Recommended Reading: History: US

Welcome to my recommended reading list. On this page you will find my suggestions in the History – U.S. category. You may select from other categories on the menu below.

History—US History—World Public Policy Education General

RECOMMENDED READING

Amos, Gary. Defending the Declaration: How the Bible and Christianity Influenced the Writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Groundbreaking study of the history of the phrases used in the Declaration of Independence, showing their Biblical roots. 

Baker, Peter. The Breach.
A former Washington Post reporter’s detailed account of both sides of the Clinton impeachment experience. This book offers the fullest story of the entire episode. The author does a fine job of being fair to everyone involved. This does not mean he lets the president off the hook—he cannot because he follows the facts of the case carefully.

Barletta, John R. Riding with Reagan: From the White House to the Ranch.
The author served as a Secret Service agent for the Reagans. This account focuses on the personal relationship he developed with them, particularly while accompanying the president on the riding trails at his California ranch.

Barton, David. The Myth of Separation.
A wealth of research in the original sources. Definitive in disproving the notion that religious faith played no part in public affairs in early America.

Billingsley, Lloyd. Hollywood Party.
A fascinating, albeit disturbing, account of the influence of communism in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s. Should be read as a complement to Whittaker Chambers.

Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.
A fascinating account of the small wars in which the US has been engaged throughout its history. The strengths of the book are: first, the detailed accounts themselves, offering more information on these subjects than is normally found; and second, the author’s analysis of the lessons we can learn by studying these small wars—lessons that can be applied to our current war on terror.

Boritt, Gabor. Lincoln’s Generals.
Essays by contemporary historians, each focusing on one particular general and his strengths and weaknesses. Generals covered are McClellan, Hooker, Meade, Sherman, and Grant. Good insight provided into each general. Perfect for the reader who wants an overview.

Borneman, Walter. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America.
Borneman’s work is a nice mix of a sweeping historical overview and essential detail of particular events. I learned more about this war and the time period in which it occurred than I expected. It is eminently readable and scholarly at the same time.

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention.
Solid historical study of the events surrounding the Convention and the debates within. Although not specifically Christian in approach, it supports the traditional view of the Constitution.

Brands, H. W. TR: The Last Romantic.
This is probably the best one-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt on the market. Brands writes in an engaging style, while simultaneously providing a balanced perspective on one of America’s most energetic presidents.

Bremer, Francis. John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father.
The first major biography of Winthrop in decades is a sympathetic portrait of a man who did his best to serve God as governor of the new Massachusetts Bay colony. Bremer spends half the book on Winthrop’s life in England before coming to America, thus providing a solid foundation for his interpretation of Winthrop’s actions in the New World.

Brinkley, Douglas. The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the US Army Ranger Battalion.
Brinkley not only provides an excellent history of the Ranger Battalion itself, and the feat it performed on D-Day, but also offers an in-depth analysis of how Reagan used the occasion to deliver two of the most inspiring speeches of his presidency. This volume clearly shows the convictions that led the Rangers to scale the cliffs and the heartfelt appreciation of the Great Communicator in celebrating their heroism.

Burstein, Andrew. America’s Jubilee: How in 1826 a Generation Remembered Fifty Years of Independence.
A valuable book for its personal portraits of individuals living in 1826 and for the image Americans had of themselves at that time. While there may be some cynicism in its interpretation, it is a worthwhile read. My personal critique is that he should have included at least one solid evangelical Christian in his portraits, but what he does offer is interesting and thought-provoking.

Chambers, Whittaker. Witness.
I consider Witness to be one of my all-time favorites. It is an intensely personal autobiography of a man who, out of an unstable family background, decided to devote himself to the Communist cause. Chambers worked in the underground Communist movement in the U.S. during the 1930s, broke from Communism in the late 1930s, and then told his story to the Congress and the American public in 1948. His revelations about the underground led to the famous Alger Hiss trial. Instrumental to Chambers’s rejection of Communism was a newfound faith in Christianity. A must read for anyone!!

Detzer, David. Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War.
Superb detail of all the people and events leading to the outbreak of the Civil War. Detzer allows the reader to get to know more intimately the individuals involved—in the fort, in the city of Charleston, and in Washington, DC.

