The original recommended reading list thread that started it it all.

If you want to let us know about something that you think should be on this list, then please send us a mod mail. I could include a lot of other books, as well as other podcast and documentary links. I am also sure readers here will be happy to add books in which many of us would be interested.

Please note that all Amazon links direct to, which allows a small portion of your purchase to be donated to the charity of your choice by Amazon. You of course are not obligated to use this if you don't wish though, and can edit the URL by replacing "smile" with "www".

All volumes marked with an asterisk (*) are available in digital format as e-books, and volumes that are available for free through the common domain have been linked to where they can be easily accessed.

So, on with the show..... The recommended reading list.

The Classics

Primary Sources

This is a list of documents and histories that were written during or shortly after the events they describe. Although these texts are invaluable for conveying the perspectives and knowledge of individuals writing from Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution, they should not be trusted on their own, as they can often prove to be misinformed, biased or embellished, and secondary sources such as history books produced by modern scholars which combine a wide range of (often conflicting) literary sources and archaeological evidence are needed to put together a complete picture of the past.

Whenever historians read a primary source they have to question who wrote it, why they wrote it and who they were writing for. For instance, was this history a romantic account written by a soldier who participated in the struggles it chronicles and does it stereotype and vilify the enemy? Was it written 400 years after the fact by a disgruntled chronicler who wanted to make unfavourable comparisons between the despots of yesteryear and the current ruling elite? Or is it merely exotic travel literature written by a scholar who based it on the anecdotes of travellers he interviewed despite never personally visiting the regions and cultures he wrote about?

Even when the author had the best of intentions mistakes are occasionally made which is to be expected for works which are often based off of older, anecdotal information and oral histories. It is also important to note that what ancient accounts we do have had to be translated and copied through the ages, often passing through several languages before being translated into the surviving editions we have here.

At the same time it is useful to know what certain aristocratic Greeks thought about Persians, Egyptians and Celts, what was written about China's past during the Han dynasty by Imperial scholars, or how Conquistadors viewed themselves in relation to native peoples. These striking, classic pieces of literature are essential to the study of history, but rather than taking them literally they are best viewed as what they are: an insight into the minds of the author and his audience.

Ancient Mediterranean



Special thanks to /u/NientedeNada for offering his expertise on Japanese history

  • Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian

  • Sources of Japanese Tradition: Vol 1. From Earliest Times to 1600 (Second Edition, 2002) and Sources of Japanese Tradition: Vol 2. 1600 to 2000 (Second Edition, 2010) have long been a key primary source collection for studying Japanese history in English. it focuses on Japan's intellectual history: religion, philosophy, education, political thought, historiography etc. *Important: *The Second Edition is greatly expanded and the texts have been more accurately retranslated, with more explanatory material. The First Edition is from the 1960s and while superceded by the Second, would be useful if it's the only thing a local library has. There's also an abridged volume which combines material from both volumes of the Second Edition.

  • Voices of Early Modern Japan: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life during the Age of the Shoguns by Constantin Vaporis is a very reader-accessible collection of primary sources from the Edo Period on a very wide range of subjects. The sources cover the wide spectrum of society, from top to bottom to the fringes, giving particular attention to social history.

  • History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer is a primary account, first published in 1727, of a German physician/naturalist, employed by the Dutch East India Company, who was one of the few Europeans to travel through Japan during the Tokugawa period. The history Kaempfer was told and then wrote down is not always accurate, but his careful direct observations of Japanese life are invaluable. There are older English translations of Kaempfer available online,but the best edition is Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed, translated and edited by Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey (1999), since it has excellent editorial material, explaining and illuminating the source.

  • Musui's story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai by Katsu Kokichi, translated and edited by Teruko Craig (1991). A quote from Monumenta Nipponica's review of it

    This charming book...portrays Tokugawa society as it was actually lived, instead of as it was portrayed in moralizing tracts and governmental ordinances. Attractively translated by Teruko Craig, it depicts the life of a man born into a family with the hereditary privilege of audience with the shogun, yet he shamelessly consorted with the riffraff of Edo, ran a protection racket, lied, cheated, and stole....Craig is to be commended for the felicity of her translation and for her clear presentation of a complex social order in the Introduction....Anyone interested in Japanese history and society or in how people interact with each other in whatever age or place will enjoy reading this book.

  • *A Diplomat in Japan by Ernest Satow (1921) is the memoir of a British diplomat who got deeply involved in the events of the Meiji Restoration. Can be read on through the above link.

Middle Ages/Late Antiquity

  • *Chronicles by Jean Froissart. The classic work of the 14th century, Froissart covers the early Hundred Years War, along with discussions of life in the nobility and some truly excellent (and strange) anecdotes about his time with various nobles. Geoffrey Brereton edited an excellent abridged Penguin translation linked above.
  • *The Chronicles of the First Crusade by Christopher Tyerman. This is a compilation of multiple chroniclers who wrote about the First Crusade, including but not limited to Fulcher of Chartres, Raymond of Aguilers, Ralph of Caen, and the Gesta Francorum. Each of those accounts is probably worth a look on their own, but this volume binds together the best bits of all of them into a nice, affordable package.
  • *Chronicles of the Crusades by Geffroy Villehardouin and Jean Joinville, translated by Margaret Shaw. An older translation is available at
  • *The Book of Contemplation by Usama ibn Munqidh (trans. by Paul Cobb). This is a great book. Basically a series of meandering anecdotes and observations written by a fascinatingly well traveled and experiences Muslim man living in the time of the Crusades. He provides fascinating insight into the views of Muslim elites towards the Crusader States, as well as life in general at the time.
  • *Toxophilus by Roger Ascham. This ones from 1545, so not really medieval, but still really interesting. It's a book on archery written for the future King Edward VI, and it provides a sort of backward looking view of the practice of archery as it was conducted in previous centuries, and the value in continuing with it (despite the maturation of gunpowder as a technology). The whole thing is written as a Greek dialogue, which makes it a tough read, but also interestingly weird. (Available as an ebook for free on Google Books).
  • *Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli gathers excerpts from seventeen different authors to create a vibrant picture of the Crusades from an Arab perspective.

Age of Discovery

World History

European History

Roman Empire

Russia (including USSR):


US History

Robert Leckie wrote several good histories of the major American wars. Helmet for My Pillow was used to form part of the basis for the HBO Miniseries "The Pacific". But I am more a fan of his individual war histories:

Other US history books:

United States Civil War

World War I and II

World War II books provided by /u/WARFTW

Eastern Front:

General Accounts:

