Best History Books (nonfiction)

Proper nonfiction history books, not historical fiction, about any period, event, area or topic you like. Just well-written, well-researched, informative and interesting books for historians, history students and history enthusiasts. I didn't mean this to be a list of pop history, but I think it's too late now, so you might as well go ahead.
1

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4.06 avg rating — 285,651 ratings
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2

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4.17 avg rating — 91,810 ratings
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3

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4.07 avg rating — 172,932 ratings
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4

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4.28 avg rating — 139,365 ratings
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5

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4.17 avg rating — 51,759 ratings
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6

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4.14 avg rating — 2,528,676 ratings
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7

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4.03 avg rating — 261,155 ratings
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8

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3.97 avg rating — 55,138 ratings
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9

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4.23 avg rating — 58,155 ratings
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10

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4.38 avg rating — 697,649 ratings
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11

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4.08 avg rating — 29,257 ratings
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12

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4.35 avg rating — 24,768 ratings
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13

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3.99 avg rating — 471,942 ratings
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14

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4.08 avg rating — 172,746 ratings
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15

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4.24 avg rating — 1,003 ratings
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16

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4.21 avg rating — 267,319 ratings
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17

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4.05 avg rating — 6,969 ratings
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18

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4.39 avg rating — 364 ratings
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19

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4.21 avg rating — 46,263 ratings
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20

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3.99 avg rating — 38,737 ratings
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21

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4.26 avg rating — 920 ratings
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22

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3.98 avg rating — 11,526 ratings
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23

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3.77 avg rating — 469 ratings
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24

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4.33 avg rating — 902,216 ratings
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25

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4.12 avg rating — 73,827 ratings
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26

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4.02 avg rating — 58,897 ratings
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27

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3.87 avg rating — 26,351 ratings
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28

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4.12 avg rating — 23,300 ratings
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29

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4.40 avg rating — 229 ratings
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30

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4.19 avg rating — 6,104 ratings
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31

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4.31 avg rating — 25,994 ratings
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32

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4.23 avg rating — 38,396 ratings
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33

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4.15 avg rating — 642 ratings
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34

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4.43 avg rating — 88,737 ratings
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35

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4.53 avg rating — 6,832 ratings
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36

by
4.33 avg rating — 266 ratings
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37

by
3.96 avg rating — 1,104 ratings
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38

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4.08 avg rating — 10,394 ratings
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39

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4.13 avg rating — 1,621 ratings
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40

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4.20 avg rating — 7,325 ratings
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41

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4.03 avg rating — 43,205 ratings
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42

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4.24 avg rating — 11,819 ratings
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43

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3.93 avg rating — 29,847 ratings
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44

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4.40 avg rating — 74,313 ratings
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45

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3.87 avg rating — 33,471 ratings
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46

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4.03 avg rating — 41,661 ratings
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47

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4.05 avg rating — 14,898 ratings
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48

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4.11 avg rating — 7,125 ratings
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49

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4.15 avg rating — 36,761 ratings
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50

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3.91 avg rating — 90,001 ratings
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51

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3.96 avg rating — 50,174 ratings
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52

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4.19 avg rating — 39,198 ratings
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53

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3.91 avg rating — 10,012 ratings
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54

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4.26 avg rating — 22,913 ratings
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55

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4.20 avg rating — 29,810 ratings
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56

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4.24 avg rating — 17,730 ratings
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57

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4.08 avg rating — 16,876 ratings
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58

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4.16 avg rating — 77,423 ratings
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59

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3.82 avg rating — 368 ratings
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60

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4.13 avg rating — 27,449 ratings
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61

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3.86 avg rating — 2,378 ratings
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62

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4.16 avg rating — 29,221 ratings
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63

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3.81 avg rating — 37,200 ratings
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64

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3.84 avg rating — 91,057 ratings
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65

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4.21 avg rating — 19,169 ratings
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66

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4.23 avg rating — 105,376 ratings
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67

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3.93 avg rating — 56,067 ratings
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68

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4.18 avg rating — 13,917 ratings
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69

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3.97 avg rating — 52,774 ratings
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70

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4.43 avg rating — 26,674 ratings
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71

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4.01 avg rating — 392 ratings
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72

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4.36 avg rating — 16,045 ratings
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73

