Top 10 History Books for Students

history books

There’s a saying that if you want to properly understand today, you need to do a thorough search of yesterday. Still, there’s also a slight problem: who has time to go looking for yesterday? Everyone is busy enough trying to build a future – which leaves us little time to dwell in the past.

To make things easier on those busy souls, I collected 10 of the most interesting history books which will shed some light on our past – and keep us interested in it. Who says that history has to be boring?

1. David Starkey – Magna Carta

Many students most likely know this as a documentary, but if you are a fan of reading instead of watching, then you may want to go for the book. This punchy, concise read will please every student interested in the history of Britain around the year 1215. Were the political ploys as successful as everyone wanted them to be? Not that much – and this history book will explain why.

2. Rob Barker – Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics

It may have a funny name, but this book is actually based on history. It contains a collection of odd, yet intriguing and insightful stories taken from Rob Barker’s historical website. This book talks about the culture and history of 20th century London, going from royalty to criminals – everything presented in a gleeful yet appropriate manner.

3. Volker Ullrich – Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939

This is one of those history books that went viral from the moment they were written – and this doesn’t happen that often. This book is the first of a two-part biography revolving around the fascist leader Adolf Hitler. It presents a critical analysis of the myths behind Hitler’s rise to power, without making a direct connection to the politics of this day. Plus, the text is reader-friendly, which is why it’s no wonder that this book went viral.

4. Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe – A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression

There are many books out there on the Great Depression, but not many that use a dinner plate as a “filming lens.” This book tackles America’s darkest hours, showing us meal plans that might make you want to rethink complaining about your next dinner. If you think you’re having it rough as a student, wait until you’ve read about these times.

5. Steve Twomey – Countdown to Pearl Harbor

To this day, the attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most disastrous events in history – so disastrous that no one dared to tackle a lot of it. It was as if it became a taboo subject. This one writer, however, took this historical moment and turned it into a book. It does not revolve around certain characters, but it does a great job describing the moments that led to the attack.

This book was written with captivating words that leave the readers wondering: “What if?” Had the military anticipated the attack, could things have been different? Countdown to Pearl Harbor is a crackerjack text that will shed some light on this under-covered topic.

6. Laura Hillenbrand – Unbroken

This is more of a novel rather than a history book, but it’s based on true historical facts. Following the story of a young lieutenant who survived the Army Air Force bomber crash over the Pacific Ocean, this book dwells into the horrors of World War II, becoming an odyssey of the Era. It’s a great read if you want to mix some historical facts with fiction.

7. Margaret MacMillan – Paris 1919

This narrative history work is a good piece to have around if you have a certain interest in the peace treaties of Paris. Covering a six-month span, it gives an intimate view of the months coming after the First World War – particularly around the Versailles Peace Conference. Was it as peaceful as they intended it to be? Not really – but this book will fill you in on exactly how things went there.

8. Lincoln Paine – The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World

This book tells the history of our world through the eyes of a person that is constantly at sea. This book will make you think back on Columbus-era traveling, where going at sea wasn’t only meant for trading goods; it was also about spreading the language, religion, meeting new people and understanding their culture.

9. Christopher Coker – Men at War: What Fiction Tells us About Conflict, From The Iliad to Catch-22

There’s history in the most popular works of fiction as well, and this book is trying to analyze the historical aspects of every book that our professors are forcing us to read. The writer is, in fact, a professor himself – which is how he managed to put together this study containing war myths and fiction. Taking stories from great works written by Homer, Tolstoy, or Shakespeare, Coker manages to analyze the archetypes depicted, applying it to factual history.

10. Rachel Swaby – Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World

Most history books revolve around the life of men and how they helped turn around the world – but so few of them tackle the role of women in this world. Sure, everyone knows who Marie Curie is – but there are dozens of other women who left a great impact on this world. This book lists a total of 52 women who slipped from the radar – but it doesn’t make them any less geniuses of our society.

Final Thoughts

History can be entertaining, and not all of it has to be learned from a textbook. You do, however, have to make sure that your chosen historian doesn’t take any particular sides. A good history book will not say that someone was in the right or in the wrong – but will state the actual facts.

Even historical books that follow certain characters will tackle this ideology. Indeed, while they may have a certain “affinity,” the best books will still be able to retain political neutrality – which is exactly what you need as a student.