Essential Books Everyone Interested in American History Should Read

Most people spend at least two hours each day watching television. 
The American national average for 2013 was watching over FIVE hours of television per day(see story here)

If you spend two hours each day reading (maybe one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening) you will be able to complete this reading list in about five years (an average of about one book per week) and have an excellent foundation in American history that will last a lifetime. It will be a life transforming experience. Some of the books are short and will take much less than a week to finish and a few are multiple volumes that take some additional time.

Even better consider starting a book club with your friends that are interested in American history and read and discuss the books together.

The books are listed in no particular order. I would recommend starting off reading “A History of the American People” by Paul Johnson, then “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to give you a broad overview of American history you will build further study on. Johnson and Zinn approach American History in very different directions and the contrast will be helpful. Some people will find Howard Zinn uncomfortable to read but don’t turn away – use it as inspiration to read more. Other than that you can organize your reading in any way you want.

There is also a short list of the big list you can use here. If you commit to reading two books each month on the short list you can finish in about three years.

The Big List Of American History Books

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  1. A History of the American People by Paul Johnson
  2. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  3. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 by George C. Herring
  4. Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character by Claude S. Fischer
  5. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States by Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski
  6. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind
  7. Religion in American Life: A Short History by Jon Butler, Grant Wacker and Randall Balmer
  8. Before the Revolution by Daniel Richter
  9. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America by Scott Weidensaul
  10. American Colonies: The Settling of North America – by Alan Taylor
  11. American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 by Alan Taylor
  12. Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies by Alan Taylor
  13. The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 – by Bernard Bailyn
  14. The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War by Fred Anderson
  15. The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards by Francis J. Bremer
  16. American Slavery, American Freedom. by Edmund Morgan
  17. General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman – by Ed Cray
  18. The Slave Ship. by Marcus Rediker
  19. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 by Hugh Thomas
  20. The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America by James Wilson
  21. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff
  22. The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 by Merrill Jensen
  23. The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood
  24. The American Revolution by Edward Countryman
  25. From Resistance to Revolution by Pauline Maier
  26. The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution by Gary B. Nash
  27. Revolutionary Mothers: Women and the Struggle For American Independence by Carol Berkin
  28. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent By Robert W. Merry
  29. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World By David Brion Davis
  30. Battle Cry of Freedom (sometimes 2 volumes) By James McPherson
  31. The Civil War (3 volumes): A Narrative By Shelby Foote
  32. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War By Leonard L. Richards
  33. Ordeal of the Union (4 or 8 volumes) by Allan Nevins
  34. The Road to Disunion (2 volumes) by William W. Freehling
  35. America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union by Fergus M. Bordewich
  36. The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era By Douglas R. Egerton
  37. Empire of Liberty, Gordon Wood
  38. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, Daniel Walker Howe
  39. America’s First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837, Alasdair Roberts
  40. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery by Leon F. Litwack
  41. Lone Star Nation By H.W. Brands
  42. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World by Randall E. Stross
  43. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest By Alec R. Gilpin
  44. Freedom’s Forge – by Arthur Herman
  45. Roosevelt’s Second Act – by Richard Moe
  46. Freedom From Fear by David Kennedy
    (Volume One of a two volume set, sometimes combined)
  47. A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II – by Maury Klein
  48. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation By Joseph J. Ellis
  49. Washington (4 volumes) by James Thomas Flexner
    (There is an abridged single volume and a multivolume sett – both meaningful)
  50. The Deadlocked Election of 1800: Jefferson, Burr, and the Union in the Balance by James Roger Sharp
  51. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times By H.W. Brands
  52. The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation by Thomas Fleming
  53. Nixon (3 volumes) by Stephen E. Ambrose
  54. The Tycoons by Charles Morris
  55. The Rising Sun by John Toland
  56. God of Liberty by Thomas Kidd
  57. American Colossus by H.W. Brands
  58. California by Kevin Starr
  59. Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement by David Hackett Fischer and James Kelly
  60. 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by Donald Hickley
  61. John C. Calhoun: An American Portrait by Margaret Coit
  62. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson
  63. The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles
  64. Dancing In The Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein
  65. The New Deal: A Modern History by Michael Hiltzik
  66. Silver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of Japanese Internment by Kimi Cunningham Grant
  67. After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace by A.J. Langguth
  68. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 by Claudio Saunt
  69. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda
  70. Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom by Robert Gudmestad
  71. Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I by Justus D. Doenecke
  72. The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1890 by Robert Utley
  73. The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972 by William Manchester
  74. The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years’ War Over the American Dollar by H.W. Brands
  75. Storm Over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War by Joel Silbey
  76. Beyond the Hundreth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner
  77. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle
  78. The Bill of the Century: The Civil Rights Act by Clay Risen
  79. American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home 1945-2000 by Joshua Freeman
  80. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  81. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  82. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  83. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  84. Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson
  85. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David halberstam
  86. Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose
  87. Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader by Troy Jackson
  88. The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
  89. Nixon and Kissenger by Robert Dallek
  90. Rival Rails: The Race to Build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter Borneman
  91. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling
  92. Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul by John Barry
  93. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Goodwin
  94. A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy Greenberg
  95. Vietnam by Stanley Karnow
  96. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s by Frederick Lewis Allen
  97. Since Yesterday: The 1930’s in America by Frederick L. Allen
  98. Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Smith
  99. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
  100. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kerns Goodwin
  101. Jefferson Davis by William Davis
  102. Theodore Roosevelt (3 volumes) by Edmund Morris
  103. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire by Evan Thomas