D’Souza, Dinesh. Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader.
D’Souza delights in revealing how Reagan continually baffled the intellectual elites who considered him a lightweight. While not ignoring Reagan’s weaknesses, the author clearly shows how his research into Reagan’s life, beliefs, and goals significantly altered his appraisal of Reagan’s presidency.

Ehrman, John. The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan.
The author analyzes the 1980s as a time of transition—from liberalism to conservatism—and as a time of broad economic and social change. While concentrating on those changes, he show how liberalism’s assumptions continued to play a large role in American life. This is a well-balanced, thoughtful analysis, although I would give Reagan more credit as the dominating personality of the decade.

Evans, Thomas. The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism.
Reagan’s years working as a spokesman for General Electric were very significant in his own personal understanding of the value of the free market and the dangers of government regulation. The author examines the leadership at General Electric and the debt Reagan owed to them as he developed a greater appreciation of individual liberty and disdain for government control.

Federer, William J. America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations.
Exactly what it says—an encyclopedia of quotations. A ready reference for statements made by American political figures regarding the importance of religious faith.

Fleming, Thomas. Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America.
All the details you could possibly want about the events that led to the fateful 1804 duel that took Hamilton’s life. The author does not simply cover external events, however; he also analyzes the characters of his subjects.

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America.
Honest historical revisionism at its best as the author debunks the debunkers, showing how the stereotype of the ruthless businessman cannot be applied to some of the key figures in American business history. Excellent for revealing the difference between a market entrepreneur and a political entrepreneur.

Foster, Frank Hugh. A Genetic History of the New England Theology.
A painstakingly researched account of the development of free will theology within the American churches. Not easy reading, but a treasure for those who have a heart to learn.

Hagedorn, Ann. Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad.
The story of the town or Ripley, Ohio, and the leaders of the underground railroad who lived in and near the town. The book focuses primarily on John Rankin, a Presbyterian minister, and his allies as they sought to aid fugitive slaves. It reads like a novel; by the time you finish the book, you feel as though you know the people who were involved, and can better understand the tenor of the times.

Hall, Verna M., ed. The Christian History of the American Revolution: Consider and Ponder.
Collection of original sources for the American War for Continued Self-government [my title for the American Revolution].

Hall, Verna M., ed. The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government.
Another collection of original sources for America’s Christian history. Foundational book for the Principle Approach.

Hall, Verna M., ed. The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government with Union.
This was Ms. Hall’s first book, again incorporating many early writings as background for understanding America’s Christian history.

Holzer, Harold. Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861.
What did Lincoln go through, what did he have to deal with, as he awaited his succession to the presidency? From November 1860 until his inauguration in March 1861, he was virtually powerless to make policy or to stop the secession of Southern states. Holzer’s book takes you into Lincoln’s mind and details his activities during this crucial period in American history. What’s more, the writing makes you feel as if you are reading a novel. Even though I knew the outcome, I found myself eager to know what was going to happen next.

Hutson, James H. Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.
The author is the chief of the manuscripts division at the Library of Congress. He has compiled a superb synopsis of the influence of Christianity on the founding of America. This book is for those who may not listen to evangelical authors who make the same points. It’s also for evangelicals who want the best documentation available for the Founding’s religious basis.

Hyneman, Charles S., and Donald S. Lutz. American Political Writing during the Founding Era, 1760-1805. 2 vols.
Original writings from the great political debate that occurred in America throughout the founding era. Excellent resource.

Jeffers, H. Paul. An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland.
Cleveland, usually overlooked in the list of good presidents, gets his due in this volume. The author focuses on the integrity of the man and his constant aim to live by his principles. I consider Cleveland, along with Coolidge, to be one of the most faithful presidents in his understanding of the original intent of the Constitution and the limitations of the federal government.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People.
As usual, Johnson writes with clarity, humor, and insight. I consider this to be the best overview of American history on the market today, not only because of the author’s writing ability, but also because he approaches his subject from the perspective of traditional conservatism and respect for the Christian faith. It’s also interesting to read a British historian who agrees that America was justified in its resistance to the British government at the Founding..

Kengor, Paul. God and Ronald Reagan.
The author makes a strong case for the bedrock Christian faith of Ronald Reagan, starting from his childhood all the way through his presidency. Some questions I had concerning Reagan’s beliefs were answered through this book.

Kengor, Paul. The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism.
Kengor performs a valuable service in this book as he details the efforts of the Reagan administration to set policies that were aimed at undermining the Soviet Union’s economy. If you want one book that explains the strategy for ending the Cold War, this is that book.

