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Top 10 Best History Books in 2021

Looking to brush up your knowledge of the past ? This list summarizes the top 10 history books varying in a range of niches from world and political events to a background about race and the Civil war.

Reasons to look for a good history book

The past, the present, the future…

Learning about history gives people the opportunity to recollect events that shapes the world as we know it in this day and age. Not only does it make us aware of what happened centuries of years before we even existed, it provides insights of how civilization came to being and how it had modernized over the years.

We can learn from some of the biggest mistakes in humanity, whether it be through war, financial breakdowns or psychological issues that plagued the world. We get intrigues by the big figures and how they conducted their business, and are excited to learn more and more. Some people delve deep into history to learn about their people, tribes and descendants. Others are inquisitive in nature and simply want to know about the world and how it shaped itself. While the technological revolution of the world has given people access to documentaries, podcasts and Netflix through which we can learn about the world’s events, there is nothing like picking up a book and reading about it.

So, we at OwlRatings have curated some of the best pieces of historical novels that cover a wide array of topics from caste and race to the times of Lincoln in the United States to Winston Churchill in Great Britain.

Best overall

Caste: The Lies that Divide Us

Recommended
94 %

Caste: The Lies that Divide Us

Caste is a must-read if you are genuinely interested in expanding your perspective and understanding of how America got to, and where America is, on racial inequality and equity with a specific focus on black lives. Ms. Wilkerson makes a robust case for a caste system in America that still exists today and is overtly apparent in many states’ recent actions to suppress minority voting rights.

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This book is a must-read for anyone trying to get a more profound knowledge of the relations of America and Race. Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment. This is a topic that prominent historians and novelists have examined from many angles, with care, anger, deep feeling and sometimes simmering wit. Wilkerson’s book is a work of synthesis. Wilkerson has written a closely argued book that largely avoids the word “racism” yet stares it down with more humanity and rigor than nearly all but a few books in our literature. “Caste” deepens our tragic sense of American history and talks about a path towards alleviation of alienation.

Best for highschool

The Warmth of Other Suns

Recommended
92 %

The Warmth of Other Suns

It is A beautiful, inspiring, educational read. You will learn so much and enjoy the whole journey with the three protagonists. This book is a must-read for everyone as it sets the record straight about the true significance of the great migration.

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A fantastic story about the mass migration of blacks fleeing to the North and West to escape the horrors of the Jim Crow south. Isabel Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,000 people and spent years completing her thorough research. This work of non-fiction highlights the stories of three unrelated individuals, Ida Mae Gladney, Robert Foster, and George Starling, in their journeys from Mississippi to Chicago, Louisiana to Los Angeles, and Florida to New York City, respectively. The atrocities, injustices, struggles, and triumphs are well-documented and beautifully described. I also appreciated the little snippets from such prominent individuals as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Mahalia Jackson and others that preceded each new chapter. The ultimate question Ms. Wilkerson asks is, “Were the people who left the South – and their families – better off for having done so? Was the loss of what they left behind worth what confronted them in the anonymous cities they fled to?”

Best for middle schoolers

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Recommended
93 %

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

We would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading historical, war or mystery books as it is so interesting. This book would be suitable for people aged ten upwards since it is very sad in places. Her diary shows us things people don’t think about now, such as how the hiding people are worried about being found and punished every day.

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Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl is the actual diary of a teenage girl that begins on Anne’s 13th birthday (12 June 1942) when she gets a journal. It tells the story of her family who lives in Frankfurt, Germany and suddenly have to go into hiding due to Hitler and the Nazi Party’s treatment of Jews in Europe during the second world war. They escape to Amsterdam, where they go into hiding with other Jews.

There are many important messages in this book. Still, the important message is that everyone has the right to live in freedom. Anne’s story shows us that just because people may be of a different religion or race doesn’t mean they should be treated differently.

Best for teens

Grant

Recommended
90 %

Grant

This biography is an absolute masterpiece and deserves your attention, and merits your time. There is much to learn from Grant and much to both emulate and avoid as he has had a rollercoaster of a life. It is a must-read for history buffs.

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Ulysses S Grant is genuinely a rag to riches story that covers his childhood and first bankruptcy, his generalship during the Civil War, his two terms as President, and finally, his extraordinary world tour and the writing of his memoirs. The scope is breathtaking, and the heft is arm crushing – 958 pages of tight, unforgettable prose. The book is not merely about Grant but just as much about the era he lived in and all those he rubbed shoulders with during his life. At the book’s end, one feels one has a complete understanding of Grant, not just what he did but also who he was and what made him tick. His relationships with members of his family and with those he had contact with are fully explored.

