11 Riveting Next Reads for Your History Book Club

By Brandon Miller
A collection of book covers on an orange background, each showcasing stories of historical significance and struggles for freedom, with titles that hint at tales of determination, heroism, and the quest for justice.

Delve into the past with these eye-opening reads that are sure to spark discussion.

Need a captivating new nonfiction narrative for your history book club? The following history books span the centuries, presenting fascinating true-life accounts from WWII-era survival sagas and rousing portraits of unsung American heroes to world-changing episodes from our distant past. They’re certain to inspire plenty of discussion among your history book club crew about the momentous events of yesteryear and what we can learn from them today.

An artistic book cover titled "flee north" featuring bold typography over a suggestive, smoke-like illustration, with a subtitle reading "a forgotten hero and the fight for freedom in slavery's borderland" by scott shane.

Flee North: A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery’s Borderland

By Scott Shane

In Flee North, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist Scott Shane shines a spotlight on the life of Thomas Smallwood, a freedman and key figure in the American abolitionist movement who led hundreds of men, women, and children out of slavery and gave us the phrase “underground railroad.” Smallwood, who worked with fellow activist Charles Torrey, was at the forefront of the fight against slavery in 19th-century America; he risked his life to emancipate others and published satirical newspaper articles that championed his victories while mocking enslavers and the police officers who worked for them. Nevertheless, his name rarely appears in history books — in fact, Shane’s work is the first to tell Smallwood’s story in full. Moving at a spellbinding pace, Flee North is replete with complicated heroes and real-life villains as it re-creates Smallwood’s daring campaigns, all while tracing a clear line from the ignominies of the past to the racial and social inequities of the present. It’s certain to be a hit with your history book club crew.

You Have To Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin To Live cover with NYT seal

You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live: Ten Weeks in Birmingham That Changed America

By Paul Kix

Here’s a striking narrative about American history that every book club will enjoy. In You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live, journalist Paul Kix delves into Project C, the 10-week campaign in 1963 to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, that turned the tide of the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kix takes us behind the scenes of this watershed moment, capturing each dramatic twist and turn in the campaign and offering a glimpse inside the minds of the four Civil Rights icons who led the fight for justice: James Bevel, Wyatt Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Written with power and grace, You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live delivers a “gripping, novelistic account… Readers will be riveted from the first page to the last” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Book cover of "the warmth of other suns" by isabel wilkerson, illustrating the epic story of america's great migration, featuring a historical photograph of african american individuals in different settings, with accolades and awards noted including the pulitzer prize.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is a New York Times bestseller and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other accolades. The celebrated nonfiction narrative tells the story of the Great Migration, a decades-long exodus of millions of Black Americans who fled the South for cities in the North and West. Wilkerson compares this historic event to other mass migrations from the past and traces its evolution through the lives of three individuals who left their homes in the southern United States for new horizons. Bolstered by more than 1,000 interviews and a wealth of historic data, The Warmth of Other Suns is a staggering achievement and an ideal narrative for your history book club friends to journey through together.

A book cover for "the immortal life of henrietta lacks" by rebecca skloot, highlighting the profound impact of henrietta lacks's cells on medical research against a vibrant background.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an acclaimed work of science and history that inspired a book-to-screen adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey. The book centers on Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished tobacco farmer from the South who died of cervical cancer in 1951 but whose cells lived on to revolutionize medicine and launch a multimillion-dollar industry. Samples of Lacks’s tissue, which were taken without her knowledge or consent, became known as HeLa cells to scientists; they were instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine, advances in gene mapping and in vitro fertilization, and even in learning about the effects of the atomic bomb. And yet, Lacks herself was buried in an unmarked grave, while her family only learned of her contributions to science decades after her death and saw no financial benefit. A compelling examination of the history of medicine and complex bioethics issues, Skloot’s narrative is a stellar pick that offers plenty to discuss.

A stormy sea adventure: "the wager," an epic tale of shipwreck and survival.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder

By David Grann

Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “a tour de force of narrative nonfiction,” this historical true crime tale of the high seas will sweep your history book club readers away. The Wager chronicles the dramatic saga of the HMS Wager, a British Royal Navy ship that left England in 1740 on a secret mission, only to wreck halfway around the world off the coast of Chile. In 1742, 30 survivors of the Wager washed ashore on the coast of Brazil. At first they were hailed as heroes who endured a harrowing ordeal on the open ocean and lived to tell the tale. Six months later, however, a second set of Wager survivors washed up in Chile, accusing the first ones of treachery and murder. As the conflicting accounts intensified, a court martial was convened — with death sentences looming over the party determined to be lying. David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon, is a masterful storyteller who excels at bringing history to life. This book is no exception.

