history nerds, put your hands up

I’m feeling veeery bookish these days. Obviously, I am always pretty bookish, but I’ve been trying to cut down on spending (don’t tell my Sephora cart, which is always full of sheet masks) and consequently have been reading more instead of running around with a credit card.

That’s not a fair characterization of my habits, but staying home or going to the park with a book is just where I’m at right now.

I just finished listening to Dead Wake by Erik Larson during the walking portions of my commute. After plowing through many, many hours of the Outlander series and a self-help book recently, I wanted to go for something more substantive. Dead Wake was really good, and a couple moments had me choked up (read: crying) — President Wilson’s personal/romantic narrative, the effect of the sinking on the ship’s captain, and a moment where a mother’s collected memories of her son killed on the Lusitania is said to keep him alive in “the peripheral vision of the world.”

Since Larson writes historical non-fiction (Dead Wake is about the Lusitania), I thought I would share five of my favorite historical non-fiction reads. And also, you know I can’t resist a link-up, so I’m popping over to WWRW and 5Faves, as usual.


1. Devil In The White City – Erik Larson

As I mentioned in my 2015 reading challenge post, this book is terrifying and literally kept me up at night. Murder, Chicago, World’s Fair… if you’re a pop-history person, you’ve probably read this already. It’s just really good. That’s all I got on this one.

2. John Adams – David McCullough

I love the John and Abigail Adams, after being introduced to them through an easy chapter book about Abigail. This admiration has aged with me well, and I posted a little bit about my admiration of their marriage on Valentine’s Day. They had hard times; it wasn’t all candles and roses or even romantic lush farm life (though John probably wished it was all romantic lush farm life). McCullough really draws out John’s commitment to his values and uncompromising ethics within the epic sweep of his unexpected life’s journey. A noble biography of a noble man.

3. The Great Influenza – John Barry

I read this back in college, but it seems pertinent now. With all the talk around vaccines and ebola and other emergent diseases, it is jarring to take a look back at the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. (I imagine that with the glittery flashback transition sound that tacky telebroadcasts use.) The book does a great job of placing the outbreak in the context of both American and medical history. The context of medical history: moving from folk wisdom to science. Are we back to folk wisdom a century later? I know it’s a complicated question for many people, but I appreciate that I do not live in constant fear of preventable contagious disease. Hopefully I can keep that comfort…

4. The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson

Clearly not going with all conventional histories here. Bryson is always a fun, informative writer. I think his writing style meshes really well with my learning style, which is basically learn about something through narrative detail and interesting stories. The Mother Tongue is subtitled English and How It Got That Way, but it’s more a celebration of a strange, backwater language and its people than a real linguistic tome. Counting this as a history… if you have a problem with that, please do call me out.

5. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – Danielle McGuire

I read this for a class when I was a senior in college, but oof, it’s worth a pleasure read. Huge trigger warning for this one. McGuire reframes the Civil Rights Movement within the stories of women who were systematically assaulted and raped and also looks at the women of the movement as radicals and revolutionaries rather than virtuous and proper examples of black femininity. Powerful narrative and challenging today — it’s a portrait of outrage that left me outraged as well.


4 thoughts on “history nerds, put your hands up

  1. Historical non-fiction is my favorite non-fiction because it reads like fiction. I must read Dark Wake. I’m obsessed with WWI right now and I have a poor opinion of Wilson based on Susan Baker’s comments about him in Rilla of Ingleside. Susan was Anne’s housekeeper. Obviously, I know little to nothing about Wilson myself. With Father’s Day just around the corner, I’m going to be referring to your list for some of the history loving men in my life. Thanks for linking up!

    1. I would not have even noticed, ha!! I need to reread the Anne books because I’ve realized how much I have forgotten with all of the talk the last few weeks following Jonathan Crombie’s death.

      Dead Wake was great, made me very sympathetic to a lot of Wilson’s concerns, but I really want to learn more about him. My dad loved Unbroken, but if the men are history lovers, they’ve probably already read it!

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