Ketchum, Richard M. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign that Won the Revolution.
A stark description of the bad state of affairs for the Continental Army just prior to Yorktown and the improbable victory that signaled an end to the long war. The author is an excellent storyteller, yet provides rich analysis of the era as well.

Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion.
Larson’s goal is to present both sides fairly (which he does) and to debunk the myths that have arisen in the decades after the Scopes Trial (which he also accomplishes skillfully). While it seems that he personally takes the evolutionist position, he undercuts effectively the gross misrepresentations that have become standard fare in analyzing the trial. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.

McCullough, David. John Adams.
Why did this book rise to the top of the bestseller list? First, because it is superbly written; second, because it is a sympathetic and incisive portrait of one of America’s most misunderstood presidents. McCullough makes John Adams come alive and reveals how much this nation really owes to this Founder. It also, incidentally, shows how shabby Jefferson’s character was in comparison to Adams’s.

McCullough, David. 1776.
McCullough continues to be one of America’s most readable historians with his latest offering. For many readers, his description of a dispirited, nearly defeated Continental Army, and the mistakes made by Washington at that time, may be a surprise. The cause of American independence seemed doomed almost as soon as it began. McCullough takes the reader through all the dark days of that year, yet shows that Washington’s indomitable spirit carried the army through those days. One of the key points the author makes is that the American public lost confidence in the cause and its leaders as well. It was not a unified nation that faced the British Empire, yet it prevailed nevertheless, primarily because of the character of its commander in chief.

McDonald, Forrest. A Constitutional History of the United States.
A basic conservative perspective on how the Constitution has fared throughout America’s 200+ years. Lots of good commentary on Supreme Court decisions.

Miller, William Lee. Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress.
Details the attempts by former president Adams to overthrow the “gag rule” put into effect by Southern legislators who refused even to allow petitions for the abolition of slavery to be mentioned in Congress. Draws extensively from the journals of the House of Representatives and the personal diary of John Quincy Adams. It shows, quite effectively, Adams’s devotion to the principle of free political speech.

Miller, William Lee. Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography.
If you want as thorough an understanding as possible of Lincoln’s thinking on morality, this is the book. Although it does not go into the years of his presidency, and thus does not deal specifically with the matter of his deepening religious faith during that time, it is invaluable as a primer on the development of his ethics prior to his presidency. Miller particularly highlights Lincoln’s views on slavery and the controversy over some of his statements in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

Muller, Charles G. The Darkest Day: The Washington-Baltimore Campaign during the War of 1812.
Muller portrays the low point of the war—the burning of Washington, DC—followed by the American stand at Ft. McHenry, where Francis Scott Key, inspired by that stand, wrote the Star-Spangled Banner. If you want a detailed account of both incidents, this is the book you want to read.

Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945.
The only book of its kind. A complete history of the rise of modern conservatism. All the big names are included. Written by a conservative, so no need to rewrite as you read.

Noonan, Peggy. When Character Was King.
Everyone should read a Noonan book simply for the pure joy of experiencing her prose, but she is particularly delightful when her subject is as worthy of her prose as Ronald Reagan. While this is primarily a biography of Reagan, its emphasis is on his character, which she admires and highlights. Another bestseller—and for good reason.

Olasky, Marvin. Fighting for Liberty and Virtue: Political and Cultural Wars in Eighteenth-Century America.
Olasky marshals evidence to show that the Founding generation was not devoted to liberty only, but also to the furtherance of virtue, and that the American Revolution was fought for both reasons.

Olasky, Marvin. The American Leadership Tradition.
An examination of the moral underpinnings (or lack thereof) of a number of American presidents, although Olasky also includes chapters on John D. Rockefeller and Booker T. Washington. This book is significant in that it raises the issue of moral character in our leaders.

Olasky, Marvin. The Press and Abortion, 1838-1988.
Olasky, shows how American newspapers fought against abortion in the nineteenth century, only to turn into abortion advocates in the twentieth.

Olasky, Marvin. Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media.
A history of the decline of American journalism as it turned away from Biblical truth-telling.