Grant is revealed to be a person of little emotional expression and yet profound, sincere feelings of injustice. He fought tooth and nail for the liberation of black slaves, their integration into the Union army, and protection of their rights during Reconstruction.

Best political history book

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Recommended
90 %

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the nuances of the internal conflicts that Lincoln faced about social and political issues of the times. This book resonates mightily with and informs what is going on today. This will be a genuine pleasure to read and a great long lesson for anyone learning about a life in politics.

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Abraham Lincoln is one of history’s most admired leaders. There’s no better depiction of his leadership approach than historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s fascinating Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005.) In this Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Goodwin chronicles Lincoln’s early life and his surprising rise to the top of the political world. However, Goodwin’s focus is on Lincoln’s presidency. Biographies aren’t always boring tomes. Doris Kearns Goodwin does a magnificent job of detailing how Abraham Lincoln, a lesser-known and ill-positioned candidate, captures the Republican party’s nomination, goes on to get elected President, and leads America through the turbulence of the Civil War. Kearns-Goodwin’s narrative offers timely reminders of how a nation at war undergoes philosophical and political tensions that will take years to heal.

Best biographical history book

Churchill: Walking with Destiny

Recommended
88 %

Churchill: Walking with Destiny

This is the perfect book for those interested in biographies and who enjoy reading about Winston Churchill. It covers everything from his childhood to his time as prime minister. This book gave well-researched insight into Churchill’s choices during WW2 and how his childhood affected his decisions and leadership style later in his life.

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From his early age through childhood, through his military career in India, Sudan, South Africa, and Belgium and through his years as Britain’s prime minister during World War II until the end of his life. This is the most balanced, insightful well-researched biography of Churchill. Roberts ably covers the complexities of Churchill’s life. The man’s wit, energy, good humor, stubbornness, vision, and devotion to Britain and her empire really come across. Readers will especially love the context the author gave around all of WC’s little sarcastic comments and dug at the expense often of others. He describes how Churchill’s confidence in Britain’s future influenced him during crises (such as German resurgence under Hitler) and disasters (like Gallipoli and India). Churchill’s flaws and frequent bad judgment are fully covered.

Best American history book

A People’s History of the United States

Recommended
90 %

A People’s History of the United States

This book will provide you with a refresher on US history and is told from a very non-nationalist perspective. It is a perfect book for someone who wants to critically analyze the narratives of the USA’s history. This book does really well at differentiating narratives from facts, which is an important practice to learn in current political conditions.

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This is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. The late Howard Zinn takes off the filters with which American history is taught in schools. HE also takes an unflinching look at how the US has not been the benevolent protector of democracy that propaganda would like us to believe. Zinn’s book remains a critical assessment of American history and a reminder that all of our rights, from the Constitution to Social Security to Civil Rights to the Great Society, were paid for with blood and sweat and must be preserved. Zinn concludes that, while it’s too soon to see what the American reaction to the war on terror will be, the American people need to decide if they stand on the side of morality and decency or support imperialism and military aggression.

Best ancient history book

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Recommended
87 %

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

This book will challenge your preconceived notions of what it means to be a homo sapiens, especially if you’re not well versed in the history of our species. This book also presents the facts and myths of how mankind has dominated the planet, the driving forces shaping our lives and how we can think about our impact on Earth and our collective future.

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Beautifully written and easy to read, this book will make you want to know more and more about how the author thinks the world evolved to what it is today. Revolution by revolution, religion by religion, conception by conception, things were simplified and still maintained valid points – and it was never dull. The best thing about it was that it actually makes you think. The author doesn’t treat you as ignorant at all – he doesn’t assume you know nothing but assumes you know a lot and understand a lot, and doesn’t lecture about anything unnecessary, making the book a pleasure to read. We are provided with different and often contradicting views on significant historical aspects while allowing us to form our own opinions, which is kind of fun. And the subtle humor you encounter everywhere complements the flow nicely.

Best for homicide

Killers of the Flower Moon

Recommended
85 %

Killers of the Flower Moon

This book is recommended for hardcore history and true crime buffs. If you like your history and true crime to be a little less textbook, this may not be the book for you. It says so much about why America is where it is right now. Hopefully, it makes you realize how the people in power have gained their control off the backs of minorities.

