Celebrating the Holidays: 15 Books History Buffs Will Love

Posted on December 8, 2021

by The History Reader

While the holidays are primarily a time to reconnect with family and friends, there is nothing better during these cold months than curling up by the fire and reading a book you can’t put down. As the holidays near, we’ve compiled a list of remarkable, giftable books that range in topics from a WWII fighter pilot-turned-prisoner to the newfound history of Viking women warriors that we guarantee the history buff in your life will thank you for.

Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier

by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

If one of your loved ones is convinced they know all there is to know about historical figures, Blood & Treasure is the perfect book for them. This fast-paced and well-researched narrative explores the conflict over America’s “First Frontier” with the legendary Daniel Boone as the book’s guide. Set in the mid 18th century, Clavin and Drury use contemporary diaries and journals, newspaper reports, and eyewitness accounts to encapsulate the anxieties and violence that the men and women experienced first-hand. Blood and Treasure is an extraordinary read and its gripping tales of courage and sacrifice will be sure to captivate any history lover.

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Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival

by Tom Clavin

Lightning Down is another enthralling Tom Clavin title that features the riveting true story of Joe Moser, an American fighter pilot who was captured and imprisoned in Buchenwald, one of the most deadly Nazi concentration camps. This never-before-told story captures the harrowing experiences of twenty-two year old Moser after he narrowly escaped from his shot down P-38 Lightning. After facing orders of execution from Hitler himself, Moser and his comrades had to craft a plan that they hoped would save their lives. Said to read like a thriller, Lightning Down portrays brave men who are determined to survive despite the unlikely odds.

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The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany

by Gwen Strauss

From the grandniece of resistance fighter Hélène Podliasky, comes the gripping true story of nine women who bravely led a valiant escape from a forced labor camp in Germany to Paris. These women endured interrogation and torture by the Gestapo while managing to smuggle arms through Europe, harbor parachuting agents, and coordinate communications between regional sectors. This well-researched and moving narrative of courage and friendship in the dark times of WWII is a powerful and engrossing read that you won’t be able to put down.

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Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty

By Jack Kelly

In this story about one of the least known, but most important battles during the Revolutionary War, Jack Kelly strikingly recalls the brilliant strategy of the three-day battle at Valcour Island, headed by General Philip Schuyler, the former British officer Horatio Gates, and Benedict Arnold. This surprise attack by the Patriots on Lake Champlain forced the British to call of their invasion from Canada during the summer of 1776. In this suspenseful book, Kelly makes sure to capture the importance of the battle at Valcour Island which marked a turning point in the grueling fight for America’s independence.

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True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant

by Brad Ricca

What do you get when you bring together a renowned psychic, a group of blueblood adventurers, and a Franciscan father? According to Brad Ricca, you get a secret expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant. After an encounter with Finnish Scholar Valter Juvelius, British nobleman Monty Parker was told about a secret code in the Bible that reveals the location of the Ark. Using records from the original 1909 excavation, Ricca dives into the fascinating untold and nearly forgotten true story.

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The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940

by Susan Ronald

Susan Ronald reveals the truth of the now-infamous Joseph P. Kennedy in this meticulous and thorough biography of the former US Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Using newly available sources, Ronald confirms the longstanding assumptions that Kennedy was an Anti-Semite and Fascist sympathizer who was quickly despised by not just the British government, but the White House and the State Department as well. As an ambassador who constantly misrepresented US international policy, his true goals of advancing his family in society were easily revealed in this searing account of the Kennedy patriarch. 

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Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them

by Siân Evans

The early twentieth century was the era of transatlantic travel in which women from the highest to the lowest social classes made their way between the Old and New Worlds. These ocean liners, divided by class, were inhabited by top-deck celebrities like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker to third deck émigrés escaping poverty in Europe like Maria Riffelmacher. Siân Evans artfully depicts the untold stories of these women hoping to find new opportunities, reinvent their lives, or simply travel for leisure during the golden age of ocean liners.