The cover of the historical non-fiction book 'the splendid and the vile' by erik larson, featuring planes from the wwii era in the sky and a dramatic backdrop symbolizing the turbulence of the blitz.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

By Erik Larson

In this bestselling historical narrative, celebrated author Erik Larson tackles the life of Winston Churchill during one of the darkest chapters in British history. The first day of Churchill’s inaugural term as prime minister coincided with Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Holland and Belgium. For the next year, German forces waged a brutal bombing campaign against Britain, claiming the lives of 45,000. The Splendid and the Vile chronicles Churchill’s efforts to lead his country through WWII and beat back the Axis Powers, and it details his public political battles and personal dramas with family and loved ones. Drawing upon diaries, archival documents, and intelligence reports, Larson’s acclaimed narrative is one you and your history book club should not skip.

A line of soldiers from the early 20th century marching with their rifles at the ready on the cover of barbara w. tuchman's book "the guns of august," noted as a part of the great war series and a winner of the pulitzer prize.

The Guns of August

By Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August was first published in 1962 and received the Pulitzer Prize the following year. That it remains a vital read is not surprising, as Tuchman’s World War I history is expertly researched and beautifully written. The landmark narrative sets its sights on the first 30 days of the Great War in the summer of 1914, while exploring the many factors and events that led up to it, beginning with the funeral of Edward VII in 1910. Tuchman meticulously traces every step of the conflict, and your history book club will appreciate her fine eye for detail and masterful ability to bring historical figures to life. Brimming with insight, The Guns of August should be at the top of your to-read list.

A book cover titled "on juneteenth" by annette gordon-reed, who is noted as a winner of the pulitzer prize, set against a cream background with a subtle map texture.

On Juneteenth

By Annette Gordon-Reed

On Juneteenth is a stirring work by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed that explores the origins of Juneteenth and its essential place in American history as a commemoration of the end of U.S. slavery. Gordon-Reed uses both personal anecdotes and historical documents to paint a vivid portrait of life for Black Americans in Texas and beyond, from their earliest arrivals to the end of legalized slavery on June 19, 1865, then through the Reconstruction Era and into Jim Crow. A descendant of enslaved Texans, Gordon-Reed imbues her work with a deeply personal touch, heightening the book’s power and emotional resonance. It’s an ideal selection for your next history book club gathering.

A lone vintage aircraft soars over a vast ocean bathed in the warm golden hues of a setting or rising sun, conveying a sense of solitude and endurance against a backdrop of majestic natural beauty, as featured on the cover of laura hillenbrand's "unbroken," a renowned world war ii narrative of survival and redemption.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

By Lauren Hillenbrand

If your history book club loves true-life stories of courage and perseverance, then this thrilling narrative nonfiction book is for you. In Unbroken, Lauren Hillenbrand tells the extraordinary tale of Louis Zamperini. Born in 1917, Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent turned Olympic athlete who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during WWII. In May 1943, while on a search mission over the Pacific, his plane crashed into the sea. The book details how Zamperini took to a small raft and faced insurmountable challenges on the open ocean, including starvation, sharks, and attacks from an overhead enemy aircraft. Cinematically told, Unbroken is an excellent historical narrative that doubles as a testament to one man’s indomitable spirit.

A lush green mountainous landscape with an overlay of a book cover titled "the lost city of the monkey god" by douglas preston, acclaimed by the new york times and wall street journal, with a notable book endorsement from erik larson highlighting the book's high adventure.

The Lost City of the Monkey God

By Douglas Preston

This true-life adventure story is perfect for history book club groups fascinated by the mysteries of the past. The Lost City of the Monkey God explores the 500-year-old legend of a fabled city hidden deep in the Honduran jungle. Rumors of the lost civilization date back to the days of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. The city was said to be a site of immense wealth — and to possess a deadly curse. In 2012, journalist Douglas Preston joined a team of scholars on a journey across Honduras to map its terrain using new laser imaging technology, and they discovered the contours of a sprawling city beneath the rainforest canopy. Assembling an expedition crew, Preston and his team set out into the jungle and embarked on a life-or-death mission to prove their findings. 

A book cover for "guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies" by jared diamond, featuring an artistic depiction of historical conflict with warriors on horseback set against a dramatic sky.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond

We conclude our list with a sweeping survey of human history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond traces the myriad geographical and environmental factors that gave birth to the modern world. He reveals how climate and geography influenced the evolution of different cultures and ultimately set them on diverging developmental paths toward agriculture, religion, art, and war. Diamond’s acclaimed work reaches back 13,000 years and spans forward to our present day to deliver its eye-opening account. The award-winning nonfiction book received a Pulitzer Prize in 1998, and it just might change the way you and your history book club friends see the world — or, at the very least, it will inspire some excellent conversation!

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