  • When Titans Clashed by David M. Glantz and Jonathan House A good introductory account of the clash between the Wehrmacht and Red Army based on post-Cold War research and archival materials. Dispels a few myths from the Cold War era and allows for a more nuanced understanding of the Eastern Front from the Soviet point-of-view.
  • Russia at War by Alexander Werth This is a ‘classic’ account of the Eastern Front from a Russian born British journalist and war correspondent. It’s filled with eye-witness accounts but also is prone to repeating propaganda from the time period it is covering.
  • Thunder in the East by Evan Mawdsley A more up-to-date introduction to the Eastern Front by an academic. This builds on ‘When Titans Clashed’ by taking the most up to date secondary literature in Russian and crafting a very accessible, fact rich synthesis of the Eastern Front.
  • Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy Bellamy was a student of John Erickson and is/was in the military. “Absolute War” is a substantial tome that encompasses some of the more recent literature on the war and includes interesting case studies of organizations like the NKVD. Unfortunately, 1941 and 1942 are overly represented, whereas the rest of the war seems to be somewhat skimmed over.
  • Hitler's War in the East, 1941-1945: A Critical Assessment by Rolf-Dieter Muller and Gerd R. Ueberschar There are many myths that exist about the Eastern Front, especially revolving around the Wehrmacht and how the Germans waged war. This text is a good start in discussing some of those myths.
  • *The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin by John Erickson These two books are the foundation of literature on the Eastern Front. Written during the Cold War they showcase the tremendous amount of information that was available at the time and the complexity of the Eastern Front. Although Erickson tried his best, he was still somewhat influenced by Soviet propaganda in some of his accounts. Nonetheless, this is still a staple to this day for understanding the Eastern Front.
  • A Writer at War by Vasily Grossman Grossman was a war correspondent and an author. He has recently been ‘rediscovered’ in both Russia and the west and his “Life and Fate” is at times compared to Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. In ‘A Writer at War’ the reader is presented with eye-witness accounts from the duration of the war, including some of the most powerful articles/reports from Stalingrad and Treblinka.
  • *The Role of the Soviet Union in the Second World War: A Re-examination by Boris Sokolov This is a post-Cold War effort by a controversial Russian author. The arguments presented are not meant for the layman, but thrust the reader into the midst of current Russian debates on the Eastern Front, including Lend Lease and casualties in both the war as a whole and, more specifically, during the Battle of Kursk.
  • Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II by Roger R. Reese Reese attempts to explain why Red Army soldiers continued to fight in the face of numerous defeats and catastrophic set backs during 1941 and 1942, analyzing their effectiveness from the Winter War throughout the Eastern Front of the Second World War. Reese is an expert on the Red Army and presents many original arguments based on recent literature, memoirs, and archival findings. This is an especially important text for understanding why the Wehrmacht was successful in 1941.

Red Army:

  • Blood on the Shores by Viktor Leonov. This is one of the best memoirs written about the Eastern Front. The author was twice Hero of the Soviet Union and served in the precursor to today’s Spetsnaz forces, naval infantry reconnaissance. He fought against both the Germans in the Baltic and against the Japanese in the Pacific.
  • Over the Abyss by Ilya Starinov. Starinov was a demolitions expert and participated in partisan operations from the Russian Civil War, through the Spanish Civil War, and the Eastern Front of the Second World War. He trained partisan forces in the German rear and helped wage war against the Wehrmacht.
  • *Red Sniper on the Eastern Front by Joseph Pilyushin. The majority of the action takes place on the Leningrad Front and encompasses a lot more than just Pilyushin’s sniper activity. In some ways it showcases the fluid nature of being in the Red Army during the Second World War. This memoir offers a lot of insight into the mentality of Red Army soldiers, showcases the ingenuity of the Red Army, portrays quite well the chaos of war.
  • *GUNS AGAINST THE REICH: Memoirs of an Artillery Officer on the Eastern Front by Petr Mikhin. The author took part in the fighting around Rzhev, Kharkov, and Kursk, among other locations. There aren’t many memoirs featuring artillery observers, so this recollection offers an important portrayal of the role artillery plays in war, especially the reliance the Red Army placed on artillery support.
  • *PANZER DESTROYER: Memoirs of a Red Army Tank Commander by Vasiliy Krysov. Krysov served in both tanks (KV and T-34) and self-propelled artillery guns (SU-122 and SU-85). This account offers a fascinating portrayal of the Red Army’s tank park at war, including their ingenuity on the field of battle and the deprivations they suffered from as they advanced on empty stomachs and with little to no sleep day after day.
  • Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier's War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945 by Boris Gorbachevsky. This is somewhat of a well known title in Russia. Gorbachevsky served around Rzhev and participated in what some would describe was a ‘human wave attack’. This memoir doesn’t contain as much action as some of the above mentioned texts, but since Gorbachevsky was a political officer, it offers a different kind of insight into the thinking of political officers and the role they played in the Red Army.
  • *Red Road From Stalingrad: Recollections Of A Soviet Infantryman by Mansur Abdulin. This is a well written account of the Eastern Front filled with battles and locations that few would have heard of (aside from Stalingrad) and the sacrifices Red Army soldiers regularly made for their comrades in arms and their country.
  • *Red Star Against the Swastika: The Story of a Soviet Pilot over the Eastern Front by Vasily Emelianenko. Emelianenko offers a glimpse into the life of Soviet pilots and the drastic actions some had to take. The Soviet Air Force (VVS) is often overlooked and this memoir gives a good account of what the Red Army asked of its pilots.
  • *Penalty Strike: The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander, 1943-45 by Alexander V. Pyl’cyn. There are very, very few memoirs from penal formations as they suffered grievous losses throughout the war. This memoir is by a regular Red Army officer who was put in charge of a penal company (made up of Red Army officers) and discusses what life was like for Red Army penal formations, and the officers that commanded them.

German Army:

  • Through Hell for Hitler by Henry Metelmann. One of the few memoirs written by a Wehrmacht soldier that serves as an interesting reflection of the crimes the German army committed on the Eastern Front. All too often German military memoirs gloss over the genocidal nature of the war they waged against the Soviet Union, Metelmann brings those atrocities into focus.
  • *A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War : Russia, 1941-1944 by Willy Peter Reese. Reese did not survive the Eastern Front. This candid memoir reveals what everyday life in the German army was like and the transformation some soldiers undoubtedly underwent as they were forces to wage a genocidal war on behalf of the Third Reich.


For Stalingrad/Leningrad:

  • Stalingrad: How the Red Army Survived the German Onslaught by Michael Jones. Jones attempts to analyze the motivation behind the Red Army and what was responsible for keeping up their morale throughout the siege of the Stalingrad. He corrects quite a few of Anthony Beevor’s mistakes and offers an engaging narrative of the battle, including eye-witness accounts from surviving veterans.
  • *Leningrad: State of Siege By Michael Jones. Similar to his book on Stalingrad, Jones once more takes a look at what motivated Leningraders and the Red Army defenders of Leningrad to continue to struggle against the Wehrmacht when surrounded and facing famine conditions on a daily basis for months at a time.
  • *Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad by William Craig. This volume was first published in the 1970s and offers a good and accessible introductory account of the Battle for Stalingrad. (Also available on audio.)
  • To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942 and Armageddon in Stalingrad: September-November 1942 by David M. Glantz and Jonathan House. These two volumes offer the definitive account on the battle of Stalingrad from the operational side of things. The concentration is mainly on the Red Army but the German point of view is present as well. This is not aimed at the novice or layman and relies on a large amount of after action reports and battle journals of the units involved in the battle.
  • Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler's Defeat in the East, 1942-1943 by Joel Hayward. This is an important text that showcases the role of the Luftwaffe in the German advance to Stalingrad and how the German air force helped sustain the 6th Army for as long as it could after Paulus and his forces were encircled within the confines of Stalingrad.
  • The 900 Days: The Siege Of Leningrad by Harrison E. Sailsbury. Salisbury was a journalist and offers a very moving introductory account to the siege of Leningrad. This is one of the first and more famous narratives on the siege of Leningrad and in many respects holds up to this day in terms of portraying a suffering the city of Leningrad and its population had to endure during the close to 900 days the Germans had them surrounded.


  • The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House. Another volume by Glantz that serves as a good introductory to the battle of Kursk. It isn’t without its problems and issues, but for someone new to the field, it’s a good starting place.
  • Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative by Valeriy Zamulin. Zamulin is an historian who works at the Kursk museum. One of his first publications was on Prokhorovka, and this is a translation of that massive tome. He’s since put out a few more volumes, all of similar length, on other aspects of Kursk and all are recommended but, unfortunately, they are only available in Russian at the moment. This is a volume for those already familiar with the Eastern Front and Kursk as it delves into many minor nuances with evidence and information from both the German and Soviet side. A must read for those interested in the Red Army’s performance at Prokhorovka.

