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The Best History Book

Last updated on July 2, 2019

We looked at the top 10 History Books and dug through the reviews from 66 of the most popular review sites including Good Reads, The Washington Times, Medium, Quillette, Patheos, Open Letters Review and more. The result is a ranking of the best History Books.

Best History Book

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Our Picks For The Top History Books

Show Contents
Our Take
Experts Included
Pros
Cons
  The Best Overall
  The Best Value

Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Overall Take

Books covering the evolution of man often focus on science. Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" looks into why the human species has evolved the way it has vs. other species that took a different path. Harari does inject personal opinion into some of the writing. But it's... Read More

Experts Included
DWYM Entertainment Experts plus Good Reads, Medium, Gates Notes, Be Thinking, Creation, Amazon Book Review and 3 more. Along with user reviews from Amazon.
Pros
" Fortunately, Sapiens doesn’t read like a textbook. It entices the readers from the first page and flows well, connecting lots of information in an interesting way."
Cons
"As much as I enjoyed Sapiens, there was plenty to disagree with in the book. For example, Harari sets out to prove that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistakes in human history. Agricultural societies also created social..."

Donnie Eichar

Dead Mountain

Overall Take

Donnie Eichar's "Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident" covers a mystery that has haunted people for decades. The telling of the story comes backed by years of research. However, the author also offers his own informed theory of what happened on the mountain that evening.

Experts Included
DWYM Entertainment Experts plus Good Reads, Kirkus Reviews, Tymber Dalton, Spiked Online, Red Dirt Report. Along with user reviews from Amazon.
Pros
" The author deftly explores theories common and uncommon, the most off-putting being an infrasonic wave known to cause hallucinations and disorientation. It’s not a revelatory portrait of the incident, but for Western readers, it’s a well-told and accurate whodunit."

Howard Zinn

A People's History of the United States

Overall Take

You learned about American history in school, but primarily from one perspective. Howard Zinn's work takes a look at history through the eyes of those whose stories are rarely told. The book connects oppression to many of the issues that America has faced over the years.

Experts Included
DWYM Entertainment Experts plus Good Reads, Kirkus Reviews, Patrick T. Reardon, Grub Street, Powell’s, Serious Reading. Along with user reviews from Amazon.
Pros
" So Zinn has an important, necessary story to tell in “A People’s History.” This was especially true in 1980 when his book was first published. Then, it was a tonic to the hyper-propaganda that passed for history in our textbooks..."
Cons
"The book is, obviously, quite biased."

Gregory A. Freeman

The Forgotten 500

Overall Take

Gregory A. Freeman's "The Forgotten 500" tells the story of Operation Halyard during World War II, the biggest rescue operation of American Airmen in history. You won't be able to put the book down, thanks to the suspense and adventure in the tale. Most importantly, you'll learn about the men who... Read More

Experts Included
DWYM Entertainment Experts plus Good Reads, History Net, World War II Database, Tesla Society. Along with user reviews from Amazon.
Pros
" Sixty years ago, more than five hundred Allied airmen—starving, frightened, hiding from the Germans—lurked in the hills of Yugoslavia. They’d been shot down during years of relentless bombing runs against a crucial target: the Romanian oil fields that supplied the..."
Cons
"The author's bias in favor of Mihailovic must be something to keep in mind."
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Expert Reviews Included

Reviews from our DWYM category experts and analysis of some of the most respected sources including: Good Reads, The Washington Times, Medium, Quillette, Patheos.

33,234

User Opinions Analyzed

We also incorporate user reviews from the leading retailers including Amazon and 3 others.

Our experts reviewed the top 10 History Books and also dug through the reviews from 66 of the most popular review sites including Good Reads, The Washington Times, Medium, Quillette, Patheos, Open Letters Review and more. The result is a ranking of the best of the best History Books.

DWYM is your trusted roduct review source. Our team reviews thousands of product reviews from the trusted top experts and combines them into one easy-to-understand score. Learn more.

Look for the DWYM seal for products that are the best in their category.

The Best Overall

Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Expert Summarized Score
8.3
9 expert reviews
User Summarized Score
9.0
5,889 user reviews
The DWYM Expert Take

Books covering the evolution of man often focus on science. Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" looks into why the human species has evolved the way it has vs. other species that took a different path. Harari does inject personal opinion into some of the writing. But it's from the perspective of a professor with a PhD in history.

What other experts liked
Fortunately, Sapiens doesn’t read like a textbook. It entices the readers from the first page and flows well, connecting lots of information in an interesting way.
- Medium
What’s unique about Harari’s take is that he focuses on the power of stories and myths to bring people together. Homo sapiens has the special ability to unite millions of strangers around commons myths.
- Gates Notes
Harari’s pictures of the earliest men and then the foragers and agrarians are fascinating. He is best, in my view, on the modern world and his far-sighted analysis of what we are doing to ourselves struck many chords with me.
- Be Thinking
His ideas are interesting and often amusing: Why have humans managed to build astonishingly large populations when other primate groups top out at 150 individuals? Because our talent for gossip allows us to build networks in societies too large for...
- Amazon Book Review
February 3, 2015 | Full review
Interestingly, the review puts praise on the scientific revolution analysis of this book. The author indicates that it was this part that caught the attention, because it was instructive and gave insight into biotechnological revolution, which was of interest to...
- Studypool
Harari’s “brief history of humankind" answers its own question in the Diamond vein: dizzying heights of knowledge summarized in a paragraph, deep insights delivered in zinging one-liners.
- Live Mint
October 4, 2014 | Full review
Throughout his account, Harari is able to be as refreshingly clear in his discussions of biology, of evolutionary anthropology and of economics as he is of historical trends. His necessarily speculative glimpse of how religion began is effective and convincing.
- The Telegraph
What other experts didn't like
Sapiens feels like a textbook when you first pick it up. It’s heavy too (I definitely can’t lug this one around in my purse).
- Medium
As much as I enjoyed Sapiens, there was plenty to disagree with in the book. For example, Harari sets out to prove that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistakes in human history. Agricultural societies also created social...
- Gates Notes
Harari is not good on the medieval world, or at least the medieval church. He suggests that ‘premodern’ religion asserted that everything important to know about the world ‘was already known’ (p279) so there was no curiosity or expansion of...
- Be Thinking
A considerable portion of the book is spent superficially discussing a multitude of things, such as Buddhism, money, empires, humanism, capitalism, etc., that in terms of the creation vs evolution issue are arguably less relevant; In conclusion, as a Christian,...
- Creation

