9 History Books To Read If You Think History Books Are Boring

I have to be honest here: I’m a complete history nerd. anyone who has heard me talk extensively about japan’s heian period can attest to that (because it was a totally interesting period of time, when women blackened their teeth and did most of the writing – but I digress). i love an in depth discussion of catullus or sappho, i always point out the historical inaccuracies in movies, and i was crazy about american girl series in the past. but recently it has come to my attention that some people don’t like the story, or at least think they don’t.

Look, everyone has the right to read what makes them happy. but if you’ve been avoiding history books and historical fiction like the plague, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a lot of fascinating stuff out there. not everything is conferences about trade agreements. Even if you’re not remotely a history buff, I promise there’s at least one corner of the world’s vast history that can capture your imagination.

You are reading: Easy to read history books

because the real story is much more interesting than what we learned in high school. So if you think history isn’t your thing, check out these nine books: from fiction to non-fiction to historical cartoons, they all have a surprising new take on history that won’t bore you to tears.

1. the daughter of time by josephine tey

This one is for all you mystery lovers. Okay, this book isn’t as action-packed as some of the others on this list – it’s a detective story where the detective in question stays in bed the entire book. but it is so cleverly written that you too will be completely consumed by the century-old mystery of king richard iii. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the daughter of time will make you think twice about taking something in a history book at face value.

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2. killer vacation by sarah vowell

sarah vowell has a knack for finding the wit, the hypocrisy, and the hilarity in American history. On Assassination Vacation, Vowell takes it upon himself to travel across the country in search of political assassination locations. But this book goes beyond a historical travelogue: Ella Vowell looks at the way death and murder have been manipulated by the media for hundreds of years. And she, as always, fills her book with lurid true stories, political criticism, and plenty of irreverent humor.

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3. manhunt by james l. swan

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Speaking of murder, manhunt is one of the most compelling true crime stories out there. You probably know some of the general facts about the Lincoln assassination, but you may not know the details of the 12-day manhunt that tore the country apart in the immediate aftermath. This book is a detailed account of the escape of John Wilkes Booth and the wild chase through swamps and forests to bring him to justice. Swanson manages to turn one of the most well-known events in history into a gripping and dramatic story with a moving climax.

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4. the king must die by mary renault

if you’ve always had doubts about historical fiction, mary renault is a great place to start. she takes classical greek myths and finds the possible truth behind them: perhaps instead of dealing with a half-bull, half-man monster, the hero theseus was actually sentenced to death in an ancient bull-dancing ritual (think a very messy rodeo). however, renault doesn’t just give you historical theories: the king must die is a book full of adventure and passion, violence and orgies, and all the action and sex any reader could want.

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5. boxers and saints by gene luen yang

yes, this is a fictional comic that could teach you something about chinese history. these two volumes tell two parallel stories: one of little bao, whose hometown is sacked by so-called missionaries. so he joins the Boxer Rebellion to reclaim his culture from Western intruders. But then, in Saints, Yang introduces us to the other side of the conflict: a young woman finds refuge in Christianity, and her new home is threatened by the growing rebellion. both boys are guided by visions of their heroes, as they try to find justice on both sides of a complex war.

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6. a brief history of almost everything by bill bryson

This is easily the most enjoyable history “textbook” you’ll ever read. Don’t be intimidated by the length or breadth of this book, because Bill Bryson can turn any subject into a fun game. A Brief History of Almost Everythingreally covers almost everything, from the big bang to the rise of civilization. But Bryson is more of a writer than a scientist, and he makes natural history extremely accessible (even if he does make the occasional mistake). he’s the cool teacher you wish you had in high school.

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7. the pillow book by sei shonagon

Okay, I’m only keeping one book from the heian era of japan. And yes, it is written by a woman who was born in 966 AD. but don’t let that scare you: the translation is modern and the entire book reads like a twitter feed. really. Shonagon’s “memoirs” are basically ready, with titles like “things that make the heart race” or “annoying things”. and shonagon is a wide salty one. the list of “deeply irritating things,” for example, includes the period, “a man you had to hide in an unsatisfactory hiding place, who then starts snoring.”

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8. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. loewen

Were you the kid who regularly fell asleep during history class? Or who rolled their eyes at the clean whitewashed version of history taught in school? well, this book is for you. Loewen travels through the history of the United States and completely destroys the elementary school version of everything from Christopher Columbus to the civil rights movement. Loewen is candid about the systematic biases that have existed since America’s beginning, and this book is a huge eye-opener for even the most informed citizen. Plus, it’s a lot more interesting than your average history class.

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9. step aside daddy by kate beaton

if kate beaton can’t make you love history, then i don’t know who can. the comics of him are nothing short of a comedic genius. she pulls from history, literature, and pop culture, and turns it all into hilarious gold. where else can you find a hipster ben franklin? or a tiny hermione granger? or a humorous and inspiring take on activist ida b. wells? her comics are outlandishly funny, but also deeply intelligent and witty. It takes a lot of intelligence to make Napoleon and Nancy draw this hysteria.

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