The Best American History Books of All Time of 2021

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Whether you’re a student, a history buff, a dedicated reader or someone intrigued by the title of this article, you might be wondering why it’s important to know about the best American history books. History is all around us! Textbooks can be confusing, and many historical books only share one side of the story. When you read a history book, it should be informative, correct, understandable and relevant.

The following lists have been compiled to showcase the best written content about American history. Of course, once you start reading, you’ll develop your own opinion on which books are the best for you. (It is important to note that most of the following books avoid “sweeping” over history, such as only touching on major and minor events without much specific context.) Here are some of our suggestions of the best American history books of all time.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top choice for American history books here.

Our Top Favorite
A People's History of the United States
Our Top Runner Up
The Story of American Freedom (Norton Paperback)
Our Top Value Pick
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Book Title
A People's History of the United States
The Story of American Freedom
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
A People's History of the United States
Book Title
A People's History of the United States
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Story of American Freedom (Norton Paperback)
Book Title
The Story of American Freedom
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Book Title
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-05-12

Our Favorites for Best American History Books of All Time

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

A People’s History of the United States has been celebrated as one of the best U.S. history books out there. It is written in a scholastic voice and is great for both students and anyone who wants to better understand the history of the United States. It has been assigned as required reading for many high school and college students across the country. However, some have criticized the book for being popular culture propaganda instead of covering real history. If you choose to read this book, do so with an open mind, knowing that it won’t be the perfect documentation of American history but one that provides a lot of interesting perspective and analysis. Then, you may craft your own understanding from it.

Why Choose this Book:

  • Zinn’s book is formatted in an easy-to-read way. Each section analyzes a new event (or combination of events that follow a given theme). The topics cover large moments in American history, from Christopher Columbus’ first arrival to President Bill Clinton’s first team.
  • It not only explains the events but also provides intriguing analysis and a new perspective. Library Journal described the book as “brilliant and moving,” and many others have explained the big impact this book has had on the generation since its creation.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • Howard Zinn was a historian, and he wrote this book as a way to represent the country’s greatest struggles and successes through the eyes of the people. It is written from the perspective of many minority groups, including Native Americans, African Americans, immigrant laborers, factory workers, women and more.
  • It discusses wage wars, workday laws, child-labor laws, equal rights for a variety of groups, racial equality and suffrage.
  • Zinn’s writing takes a rather critical look at the history of the United States, being especially critical of government.
On Sale
A People's History of the United States
  • Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Zinn, Howard (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-05-12


Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation by Ray Suarez

This book covers the history of the U.S. with an emphasis on the perspective of Latin Americans. The Latino population shaped and affected this nation a lot, especially when it was first colonized. However, their story is often not recognized in history books. All the while, he explores the struggles and successes of various Latinos who cultivated American history. However, this book has been criticized for its lack of definition of the phrase “Latino American,” and how that leaves room for confusion when people are reading the story. Some have criticized it for being written with a specific American audience in mind, which, thus, diminishes some of the impact the history has on Latin Americans themselves.

Why Choose this Book:

  • Since Suarez is a broadcast journalist, he writes clearly and concisely. He uses graphics, interviews and other historical texts to explain the history in a chronological format. The timeline is easy to follow and simple to read.
  • The bilingual option for this book allows learning speakers (of either English or Spanish) to practice reading in that language while uncovering this fantastic, diverse history.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • You can buy it in either Spanish or English print. This makes U.S. history more accessible for more people (the two biggest populations of the country, might we add).
  • “Latino Americans” is a collaboration with the PBS miniseries about how the story of Latino Americans is the story of America.
  • Suarez covers many experiences in U.S. history, from the first European settlements to the Cold War, to the civil war, Spanish-American War and civil rights movement.
On Sale
Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation
  • Celebra Trade
  • Suarez, Ray (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-05-12


Interpretations of American History, Vol. One and Two by Francis Couvares

This book discusses not only historians’ views of the problems and successes in American history but also analyzes how history is usually viewed from the present and how that can be problematic to one’s understanding of U.S. history. It covers various topics, periods and events and provides at least points of view for each one, so that readers can see opposing opinions at the same time. However, one of the biggest critiques of this text is that the reader should have a least somewhat of an understanding of American history before reading. If this is your case, consider checking out one of these volumes.

