How I Learned My History

history bookI’ve recently received requests for history book recommendations. I know I’m leaving out a lot, but I think I’ve compiled a good starter list.

So, without further ado:

General Histories (covering large sections of history):

The Evolution of Civilizations, by Carroll Quigley. An excellent look back – all the way to the Ice Age and even further.

The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler. Examines human civilization from its origins to what’s coming next. Chapters 1-10 are a brilliant must read, but the rest of the book is dated and unnecessary.

The State, by Franz Oppenheimer. A serious look at the institution of the State.

The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph Tainter. How centralization has destroyed culture after culture.

Art: A New History, by Paul Johnson. A superb history of art and all that pertains to it, from the beginning of human history.

Specific Periods & Subjects:

The End of the Bronze Age, by Robert Drews. The collapse of 1200 BC is one of the most important events in all of recorded history, yet very few people know anything about it.

Caesar and Christ (The Story of Civilization III), by Will Durant. A masterful history of Rome.

The Life of Greece (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 2), by Will Durant. The history of Greece.

The History of Civilization In Europe, by Francois Guizot. An excellent overview of what happened.

The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics), by Hendrik Spruyt. An in-depth look at feudalism and the formation of states in medieval Europe.

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. Journalism mixed with some history, but a very important look at the ugly truth about war.

Gunfighters, Highwaymen And Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier, by Roger D. McGrath. A serious analysis of the old American West. See the “wild west” as it really was, not as portrayed on television.

The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization, by Michael Balter. An excellent start on the great archaeological find at Catalhoyuk. (See FMP #37.)

The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk, by Ian Hodder. More on Catalhoyuk. Hodder’s archaeology is excellent, but I find many of his interpretations flawed.

Barbarians To Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered, by Peter S. Wells. How Rome became Europe.

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, by Norman F. Cantor. How the great pestilence of 1348 AD changed Europe.

The Medieval Underground, by Andrew McCall. Another side of the middle ages.

The Commercial Revolution in the Middle Ages, by Robert S. Lopez. How commerce created Europe.

Smuggling In The British Isles: A History, by Richard Platt. Great stories you won’t find elsewhere.

Conceived In Liberty (4 Volume Set), by Murray N. Rothbard. Four volumes of historical facts on the American Revolution, most of which are hard to find elsewhere.

Escape from Freedom, by Erich Fromm. As much psychology as history but a fascinating look at the industrial revolution and the character flaws it spawned.

A Child of the Century, by Ben Hecht. Hecht was involved in a number of historical events and tells the stories from the inside. Plus, it’s the best autobiography you’ll ever read. The world shouldn’t have forgotten about Ben Hecht.

The Reawakening, by Primo Levi. Levi survived Auschwitz, but that’s not what this book is about. It’s about the end of World War II and returning to life afterward.

The Origins of Totalitarianism, by Hannah Arendt. Antisemitism and totalitarianism in 20th century Europe.

Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community, by Spencer Klaw. The fascinating story of the Oneida colony in 19th century New York State.

Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals, by Stephen Koch. The seduction of American and European intellectuals by Soviet agents.

In God’s Name, by David Yallop. An investigation into the murder of Pope John Paul I.

Evidence of Revision: The Assassination of America. A DVD set of original footage, interviews, etc. The best material I know on the Kennedy assassination.


I’m a fan of The Great Courses from The Teaching Company. These courses are expensive, but they are often on sale. In particular, I liked these:

  • Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation
  • Ancient Greek Civilizations
  • The Origin of Civilizations, Parts 1-4
  • The Early Middle Ages
  • The High Middle Ages
  • How The Crusades Changed History
  • The Birth of The Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries
  • Early Christianity: The Experience of The Divine

As I say, I’m missing a lot (half my library is not in front of me at the moment), but this should be a good list to work from.

If you’ve got one, two (or ten) that you think should be added, please feel free to comment below.

Have fun!

Paul Rosenberg

6 thoughts on “How I Learned My History”

  1. Paul, thanks for posting the list of history books. Here are a few that I would add:

    – Lessons of History, Will and Ariel Durant, a concise survey of the culture and civilization of mankind,

    – The Glorious Cause–The American Revolution 1763-1789, by Robert Middlekauf, a history of the birth of the American Republic.

    – What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by Daniel Walker Howe.

    – The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara Tuchman. A blurb on Amazon states, “Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Barbara W. Tuchman, author of the World War I masterpiece The Guns of August, grapples with her boldest subject: the pervasive presence, through the ages, of failure, mismanagement, and delusion in government.”

    Like you, I am a fan of Great Courses. I particularly like Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations, one of the best surveys I have found on this topic.

    I look forward to seeing recommendations from other readers.

  2. – Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America; David Hackett Fischer

    – Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069; William Strauss and Neil Howe
    – Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South; Grady McWhiney
    – The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind; Julian Jaynes (Some would dispute calling this history, but it is, at the least, a bold and fascinating thesis on the history of human mental processes)

  3. My sorry excuse for a library has NONE of these books. Sigh. No wonder people are ignorant about history. I’m interested in the Great Courses… are the DVDs worth the higher price than the CDs?

    1. Hi Sarah,

      One book at a time. 🙂

      I buy the Great Courses DVDs for art and science topics. Have never thought them necessary for history and literature.

  4. has many of the Great Courses as audio downloads. I found all recommendations over there. Might save several bucks.

  5. The Law by Frederic Bastiat and

    Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

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