Air War:

German Army:

  • War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II Edited by H. Heer and K. Naumann. This is one of the few texts that examines the role of the Wehrmacht in the ‘war of extermination’ that was unleashed against the Soviet Union with Opreation Barbarossa. The concentration here is on examining and disproving the myth about the ‘Wehrmacht with clean hands’.
  • *Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich by Omer Bartov. Bartov tries to showcase the impact Nazi ideology had on the German Army and how the war on the Eastern Front and German propaganda helped shape a new type of German Army.
  • The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture by Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies ll. This book offers an interesting look at the infatuation American culture has with the war on the Eastern Front and the German Army in general (including the SS). Too often one hears about how the ‘victors write the history books’ but in this case the history of the war and the German Army was heavily influenced by the defeated officers and soldiers in the post-war period. The myths they created are still prevalent in how many view the German army and the war on the Eastern Front in general.
  • *The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality by Wolfram Wette. This is another interesting look at how the veterans of the German Army helped create the narrative of the war many are familiar with today, including the role of the Army in the holocaust/genocide in the East.
  • *The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler's Foreign Soldiers by Rolf-Dieter Müller. There are many reasons for why the German army was as successful as it was against the Red Army on the Eastern Front. One of the most important is the assistance that was rendered the Wehrmacht by Germany’s allies. All too often that assistance is dismissed as being of limited value, but the truth is that without her allies Germany would never have been able to reach Stalingrad, less so hold out against the Red Army until May of 1945. This text explains the impact Germany’s allies and foreign volunteers had on the German war effort.


  • *Defiance by Nechama Tec. This is the book the movie with the same title is based on. In general the Jewish narrative of the Second World War is embedded in the ‘victim’ mentality and yet there were numerous instances of Jewish resistance, from partisans to revolts within ghettos and concentration/death camps. This showcases the former, a band of Jewish partisans that did more than just fight the German occupation, they made it a rule to save as many women, children, and the elderly as they could. (Also available on audio format.)
  • Stalin's Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II by Kenneth Slepyan. Slepyan is an academic and this monograph is an in-depth look at the partisan war effort on the Eastern Front, concentrating on the creation of the partisan movement and the complex nature of war on occupied territory and in the rear of the German Army.


  • *Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule by Karel C. Berkhoff. Berkhoff offers an in-depth look at the German occupation of Ukraine, a territory that endured some of the worst excesses of the German Army’s advance, the Einsatzgruppen that followed, and the partisan war that followed in its wake. Both collaboration and resistance is discussed as part of everyday life of those under occupation.
  • *Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine by Wendy Lower. This monograph looks at the German occupation of Ukraine but places it in the greater context of German ‘Empire-Building’ and how that mindset facilitated the excesses of the Holocaust on Ukrainian territory. (Also available on audio and MP3 format.)
  • *Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine by Omer Bartov. Bartov explores the erasure of memory, including the Holocaust and Jewish history in general, throughout Western Ukrainian territory as the recently created state of Ukraine tries to come to terms with its past while crafting a new memory and history for its indigenous population.
  • The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization edited by Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower. This is an anthology concentrating on the Holocaust in Ukraine, mainly aimed at/for academics. Ukraine has a very complex history, in great part influenced by the fact that parts of today’s Ukraine were once part of the Habsburg Empire while other territories belonged in various times to Poland and Russia/the Soviet Union. Topics covered include German Military administration and complicity in the Holocaust, Jewish-Ukrainian and German-Ukrainian relations in Galicia, as well as Romania’s role in the Holocaust.

Soviet and German Commanders:

  • *Stalin's Generals Edited by Harold Shukman. This is an excellent introductory/starting point for those interested in some of the more famous Red Army commanders and their roles in the war on the Eastern Front.
  • Red Army Tank Commanders: The Armored Guards by Richard N. Armstrong. Armstrong is a military officer who knows Russian and wrote this monograph on the six tank armies of the Red Army and their respective commanders. Well worth the read to understand how Red Army commanders handled their tank forces and in general how armored formations were employed throughout the war on the Eastern Front.
  • *Marshal of Victory: The Autobiography of General Georgy Zhukov by Georgy Zhukov and Geoffrey Roberts. This is a must if you have an interest in the Red Army. Zhukov’s memoirs present some problems, having gone through 13 editions, but Roberts is an excellent historian who’s written on Zhukov himself so he presents something of a balance.
  • *Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov by Geoffrey Roberts. Zhukov is a somewhat controversial figure in today’s Russia and Roberts has taken it upon himself to meticulously go through the various editions of Zhukov’s memoirs and his personal archive to take apart the various ‘myths’ that made it into the pages of Zhukov’s memoirs.
  • *Field Marshal von Manstein: The Janus Head / A Portrait by Marcel Stein. Manstein is often made out to be the greatest German commander of the Second World War but there is more than one side to the man that most like so much to laud. Although Stein’s portrait of Manstein presents some limitations and weaknesses, overall it is a step in the right direction that few others have taken as they seem to be too enamored with Manstein, and the German officer corps in general.
  • *Hitler's Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model--Hitler's Favorite General by Steven H. Newton. Model is a well known German commander but he’s more significant and visible in the latter part of the Second World War. He was Hitler’s ‘defensive’ general and a fanatical Nazi. Newton does a good job in analyzing Model’s rise through the ranks and the role he played in delaying various Red Army offensives up until his defeat and suicide on the Western Front.

Middle East

The Middle East Throughout the Ages

The Ancient Near East

  • The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, edited by Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson: a voluminous collection of essays dealing with every aspect of the culture of the "cuneiform world" from food to education to political organization to music. Very readable and extensive in its coverage and throughly up-to-date.

  • A History of the Ancient Near East: ca 3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop: It's an expansive history of the region that at once shows off its scale but also avoids overwhelming with information. It's a must read to acquire a sense of perspective over the region's history.

  • Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East by Michael Roaf.

  • King Hammurabi of Babylon: a Biography, by Marc van der Mieroop: Hammurabi is one of the most famous Near Eastern figures in history, and this extensively researched account of his life is a good introduction both to Hammurabi and the society he existed in. It's also a keen illustration of the depth of cuneiform resources.

  • The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. Among the most popular introductory level books on any biblical subject ever written. Just be a little bit careful, Finkelstein works in his "low chronology" without preface, which is good for his inteded audience, but bad for a broader view, as it remains contentious. It's worth picking up Grabbe's book to help spot where he does so.

  • Did God Have a Wife by William Dever. Dever has a decidedly more conservative flair, but trumps other more conservative scholars by being an archaeologist, and--for the most part--giving the archaeology priority.

  • Israel's History and the History of Israel by Mario Liverani. Liverani stands out as being perhaps the truest scholar of the Ancient Near East generally to write on the history of Israel, and this is valuable on that basis alone.

  • Ancient Israel: What do we know and how do we know it? by Lester Grabbe. Despite the somewhat colloquial feel of the title, this is not light reading. Nor is it intended to be, it provides a succinct, easily understandable discussion of all of the major debates in Israelite archaeology today. It wonderfully fills a fairly obvious gap for a quick and dirty reference for recent discoveries.

  • Biblical History and Israel's Past: the changing study of the Bible and History, Megan B. Moore and Brad E. Kelle (2011). I can't say enough about how fantastic this book is. The breadth and accessibility of this overview of the current state of research is incredible. The suggested reading at the end of each chapter provides a wonderful selection of equally readable texts (at least among ones I've read). Just. . .fantastic.