  104. The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands
  105. The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story by Elliott West
  106. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  107. Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier by Stephen Ambrose
  108. A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
  109. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by John Meacham
  110. Daniel Boone by John Mack Faragher
  111. The Korean War by Max Hastings
  112. Decision in Philadelphia by Christopher Collier
  113. 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents by David Pietrusza
  114. American Notes by Charles Dickens
  115. Mark Twain by Ron Powers
  116. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
  117. Roughing It by Mark Twain
  118. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  119. Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw
  120. The Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons by Edward Renehan
  121. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
  122. Roosevelt’s Centurions: FDR & the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II by Joseph Persico
  123. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  124. The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America by Lawrence Goodwyn
  125. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Issacson
  126. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman
  127. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H.W. Brands
  128. Driven West: Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears to the Civil War by A. J. Langguth
  129. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
  130. The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea by Walter Borneman
  131. George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis
  132. Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency By Mark Updegrove
  133. 1812: The Navy’s War by George Daughan
  134. FDR by Jean Edward Smith
  135. James Monroe: The Last Founding Father by Harlow Unger
  136. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  137. The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California by Alexander Saxton
  138. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
  139. A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan
  140. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States by Eleanor Flexner and Ellen Fitzpatrick
  141. Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  142. The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  143. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  144. The Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And Politics by Bruce Schulman
  145. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made By Evan Thomas, Walter Isaacson
  146. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by by David Carter
  147. Labor in America by Foster Rhea Dulles
  148. The Course of Empire by Bernard DeVoto
  149. The Year of Dcision 1846 by Bernard DeVoto
  150. Across the Wide Missouri by Bernard DeVoto
  151. The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution by Gary Nash
  152. Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam by James Stuart Olson and Randy W. Roberts
  153. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy by Stephen Howarth
  154. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth T. Jackson
  155. The Shaping of Modern America: 1877 – 1920 by Vincent P. De Santis
  156. The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter
  157. The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880-1921 by Alan M. Kraut
  158. Cattle Towns by Robert Dykstra
  159. Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party by John D. Hicks
  160. The Evolution of American Urban Society by Howard P. Chudacoff and Judith E. Smith
  161. The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner
  162. Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture by Jack P. Greene
  163. The Search for Order, 1877-1920 by Robert H. Wiebe
  164. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey
  165. American Populism: A Social History 1877-1898 by Robert C. McMath Jr.
  166. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  167. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz 
  168. Short Stories by Sinclair Lewis
  169. The American West by Dee Brown
  170. Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove
  171. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America by Gary B. Nash
  172. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – A New History of the Civil Rights Movement by Danielle L. McGuire
  173. A Narrative of a Revolutionary Solider by Joseph Plumb Martin
  174. Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia by Woody Holton
  175. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence by T. H. Breen
  176. Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff
  177. The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s by David Farber
  178. Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500-1820 by Christine Daniels and Michael V. Kennedy.
  179. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner
  180. Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham
  181. Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789–1859 By Elizabeth R. Varon
  182. Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America by William C. Davis
  183. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass By Frederick Douglass
  184. Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler
  185. Atlantic History, Jack P. Greene
  186. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 by John Thornton
  187. The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order by Benn Steil
  188. James Madison By Richard Brookhiser
  189. Woodrow Wilson by Scott Berg
  190. Colonial America: A History to 1763 by Richard Middleton and Anne Lombard
  191. Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture by Jack P. Greene.
  192. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America by Daniel K. Richter
  193. Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754
  194. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War – by Nathaniel Philbrick
  195. The Geographic Revolution in Early America. by Martin Bruckner.
  196. Mapping the Nation. by Susan Schulten.
  197. The Fifties by David Halberstam
  198. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois.
  199. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally McMillen
  200. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II by Roger Daniels
  201. From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement by Matthew Garcia
  202. Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose
  203. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage by Todd Gitlin
  204. Gerald R. Ford:An Honorable Life by James Cannon
  205. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  206. Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention by Charlotte Gray
  207. Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent by Ernest Freeberg
  208. John Adams by David McCullough
  209. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan by Michael Kazin
  210. The Populist Vision by Charles Postel
  211. Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 by Lizabeth Cohen
  212. Inspiration and Innovation: Religion in the American West by Todd M. Kerstetter
  213. The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 by Mark Brilliant
  214. The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America by Robert Pierce Forbes 
  215. Jacksonian Antislavery and the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854 by Jonathan H. Earle
  216. Truman by David McCullough
  217. The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture by Joshua Kendall
  218. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs
  219. Kentucky Rising: Democracy, Slavery, and Culture from the Early Republic to the Civil War by James A. Ramage and Andrea S. Watkins
  220. FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman
  221. Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics by Terry Golway
  222. Miracle at Midway by Donald Goldstein
  223. Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century by Steven Conn
  224. Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse
  225. Slavery and Frontier Mississippi: 1720-1835 by David Libby
  226. The Cherokee Nation: A History by Robert J. Conley 
  227. Osceola and the Great Seminole War: A Struggle for Justice and Freedom by Thom Hatch
  228. Over Here: The First World War and American Society by David M. Kennedy   
  229. Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz
  230. The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 by Adam Tooze
  231. The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations (Four Volumes)