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3.74 avg rating — 51,985 ratings
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74

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3.92 avg rating — 125 ratings
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75

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3.97 avg rating — 7,461 ratings
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76

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3.92 avg rating — 33,753 ratings
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77

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4.29 avg rating — 11,938 ratings
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78

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4.18 avg rating — 38,406 ratings
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79

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4.07 avg rating — 33,682 ratings
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80

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4.25 avg rating — 6,866 ratings
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81

by
4.11 avg rating — 115,688 ratings
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82

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4.21 avg rating — 49,576 ratings
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83

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4.37 avg rating — 3,765 ratings
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84

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4.32 avg rating — 19,319 ratings
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85

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4.36 avg rating — 8,870 ratings
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86

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3.66 avg rating — 91,835 ratings
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87

by
4.06 avg rating — 1,237 ratings
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88

by
3.99 avg rating — 4,454 ratings
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89

by
3.93 avg rating — 39,236 ratings
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90

by
4.17 avg rating — 3,897 ratings
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90

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4.31 avg rating — 3,298 ratings
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92

by
4.02 avg rating — 5,076 ratings
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93

by
4.19 avg rating — 15,575 ratings
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94

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4.14 avg rating — 11,246 ratings
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95

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4.12 avg rating — 13,092 ratings
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96

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4.42 avg rating — 7,920 ratings
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97

by
4.28 avg rating — 95 ratings
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98

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4.12 avg rating — 23,829 ratings
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98

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4.42 avg rating — 10,539 ratings
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100

by
4.31 avg rating — 24,111 ratings
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1381 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Abi 378 books
5 friends
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3159 books
831 friends
Bettie 15446 books
120 friends
Bonnie 5676 books
92 friends
Susanne 201 books
21 friends
Kris 419 books
9 friends
Fat 725 books
0 friends
siouxzee 1116 books
39 friends

More voters…


Comments Showing 1-50 of 65 (65 new)


message 1: by Abi (last edited Apr 24, 2010 02:41AM) (new)

Abi I really wish I could disqualify anything that has the words 'epic story' in the title. Great history books make an argument based on an interpretation of the past; a history book that just tells you a story has a seriously limited value.


message 2: by Tracey (new)

Tracey I cant seem to add books to the list but could I suggest A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich.


message 3: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I went ahead and did disqualify a couple of works of fiction. But really, I don't think the "epic story" label should eliminate a work from consideration. You could start with Herodotus and Thucydides whose work is undeniably epic, but also epochal, in that we would have no history without them. Serious history has scholarly obligations, but it has artistic ones as well. If the matter isn't interesting, then ultimately no one is going to care about the footnotes or the argument.


message 4: by John (new)

John Everett Water for Elephants is most emphatically not a work of history.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed for being fiction:

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant

I am of two minds about The Devils of Loudun, so I left it.


message 6: by Antoine (new)

Antoine The Devils of Loudun is really not a novel, despite Huxley's reputation as a novelist. It is as "literary" as Barbara Tuchman. If you are thinking of the dreadful Ken Russell film based on the book, all I can say is, please don't.


message 7: by Theodore (new)

Theodore Adding "Benedict Arnold's Navy" by James Nelson.

Had it not been for Horatio Gates, who stole Arnold's genius at Saratoga and threw him to the wolves causing Arnold to "turn coat", Benedict Arnold could quite possibly been a greater American Hero than George Washington.

This book is of Benedict Arnolds building of a small fleet in the harbor of Skenesborough (modern day Whitehall, NY) to sail north and interdict the British fleet arriving via the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Richelieu river.

The ensuing "Battle of Valcour Island" is considered to be the very first naval engagement by the American Navy.


message 8: by Bill (new)

Bill Whitaker All of the Edward Rutherfurd books on the list (Sarum, London, Russka, New York) are novels. If you include them, you have to open the field to Michener.


message 9: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I was only able to find Russka. I have deleted it. Cheers.


message 10: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Apr 17, 2011 12:46PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I found the others, on page 3. I'll delete them.