Palin, Sarah. Going Rogue: An American Life.
This book was better than I expected. I’ve never accepted the mainstream media’s portrayal of Palin as some kind of frontier hick with only half a brain. This autobiography brings to life her background, her role in Alaskan politics, and what she endured as McCain’s vice-presidential candidate. While she doesn’t pull any punches about her feelings over the maltreatment she received from the media, her faith shines through. There is an inherent optimism in Palin that mirrors Reagan in the 1980s.

Palmer, Dave. George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots.
A fascinating dual-biographical approach of the one man most responsible for victory in the American Revolution and the one man nearly responsible for destroying the revolution. Many people may not know how much of a hero Arnold was to the American side prior to his betrayal. By the end of the book, you feel as if you know both men well, and you appreciate Washington far more.

Perry, Richard L., ed. Sources of Our Liberties: Documentary Origins of Individual Liberties in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
This book contains almost all the significant early documents leading to the writing of the Constitution. You will find Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, MA Body of Liberties, just to name a few. Excellent introductions to each document, detailing the historical context.

Persico, Joseph. Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and WWII Espionage.
Persico explains just how deeply FDR was involved with espionage, even to the point of having his own intelligence personnel operating outside the bounds of the official organizations. In one sense, the author reveals the amateurish nature of much of the intelligence operations at that time, but also how the nation grew to understand the significance of having such intelligence.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.
Philbrick’s history of the Plymouth Colony is an award-winning effort. It tells the tale well, and gives the Pilgrims their due. At times, it seems to give too much benefit of the doubt to the Indians over the Pilgrims, but Philbrick’s thesis is that the second generation of Pilgrims did not follow in the footsteps of their fathers in dealing fairly with the natives. He is basically accurate in that thesis, but, as already noted, he may be giving more credence to political correctness than he should. Overall, though, it is a valuable read.

Price, David. Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation.
The best account I have read to date of the details of the Jamestown settlement. As another historian has noted, “Price has digested the most recent scholarship on early Virginia, then filtered it through his instincts as a storyteller to create the most historically correct and stylistically elegant rendering of John Smith and Pocahontas that I have ever read.” I agree.

Radosh, Ronald, and Allis Radosh. Red Star over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left.
The focus of this book is the rise of communism in the movie industry, the influence communists wielded (particularly during WWII), and the exposure of key individuals once America understood that a threat actually did exist. Unlike most histories on this subject, the authors do not view the Hollywood communists as martyrs for a noble cause.

Reagan, Ronald. An American Life.
Reagan’s autobiography, authored after he left the presidency. Reading it offers the most personal account of the man available. It covers not only his policies as president, but his outlook on life from his early years, as well as the changes that took place in his political philosophy. Reagan was not simply a great communicator in speeches; he communicates clearly in this volume also.

Reeves, Thomas C. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy.
A truly revealing analysis of Kennedy’s character with all the sins included. This is not a petulance-piece written by someone who hates Kennedy. The author used to admire Kennedy, but had to come to grips with the character of the man.

Robinson, Peter. How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.
Robinson, a Reagan speechwriter, explains how working for such a principled man inspired changes in his own life. Robinson’s speechwriting skills are showcased in this book, which offers an inside view of working in the Reagan administration. I must acknowledge that reading it proved inspirational for me as well.

Sandoz, Ellis, ed. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805.
More original sources, this time focusing on the sermons preached during this era. Strong evidence for the political involvement of the churches during the founding.

Schecter, Jerrold and Leona. Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History.
The release of many formerly classified documents reveals just how much influence the USSR exerted on US domestic and foreign policy prior to and throughout the Cold War. This book provides, in sometimes excruciating detail (one can get lost in the myriad of names), just how deeply American policy was affected by Soviet intelligence operations. A must-read for anyone who wants the overview of the entire Cold War.

Schippers, David. Sellout.
Chief investigator for the House Managers in the impeachment of President Clinton, Schippers provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the attempt to remove the president from office.

Schweizer, Peter. Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism.
The author, a fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, depicts Reagan as the foremost force in bringing the USSR to its knees. Starting from his Hollywood days as President of the Screen Actors Guild through his presidential initiatives for undermining Soviet influence, Schweizer offers a compelling case for Reagan’s dominant role. Some believe the author has given Reagan too much credit for overturning communism. Read this book and come to your own conclusions. A film available on DVD, In the Face of Evil, has been produced that is based on this book. It is also worth purchasing.

