History Re-Examined: Best History Books You Should Have Read in History Class

Revolutionary War, Napoleon Empire, World Wars I and II—so you’ve got all the history class basics down. But what about the people who fall between the textbook pages? The stories hidden, forgotten, and skewed?

From ancient civilizations to marginalized communities, there are whole chapters missing from the pages of history—until now. Read between the lines with Liteari’s best nonfiction books for both the history novice and buff. 

Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood—Helen McCarthy

Image Source: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/double-lives-9781408870761/

We’ve all heard the term “working mothers”—but where did it even begin? Why are there no “working fathers?” And are working mothers a sign of equality or modern victims of sexism?

Helen McCarthy debates all of these questions and more in Double Lives, a tell-all history of Britain’s employed moms. From the Victorian era to present day, she explores the incredible strides made by women workers—and how far they still have yet to come.

Why you’ll love Double Lives:

  • Intelligent blend of British cultural and economic history
  • Comprehensive research on women’s roles across industries
  • Debate on the “have-it-all” mothering mentality
  • McCarthy’s approachable, unfussy writing style

The Wayfinders—Wade David 

Image Source: https://houseofanansi.com/products/the-wayfinders

History isn’t stuck in the past—it surrounds and infuses our present day. As a National Geographic Explorer of indigenous societies, Wade Davis uncovers that historical influence in The Wayfinder. Throughout this Richard Branson Luminary pick, witness history’s role in shaping the world’s most secretive civilizations, from Polynesian islanders to Bornean nomads. 

Why you’ll love The Wayfinders:

  • Exclusive field research on indigeneous cultures
  • Davis’s anthropological lens on history 
  • Support for marginalized cultures ostracized by modern society

African Europeans: An Untold History—Olivette Otele

Image Source: https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/african-europeans/

Despite the pictures in your third-grade history textbook, Europe was not an all-white society. 

In fact, as Olivette Otele’s research shows, Africans have occupied (and even ruled) European lands since the third century—and they never truly left. Discover the hidden lore of African Europeans through this fascinating, layered work.

Why you’ll love African Europeans:

  • Dismantling of racist historical narratives
  • Unshared stories of Afro-European influence
  • Comprehensive research spanning 200’s to 1800’s A.D.

The Three-Cornered War—Megan Kate Nelson

Image Source: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Three-Cornered-War/Megan-Kate-Nelson/9781501152559

North vs. South—at least, that’s how we studied the Civil War in history class. But for most, the lesson stopped east of the Mississippi River. What about America’s Wild West?

Ride the literary railroad alongside Texan politicians, Navajo tribesmen, and frontier pioneers in The Three-Cornered War. Megan Kate Nelson illuminates an oft-forgotten region during this historic war, proving that the most covert figures usually had the biggest strings to pull.

Why you’ll love The Three-Cornered War:

  • Gripping, tumultuous world of the Wild West
  • Multicultural American frontier history
  • Character-based approach to storytelling

Blakc Wave—Kim Ghattas

Image Source: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250131218

Shadowy, complex, volatile—if these words describe your favorite stories, then Black Wave is the history book for you. Spanning 1979 to 2020, Kim Ghattas assembles a rich tapestry of geopolitical, cultural, and religious conflict across the Middle East. The result is evocative and humanizing, divulging exactly how and why each country transformed over the last decades.

Why you’ll love Black Wave:

  • Ghattas’s knack for poetic, vivid language
  • Simplification of a complicated regional history
  • Individual citizen testimonies across the Middle East diaspora

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans—David Abulafia

Image Source: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/182/182654/the-boundless-sea/9780241956274.html

From the Vikings to the Dutch, those who ruled the waves had their thumb on history. David Abulafia delivers this aquarian lore in thrilling tones, sailing through centuries of pirates, royals, and traders. Catch the wave and surf through The Boundless Sea for a taste of ocean history.  

Why you’ll love The Boundless Sea:

  • Pairs big-wave historical concepts with little-wave personal stories
  • Abulafia’s transfixing storytelling abilities
  • A sweeping overview of world history and trade

Fears of a Setting Sun—Dennis C. Rasmussen

Image Source: https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691210230/fears-of-a-setting-sun

In America, no document holds as much reverence as the Constitution. So it’s surprising that the Constitution’s writers actually regretted some of its content—in fact, a lot of its content.

Fears of a Setting Sun explores the contentious history between The Founding Fathers and their governmental creation. From Washington to Hamilton, Rasmussen reveals the doubts and bemoans that plagued our greatest historical figures—and why their pessimism became the wrong view.

Why you’ll love Fears of a Setting Sun:

  • Nuanced lens on the Constitution
  • Humanizing portrayals of America’s founders
  • Intimate and personal writings from political figures


For the average kid, history class fell short of teaching the full story—it turns out, the past can’t exist unless we acknowledge it. Luckily, these spectacular nonfiction works shed light on our history’s shunted and ignored stories. Pick up a copy, and let your inner student shine.

Seeking more good books to read? Our Luminary books feature the celebrity picks from Stephen Curry and Malala Yousfasa’s bookshelf. Join our community to read, discuss, and rejoice in the best books of 2021!

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