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This book is haunting. It covers the deaths of at least 24, but in reality, many more, members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma, the wealthiest people per capita in the world, at that time. A scary true story of greed and racism in the development of the American West. This is one of those hard to read and accepted truths of American history. If you enjoy history and/or true crime, I think this is worth giving a go. This is a historical event that deserves never to be forgotten. Grann deserves praise for helping to bring it back to light and for taking the extra steps to investigate and report on what may have happened to some of the forgotten victims. It makes you want to weep for humanity, but there are a few shining lights in the story.

Best international history book

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Recommended
85 %

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

The author does an outstanding job bringing such a sensitive and emotional topic to life on the page. The readers will find this book profoundly moving as it was informative. We recommend this book to anyone interested in 20th century Irish history or anyone interested in The Troubles in particular.

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This is an intricate and moving piece of narrative non-fiction concerning the troubles in the north of Ireland. It follows events, mainly centered in Belfast, beginning in 1969 through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Bookending Radden Keefe’s extraordinary compilation of this history is the story of a mother of ten, Jean McConville, who was forcibly taken from her home in late 1972, becoming one of the disappeared during this bitter conflict. This book is remarkably researched, and indeed, Radden Keefe provides copious notes at the end of the main story detailing where his information is coming from, etc.

What to look for in a good history book

Historical novels are often stacked with a variety of rich and factual information, but there’s a difference between reading a book that sounds like it’s meant to be compulsory reading material for high school and being truly entertained by learning about the beauties of the past. So, we have chosen four main criterias’ to base the historical novels on, and have given an in-depth analysis on why you should choose any one of the above-mentioned books.

Entertainment

The job of any good book is to entertain, whether it be fictional of non-fictional. A historical book that truly catches our eye requires it to be more than a clutter of information from one year to the other. Some of these books cover more than time-periods, they reflect the past by carrying true accounts of people who lived through these times. And if presented in a truly entertaining way that can grasp the attention of the reader through good storytelling techniques, we have a good historical novel upon our hands.

Writing

Unlike fictional novels, historical books have to convey a sense of realism. This is through firstly covering the facts in an organized and systematic way, while also expressing the opinion on the related matter. History can be such a rich and mesmerizing topic to learn about, but the teacher has to make sure they’re doing a good job of describing the events. In this case, the teacher is the writer. Whether the author has used a ghost-writer or not,  the writing needs to connect with us from the get go. Writing styles and preferences can also differ for people to people, so we have analyzed the writing methods of the different authors above as well.

Theme

Our next criteria for rating the book is the theme that the narrative follows. The above-mentioned books range from various themes and categories from stories about caste and race that go back to the time of the civil war to the military careers of some of the most recognized people from around the world. Not all the themes and narratives being covered are for everyone, so we at OwlRatings have analyzed and explained the main concepts that the various books cover. This way you will not have to go through the pain of buying and then deciding if it is the right fit for you.

Message Delivery

In any historical book, the author does not blatantly write out of a need to inform the public about the events of the past. When sensitive topics such as race and slavery are being discussed, we look to interpret what message the author is trying to convey about the time. The ideologies and interpretations of the author, if presented in a proper manner can make us relate to the topic in hand. More than this, has the author actually managed to convey the message they are trying to share in a proper way ? For this, the author needs to use an active voice and actually give the readers a sense of their opinions.

FAQ

What is the most popular historical book ?

‘Anne Franks: The diary of a young girl’ is believed to be one of the most popular historical books written. Others include, ‘The Pillars of the North’ by Ken Follett.

What are some of the best historical novels based on cast and race ?

‘Caste : The origins of our discontents’ and ‘The warmth of other sons’ are some of the best books that talk about topics such as caste and race.

What are the best historical novels for biographies ?

‘Churchill : Walking With Destiny’ is the story of Winston Churchill, the great politician from Great Britain who helped bring an end to WWII with Germany. The accounts brilliantly navigate through Churchill’s wit and humour, while putting in context the complex and difficult discussions he made while serving his country.

Final verdict

By identifying key criteria’s’ like the writing, entertainment, theme and message delivery of these books, you can hopefully learn a little more about the past with the information being presented in an interesting and pleasing way.

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