Shirley, Craig. Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign that Started It All.
This book fills an important gap in Reagan historiography—his 1976 campaign for the Republican nomination, which he lost to Gerald Ford. All the details of that campaign are here, and as such, this is a valuable book for those who want to know more about Reagan’s rise to party leadership. I was disappointed, however, with the many typographical errors. There is also some disjointedness in the organization within the chapters. At times, I wondered why certain paragraphs were included because they seemed out of place. Overall, though, if you can look past those problems, it is a worthwhile read.

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.
The theme of this book is that the New Deal did not accomplish what its defenders claim it did–it most assuredly did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. The old liberal mantra is that FDR ended the Depression through his policies, but Shlaes says the weight of the evidence is against that liberal interpretation. Shlaes manages to cover a lot of depressing economics in an interesting way by focusing on people. She carries forward the stories of a number of individuals–both those who worked for the New Deal and those who suffered from it–so that you don’t feel as if you are bogged down in an economic treatise. In effect, she personalizes what some authors have turned into an impersonal event. She tells a good story, and that’s what history should be.

Sobel, Robert. Coolidge: An American Enigma.
His critics called him Silent Cal and claimed that he never did anything while president. This book corrects that interpretation, showing that Coolidge did speak, often eloquently, and that his greatest concern was constitutionalism. It’s nice to find a book that treats Coolidge with the respect he deserves.

Tannenhaus, Sam. Whittaker Chambers: A Biography
The biography that needed to be written sooner, illuminating the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers. The author, who does not consider himself a “movement conservative,” nevertheless paints a vivid and sympathetic portrait of the ex-communist-turned-Christian-witness. This serves as a perfect companion to Chambers’s autobiographical work, Witness.

Thomas, Clarence. My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir.
Thomas reveals his mind and soul in this autobiography. Particularly valuable is his description of how his thinking changed over time—his rejection of the anger of his youth and his return to the faith of his grandfather. Thomas is the first black conservative Supreme Court justice, and his story is a fascinating first-person commentary on what he has experienced, including the controversial confirmation hearings.

Weinstein, Allen. Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case.
The definitive work on the guilt of Alger Hiss. Particularly effective since the author began his research in the hope of exonerating Hiss. His accomplishment instead? Confirmation that Chambers told the truth.

Weintraub, Stanley. General Washington’s Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783.
A day-by-day account of Washington’s journey home at the conclusion of the American War for Independence. It shows how significant a figure Washington was for the new nation, and provides a more personal look at the man often considered the Father of His Country.

Weisberger, Bernard. America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800.
The 1790s was a critical decade in American history, as the nation struggled to claim its identity. Weisberger gives a clear view of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr, and others during these crucial years, and how America emerged from the political tumults of the era.

West, Thomas. Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America
West tackles some of the most troubling and explosive questions concerning the beliefs and practices of the Founding Fathers, showing, in the process, that they were not racist, sexist, or elitist in their policies. He challenges the politically correct version of the founding presented in much of academia today and offers valuable insights into the minds of the Founders.

White, G. Edward. Alger Hiss’s Looking-Glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy.
This should be the final word on whether Alger Hiss really was a Soviet spy. The author marshals all the documentation supporting that premise. He performs a good service in doing so, yet even more significant is his theorizing on why Hiss would maintain his innocence for nearly fifty years, knowing full well that he was guilty. Why would he continue to recruit others to help promote that fiction? For those of us who remain fascinated by the entire Chambers-Hiss case, this book is must-reading.

White, Ronald. Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural.
A close inspection of the preparation, delivery, and influences on Lincoln’s second inaugural address. This truly is a thoughtful analysis of Lincoln’s thinking as he deliberated on the wording. It explores his religious beliefs as well as his rhetorical genius.

Winik, Jay. April 1865: The Month that Saved America.
Fascinating detail on the final weeks of the Civil War, along with sufficient background that sheds light on the developments in those last weeks. Winik writes with the heart of a novelist, yet his work is thoroughly researched and dependable.

Woodworth, Steven E. While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers.

Woodworth examines the extent of Christian belief and the practice of that belief in the armies of both North and South. While the examples can become a blur after a while, simply because of repetition of similar episodes, he quite convincingly demonstrates that both sides believed God was for their cause. This demonstration is both inspiring and discouraging simultaneously. One rejoices in the depth and breadth of the faith while at the same time being saddened by the division between those who should have been brothers.