Historical Nonfiction

I have loved history forever it feels like – a commonality I share with my dad. The first time I remember falling in love with the subject in school was second grade, when we would study a different country every month and that would influence all of the subject matter across the board that month (social studies, science, math, reading, etc.). I loved learning about different cultures and places, especially ancient Egypt! I also vividly remember in fourth grade learning about Virginia state history and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever learned. This all makes sense because the books I loved to read as a kid had a strong bent toward history without my realizing it – Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, Anne of Green Gables, the American Girl Doll series… and once I realized it, I was all about the Dear America series, biographies and more. I just could not get enough!

I entered college as a double-major with one in history; I ended up changing my major several times before all was said and done and minored in history instead. Even now, I reach more for historical non-fiction or fiction than any other style of book. There is so much to learn and so many interesting stories to read that I never grow bored.

Today I thought I would share five of my favorite historical non-fiction books.

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meachum

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We read this book my freshman year of college in a course taught by a former diplomat, Foreign Relations of the Great Powers. I loved this class and the readings assigned. The professor was incredible and had so many amazing stories to share. I am actually planning to re-read this book soon, because it is one of my very favorite books, period.

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan

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This was another book we read in the Foreign Relations of the Great Power class. I adored this book; it explains so much of why our world today is the way it is – especially in the Middle East – due to the events and conversations surrounding the Treaty of Versailles.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

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I just finished this book a week or so ago and I adored it! The pace of the writing read like a novel, and the writing style during the gold medal race made it feel like you were listening to the race on the radio or watching it occur on screen – it was incredible! I loved reading through the reality of what some of these boys did in the summer to afford college and the insight into life in the early 1930s mountain west.

War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust by Doris Bergen.

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My senior year of college we had a visiting professor who taught a semester long course on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. It was both appalling and fascinating. I have always been interested in trying to understand the larger reasons of why the Holocaust happened without much protest from everyday Germans. Its always been a mystery to me with the explanations offered not feeling like “enough” to justify staying silent through the massive genocide. This book filled in some of the holes I was unable to previously get over, and also shared about the populations that get brushed over when we talk about the Holocaust. If this time in history intrigues you at all, I highly recommend this book; be forewarned though that it will make you uncomfortable, bring up a variety of emotions and might make you puke because the subject makes you so sick. At least that was my experience.

We Were Soldiers Once… and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam by Harold G. Moore.

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This book was one I borrowed from my dad to read one break from school. I had seen the movie, but more importantly I had known the story before there was a movie. When we lived in Virginia, one of my sister’s good friends was Moore’s granddaughter. We heard about the stories while they were preparing for the film and I was learning about Vietnam in school. My PapPap fought in Vietnam but would never talk about it with us, so this book helped me understand some of the reasons why it was such a painful recollection for my PapPap to make, even though he wasn’t at this particular battle. This book and movie will always be “special” to me because of knowing the Moore family, and it gives me great respect for that time in our history

Is there a period in history you love to read about? I really enjoy so many periods of time, but this list seems to focus on the early to mid twentieth century.

What’s your favorite book? I’d love to add it to my always growing list!

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