  • Life in Biblical Israel by Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager (2001). The go-to source for all questions on daily life in ancient Israel (in the Bronze and Iron ages). An excellent overview of all the various aspects of daily life, from food and cooking ways to economics and trade, to clothing, to religion, this book is the place to start. Perfect for answering all those questions about "what did people use for (blank) in the Ancient Near East?".

  • Ancient Turkey by A.G. Sagona and Paul Zimansky (2009). This is an excellent overview of ancient Anatolia, from the Neolithic settlements of Çatalhöyük to the Lydian empire. It includes some discussions pertaining to Troy and the Hittites as well. Overall an excellent book for learning about the often overlooked ancient history of Anatolia, and a must-have for any class on the subject.


Carthage : A History by Serge Lancel is the definitive guide to the famous empire that rocked Rome to its core.

The Medieval Middle East

Ottoman to Modern Era



Colonial Africa

Ancient Egypt


Mythology, Legends & Religion

Art & Architecture

  • The Complete Pyramids by Mark Lehner. The Pyramids at Giza are one of the most iconic landmarks in the world and have sent a powerful message of awe and power echoing through millenia. Lehner's book takes readers through their construction and the logistics surrounding them as well as their cultural, social, and religious significance. But do not expect a mere guide to Giza, Lehner takes a look at the lesser known burial pyramids throughout Egypt.
  • The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt by W. Stevenson Smith is a perfect guide to the iconic architecture and imagery of Ancient Egypt.
  • The Art of Ancient Egypt: Revised Edition by Gay Robins, is an excellent resource that takes a sharp look at Egyptian art from the early dynastic to the Hellenistic period in all its most iconic and mysterious forms.

Graeco-Roman Egypt

  • Naukratis: Greek Diversity In Egypt - Studies on East Greek Pottery and Exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean by Alexandra Villing and Udo Schlotzhauer. Naukratis has opened up all kinds of doors for understanding Greek trade in Egypt as it was established as a Greek port city in Egypt for trading by the 6th Century BCE and this aptly named title makes full use of the discoveries made there as well as the research surrounding them.
  • Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism by Ian S. Moyer. Moyer does a good job of exploring the historiography of Hellenic culture in Egypt and the exchange of culture, knowledge and traditions that this is worth a look even with all the literature already available on the subject.
  • *Hellenistic Egypt By Jean Bingen is a comprehensive look at one the most romanticized and turbulent periods of Egyptian history although some of his assumptions (particularly around the nature of ethnicity and economy in Ptolemaic Egypt) are slightly dated.

  • *Visualizing the Afterlife in the Tombs of Graeco-Roman Egypt by Marjorie Susan Venit explores the evolution of Egypt's iconic funerary traditions and beliefs in the Hellenistic and Roman period.

  • *Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra By Michael Chauveau. This multi-faceted volume looks at society, culture, governance, demography and economy in Ptolemaic Egypt to give readers a better understanding of the precariously balanced nation that was ancient Egypt in the age of Cleopatra. Chauveau makes full use of the accounts, inscriptions, documents and research from this period to paint a more complete picture of the Ptolemaic dynasty that is easily accessible and illuminates and steps away from the common tradition of focusing on a narrative driven approach to this period in history. Readers who are looking for something along the lines of a biography, that is to say, a story about Cleopatra VII as opposed to an introduction to Ptolemaic Egypt and the period of Roman intervention, could do far worse than Chauveau's *Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth which builds on the research that went into Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra and examines the classical texts and Egyptian sources balanced by modern critical analysis of one of Egypt's more controversial queens. (Both available on Kindle format.)

  • *The Last Pharaohs: Egypt Under the Ptolemies, 305-30 BC by J.G. Manning is a well rounded and exhaustively researched volume that examines Ptolemaic rule in Egypt on an ideological, practical and theoretical level, and manages to be highly readable and none too dense.

  • *Sex and Society in Greco-Roman Egypt by Dominic Montserrat. Sexuality, gender and where they intersect with society and culture is always fascinating and changes radically from time to time, but if you want to get acquainted with what these things meant to life in Greco-Roman Egypt in an entertaining and informative package this is your lucky day. (Available on Kindle.)

  • Women and Society In Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook by Jane Rowlandson. Similar to the title above but Rowlandson puts the emphasis on women, a task made more difficult by the comparative scarcity of contemporary evidence.

  • *Hellenistic and Roman Egypt: Sources and Approaches is an invaluable collection of various articles and studies by Roger S. Bagnall. (Available on Kindle)

  • *The Demography of Roman Egypt by Roger S. Bagnall and Bruce W. Frier who compiled over 300 census returns with dates ranging from the 1st to 3rd Century AD and then applied techniques from modern demography to discover information about the population of Roman Egypt from birth to death. It admits to readers that it can not provide a perfect metric but is quite useful in learning general information about life and society in the Roman province of Egypt and is a good source for population growth, birth/death rates, sex ratio, life expectancy, family living, taxation, age distribution and marital customs. (Available on Kindle)

  • *Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt: 300 BC-AD 800 by Roger S. Bagnall and Rafiella Criboire. There are many ways to examine and reconstruct the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago but this book offers a reasonably expansive collection of letters known to be written by women living in Graeco-Roman Egypt along with scholarly analyses and context.

  • Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance by David Frankfurter.

  • The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt by Christina Riggs.

  • *Egypt In Italy: Visions of Egypt in Imperial Roman Culture by Molly Swetnam-Burland looks at the cultural significance of Egypt within Roman culture on a religious, economic and social level. (Available on Kindle)

  • *Egypt in the Byzantine World: 300-700 edited by Roger Bagnall is a comprehensive and essential look at Egyptian history, society and culture as it transitioned from the Late Roman to shortly after the Arab conquest. A must-read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the Egypt in Late Antiquity.

For those of you deranged enough to want to foray into economics, law, agriculture and bureaucracy in the Hellenistic and Roman periods:


This list has been mainly compiled by the excellent users over at /r/AskHistorians.


Modern China
  • The Search For Modern China by Jonathan Spence. A Chinese history textbook that is somehow more readable than a lot of novels. Also, written by one of the foremost English-Language scholars on the topic.
  • Science and Civilisation in China by Joseph Needham
  • Daily Lives of Civilians in Wartime Asia: From the Taiping Rebellion to the Vietnam War by Stewart Lone: Fairly straightforward. Not just China but basically every major Asian conflict. It is a behemoth of information that has been collected from far and wide for the reader's convenience. It covers history, provides detailed and cited statistics, and gives insight to culture, art, social chances and upheavals, family and even romantic impact from living during all these wars. An excellent reference.

  • China: A New History by John K. Fairbank: An excellent introduction to the topic by the doyen of American Sinology. China's modern history is the main concern, but the earlier periods are treated sufficiently.

China Throughout the Ages
  • A History of Chinese Civilization by Jacques Gernet: A readable and detailed survey of Chinese history that is notable for not prejudicing modern history over earlier periods. It heavily focuses on intellectual and cultural history, and at times the details of the political history get ignored, but any survey this ambitious must make cuts. The account of the nineteenth century is particularly vivid.

  • This Is China: The First 5,000 Years by Haiwang Yuan: This should be the standard text in every introductory class to Chinese history. It is an incredibly short, brief book that is a crash course on Chinese history to the uninitiated as well as a solid quick reference for the more experienced. It is a work that runs over the surface of almost everything Chinese history has to offer and dips its head under the water at select places to try to give the reader a real taste of what lies before them. More than cover Chinese history, it is a great book to illustrate the fact that trying to understand all of Chinese history at once is impossible and is as much art and dynamic dialogue as it is inexact science and lively academia. Another must have.

