Best World History Textbooks


A group of people posing for a photo

From the Civil War, to World Wars, to the Cold War and the Vietnam War. From Genghis Khan to Ulysses Grant. Spies, murderers, and politicians. Religion and science. Our world history is vast, and these 30 books are only the tip of the iceberg. This list of the best history books includes bestsellers, Pulizter Prize winners and editor’s picks from distinguished historians and biographers. Which history books did we miss? Tell us in the comments below.

Grant – by Ron Chernow

A wooden statue in front of a building

Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow returns with a sweeping and dramatic portrait of one of our most compelling generals and presidents, Ulysses S. Grant. With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind Grant’s disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic…and yet the greatest hero.”

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies – by Jared Diamond

An old stone building

Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion – as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war – and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – by Jack Weatherford

In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege.

Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 – by Anna Reid

On September 8, 1941, eleven weeks after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, his brutal surprise attack on the Soviet Union, Leningrad was surrounded. The siege was not lifted for two and a half years, by which time some three quarters of a million Leningraders had died of starvation. Leningrad is a gripping, authoritative narrative history of this dramatic moment in the twentieth century, interwoven with indelible personal accounts of daily siege life drawn from diarists on both sides.

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam – by Fredrik Logevall

An epic story of wasted opportunities and deadly miscalculations, Embers of War delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another. A gripping, heralded work that illuminates the hidden history of the French and American experiences in Vietnam.

Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age – by Modris Eksteins

Rites of Spring probes the origins, impact, and aftermath of WWI, from the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 to the death of Hitler in 1945. Recognizing that The Great War was the psychological turning point for modernism as a whole, Eksteins examines the lives of ordinary people, works of modern literature, and pivotal historical events to redefine the way we look at our past and toward our future.

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