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Into the Forest: A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph, and Love

by Rebecca Frankel

Frankel’s astonishing narrative Into the Forest tells the story of the Rabinowitz family who survived two years in the Bialowieza Forest after escaping the Nazi ghetto in their Polish town in the summer of 1942. The narrative also highlights Miriam Rabinowitz’s choice to save Philip, a young boy who she pretended was her son during the first ghetto massacre and their reunion nearly a decade later. This powerful story is marked by the bravery of the Rabinowitz family and the love that helps them survive.

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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

by Nancy Marie Brown

The Real Valkyrie artfully weaves archaeology, history, and literature to unveil the reality of Viking women and their true power and agency that has previously gone unrecognized by history. After a 2017 DNA sample revealed that a viking in a high-status grave in Sweden was in fact a woman, Brown imagines the life of this Birka warrior she calls Hervor, revealing that much of what has been known about women during the Viking Age has been based on nineteenth-century Victorian biases rather than data. This captivating book uses fact instead of fiction to celebrate the lives of these women warriors.

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Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy

by Anne Sebba

This riveting biography is the most recent retelling of the story of Ethel Rosenberg, whose execution for espionage-related crimes in conjunction with her husband Julius, defined the Cold War Era. Though the evidence against Ethel was less than convincing, her desire to be a good wife contributed to her inability to incriminate her husband, leading them to their devastating executions. Using new evidence including prison letters exchanged between her and Julius, her lawyer, and psychotherapist, Sebba portrays the tragic consequences of loyalty and a government run by fear. 

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His Greatest Speeches: How Lincoln Moved the Nation

by Diana Schaub

Which U.S. President would you want to make the commencement speech at your graduation? In this riveting book, Professor Diana Schaub makes the case for Abraham Lincoln, brilliantly analyzing three of his timeless speeches: the Lyceum Address, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural. Not only does her insight provide a concise vision of Lincoln’s worldview, but it also serves as a guide to consider tough questions about American identity that are relevant today.

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The Churchill Sisters: The Extraordinary Lives of Winston and Clementine’s Daughters

by Rachel Trethewey

Although well-connected and intelligent young ladies, the Churchill sisters were often overlooked in a world where they were surrounded by their other larger-than-life family members like the Mitford Girls. However, Dr. Trethewey makes them shine in this remarkable biography that explores their passionate and dramatic lives, drawing on previously unpublishing family letters. The Churchill Sisters is an intimate story that reveals the complex relationships of one of the most well-known families of their time. 

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A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

by Henry Gee

Have you ever wanted to learn more about how Earth came to be but didn’t want to work your way through a bulky textbook? In A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, Henry Gee tells the story of the last 4.6 billion years of life on Earth from its inhospitable beginning to the flourishing planet we now call home. This speedy narration of Life’s life story draws on the very latest scientific understanding while staying entertaining throughout.

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Buses Are a Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider

by Charles Person with Richard Rooker

From Charles Person, the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, comes a firsthand account of this incredible group of people who brought to light Southern states’ use violence to enforce racial segregation after a Supreme Court decision ruled segregation unconstitutional. Along with their inspiring effort to defeat segregation and feel like they belong in America, Person calls on the younger generation of today to stand firm for what is right and use their power to be agents of change. 

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Killing the Mob: The Fight Against Organized Crime in America

by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

In the tenth book in the Killing series, O’Reilly and Dugard follow the brutal history of organized crime from the 1930’s to the 1980’s. In addition to their expert knowledge about mob family bosses, serial robbers, and conmen, they explore the creation of the Mafia Commission and the growth of the FBI under President Hoover. Covering legendary criminals and their true-life escapades, Killing the Mob reads like a crime novel you won’t be able to put down.

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Bonus Reading!


by New York Public Library

As part of their 125th anniversary, Treasures accompanies the NYPL’s first permanent exhibition in Gottesman Hall: The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures. This gorgeous four-color volume is filled with various items from NYPL’s collections like the original Bill of Rights; Charles Dickens’s desk; manuscript material from authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf; Malcolm X’s briefcase; and the original Winnie-The-Pooh dolls among other cherished items. Don’t miss out on the NYPL’s esteemed gift to the world!

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