Looking for a good book? Here is a list of great history-related titles selected from my 2014 reading list…a few of the classics are old favorites of mine that I do a fresh reading of every so often.
The Last Lion: Visions of Glory 1874-1932 by William Manchester
The Last Lion: Alone 1932-1940 by William Manchester
The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid
The 2,961 pages of this trilogy was the reading marathon of the year, but a most enjoyable journey. Winston Churchill’s life and career would be impossible to replicate in the modern era and Visions of Glory (1983) recreates the lost world of his formative years—when the British Empire was the world’s mightiest power—in fascinating detail. Alone (1988) is the best of the three, painting an intimate portrait of a great man fighting personal and political dragons from the security of his great keep of Chartwell in the calm before the storm of World War II. Journalist Paul Reid completed the final volume of the series, Defender of the Realm (2012), after the death of Manchester, a true master of the craft.
Dinner With Churchill (Policymaking at the Dinner Table) by Cita Stelzer
Through pain-staking research, Stelzer shows how seriously Churchill approached the dinner hour as a way to utilize his greatest weapons: his glittering rhetoric and his own fascinatingly idiosyncratic personality. A healthy side dish for those already familiar with the main course of events in Churchill’s life.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
Meacham, a former Newsweek editor, showcases the many faces of the most enigmatic of the founding fathers, but focuses mainly on Jefferson the political animal.
A relevant perspective by Meacham on the founding father’s various personal views toward a God who intervenes in history and their intentions for the free practice of religion in the public square.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence
A literary gem by the famed “Lawrence of Arabia” in his own poetic voice detailing his World War I experiences battling Ottoman Turks.
James Garfield’s character and backstory are among the most fascinating threads in this work by Millard, the author of River of Doubt, another great book detailing Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazonian expedition.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, this book explores how a chance discovery of an ancient copy of Lucretius’s work of philosophy, On the Nature of Things, revived an interest in classicism and humanism that was foundational to the Renaissance and influenced subsequent scientific achievements like particle theory.
Revolutionary Summer (The Birth of American Independence) by Joseph J Ellis
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author focuses on the microcosmic hothouse of events unfolding in the summer of 1776.
Custer by Larry McMurtry
The Texas author, screenwriter and bibliophile sketches out a colorful profile of the glory-hungry and brazen “Boy General” and the maze of events surrounding his last hours on earth—the Battle of Little Bighorn—in a sense, the climactic bookend to the bloody history of the opening of the West.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriweather Lewis and William Clark
The is no better method to study history than to go to the primary source documents—in this case, the hand-written, water-stained pocket journals, letters, diagrams, illustrations and maps authored by the explorers as they journeyed towards an unknown horizon.
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
Bryson’s irreverent digressions on the characters, villains, heroes and events unfolding in America just prior to the Great Depression is informative narrative nonfiction at its most entertaining.
Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine St. Exupery
A most literary and moving autobiographical classic evoking the romance of the early aviation era. A personal favorite.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
This 1854 philosophical treatise is ripe with historical details, interesting characters and a unique perspective on the wonders of the natural world.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Literary nonfiction is one of the best and most popular ways to bring history alive and make it relevant to those who otherwise would not read it; Hillenbrand is a modern master of the method.
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
This first work by McCullough put his name on the map and is an eye-opening account of a regional disaster that had national consequences when tycoons like Andrew Carnegie controlled large swaths of an expanding nation during the Gilded Age.