  • Cambridge Illustrated History of China by Patricia Buckley Ebrey (2nd ed. 2010). Incredibly beautiful. Don't let the visuals fool you into thinking this is a glorified picture book. It is a masterpiece of clear concise writing, tying together dates, places, and names so that they clarify events instead of overwhelming the reader. The images themselves are not only beautifully rendered but also masterfully picked so that they enhance the text, rather than detract from it. Finally, the author pays special attention to possible Western biases or misconceptions and handles them gracefully. This is the general reference book to get that is as enjoyable to read as it is informative as well as academically rigorous in its methodology.

  • Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey. Another standard find in intro Chinese history courses in college.

  • A Short History of China: From Ancient Dynasties to Economic Powerhouse By Gordon Kerr.

  • Soldiers of the Dragon edited by CJ Peers. Osprey publishers have a wide variety of awesome military histories. You wouldn't be likely to find this in a college classroom, but that can be a plus. It's not a hard read, but extremely informative.

Early to Imperial China
  • The Archaeology of China: From the Late Paleolithic to the Early Bronze Age by Li Liu and Xingcan Chen: Only recently having finished reading this myself, I highly recommend this book for its compelling points about, well everything. It sheds light on topics ranging from the structures of societies, agriculture, tools and warfare, regional and inter-cultural influences on development, to even diet and health. Most of the research comes from archaeological studies as well as interpreting inscriptions, artifacts, and other reputable academic sources.
  • Defining Chu: Image And Reality in Ancient China : The immense Chu state dominated the south for centuries throughout most of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era until its final succumb to the armies of Qin that emerged from the west. Despite certain faults, this collection of essays is the best work that I know of which deals directly with this kingdom, from the territorial expansion and contraction of Chu to the nature of Chu art to its cultural legacy in the Han dynasty. I especially recommend Jenny So's Chu Art: Link Between the Old and New. Through the Jade Gate to Rome by John E Hill: A translation of a famous primary source with notes and commentary by Hill, this book provides amazing insight to the Silk Road culture, as well as prominently featuring Chinese and Roman culture tie ins. It covers history, culture, politics, trade, economics, and even views of daily life. To Chinese reading historians, I call this book one of the English equivalents of 从长安到罗马 otherwise known as From Chang'an to Rome, which is simply a masterpiece of Chinese history. If you've ever wondered how the Chinese interacted with and influenced/were influenced by the Middle East, Central Asia, Greece, and Rome, you need this book.

  • The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. Mark Edward Lewis: The first in Timothy Brook's admirable Chinese History project with Harvard University Press. The goal was to create relatively short, accessible texts that were also high quality scholarship for each of the major periods in Imperial chinese history. Mark Edward Lewis provides the first three. The series does not take the more direct route, that one would find in the Cambridge histories. Instead of narrative history, Lewis focuses on material culture, as well as legal, religious, and societal structures of the Qin/Han.

  • China Between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. Mark Edward Lewis: The second in the series picks up where Lewis left off, at the end of the Han. This volume covers the period between 220-618 CE. However, for those interested in narrative history, this book will disappoint. For those interested in the major changes and transformations that occurred in Chinese society at the time, this book will be greatly appreciated.

  • China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty by Mark Edward Lewis: Divided between sections on history, geography, the economy, society, and culture, this book is comprehensive without being overloaded--whether your interests are agriculture, the status of women, or the nature of the poet in society you will find information here. It also does well at torpedoing national mythology.

  • Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn: Extremely accessible book that is based completely on secondary sources and cites other reference books. It is a very handy introductory primer to what life generally was like for the average Chinese person. While obviously focused on the Tang Dynasty, it is a solid place for a start as serious readers/history buffs can build off of this solid foundation as they research more on their own. It is a very light read compared to the more academic texts that I usually recommend but personally this one of my favorites.

  • Imperial China: 900-1800 by F.W. Mote: a tremendous work of longue durée scholarship from one of the venerable old guard of American Sinology. This book is not only meticulously researched, but engagingly written. For narrative history of China, it is unparalleled.

  • Family, Fields and Ancestors by Eastman (1988) - a detailed study of the life of rural Chinese farmers in Qing China, and how little life had changed through war and revolution into the 20th century.

  • Confucian China and its Modern Fate, vol. 1 by Levenson (1958) - focuses on the Confucian intellectuals who were, by training and temperament, completely unable to confront the threat posed by the West.

  • The Class of 1761: Examinations, State, and Elites in Eighteenth-Century China by Iona D. Man-Cheong (2004). A case study of the Qing examination system, looking at the backgrounds, past exams, and future careers of the cadre of scholars who took the highest examination in 1761. The book also presents presents great insight into the nature and true purpose of the examination system more generally, as part of the complicated system of relationships between the Manchu Dragon Throne and the Han gentry elites.

  • The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming Society by Timothy Brook (1998). A detailed and accessible account of the social and economic changes over the course of China's last native dynasty, Brook shows great economy in this work, covering a wide variety of topics in illuminating detail, while remaining quite readable.

  • The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China by Samuel Hawley (2005). One of the three main English accounts of the Imjin War, perhaps the only thing that comes close to a "world war" in East Asia. This is not the most comprehensive text on the war but it gives an excellent introduction. Hawley uses mostly Korean sources for this book and writes from a Korean perspective, so the book does suffer from a pro-Korean bias.

  • Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598 by Stephen Turnbull (2002). The second of the three books on the Imjin War, Turnbull writes from a mostly Japanese perspective. His book tends to favor the Japanese over the Ming and the Koreans.

  • A Dragon's Head and a Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592–1598 by Kenneth M. Swope (2009). The newest of the three books, Swope writes from a Chinese perspective and uses a lot of Chinese primary sources. Though his text has been criticized for providing flawed information, as a military historian, Swope gives an excellent account of the capabilities of the Ming military. It is best to read Hawley, Turnbull, and Swope together.

  • Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian astronomer and historian to Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

Late Imperial to Modern China
  • God's Chinese Son by Jonathan Spence (1996). While not the best or the most in-depth text in English on the Taiping Rebellion, Spence's text is probably the most accessible to readers and is the second best available. This is a wonderful piece of work covering the entire rebellion from Hong Xiuquan's early life, to the Taiping ideology, to its battles with the Qing and internal rivalries, and finally to its fall.

  • Autumn In the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt (2012). A fantastic window into the bloodiest civil war in human history, examining why, scarcely a year after marching through Beijing and burning down the Summer Palace, the Western powers then throw their support behind the Qing Dynasty in crushing the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, as well as narrating Zeng Guofan's campaign against the Taiping. Platt is also a great storyteller, drumming up a sense of looming dread, pathos, and humor in one of the dark chapters of human history.

  • What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in Mid-Nineteenth Century China by Tobie Meyer-Fong (2013). A counterpart to Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, What Remains shifts the focus from the diplomats, politicians, and generals to the millions of people who suffered the grand miseries of war; how they fed themselves (and often failed to do so), how they buried the dead (many of whom littered the countryside for decades), how they marked their allegiances on their bodies, how they commemorated the dead, and how they made moral sense of a catastrophe without equal. Fascinating and moving social history at its best.

  • Origins of the Boxer Uprising by Esherick (1987) - contra popular belief, the Boxer Uprising was neither a cult nor a rebellion, but rather a mass movement centered around Shandong that combined separate strains of vigilantism, anti-imperialism, shamanism and the Chinese theater.

