What Historical Literature Must I Read?

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Uncle-Tom's-CabinAs you can see from the attached flyer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is referred to as “the greatest book of the age.” If this is truly the case, how come I was not forced to read this in school? I often find that I have skipped over significant historical literature during my educational upbringing. That being said, while never having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I am familiar with the themes and general overview. Another example of historical literature that I have not read would be The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I once read in a Reddit discussion board that one could not be a true historian if they had not read this historical work. What do you think, is that true?

This is not to say that I am not (somewhat) well-read. I have read the Diary of Anne Frank and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I have read the works of Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have studied Supreme Court opinions, correspondences from America’s Founding Fathers, and the documents that gained our country freedom and established her government. I steadily read more and more, but I find that there is so much to read, sometimes I need direction.

I often ponder, “What pieces of historical literature must I read?”

I would love to use this post as a conversation platform. I genuinely am interested in your responses. To truly appreciate and have a comprehensive understanding of history, what historical literature do I need to read?

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Grant. I’m also a history lover like yourself and enjoy interacting with other history lovers. My favorite periods are medieval and Tudor history. Since college I’ve studied English and French history. If someone is interested in English history, I would recommend Bede’s “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”.

  2. Prof. Jan Romein: The Watershed of Two Eras. Europe in 1900. Translated from the Dutch by Arnold J. Pomerans. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1978; 783 pages (first paperback edition 1982). With a biographical and bibliographical introduction by Harry J. Marks.

  3. I’m not one to read much fiction, and i notice you are not distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction.

    On the fiction side, I enjoyed the Confessions of Nat Turner; not sure why that was never made into a film…

    On the non-fiction side, I’d say The Gulag Archipelago is a “must” for the way it portrays a side of the Soviet Union that was its version of the Holocaust.

    Also, Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China” is a “must” since his is perhaps the classic account of the Chinese Revolution.

    For sheer tenacity, Harrison Salisbury’s “900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” is very good.

  4. Common Sense and The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine; The Federalist Papers; Roots by Alex Haley; The Jungle by Upton Sinclair; A Raisin in the Sun by Lorainne Hansberry; Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.; All the President’s Men by Bernstein & Woodward; Night by Elie Wiesel; The Life of Frederick Douglas — and that’s just off the top of my head!

  5. Voltaire’s “Candide,” Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto,” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” come to mind from my reading list in college and graduate school. Others include Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. Interesting thread.

  6. “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”? Ahh… the rise is a far better subject – particularly the vicious, if unedifying, Triumvir Wars. Ditto the era that followed Alexander the Great: far more interesting than the conqueror.

    As the ancient era is my bent I’d have to suggest the “BBC World” history ” The Peloponnesian War” by Thucydides and the “Fox News” history “Hellenica” by Xenophon. How to write a proper history whilst being pedantic and occasionally sanctimonious would see you reading Polybius.

    In the modern era, the standout book,for me, of recent years is Graubard’s “The Presidents”.

  7. Grant, with the wide area you are interested, “government / constitutional history, civil rights, and World War II,” there is much to read. On WWII, which was my father’s favorite subject, what are you interested? Personal narratives of what it was like being a war? Hitler, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt’s thoughts? The actual military correspondences? The list goes forever.

    I am interested in government ethics. I have read Hobbes, Machiavelli, Thucydides, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Paine, Federalist Papers, and many others, things my Dad would never have read.

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