10 American History Books Every Citizen Should Read

Hands holding a book

We’ve rounded up a reading list that touches on the entirety of American history from different perspectives

A complex understanding of the past is vital to understanding what’s happening in the United States today. But many of us often don’t get the historical background we need in school. For example, to write Lies My Teacher Told Me (a book on this list), James W. Loewen looked at 12 different history textbooks used across the country — and exposes many of the falsehoods they perpetuate. 

To help you out, we’ve created a well-rounded reading list that touches on the entirety of American history from different perspectives. There’s something to fill every knowledge gap on this list, and even if you’re not a history buff, we promise you’ll find something to enjoy.

‘These Truths’ by Jill Lepore

The NYT Book Review writes, “This is not an account of relentless progress. It’s much subtler and darker than that.” In These Truths, Jill Lepore analyzes whether America has delivered on its original promises of political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people.

Buy Here – $19

‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ by James W. Loewen

I interviewed James W. Loewen about his groundbreaking work, which debunks common U.S. history myths, last year. Read for a fact-check of your own understanding of America’s past. 

Buy Here – $17

‘Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America’ by Ijeoma Oluo

Author Ijeoma Oluo takes readers on a journey through 150 years of American history, from the post-reconstruction South to present-day controversy over NFL protests, all while pointing out the influence and costs of white male supremacy.

Buy Here – $26

‘How To Hide An Empire’ by Daniel Immerwahr

It’s important to recognize the United States’ influence outside just the 50 states. That’s the focus of Immerwahr’s book, which takes readers to the Philippines, Puerto Rico and more, to bring forgotten episodes in history back to our consciousness. 

Buy Here – $18

‘America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States’ by Erika Lee

Although the U.S. is known for being a huge melting pot, it also has a huge history of xenophobia directed towards immigrants. From Germans, to Irish Catholics, to Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants, and countless others, Lee takes a look at American history through the lens of these groups.

Buy Here – $29

‘A People’s History of the United States’ by Howard Zinn

In this sweeping book, Zinn tells the story of the U.S. through the eyes of the working class, painting a vivid picture of movements for equality that have often met fierce resistance.  

Buy Here – $20

‘Women, Race & Class’ by Angela Davis

Read to learn about Black women’s contributions to our history, and for a complex, multilayered look at the feminist movement — and its frequent disregard for working women and women of color along the way. 

Buy Here – $16

‘Stamped From the Beginning’ by Ibram X. Kendi

With the movement surrounding the murder of George Floyd, many Americans have been forced to confront unconscious bias and systemic racism. Read this book for a deeply-researched look at how anti-Black racist ideas have impacted American history, using the life stories of five big intellectuals: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis.

Buy Here – $18

‘1776’ by David McCullough

Unlike many of the other books on this list, 1776 focuses on a single period of history by telling the story of those who marched with George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Buy Here – #32

‘1491’ by Charles C. Mann

This book is so important: It tells the stories of the true natives of the land we call America. They lived here before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, unleashing a bloody genocide. And using science, history and archeology, Mann explains they had much more advanced societies than what many think. 

Buy Here – $17

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