  • Reform and Revolution in China, by Esherick (1976) - focuses on the causes of the 1911 revolution, including the new intellectual and social elite who were distinct from the gentry but not what we would call bourgeois. During this time nationalism, feminism, anti-conformist youth movements and Westernization flourished, but in discarding so much of traditional China the new urban elite became unable to relate to the needs of the rest of the country, setting the stage for the success of communism and the end of all of these trends.

  • Sun Yat Sen by Bergere (1998) - an authoritative portrait of the only man revered by both the Nationalists and Communists as a Founding Father of modern China.

  • Spider Eaters: A Memoir by Rae Yang is all at once a deeply personal, moving and immensely valuable autobiographical account of the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a woman who lived it

  • The Abortive Revolution by Eastman (1974) - an autopsy of the Guomandong nationalists under Chiang Kai-sheck, from their insular, inefficient bureaucracy, inability to understand why the communists were so popular to their brief dabbling with fascist dictatorship.

  • Making Revolution by Chen (1986) - a history of the Communist Party in China from their guerrilla tactics against the Japanese to the Cultural Revolution.

  • The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence. It's a pretty good overview that starts with the Ming and goes through the late 1980s. Covers all the bases. Nothing is covered in exceptional depth (with a subject like China it rarely can be in a single book) but for a general idea of recent Chinese history it's more than adequate. Also, a very readable book.

  • The Party by Richard McGregor: Never before has there been such an amazing in depth look at the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before the publishing of this book. McGregor's work was cut out for him because the CCP is probably one of the most secretive political regimes ever. Most Chinese people don't even know how many departments and adminstrative bodies there are, or which ones belong to the 'government' and which belong to the Party. McGregor dives deep and brings up a treasure trove of knowledge about the mechanics of the strange political system where the Party is the government while pretending not to be, putting faces to names and names to faces, and the corruption that runs to the very core of the system. He provides history and analysis while his masterful writing prevents it all from burying the reader. If you get only one book from this list THIS IS THE BOOK THAT YOU SHOULD READ. Truly, an amazing book that I simply cannot put down.

  • Chen Village by Chan, Madsen and Unger (2nd ed. 2009). This is a beautiful book that traces the life and growth of a village in Southeast China through the entirety of the communist revolution until 2009. Its ambition is incredible, and its execution satisfies its aims. It is effectively an anthropological ethnography written by historians, and the work reflects some of the best of both disciplines. Rarely have I felt as connected to historical characters as I have in learning of the exploits of low-level, unimportant peasant officials in Chen Village. This book communicates the trends in political and social change in China in the last 60 years in a way that is hard to replicate from pure analysis.

  • Chinese Village, Socialist State by Friedman, Pickowitz and Selden (1993) - the first Western social scientists to collect data from the People's Republic of China, focusing on rural Hebei province, south of Beijing. Starting at the "honeymoon period" after the Communists took power, the authors focus their criticism on how Party edicts led to stagnation and immiseration for the villages, creating essentially a neo-feudal order.

  • China's Rise in Historical Perspective edited by Brantly Womack: If anyone is seriously interested in what trends have shaped the current Chinese political landscape, this is the book to read. The perspectives of the contributors are diverse, and so are the topics covered, which include religious cosmology, identity crises in wake of the revolution, ecological issues, and international relations.

  • Taiwan-China: A Most Ticklish Standoff- edited by Adam W. Clarke. Besides having the most fantastic name of any academic work on the subject I've seen, this book provides a survey of the triangle of relationships between the US, China and Taiwan through a mixture of excerpts from declassified/public primary sources and academic analysis.

  • US Taiwan Strait Policy: The Origins of Strategic Ambiguity by Dean P. Chen. It provides a fantastic summary of the US approach toward China in regards to the Taiwan issue, and is the first major book to do so in regards to the Obama administration's policies. However, certainly not for casual reading. This is an academic analysis of the policy making process, and is making an argument for how to conduct US policy into the future. But in the course of its analysis it provides a fantastic history of the relationship between the US and the Taiwan issue.

  • Managing Sino-American Crises: Case Studies and Analysis edited by Michael Swaine and Zhang Tuosheng. Pretty much THE book on the issue. By far the most extensive analysis of crisis behavior by China and America during Sino-American crises. Begins with the post-WWII period, and continues to 2006.

  • Charm Offensive by Joshua Kurlantzick: An excellent history and analysis of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) international politics, plays in the geopolitical arena, and how foreign policy affects domestic policy as well as vice versa. It is a concise and thorough introduction to the PRC's commitment to the 'soft power' grand strategy, and a must read for any student of the PRC's foreign policy history.


Pre-Modern Japan
  • A Modern History of Japan by Andrew Gordon
  • The Economic Aspects of the History of the Civilization of Japan by Takekoshi Yosaburou: Exhaustive in its breadth and scope, it covers the economics of Japan throughout the centuries. A monstrous book filled with more numbers, names, places, and dates than one could ever hope to find in one consolidated text, this is everything you ever wanted to know about Japanese money, economics, and value and more.
  • Japan Emerging edited by Karl Friday - This is a general survey, with each chapter written by a specialist on a particular period or subject. It covers from prehistory to 1850 and is strongest in the Ancient/Classical and Late Medieval periods. This is an excellent book for getting into Japanese history.

  • Rethinking Japanese History by Yoshihiko Amino - This book reconsiders topics in premodern Japanese history like outcasts, non-agrarian production and taxation, and Japan's position in the East Asian sphere. This is a must read for anyone interested in premodern Japan but does require some background knowledge.

  • State of War by Thomas Conlan - This is an in depth study of warfare in the fourteenth century conflicts between the Northern and Southern Courts. It covers topics like weapons and tactics, alliances, and the politics and religion involved in warfare.

  • The Historical Demography of Pre-Modern Japan by Hayami - the author tracks Edo-period population fluctuations. Contra the picture of Tokugawa shogunate as a stable regime with a stagnant population size, Hayami focuses on the long-term trends that set up the explosive growth in the 19th century.

  • The Green Archipelago by Conrad Totman (1998) - By the late 1600s, Japan was on the brink of ecological collapse. Overpopulation and deforestation had nearly stripped the country of trees, and it was very possible the Japanese islands could have ended up like modern-day Haiti or Madagascar, denuded and impoverished. Yet changes in Edo-period environmental policy and philosophy transformed the archipelago's land managament from largely exploitative to regenerative, and consequently today Japan is, in the author's words, "one great forest preserve". This book tells that story.

  • The Conquest of Ainu Lands by Walker (2001) - a history of the colonial expansion of ethnic Japanese ("wajin") north into the island we now call Hokkaido, and the impact of war, famine and disease on the aboriginal inhabitants they conquered and assimilated.

  • Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan by Karl Friday - A great book that goes far more into detail than most people could wish for surrounding, well, samurai and Japanese warfare. Clears up a lot of myths found especially in pop culture, which is something that I found very useful. It also covers the weapons and equipment used during war, how these were used, how battles were conducted, as well as the contextual values of medieval Japan, such as reputation, honour, loyalty, mixed in with deception and lies. Definitely worth the read, although some precursory knowledge would be recommended to get the most out of this book.

  • The Samurai Sourcebook by Stephen Turnbull - As the title says, a sourcebook, not an in-depth guide. It covers everything, from arms and armour of the samurai, to their strategies, tactics, a couple famous battles and conflicts, as well as a few maps that, whilst not the best, are understandable. If you're looking for an in-depth analysis, this isn't the best book, as it really only shines in terms of it's accurate references. Still a good read, though.

