The 12 Best Books on History

Here’s my list of the 12 best books on history, in no particular order.

  1. Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant – The Durants wrote an 11-volume “History of the World” series that took up pretty much all of their adult lives. This small book is the distillations of the lessons from their decades of research.
  2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – An impersonal account of human nature and behavior and the structures that form human society. Imagine if an alien visited Earth for a few thousand years and then had to write a report to explain humans back home.
  3. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer – The most definitive historical account of World War II, the Nazi Party and the Holocaust.
  4. The Power Broker by Robert Caro – The biography of Robert Moses, the most powerful man in New York City for most of the 20th century. The book uses his life to look at the nature of power.
  5. Hiroshima by John Hershey – A blow-by-blow, hour by hour, take of seven survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Spellbinding and harrowing.
  6. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt – An ode to Epicureanism and the history of how a forgotten philosophy was rediscovered on accident, and proceeded to change the world.
  7. Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor – A gripping account of the deadliest battle in world history. I’ve read it and I still can’t believe it actually happened.
  8. Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker – A tome of a book. Pinker tracks the history of violence and makes the counterintuitive and controversial argument that we are less violent today than we have ever been before.
  9. 1491 by Charles Mann – An account of the indigenous cultures in the New World before the Europeans arrived. In many cases, the cultures of Central and South America were more technologically advanced, peaceful and populous than their European counterparts.
  10. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford – Khan’s name is associated with brutality but this book argues that many of the modernizing forces in the world began with his unconventional policies. A fascinating biography of the man who came closest to taking over the world.
  11. The History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides – The first historiography ever written about the famous battle of Troy and the war between Sparta and Athens.
  12. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons – The classic and one of the historical masterpieces. Written in the 18th century and totally nearly 3000 pages, Gibbon’s account of the fall of the Roman empire was the definitive account up until very recently.

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