Weekend Reads for American History Lovers
Fun reads for history nerds are a must.
It's been a hot minute since I've posted on this blog, but it's the weekend and I've been getting some reading in. It prompted me to jump online and get some recommendations out to y'all.
The idea of book reviews on books that incorporate American history (fiction and non-fiction) has been hanging out in my head for awhile.
So I'm dropping a few quick notes on three very different books in case you're looking for a weekend read (or multi-weekend LOL)!
And honestly, what better way to learn history, from daily life to places and people to obscure events, than to immerse yourself in it through a book. Not every book has to be academic if you want to learn history. However, I still believe primary sources rule, so no matter what book I recommend, I always recommend to dig deeper!
RELATED: You can read my post about primary sources by clicking here.
Necessary disclaimer: As a blogger, I use affiliate links sometimes! I may receive commission from purchases I share; it does not change your price but sometimes you might get a discount.
Gate shadow, Palace garden in Colonial Williamsburg
Recommendation Number 1: Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation
Author David Price uses letters, inventories, and other primary sources to tell the story of Jamestown.
If you've followed this blog, you may have seen my post about the original 13 colonies and the foundation of my focus for the history I relay in this blog.
As someone who lives in the Historic Triangle and is fortunate to get into the Jamestown Settlement for free anytime due to my residency, I have to say... this book is on point. I also get out to Jamestown Island and the archaeological site pretty often- this book brought the digs happening outside the original fort into context.
We've been told by the archaeologists the current project is based on the recordings of John Smith and while standing there talking to them, it was easy for me to visualize the past after reading Price's descriptions.
You can follow the Jamestown Rediscovery project on YouTube here.
The book shares Smith's accounts as written, maps he created, and how he ended up back in England after his time in Virginia. You'll get insight into the people who came here, but also the economics of colonizing Virginia.
Cool side note: sitting on a bench at the Settlement, overlooking the James River, and reading the book was a solid "history nerd" moment of Zen for this girl!
Rediscovering Jamestown, archaeology dig 2023
Recommendation Number 2: 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics
Are you someone who loves forensic science? Women's history? 19th century Chicago?
If you love any of those things, this book is for you. I happen to have been born in Chicago, so it has a special spot in my heart. That said, I'm a true crime addict and have always torn through books that use forensics as the basis for solving mysteries.
And reading this book taught me about yet another woman ahead of her time; one who came from a wealthy Chicago family and truly turned her hobby into a business (a little passion of mine if you know why I started blogging with the Free At 50 blog!).
Frances is the brilliant mind behind the use of miniatures to recreate crime scenes. This book shares how it all started and brings you forward into the 20th century. Further, it honors the mark she personally left on modern-day processes for solving crime. (oh and it's an easy read for non-science experts- I promise!)
Thank goodness Bruce Goldfarb wrote this book.
Recommendation Number 3: Hidden History of Music Row
I won't lie: I was drawn in pretty fast when there was mention of the Marquis de Lafayette's visit to what is now the Nashville area. Hallowed ground indeed!
And so it begins, a LITERAL American history from the Colonial era forward into modern times of the land that is Music Row.
Whether you love architecture and the stories buildings tell, music (country or otherwise), business and economics (yes, this book hits on music as an industry), this book is one to add to your collection.
Looking at a street from the context what buildings were built there (and town down), who lived in them, how the city benefitted from the lives of those people... it's an a-ha moment into another way to learn history. I personally LOVED the hyper-focused approach to American history through this snippet of one of the most famous streets in our United States.
Thank you to co-authors by Brian Allison, Elizabeth Elkins, and Vanessa Olivarez for the work that went into this comprehensive and easy-to-follow read. Fun side note: Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn wrote the foreward to give a fantastic perspective from someone with a special tie to the area, a musician.
As always, closing with words from history! This time from Thomas Jefferson to his friend John Page. His concern: the safety of a box of books. By reading the letter in full (along with citations and notes), you get a better context of what is happening in December of 1775. Click here to read it.
From Thomas Jefferson to John Page, [ca. 10 December 1775]
To John Page
[Philadelphia, ca. 10 December 1775]
Th: J. to J. Page
De rebus novis, ita est. One of our armed vessels has taken an English storeship coming with all the implements of war .... (the letter continues)
....The Congress have promoted Brigadier Genl. Montgomery to be a Major General, and on being assured that Arnold is in possession of Quebec it is probable he will be made a Brigadier General, one of those offices being vacant by Montgomery’s promotion. This march of Arnold’s is equal to Xenophon’s retreat. Be so good as to enquire for the box of books you lodged for me at Nelson’s and get them to a place of safety. Perhaps some opportunity may offer of sending it to Richmond.
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