  • Frontier Contact Between Choson Korea and Tokugawa Japan by James B Lewis: This book is a study of the Japan House of Busan during Tokugawa Japan and late Joseon Korea, and how contacts between Koreans and Japanese created an interconnected economy in southeastern Korea and southwestern Japan. The title is intentional - a "frontier" has different implications from a hard "border."

Modern Japan
  • The Japanese Discovery of Europe by Keene - studies the technology and modern ideas slowly flowing into the Tokugawa shogunate from Dutch trade, and the small group of scholars who laid the earliest foundations of Japan's modernization in the 18th century.

  • As We Saw Them by Masao Miyoshi is a highly readable account of the first Japanese mission to the west. It offers an interesting reversal of the typical narrative of Westerners observing inscrutable "Orientals." (1860)

  • Civilization and Monsters by Gerald Figal: an academic book, but extremely readable (in my opinion- the one amazon reviewer disagrees). Its central thesis that discourse on monsters, ghosts, the supernatural was central to the formation of modern Japan is surprisingly innovative, and fun to read. (Meiji period)

  • Early Japanese Railways 1853-1914: Engineering Triumphs That Transformed Meiji-era Japan by Dan Free: Surprisingly enough, is not just a book on trains. It is definitely a must read for studies on the Meiji Period and the development going on at the time. It details the massive influx of modern technologies that various Japanese companies were more than happy to incorporate and invest resources into.

  • The Making of Modern Japan by Marius Jansen: This is the definitive work of modern era Japan. Jansen's work is a chronicle of not just the rise of railroads, of factories, the modern firearm, electricity and gas, the telegraph, milk!, and other interesting developments of early modern Japan. He gives background, history, cultural and political analysis, event and timeline breakdowns and more. An expansive work that takes the reader through decades upon decades of Japanese development and progress that happened at break neck speeds, but can now be looked at retrospectively at our leisure, guided by Jansen's steady hand.

  • Inventing Japan by Ian Buruma: This is essentially an extremely succinct look at the changes and developments Japan went through, and its metamorphosis as a nation as it moved from the 19th century into the 20th. This book is seriously tiny, a slip of a book and you could breeze through it in one sitting but its depth of content is surprising for its deceptively small size. I highly recommend this book as a solid introduction, a way to get your foot in the door of the maze that is early modern Japanese history.

  • Rearranging the Landscape of the Gods by Sarah Thal: Nominally this work is about the Konpira Shrine and its changes from the late Sengoku to the modern world. But it goes far deeper, and provides a vivid illustration of the extraordinary changes in Japanese socity, particularly during the tumultuous times after the Meiji Restoration.

  • A Modern History of Japan by Andrew Gordon


  • *Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated) by Bruce Cumings
  • The History of Korea by Djun Kil Kim: An overview of the history of the Korean peninsula from the earliest known inhabitants to the start of the 21st century. Clearly written and generally free of bias. A very good comprehensive introduction to the history of Korea.
  • The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology by Martina Deuchler: This book is an important work of social history that explores how the introduction and application of Neo-Confucianism changed the life of Koreans on a more everyday level and borrows from anthropology.

  • *Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919 b y Andre Schmid

  • Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea by James B. Palais: This book is many years old now, but it remains an important study of late Joseon politics, and in particular the rule of the Daewongun, a de facto regent, in the 1860s and 1870s as well as the three-year period (1873-1876) between the Taewongun's loss of power and the "opening" of Korea.

North Korea
  • Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin (2006). An excellent general history of Korea under the Japanese empire, Kim il-Sung's life and rise to power, and how the North Korean government developed the way it did. There's also a lot of insight here into the Western academy's problems assembling a decent body of research on the country during the Cold War, and how the works that do exist are often intensely political.

  • The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Chol Hwan-Kang and Pierre Rigoulout (2000). A firsthand account of a Japanese-Korean family's experience in North Korea and its time in the Yodok concentration camp. The book's publication is one of the more under-appreciated reasons for the U.S.' (and more broadly, the West's) increasing focus on humanitarian issues in North Korea. A picture of Chol Hwan-Kang's visit to the White House and meeting with Bush was rumored to have found wide circulation in the North Korean government.

  • The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers (2010). An exhaustive examination of the history of postwar North Korean propaganda, and how it's developed and changed to reflect the Kim regime's priorities and politics.

  • North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea by Andrei Lankov (2007). Lankov saw the last of the "Soviet years" in North Korea as an exchange student, and is one of the very rare people to lend the Russian perspective on NK in the Western press. The book is a collection of articles that were initially published for the Korea Times. Topics range from matters as large as Soviet-North Korean relations to things as small as the Kim il-Sung pins that the population must wear.

  • A Year in Pyongyang by Andrew Holloway (written 1988, published online 2002). A firsthand account of life as an expat in North Korea's capital, written by a Brit who was employed for a year as an editor for the government's English-language propaganda and marketing. A strange work, sometimes more valuable for historiographical than historical reasons in its degree of insight into how little Westerners knew of North Korea even while living there, but Holloway still made a number of observations that, with the benefit of later works, we now know to be correct. Lankov's years in North Korea immediately predate Holloway's; both the similarities and differences are instructive.

  • Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland (2009). A statistical study written by the editor of the Journal of East Asian Studies and economist respectively of how and when the North Korean famine started, its effect on the country's population, and the impact of the private markets that sprang up after the collapse of the country's Public Distribution System. A very interesting comparative read to the accounts given in Barbara Demick and Bradley Martin's books; Haggard and Noland argue that the famine's origins lie in 1988 with the impending collapse of the Soviet Union (and thus North Korea's source of cheap fertilizer, oil, and gas). North Korean defectors in Demick and Martin's accounts all tend to say that was when the Public Distribution System began shortchanging their families.

  • Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland (2011). Another statistical study collected among North Korean refugees in both northeastern China and in South Korea. It examines refugees' various reasons for defecting, the ebb and flow in the ease of leaving the country, China's efforts both to repatriate North Koreans and to classify them as "economic refugees" to avoid international legal trouble, and refugees' fate once safely in South Korea. A very troubling read, insofar as the authors admit that the number of problems that South Korea has trying to integrate the relatively small population of North Koreans right now is a sign of much worse things to come should the Kim regime ever collapse.

  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (2010). A National Book Award finalist and deserving of all the accolades it's received. Demick was a Los Angeles Times reporter assigned to the Seoul bureau who spent most of her time interviewing a wide variety of North Korean defectors about their lives in the country, and how/why they left. If Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aids, and Reform is the macro-level view of post-Cold War North Korean society, this is the micro-level view. Haggard and Noland will tell you decreasing fertilizer imports that killed North Korean agriculture: Demick will tell you about the hungry kid who lined up multiple times to "mourn" Kim il-Sung because the authorities were handing out free rice balls to mourners.

  • The North Korean Economy by Nicholas Eberstadt: Focusing on the economic history of North Korea, this text, in my opinion, is essential to understanding how the North started so strong but is today, practically a failed state. Eberstadt worked tirelessly to check and recheck, then check again all of his numbers because North Korea is notorious for inflating or deflating numbers as they see fit so much that often the records that they present to the outside world cannot be trusted, nor can they be verified. The economics of the North affected every other aspect of life in the North, as well as shaping its political, domestic, and foreign policy because of necessity. The extensive and easily digested statistics, often presented in text and reinforced visually with many graphs, tables and charts, give credence to the analysis of the two Koreas by Eberstadt, starting from the division in 1950 all the way to today.