ETA: Also removed "The Great Indian Novel." Because it, too, is a novel.


message 11: by Alin (new)

Alin Too much american history.You're not the world y'know ?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You could, of course, add works about non-American history to the list.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed: The Killer Angels - a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.


message 14: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Nov 02, 2011 10:34AM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed for being novels:

Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian
Chesapeake, by James A. Michener

Removed for being poetry:

The Ballad of the White Horse, by G.K. Chesterton


message 15: by Kate (new)

Kate Sherrod Where is the Venerable Bede?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You could add him. It's easy to add books to lists; at the top of the page, at the tab next to "all votes."


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads David & Russ - any clue as to what book "Unknown Book 9379560" is at No. 147 on this list? You were the ones who voted for it.


message 18: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis The list is a little ethnocentric. Just a thought...if you know of a good book that is also the history of women, or Native Americans, or any other underrepresented group, you may want to add it. I added a few, but it could still use some rounding out.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads D. wrote: "The Guns of August is a great, great book...but it is HISTORICAL FICTION. It is strong, well-researched historical fiction, but it is fiction This list is supposed to be strictly nonfiction."

It is most certainly not historical fiction. What is your evidence that it is?

It won the Pulitzer for "general nonfiction."


message 20: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Oct 02, 2012 09:49PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed, for being novels:

Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield
The Pale Criminal, by Philip Carr
Queen Margot, by Alexandre Dumas
A Philosophical Investigation, by Philip Kerr


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Oh, it's a great book. It really does "read like a novel."


message 22: by Steven (new)

Steven Royal Durant


message 23: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Revisited Feb 10 and asked the system to find duplicates, because I spotted one (Sherman's memoirs). The system found and removed 5 duplicates.

I sympathize with the person who pointed out there is too much American history here. I went back and found some good books I had read (primarily Russian Revolution and Cuba) and added those; I can't reasonably add anything I haven't read, but have added some "want to reads" from the wider world.


message 24: by John (new)

John Well said


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads And this is one of the times when I wish I had more than 100 votes!


message 27: by Ahmed (new)

Ahmed I admire your fantastic library of golden books. Thank you.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I only had a hundred books I could add!


message 29: by Ron (new)

Ron Johnson Wow, so many great sounding books that I've missed. Might have to read John Adams now, since it's at the top of the list. How about a history book that was just "fun" to read? Like "One of a Kind" about Stu Ungar, or "Vegas and the Mob," about, well, Las Vegas? Or are those too low-brow to admit at guilty pleasures?


message 30: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Ron wrote: "Wow, so many great sounding books that I've missed. Might have to read John Adams now, since it's at the top of the list. How about a history book that was just "fun" to read? Like "One of a Kind" ..."
Not familiar with these, but in order to qualify as history books, they must refer to a period at least 50 years before the publication date...at least I think so. Susanna CBG would know for sure.

I'm having a terrible time whittling my choices down to 100!


message 31: by Socraticgadfly (new)

Socraticgadfly I wish I could pull books OFF this list. How about anything by Joseph Ellis is on this list is beyond me.


message 32: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Socraticgadfly wrote: "I wish I could pull books OFF this list. How about anything by Joseph Ellis is on this list is beyond me."

Exactly how I feel when I see Gone With the Wind as "best" historical fiction, when it is myth, and not even benign myth. But on the other hand, the First Amendment right to say what books we like is even more critical.


message 33: by Sonny (new)

Sonny You don't give any reason for writing that Joseph Ellis shouldn't be on the list. At least one historian places him among the five best historywriters today (http://practicallyhistorical.net/2011...)


message 34: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis 1 duplicate found and removed.


message 35: by David (new)

David A New Age Now Begins: A People's History of the American Revolution, Vol 1\
This 8 volume set written as a popular history is essential to understand the continuity of the development of the United States. This history is readable, does not focus on politics, politicians or generals and warfare. Rather all the above are included as they apply to the social fabric, and cultural development that caused America to become what it has. Here you will understand why normal people did what they did and the events that impacted peoples lives for good or evil. This set can be collected for about $8 or less per volume in used book stores. If you have any interest in history find any volume in a library and read a chapter.


message 36: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Cameron wrote: "Siddhartha, being a novel, should be removed."
Open ended listopia such as this one rely largely upon volunteer librarians, such as myself. If a title is misplaced on this list and you want to see it removed, please indicate on what page of the list you found it. This is a very long list, and I can't see scrolling through 18+ pages searching for 1 book, but I will zap it if I know where it is. Thanks.