Library of America Primary Source Document Collections

  1. Benjamin Franklin: Writings, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  2. George Washington: Writings (Library of America)
  3. John Adams: Writings: Two Volumes (Library of America)
  4. Thomas Jefferson: Writings: (Library of America)
  5. James Madison: Writings: 1772-1836 (Library of America)
  6. Alexander Hamilton: Writings (Library of America)
  7. John Marshall: Writings (Library of America)
  8. Thomas Paine: Collected Writings (Library of America)
  9. The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  10. The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (Library of America)
  11. The Debate on the Constitution, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  12. The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence (Library of America)
  13. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings: Two Volumes (Library of America)
  14. Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters (Library of America)
  15. Emerson: Essays and Lectures (Library of America)
  16. Tocqueville: Democracy in America (Library of America)
  17. Henry David Thoreau: Collected Writings (Library of America)
  18. American Speeches, Two Volumess (Library of America)
  19. American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr. (Library of America)
  20. Jonathan Edwards: Writings from the Great Awakening (Library of America)
  21. Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959-1975 (Library of America)
  22. Slave Narratives (Library of America)
  23. W.E.B. Du Bois: Writings (Library of America)
  24. Frederick Douglass: Writings (Library of America)
  25. Theodore Roosevelt: Writings, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  26. Reporting Civil Rights, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  27. Reporting World War II: American Journalism, Two Volumes (Library of America)
  28. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Selected Speeches, Messages, Press Conferences and Letters (Library of America)
  29. Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower (Library of America)