Why Choose this Book:

  • You’ll get more, unique information at once. The essays are like well-written arguments that discuss complex ideas about each event, and if readers don’t understand the basics of some of the topics (like America’s long history with slavery and the fact that various revolutions have occurred in the U.S. throughout history) some of the points may be lost in thought.
  • Interpretations of American History also focuses a lot on early American colonial history, which may be beneficial depending on your motivation for reading the book.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • What makes Interpretations of American History more unique than most American history books is its point-counterpoint format. Each chapter includes introductions by the editors, based on dialectical readings by distinguished historians.
  • The essays cover topics from across the U.S., such as some timeless questions like, “The American Revolution: Social or Ideological?” and “Slave Culture: African or American?” The text is composed in a way that provides the reader with multiple perspectives to each issue so that they can better craft their own perspective on American history.

Last update: 2021-05-12


Runner Ups for Best American History Books of All Time

The Story of American Freedom by Eric Foner

Freedom is an idea that has been used a lot to describe America. However, the significance of freedom has changed over U.S. history. In order to better understand the topic, this book dives into what freedom has looked like throughout some significant periods. In a way, this book is a historical summary of freedom. Unfortunately, some have criticized the book for not being organized well and not having too much information to easily delve into. The book jumps from idea to idea, trying to connect the dots between many different concepts and details.

Why Choose this Book:

  • While it won’t give you a comprehensive understanding of all American history, this book will help you better understand many big events in American history.
  • The Story of American Freedom fits well in a history class, though it may be less enjoyable to read for fun if you aren’t excited by history.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • Foner covers what freedom has looked like through congressional debates, picket lines, plantations, political treatises and more. He breaks down the idea through well-known leaders in American history as well as former slaves, freedom riders, activists and union organizers.
  • The Story of American Freedom takes a big approach to analyzing one of the strongest cultural bonds that America is known for: “freedom.” It discusses concepts and examples in American history, all the while being connected to that topic.
On Sale
The Story of American Freedom (Norton Paperback)
  • Foner, Eric (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 09/17/1999 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-05-12


Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H.W. Brands

This book is perfect for people interested in the history of the American West. Brands describes in detail the process of settling into the West, from Oregon to Texas, California and Oklahoma. He discusses migrants’ dreams of the East, of riches and power and more, and the struggles for courage that they faced. He writes about how those dreams also drove new settlers to commit violent acts against indigenous people and one another. However, it has been criticized for having many details of small moments in history, such as verbal exchanges or other, small facts. Since the book also doesn’t have any visuals, it may be confusing following along with the stories of expansion without pulling up a map or two to help.

Why Choose this Book:

  • If you are studying information on the American West, this is the perfect book for you. It is entirely focused on the historical events, people and challenges of the West.
  • It doesn’t offer much biased perspective on the events but rather explains them plainly and straightforwardly. As you are reading, you will get lots of facts and won’t have to do much analysis of the text.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • All in all, Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West provides a foundational understanding of the early settlers in the U.S., a story that has shaped a lot of the history that followed.
  • It is easy to read and stay interested in the story. Hampton Sides described this book as “epic in scale, fearless in its scope.” It is well-written and covers the major events of Westward expansion in a descriptive, creative way. Instead of including many dates, places and names, it describes history in a colorful and intriguing way.
Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Brands, H. W. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-05-12


Value Picks for Best American History Books of All Time

American History: A Visual Encyclopedia by DK

Our first value pick is this visual encyclopedia. Each page has at least one image and/or some graphics as well as a few blocks of text describing some aspect of American history. The topics cover specific events, like wars or movements, and broad ideas, like fear and unrest. However, since this book isn’t comprehensive, it may leave out many aspects of American history. It has been criticized for only showcasing certain events/topics out of bias of the author(s). If you choose to read this book, know that you won’t be getting the full story through it, but it may be a good starting place.

Why Choose this Book:

  • It discusses a variety of topics and could be a good starting place for someone who wants to learn more about American history but isn’t ready to read a text-heavy book about it.
  • If you are a college student or adult, American History: A Visual Encyclopedia may be a great choice for you. The style of this visual encyclopedia is catered toward older audiences. Some of the images are disturbing, especially for sensitive people or children.

