9 Must-Read History Books for Knowing the History of Nearly Everything

Looking for the best history books? I’ve got you covered.

The list below contains books on history that span everything from the Big Bang to modern civilization.

Top 5 History Books

Sapiens book cover, best history books

One hundred thousand years ago, there were at least six species of humans on Earth.

Today, there’s only one: homo sapiens. What fate befell the others? And what will happen to us?

This history book explores how history and biology have defined us and helped us understand what it means to be human.

Going back to about 70,000 years ago, the book uses science and history to reconsider conventional narratives, connect past developments with modern concerns, and analyze specific events through the lenses of larger ideas.

What’s in it for you:

  • A revolutionary narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution
  • 6 maps, 27 photos, and 25 diagrams

In this history book, Jared Diamond takes apart racist theories of human history by showing you that environmental factors actually played a big role in the past.

The book will help you deeply understand human societies by revealing how the modern world and its inequalities came to be.

What’s in it for you:

  • A unified, groundbreaking narrative of human evolution

In this history book, Bill Bryson tries to understand and answer the oldest, biggest questions about the universe and ourselves.

Bryson attempts to offer answers for nearly everything, from how we got from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization.

What’s in it for you:

  • An exciting, informative journey into the history of nearly everything

Genghis Khan led the Mongol army to conquer more lands and people in 25 years than the Romans did in 400 years.

In every land they defeated, they brought unparalleled civilization and progress.

Genghis Khan abolished torture, supported religious freedom, and destroyed systems of aristocratic privilege.

This history book chronicles his unprecedented rise and the civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed.

What’s in it for you:

  • The remarkable history of how one exceptional man created an empire that revolutionized the world 

5. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

When the Third Reich crumbled, it crumbled swiftly.

The Nazis had little time to burn their letters, memos, and diaries.

Using these sources and his experience as an international correspondent during the war, William Shirer narrates a sweeping account of the Third Reich’s rise and fall.

What’s in it for you:

  • The most comprehensive account of Nazi Germany
  • A clear, well-documented account of how Adolf Hitler almost succeeded in conquering the world
  • A chilling portrait of humanity’s darkest hours

Other Best History Books

In this classic history book, Mary Beard narrates Rome’s history passionately and shows how it rose to become the undisputed leader of the Mediterranean. 

Beard examines how we think of ancient Rome and disputes the conventional historical perspectives that have been around for centuries. 

What’s in it for you:

  • A book that will greatly shape your view of Roman history

Postwar offers you a grand history of postwar Europe, drawing on research in six languages to sweep you through 34 countries and 60 years of cultural and political change.

It covers both east and west Europe to present a unified, thrilling narrative.

What’s in it for you:

  • The most comprehensive and readable postwar history

Howard Zinn throws out the official American history taught in schools to offer a different narrative focused on the street, home, and workplace.

Zinn tells America’s story from the perspective of its factory workers, women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrant laborers, and the working poor.

Zinn shows that many of America’s greatest battles started at the grassroots level, against violent resistance.

What’s in it for you:

  • A history book for anyone wanting to understand the United States, its true history, and its hope for the future

Although not a typical history book, Homo Deus deserves a place on this list.

The book focuses on our future and our quest to upgrade ourselves into gods on earth.

Over the past century, we’ve managed to do the impossible and have greatly lessened the effects of plague, famine, and war.

We’ve transformed these mighty negative forces—plague, famine, war—into manageable forces.

Now, with these forces kept at bay, what will catapult to the top of our agenda?

Homo Deus explores the projects and dreams and nightmares that will define the twenty-first century—from conquering death to creating artificial life.

What’s in it for you:

  • An insightful, daring book that maps out our future as a species

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