10 Eye-Opening New History Books to Crack Open This Spring

By Brandon Miller
A collection of five books with varied themes displayed against a muted background, showcasing diverse literary genres and intriguing titles.

A crop of new history books are hitting the shelves — and we picked out the best of the bunch. The compelling reads below include a historical true crime case on the high seas, the lost histories of women in medieval Europe, and stirring accounts of the Civil Rights Movement. They’re sure to keep your mind engaged as spring blossoms into summer.

A poignant and powerful book cover with the title "you have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live" by paul kix, highlighting a critical moment in history, ten weeks in birmingham that changed america, set against a backdrop of a civil rights gathering.

You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live

By Paul Kix

In You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live, journalist Paul Kix delivers a riveting portrait of a critical moment in American history. The narrative centers on Project C, the 10-week campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Project C changed the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement in America; Civil Rights luminaries Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Bevel were all there to drive the fight. And yet, no book has ever fully documented this moment in time — until now. Kix’s powerful prose and brilliant storytelling take readers behind the scenes of the campaign, bringing Project C and its participants to life and drawing a clear line from the events of 1963 to present-day struggles against discrimination and inequality.

A book cover with a vintage street scene, titled "a fever in the heartland" by timothy egan, detailing the historical account of the ku klux klan's attempts to infiltrate american society and the courageous woman who stood against them.

A Fever in the Heartland

By Timothy Egan

From Pulitzer Prize–winning author Timothy Egan, A Fever in the Heartland traces the insidious spread of the Ku Klux Klan across 1920s America with a focus on D.C. Stephenson, the charismatic grifter behind the hate group’s rise to power. Egan counters Stephenson’s narrative with the story of Madge Oberholtzer, an Indiana woman whose heroic deathbed testimony finally brought Stephenson down and helped drive the KKK back into the shadows.

An old sailing ship is caught in tumultuous waves during a storm, encapsulating the theme of a harrowing sea adventure as told in david grann's book "the wager: a tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder.

The Wager

By David Grann

In The Wager, New York Times bestselling author David Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon) crafts a historical true crime narrative that reads like a thrilling mystery novel. The book centers on the case of the HMS Wager, a British warship that was wrecked off the coast of Patagonia in 1741. When 30 survivors of the Wager washed up on Brazilian shores in 1742, they were hailed as heroes. Six months later, however, three additional survivors turned up in Chile and told a drastically different story of treachery and murder — leading to a criminal trial that hinged on the clashing accounts of the castaways.

Cover of the book "built from the fire" by victor luckerson, telling the epic story of tulsa's greenwood district, america's black wall street, and its resilience over a hundred years.

Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, America’s Black Wall Street

By Victor Luckerson

Built from the Fire chronicles the epic history of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a neighborhood that served as a hub of Black life and prosperity and as the backdrop to a terrible tragedy. Journalist Victor Luckerson movingly traces Greenwood’s evolution across the decades, examining the community’s origins in the early 20th century, the abominable Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, the resiliency of the survivors in the wake of the atrocity, and the modern-day urban-renewal policies that have led to gentrification and displacement. Mightily told, Built from the Fire offers a “sweeping and intimate portrait of racial violence, empowerment, and social action” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

A colorful book cover featuring abstract brush strokes with a title "the west" prominently displayed in large font, alongside the author's name naoise mac sweeney, and praise by peter frankopan, author of the silk roads. the subtitle "a new history in fourteen lives" suggests a fresh perspective on western history through the stories of fourteen individuals.

The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives

By Naoíse Mac Sweeney

In The West, prize-winning historian Naoíse Mac Sweeney rewrites the Western history narrative, identifying 14 crucial yet oft-overlooked individuals who helped shape Western culture. Among them are medieval Arab scholar Al-Kindi, the mixed-race immigrant and historian Herodotus, and Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved woman of Boston who in 1773 became the first African American author to publish a collection of poetry. Mac Sweeney’s magnificent book questions what it means to live in a Western civilization and uses figures from different cultures, continents, classes, and religions to expand its definition.

A book cover titled "femina: a new history of the middle ages, through the women written out of it" by janina ramirez. the background is blue with star-like motifs and the central image is an intricate, decorative orange and red wreath encircling the title. accolades for the author's previous work adorn the top and bottom borders.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It

By Janina Ramirez

In a world where women’s contributions to society have been devalued or ignored throughout history, Femina puts them front and center. Oxford historian Janina Ramirez sets her focus on the Middle Ages, an era defined by kings, Vikings, and patriarchal rule. Of course, this is far from the full story. Ramirez introduces us to a cast of fascinating women whose experiences and historical impacts were all but lost to time. Among them is Jadwiga of Poland, medieval Europe’s only female king, and the Loftus Princess, whose life story offers an intriguing look at the emergence of Christianity in England. A rousing feminist narrative that champions the leading ladies of the past, Femina makes for a spirited read.

A historical book cover featuring two civil rights activists from 1966, with the title "saying it loud - the year black power challenged the civil rights movement" by mark whitaker, exploring a pivotal year in the history of civil rights in america.

Saying It Loud

By Mark Whitaker

In Saying It Loud, journalist Mark Whitaker chronicles the transformative events of the Civil Rights Movement in 1966. During this time the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense emerged, and the Black Power phenomenon challenged nonviolent strategies advocated by Martin Luther King, Jr. Thoroughly researched and enriched with riveting historical details, Saying It Loud presents a “comprehensive and character-driven portrait of the ‘first Black Power generation’ ” (Publishers Weekly).

An elaborate historical painting depicting a busy scene, possibly a battle or a complex societal moment, overlaid with the title "pathogenesis: a history of the world in eight plagues" by jonathan kennedy.

Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues

By Jonathan Kennedy

Who or what makes history? In this timely and provocative new history book, Jonathan Kennedy proposes that it isn’t humans but germs. Pathogenesis spans 60,000 years and integrates insights from archaeologists, geneticists, and economists to reveal how eight major viral outbreaks shaped the world as we know it. Suffused with incredible — and, at times, unsettling — facts, Pathogenesis offers an engrossing look into the microscope at the world-altering power of infectious diseases.

A book cover for "the angel makers" by patti mccracken, featuring a silhouette of a person standing in the foreground with a dramatic backdrop of buildings, hinting at a dark and mysterious tale involving arsenic, a midwife, and a historical murder ring.

The Angel Makers

By Patti McCracken

In The Angel Makers, Patti McCracken delivers a startling true crime book unlike any you’ve read before, particularly because of the astonishing nature of the case. Auntie Suzy, a 1920s midwife in a Hungarian farming village, may have been one of the most prolific murderers of the 20th century. She distilled arsenic from flypaper and passed it along to the other women in the village, many of whom would use the poison on their abusive partners. Soon, however, the killing spree escalated and the body count climbed. All told, Suzy and her murder ring claimed the lives of at least 160 people over the course of a decade.

Humanly possible: seven hundred years of humanist freethinking, inquiry, and hope" - a thought-provoking journey through the evolution of humanist ideas, featuring influential historical figures on the cover.

Humanly Possible

By Sarah Bakewell

In Humanly Possible, Sarah Bakewell delves into the history of humanism and the many writers, theorists, artists, and scientists who have grappled with our existence. The narrative spans the centuries, interweaving the works of Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus with philosophies advanced by modern-day thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Zora Neale Hurston. The result is a hopeful history book brimming with ideas about what it means to be human and how to be a better person to other people.

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