Our History Book Buying Guide

  • You’ll likely choose a history book based on an event you simply want to learn more about. If you’re fascinated with the history of man, Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” will appeal to you. Gregory A. Freeman’s “The Forgotten 500” focuses on 500 specific men, covering Operation Halyard, which was part of World War II. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” homes in on American history, tossing out the history taught in schools with the goal of teaching the unvarnished truth about our country. Donnie Eichar’s “Dead Mountain” tells the fascinating story of nine experienced hikers who died mysteriously after inexplicably exiting their tent during a camping trip.
  • Readability is huge with a history book, especially if you prefer a more casual, laid-back approach to storytelling. Gregory A. Freeman’s “The Forgotten 500” reads like a suspense novel, taking you along on the adventure. Donnie Eichar’s “Dead Mountain” is also immensely readable, retelling an already riveting story based on years of research. Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” on the other hand, is 464 pages and does tend to read a bit like a textbook.
  • The best history books go beyond merely telling a story, instead conveying a theme that can serve as a mirror of what humanity is going through today. Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” poses questions that make readers think. The author explores the reasons behind humans building large populations, compared to other primates that keep things small.
  • Some historical novels are worth reading simply because they tell a story that’s long overdue to be told. Gregory A. Freeman’s “The Forgotten 500” brings to light the men who had to fight hard to get back to their families, also acknowledging those who died for their right to do so.
  • Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is not objective, but that’s part of the book’s charm. With passion, the author tells the stories of the Americans often forgotten in history books — namely women and people of color, as well as factory workers and immigrant laborers.
  • Donnie Eichar’s “Dead Mountain” tells the well-known Dyatlov Pass mystery, which has yet been solved. Although Eichar does detail the facts leading up to the hikers’ mysterious sudden departure from their tent into the blustery cold, snowy night, the rest is his own theory into what happened. He does pull as many facts as possible into making those statements, and his theory is better than most of the others that have been proposed in this case.
  • As valuable as all the other factors are, if the historical novel you’re reading isn’t accurate, it isn’t worth reading. Even when a book is accurate, though, you’ll usually find the author has no choice but to occasionally inject a personal opinion or two. In Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” for instance, the author structures an argument that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistakes in history. Gregory A. Freeman’s “The Forgotten 500” shows a bias toward Draza Mihailovich, who was a Yugoslav Serb and friend of the U.S. during World War II. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” does assert heavily that the ruling class’s oppression of a part of the population is to blame for everything that has happened in America. In Donnie Eichar’s “Dead Mountain,” the author offers a scientific, weather phenomenon-related explanation for nine people rushing from a tent, separating and later being found dead in various conditions.

DWYM Fun Fact

There have been many theories about the Dyatlov Pass Incident since it happened in 1959. The tent had been cut open from the inside, and there were eight to nine sets of footprints leading to the edge of the nearby woods. What caused the hikers to cut a hole in the tent and run? All nine had died from hypothermia, but why they ran, and why they couldn’t make their way back to the tent later, remains a mystery. Some experts have theorized an avalanche, but there were no signs that an avalanche had happened. Experts have explored the possibility that the team stumbled into a radioactive weapons testing area and were forced out of their tent due to that. More recent theories have dismissed those, using what science knows today to provide a more plausible explanation for what happened there.

The History Book Tips and Advice

Writer and philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But before you can remember the past, you first must know about it. History class probably taught you all the basics, but it’s up to you, as an adult, to take a deep dive into various events.

The history section of a bookstore is as diverse as any other genre. It captures a span of centuries and events, covering everything from mysterious happenings to war heroes. As you browse, you’ll likely be drawn to the type of subject matter that best suits your interest. But more goes into a good historical novel than the topic it’s covering.

With any historical telling, you’re getting one person’s perspective on the events. A good author will conduct thorough research and even conduct numerous interviews in order to present all the facts to the reader. But many historical books are written with at least a little bias, as the author can’t possibly provide every single perspective. Make sure before you read that you’re going to get as accurate a portrayal as possible, rather than simply reading an author’s thoughts on what happened.

That said, there are some history books that require a bit of speculation. Even historical experts sometimes contribute their thoughts to these books. If you’re reading about a war, for instance, you may only get one side’s perspective, requiring you to pick up another book to get the full picture.

In the end, though, whether a history book is enjoyable or not will have a lot to do with how it’s written. Some history books are very straightforward, like a textbook, but many others inject humor or the author’s unique voice into the writing to keep you turning the page. Read a few pages of the book before you buy to make sure the writing suits your own personal tastes.