South Korea
  • The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies by Michael Breen: This is the primer for all things South Korean history during the 20th century. Starting with the history and effects of the long embedded Japanese occupation, then moving through the Korean War, the rebuilding, the Korean economic development and social & political upheaval, the Seoul Olympics which was instrumental to South Korea's rise to the global stage, and North & South relations through out. A must read.


Early History

*India's Struggle for Independence, 1857-1947 by Chandra Bipan and Mukherjee Sucheta Mahajan chronicles India's struggle for independence.

Latin American/Caribbean History


South America

Central America




Native American History



Important: Notice the heading here! Some people recommended some works of fiction from time to time. I've argued with myself on if it should be here or not. It's never going to be complete and we probably won't include many suggestions, but we've expanded it to include some historical works we consider "must-reads":


Legends and Myths

This list has some of the fictional accounts passed down through the ages.

Online multimedia


Young Historians List

This list is targeted towards our younger users and has a wide selection of recommendations on an ever growing variety of historical topics and historical fiction. Some of the reading recommendations are ideally suited for young children who are between 5-12 years of age and some are better for adolescents and young adults between 12-24 (although many of the classics and historical fiction novels are sure to interest users of all ages.)

This list has a hand-picked selection of books, documentaries, TV series, podcasts and Youtube series that stand out for their high-quality, accuracy, and appeal. Many of the titles present in this list (books and videos) should be available in your local library.

More than anything else though, we must stress that the age recommendations are just that, recommendations designed to give users an idea of the reading level, kid-friendliness or maturity of the content, but this is in no way a catch-all formula for who can read what and we invite you whether you are looking for a young historian or you are one yourself to pick and choose depending on the individual and not limit your selection to our guidelines.

Booklist for young readers


  • Ordinary People Change The World by Brad Meltzer. A series that looks at some of the most inspiring heroes from our history, including Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, and Rosa Parks. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • Mill By David MacAulay on 19th Century architecture. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • The "Who Was" book series This series with 120+ plus titles is made up of kid-friendly and illustrated biographies of famous leaders, artists, scientists and inventors from ancient Rome to the United States.

  • The "If You Lived..." book series. This illustrated book series describes life in a variety of historical societies in an accurate yet relatable way to really give children for what growing up in Medieval Europe, Ancient Egypt or among the Sioux Indians might be like.

  • The "You Wouldn't Want to Be..." book series which much like If You Lived... and Horrible Histories series, looks at what life was like for historical figures like Pharaohs, Gladiators, Samurai and Medieval Knights (including the not-so-fun parts!)

  • The My Story series Another book series, this one aimed at a slightly older demographic and written in the style of a diary.

Ancient History:

  • Horrible Histories A humorous series that looks at the horrible side of history with titles including Ruthless Romans, Awful Egyptians, and Terrifying Tudors. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • A History of the Roman World: 753 to 146 BC and *From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68 Volume 3 by H.H. Scullard are easily accessible guides to ancient Rome. (Both available on Kindle.)

  • Rome Antics By David MacAulay is an illustrated book on ancient Rome recommended for ages 5-12.

  • City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction By David MacAulay. It is an illustrated book about Roman architecture and city planning, Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • *Pyramid By David MacAulay illustrates the construction of the Egyptian pyramids. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • Augustus Caesar's World By Genevieve Foster looks at Rome's first Emperor and presents the complex, multi-dimensional world he inhabited by exploring the cultures, civilizations and leaders contemporary to him and the influences of those that came before. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers (this generally means over the age of 11 but is of course very flexible as some children read ahead of the curve and others might want something less tedious).

  • The Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt By Elizabeth Payne. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers.

  • *The Civilization of Ancient Egypt by Delia Pemberton. The only real reason this is in the Young Historians section is because of its easily accessible and engaging writing style and wealth of stunning photographs, illustrations, maps and visual aids. (Available on Kindle Format.)

Medieval & Renaissance History:

  • Castle By David MacAulay is an illustrated companion to Medieval architecture. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • Cathedral: The Story of its Construction By David MacAulay on the architecture of cathedrals using detailed illustrations. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • Mosque By David MacAulay is another beautifully illustrated book on the history of architecture this time looking at Medieval mosques. Recommended for ages 5-12.

Mythology, Legends & Fiction:

Important: As always we at /r/History like to make it perfectly clear that while these all have historical and cultural value and many may be rooted in history, they are all fictitious which is why they are here.

The myths and legends are important because they tell us something about the people that wrote them and told them to each other around campfires, in their homes, and recorded in plays, books and epics. They can tell us about their hopes and ideals, about their fears and their concerns about the world around them, they can give us a picture of how they might have imagined their world and what fantasies awoke in their daydreams or what monsters lurked in their nightmares.

The novels and adaptations based on history offer us a perspective and a human story to place on the sometimes inhuman or hard to imagine events and individuals in our own history. We can never truly know whether someone who lived a thousand years ago was really good or evil, right or wrong, incompetent or unfortunate, cruel or practical, and at best these stories can offer us one facet of them and one aspect of their character. They can be a doorway to our past and a reflection of the people that inhabited it, but like a cracked and aged mirror these reflections are imperfect and should not be trusted on their own.

  • Greek Myths By Olivia E. Coolidge. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers.

  • Treasury of Norse Mythology: Stories of Intrigue, Trickery, Love, and Revenge Written by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • The Story of Beowulf By Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall is an illustrated edition of the classic epic. Recommended for ages 5-12.

  • The Bronze Bow By Elizabeth George Speare tells the story of fictional Daniel Bar Jamin, a hot-headed young rebel in Roman occupied Judea. Recommended for ages 8 and up.

  • *The Three Musketeers By Alexandre Dumas is a time-tested adventure novel. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers. (Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

  • *The Man In The Iron Mask By Alexandre Dumas, a classic tale of betrayal, deceit, adventure and tragedy. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers. (Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

  • *A Tale of Two Cities By Charles Dickens set in the late 18th century tells a tale of poverty, inequalities and justice. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers. (Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

  • *The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde. When young Dorian finds that all age and damage is inflicted on a portrait of his likeness rather than his own body he believes himself to be immortal, but finds that even the power of the portrait cannot absolve his soul of the damage he inflicts upon it. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers. (Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

  • *Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery tells the story of an orphan named Anne and her life in 19th century Canada. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers. (Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

  • *Heidi by Johanna Spyri is about a young girl living in the Swiss Alps in the 19th century. Suitable for all ages but best for more advanced readers.(Available for free to read on Project Gutenberg.)

Podcasts, Documentaries, and Video Series

This lists some of the most interesting and informative TV series, documentaries, Youtube series, and podcasts that we have found. These are accessible for history students of all ages and are an excellent accompaniment to literary studies. Note that even the best documentaries and video series have theirown shortcomings and inaccuracies, the best way to avoid these is by utilizing as diverse a library of content from as many different providers as possible.

Podcasts and Youtube Channels

  • Extra History An animated series from the makers of Extra Credits that looks at a wide selection of topics covering various areas of history.

  • Historia Civilis Another animated Youtube series that focuses on Roman history, warfare and aspects of Roman culture and politics as well as occasionally looking at other civilizations and time periods.

  • TedEd A fun and educational Youtube channel that covers a wide range of topics including history, natural sciences, and social sciences in short animated videos written by some of the top minds in their respective academic fields.

Websites and other online media


TV Series and DVDs

Many of these titles should be available in your local library if you live near one.

The Ancient Civilizations for Kids series is an excellent resource for younger audiences and is both fun and educational, while studying the many facets of ancient civilizations and their origins as well as looking at archaeology- both its modern tenets and its history - in a way that is engaging and informative.

Previous AMAs done in r/History

r/AskHistorians book list

revision by Welshhoppo— view source