What Makes this Book Unique:

  • What makes American History: A Visual Encyclopedia so interesting is how it encapsulates American history through photos and paintings. This not only helps readers better understand what certain events or places in history looked like but also makes learning about U.S. history more interesting.
  • While this book won’t give you a comprehensive understanding of American history, it will be an easier way to learn about significant aspects of the country’s past–after all, it’s easier to look at pictures, right?
On Sale
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
  • DK (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 06/25/2019 (Publication Date) - DK Children (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-05-12


The Great Republic by Sir Winston Churchill

The Great Republic is a great book for someone who is fascinated by history. The first half of the book is a written history of the U.S. until the turn of the century, from the eyes of Churchill. The second half is full of speeches by Churchill on his perception of the country. It is well written, detailed and enjoyable. However, Churchill's writing has been described as having “lofty rhetoric,” which may be difficult to comprehend at times.

Why Choose this Book?

  • Churchill writes honestly about both the good and the bad, something that many history books don’t acknowledge. He criticizes and highlights a variety of events and ideas from America’s past and brings an interesting and different perspective to many other American history books–how all the big events in the U.S. were perceived in England.
  • If you already have an understanding of American history and are just looking for more perspective on big events, this is a great book for you. Since this book is, ultimately, a British person’s perspective on the history of the U.S., it doesn’t include everything you need to know about America.

What Makes this Book Unique?

  • The most unique aspect of The Great Republic is that it discusses the history of the U.S. from the perspective of an Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill. It encapsulates Churchill’s thoughts on the history of America, a country which he admired, thus calling it the “Great Republic.”
  • The style of writing is unique and complex, being originally written many decades ago. Therefore, this may not be the easier book to read for fun, unless you’re a history fan or can understand the “elevated phraseology” of the author.
On Sale
The Great Republic: A History of America (Modern Library Paperbacks)
  • Churchill, Winston S. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 480 Pages - 11/07/2000 (Publication Date) - Modern Library (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-05-12


How to Choose the Best American History Books of All Time for You

You may be excited to dive right into reading some of the previous recommendations, but there are a few things to consider first. Before you choose which American history book(s) will be best for you, take a moment to consider the following:

What American history topics do you want to learn?

If you don’t know anything about U.S. history, think about what political or social topics interest you (environmental issues, the workforce, politics, etc.). Then, using some of our recommendations or an online search engine, look up what events in American history may match up with those topics. From there, you can choose a book that will give you the best information on that topic.

How deep do you want to go on a specific American history topic?

In other words, how much do you want to learn about each topic? If you want a comprehensive, general history of America, you may want to choose one of the first few options. If you want to hear from a specific perspective (such as minority groups in the U.S. or people outside of the country), you may want to choose a book written by someone in that group. Think about what you want to get out of your reading, and choose a book that will be as broad and deep as you want it–and as much as you’ll be able to understand well.

What’s the best way for you to understand the content?

If reading isn’t your thing, there are plenty of audiobooks available, such as The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians. How will you best be able to comprehend the material: book or audiobook? Sometimes a combination of the two can be most beneficial, in which case you may want to search for history books that you can find both an audible and physical/digital copy of.

What American history books are often recommended for courses?

This could also be a good starting point for finding the best history books. What is your motivation for reading? Maybe you are in a high school or college class, writing a history book yourself or just looking for a good read. If you’re already familiar with American history, you may choose one of the “value picks” or another book that gives a more unique, personal perspective on U.S. history. If you’re learning or writing about a specific part of U.S. history, too, you may want to continue your search for books that cover that event more fully than most of these recommendations.

Wrapping Things Up: The Best American History Books of All Time

Wrapping everything up, here are the best American history books of all time we went over today:

Our Top Favorite
A People's History of the United States
Our Top Runner Up
The Story of American Freedom (Norton Paperback)
Our Top Value Pick
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Book Title
A People's History of the United States
The Story of American Freedom
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
A People's History of the United States
Book Title
A People's History of the United States
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Story of American Freedom (Norton Paperback)
Book Title
The Story of American Freedom
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Book Title
American History: A Visual Encyclopedia
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-05-12

No matter your reason for wanting to find the best American history book of all time, whether you are a student, a history fan, a teacher or general reader, it’s important for you to consider what you are most curious to learn. Whatever book you end up reading should be informative, correct, understandable and relevant. It should not only touch on major and minor events in American history but also provide a unique perspective and context on the issues.

History is all around us, and we are constantly learning new information about it. So, why not learn the most correct information about American history? Dan Holliday on an online forum wrote: “The point of history is not to know every thing, the point of history is to understand context and to gain the skills to find the facts.”

Don’t settle on the first American history textbook you find. Your choice should be the best fit and most informative book for you. And, once you start reading, you’ll learn more about which books are better and develop a curiosity for more parts of American history.

Looking for more history books? Check out our reviews of other history books here.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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