message 37: by Jonas (new)

Jonas Gehrlein page 2 Neil Shubin Your Inner Fish is not a history book. The only way that it is historical is if broad-stroke paleontology can be classified as historical


message 38: by Irina (new)

Irina Zjuzina Whats wrong with novels? My interest in history started from The Other Boleyn Girl that is pretty much fiction. I wanted to know how the real story went, and the rest is "history". Recently I went to Amsterdam. As usual, before I have read few books about history of Netherlands. Some were unnecessary long and boring. In between I read The Coffee Trader, a novel, intertaining and very close to reality.
So, whatever gets you going. Besides, the author disclaims in the book what is fiction and whats not.


message 39: by Donna (last edited Jul 18, 2016 11:15PM) (new)

Donna Davis Irina wrote: "Whats wrong with novels? My interest in history started from The Other Boleyn Girl that is pretty much fiction. I wanted to know how the real story went, and the rest is "history". Recently I went ..."

Nothing is wrong with novels, but a fictional story set during an historic period is classified as historical fiction. There are a number of listopias for that genre. There are also some mixed listopias that include both history and historical fiction; the first that comes to mind is the American Civil War listopia, where both genres are welcome.

The listmaker determines the parameters, and by definition a history book is nonfiction. The subscript below the title specifies no historical fiction, so it's as clear as a bell.

If you dislike the listmaker's parameters, you are also free to start a new list, but it's best to check and make sure (using the search bar for listopias) that the list you want to vote on doesn't already exist.


message 40: by Donna (last edited Jul 18, 2016 11:13PM) (new)

Donna Davis Jonas wrote: "page 2 Neil Shubin Your Inner Fish is not a history book. The only way that it is historical is if broad-stroke paleontology can be classified as historical"

History is defined as beginning when there is written language, so no, it's not historical.

Removed for genre reasons from page 3:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

The system found and removed 14 duplicates.


message 41: by Irina (new)

Irina Zjuzina Dear Donna, goodreads is not University History department recommended reading, it's for people who like reading. How about Herodotus Histories? It is a history book, however I quote from experts "is bedevilled with the questions that still haunt it today concerning the relationship between truth and storytelling, SUBJECTIVE witnessing and objective record."


message 42: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Irina wrote: "Dear Donna, goodreads is not University History department recommended reading, it's for people who like reading. How about Herodotus Histories? It is a history book, however I quote from experts "..."
Thanks for the education, yo. If you want the parameters of the list changed, talk to Goodreads employees. I'm a volunteer, and I'm done with this thread.


message 43: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Jul 20, 2016 12:14PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Same here - GR librarians are not GR staff; we are all volunteers.

You want to change the parameters of this list, I suggest you either argue with its creator, or contact GR staff and make a persuasive argument.

Otherwise your choices are to follow the parameters of this list, or to start another one. There are a ton of lists here on Listopia, and more every day.


message 44: by Donna (last edited Jul 20, 2016 01:33PM) (new)

Donna Davis Removed for genre reasons:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

and from page 8:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

And from page 4, the death of Bin Laden being too recent to qualify as history:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 45: by Mark (new)

Mark Was surprised this wasn't on the list: Jerusalem The Biography - by Simon Sebag Montefiore - a spectacular read, and listen.


message 46: by Donna (new)

Donna Davis Mark wrote: "Was surprised this wasn't on the list: Jerusalem The Biography - by Simon Sebag Montefiore - a spectacular read, and listen."
Did you add it to the list? If not, you can do that using the tabs at the top of the list.


message 47: by Sally (new)

Sally Historical fiction

Winds of War, Herman Wouk, page 4
War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk, page 7


message 48: by Donna (last edited Nov 25, 2017 03:25PM) (new)

Donna Davis Sally wrote: "Historical fiction

Winds of War, Herman Wouk, page 4
War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk, page 7"


Removed as fiction:

Winds of War, #374:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

War and Remembrance, #651:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...

Removed as out of genre, When Breath Becomes Air, which is a groundbreaking memoir but not history. History is defined as factual and having taken place at least 50 years prior to the time in which it is written. From page 4:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 49: by Sally (new)

Sally Duplicates removed.


message 50: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Removed #1960 Follow the River---fiction


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