A former student emailed me asking for suggestions on some history books to read, so I thought I’d share with you what I shared with her. If you end up reading any of these books, please comment here, email me, or send me a Facebook messages with your thoughts on the book(s).
The best – hands down best, no kidding – history-related book I have EVER read came out not too long ago. It’s called Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly & the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. It happens that one of my favorite movies (ever) is “Lawrence of Arabia,” and the author deconstructs the movie as well as the reality of TE Lawrence. Just a fantastic book, no kidding, plus it really opens the mind to why the Middle East is the way it is now.
Another really good book is Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion & the Armies of Rome, by Stephen Dando-Collins. He’s written a bunch of books in this series and they’re all OK, but this one is the best of the bunch. The cool thing is that they read more like novels/stories than history books – maybe I appreciate them because that’s the way I like to teach!
Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner, is a cool book that takes a serious world-spanning look at how the effort to acquire just one of life’s minor luxuries helped shape the world as we know it. Fascinating. This book was recommended to me (along with another book that wasn’t quite as good) by a 17-year-old home-schooled girl, and I’m glad I listened to her on this one.
If you’re interested in Cold War-era stuff, look at The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc, by Lewis Siegelbaum. You wouldn’t think a book about crappy cars made in Bulgaria or Hungary would be that interesting, but when you look at them in their geopolitical context, pretty cool stuff. Another good CW book is Red Moon Rising: Sputnik & the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age, by Matthew Brzezinski. It’s a little more … dense & academic … than most of the other stuff I’ve listed here, but I’m obsessed with sci-fi, so I always liked this book because it combines history and space.
OK last suggestion, and this one might be a little off the wall: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, by Art Spiegelman. It’s a graphic novel filled with mice, cats & pigs, but it’s a really powerful book about how an American man learns to cope with his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor. My copy is 2 volumes, but I think it’s available as one complete book now.