywords=life+of+johnny+reb"]Amazon.com: The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (9780807133255): Bell Irvin Wiley, James I. Robertson: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51XswlKc8KL.@@AMEPARAM@@51XswlKc8KL[/ame]
 

Clodius

Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
2,701
#5
Thanks guys - already some great recommendations. McPherson's been recommended by everyone so far, which is quite the accolade - maybe I'll go to him first for the ACW.
 

tjadams

Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
25,362
Texas
#6
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/1776-David-McCullough/dp/0743226720"]1776: David McCullough: 9780743226721: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ctyoISRHL.@@AMEPARAM@@51ctyoISRHL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Madison-Jefferson-Andrew-Burstein/dp/1400067286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364693559&sr=1-1&keywords=madison+and+jefferson+by+andrew+burstein+and+nancy+isenberg"]Madison and Jefferson: Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg: 9781400067282: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mdFOoomuL.@@AMEPARAM@@51mdFOoomuL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/John-Adams-David-McCullough/dp/141657588X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364693583&sr=1-1&keywords=john+adams+mccullough"]Amazon.com: John Adams (9781416575887): David McCullough: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OGDzXtNIL.@@AMEPARAM@@51OGDzXtNIL[/ame]
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#7
I haven't read manyof these, but looking them over I should read several. I would contest, however, that Wiley's is worth reading early on. Wiley was a pioneer of the history of the 'common soldier', but he wrote in the 1940s and his stuff is far surpassed by now. here are a couple more recent books (and there are many) on the topic I think are much more revealing than what Wiley had to say...

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/The-Vacant-Chair-Northern-Soldier/dp/B003KDNPWO?tag=5336612416-20"]The Vacant Chair: the Northern Soldier Leaves Home: Reid Mitchell: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VE0NAMNHL.@@AMEPARAM@@51VE0NAMNHL[/ame]


[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Why-Confederates-Fought-Virginia-America/dp/0807861847"]Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (Civil War America): Aaron Sheehan-Dean: 9780807861844: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VQyEhvsvL.@@AMEPARAM@@51VQyEhvsvL[/ame]wh

Wiley is only necessary once you've become a civil war geek like Salah or me. :)

And why does Faust's book on Civil War women show up instead of Mitchell's book on Northern Soldiers? Click on the link, you'll get to the right book.
 
Last edited:

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,109
VA
#8
I second the recommendation of most of the Civil War books listed, and also suggest you check out the work of author Bruce Catton. Sadly, I do have to disagree with Salah, which is a extremely rare occurrence; John Keegan's book is actually pretty worthless in my opinion. He makes a number of notably silly errors, like referring to the admiral who worked with Grant at Vicksburg as Fitz-John Porter. He doesn't really say anything that McPherson didn't say more accurately. You will do far, far better to get How The North Won The Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones. And on McPherson, I'd recommend T.H. Williams Lincoln Finds A General over Tried By War, McPherson's book.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#9
I second the recommendation of most of the Civil War books listed, and also suggest you check out the work of author Bruce Catton. Sadly, I do have to disagree with Salah, which is a extremely occurrence; John Keegan's book is actually pretty worthless in my opinion. He makes a number of notably silly errors, like referring to the admiral who worked with Grant at Vicksburg as Fitz-John Porter. He doesn't really say anything that McPherson didn't say more accurately. You will do far, far better to get How The North Won The Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones. And on McPherson, I'd recommend T.H. Williams Lincoln Finds A General over Tried By War, McPherson's book.
As someone who is a military history nincompoop, the only book I have read that I would classify a military history is the Hattaway/Jones book which I really enjoyed.

Then again, I thought the book they wrote with Berringer & Still, How the South Lost, was pathetic. Southerners, as a whole, suffered from 'cognitive dissonance'??? Shirley, you jest...
 
Jun 2012
5,689
Hippy town U.S.A.!
#10
For me this is a great overview of the civil war.
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Civil-War-Narrative-Vol-Set/dp/0394749138"]The Civil War: A Narrative (3 Vol. Set): Shelby Foote: 9780394749136: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51qeB5Wd-pL.@@AMEPARAM@@51qeB5Wd-pL[/ame]
 

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