‘MERICA, HELL YEAH!
Broad, incomplete and expanding list of titles exploring the history of America from pre-Columbian times to the present. Organized in roughly chronological order where one can, and should, explore historical periods from multiple perspectives, whether Morgan, Rockefeller and Bass Reaves (late 1800’s) to Harry Truman and Malcolm X.
Toward the Setting Sun: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, and the Race for America (2008) David Boyle
Very readable book which dispelled certain notions I had about Columbus (he was 100% about the money!) as well as the degree of competition to develop the West Indies, particularly the rivalry between Portugal, a rising Spain (Muslims out, time to go conquer!) and England. Long before big tech, this was the Great Game of the age in the face of a brick wall to the East known as the Ottoman Empire.
History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) William H. Prescott
History of the Conquest of Peru (1847) William H. Prescott
Prescott was one of the eminent historians (globally) of the 19th century and the first American “Hispanist.” These two books were written in 1843 and 1847, respectively and are better researched, footnoted and corroborated than 99.9% of the books published today. Stunningly so. The footnotes are so extensive that a Spanish speaker will be able to find anything not destroyed by order of Emperors or Conquistadors. The worldviews, actions and interactions of Cortes and Montezuma II are revealed in great depth as is the degree of backstabbing and disloyalty of various Spanish agents and grifters in their dealings with Cortes, the Spanish crown and various clerical actors (some good, some not so much).
The Journal of Major George Washington (1754) George Washington
In 1753 the Governor of Virginia sent a young (21 years old), unusually mature young officer on a dangerous mission to deliver a message to French forces (i.e. get the Hell out of the Ohio Valley) and obtain a reply (Go to Hell). Predictably, France and England went to war (a.k.a. the French-Indian War) where Washington acquitted himself heroically and stayed behind to build over 50 forts afterward. When picked to lead the Continental Army 20 years later it was no accident. Read the words of a young man who became a hero and one of our greatest presidents.
John Adams (2001) David McCullough
First, if David McCullough wrote it, it is worth reading. John Adams was the driving force and leader of the trio(*) which convinced the Continental Congress to approve and sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. (* the others were the world renowned Benjamin Franklin and gifted Thomas Jefferson).
The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory (1999) Robert V. Remini
Andrew Jackson assembled a “diverse and inclusive” coalition of city dwellers, adventurous Creole woodsmen, freedmen and even a captured pirate (Jean Lafitte) to take on a larger British landing force with superior numbers (8,000 to 5,700) and led by the highly capable Major General Edward Pakenham. With all deference to Kid Rock, Old Hickory was an American Badass long before. Professor Robert Remini (1921-2013) was a noted authority on Jackson.
Long before JKF and MLK there was Honest Abe, Frederick Douglass and a bunch of huge egos in Washington, D.C….
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years & The War Years (2002) Carl Sandburg
Six in depth volumes distilled into one, this book is considered the premier biography of the president who took office at the worst possible moment yet was able to rally the nation to a victory that ensured its survival, fulfilled part of the Founding Father’s promise by eliminating slavery in North America and enabled the United States to grow and prosper.
Team of Rivals (2006) Doris Kearns Goodwin
Should it ever occur to you that one or more U.S. cabinet members are the most arrogant and self-worshipping ever, you are wrong! Lincoln not only defeated each of these men (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates) for the Republican nomination for President but made them work cohesively for the benefit and survival of the U.S. and earned their respect. From recruiting to managing this team to the Gettysburg address, Lincoln was a political genius and knew how to pick the right men for the job.
Frederick Douglass (2017) William S. McFeely
Brilliant Force of Nature. You’ve heard of him. You know he met Lincoln and gave speeches. Get the full story.
Big Money & Wild American Growth, complete with big money, political corruption, guns, violence, whores and all kinds of good stuff!
Nothing Like It In The World (2000) Stephen E. Ambrose
The building of the Transcontinental Railroad reads like a TV miniseries, but better. Ambrose is a great writer and a boring page will not be found in this book. Whether promoters paying off about every member of Congress, hiring General Sherman (who else!) to get the project done or large scale gunfights with (okay, massacre of) the crooks, card sharps and prostitutes who took advantage of the workmen, this is a story to read.
Scottish Capital on the American Credit Frontier (1976) W.G. Kerr
Long before big oil, the Dallas Cowboys or Jerry Jones somebody had to get the party started. While not a page turner like Ambrose’s work, this concise book provides a window into the funneling of developed world capital (Scotland) through private equity into emerging markets (America in general, Texas in particular).
Sons of the Profits: The Seattle Story 1851-1901 (1967) William C. Speidel
Fun read written by a respected local newspaper reporter that explores the urban development of Seattle pre rioting, filth and homeless tent camps downtown. Battles between rival railroad developers and miners, the growth of seaborne traffic and Lou Graham, the Madame who shut down the town until the “elites” did the right thing…like build schools and proper sanitation!
Three men working diligently to improve society from the inside, the outside or maintaining Law & Order where it didn’t exist.
Up From Slavery (1901) Booker T. Washington
How do you start out as an asset class, start school late and go on to build and lead a respected college from scratch while also facilitating (with Sears magnate Julius Rosenwald) the building of over 3,000 schools for black children in the South? This is that story…
Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880 (1935) W.E.B. DuBois
A thorough, state-by-state analysis of the South’s economy before, during, and after the Civil War along with an in depth appraisal of political efforts to achieve economic recovery and civil rights. DuBois was not just a founder of the NAACP but a serious academic whose work was, predictably, maligned for decades. Statistics and analysis will stand up very well under modern scrutiny.
Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (2006) Art. T. Burton
Badass. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves considered one of “eight notable Oklahomans” and “the most feared U.S. marshal in the Indian Country” of Eastern Oklahoma. How tough was that neighborhood? About 20,000 whites lived in the territory to avoid local law enforcement of which perhaps 5,000 were considered “law abiding.” Tall (6’2″), thoughtful, and low-key, Reeves single handedly tracked and brought in about 1,200 men, only shooting 12-13.
Ecosystem, 1900’s style. Finance. Steel. Oil. Rubber. Cars. All One Big Trade!
The House of Morgan (1990) Ron Chernow
Baruch: My Own Story (1957) Bernard Baruch
Baruch: The Public Years (1960) Bernard Baruch
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998) Ron Chernow
Enterprise in Oil: A History of Shell in the United States (1957) Kendall Beaton
The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011) Daniel Yergin
Sparrows Point: Making Steel – The Rise and Ruin of American Industrial Might (1988) Mark Reutter
Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder, and the Building of the German Empire (1977) Fritz Stern
Rubber: A Story of Glory and Greed (1936) Frederick Wolf, Helena Wolf
The Wright Brothers (2016) David McCullough
Life Of An American Workman (1950) Walter P. Chrysler
While Americans achieved higher living standards (GDP per capita was about $1,000 in 1890 and $2,000 by 1910) as “income inequality” growing…
leading to the (real) progressive era led by Fighting Bob LaFollette (Wisconsin) and a wealthy east coast political upstart…
Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (1924) Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children (1919) Theodore Roosevelt
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979) Edmund Morris
Defender of the Faith: William Jennings Bryan, The Last Decade 1915-1925 (1965) Lawrence W. Levine
Courtroom Warrior: The Combative Career of William Travers Jerome (1963) Richard O’Connor
Monopolies in America: Empire Builders & Their Enemies from Jay Gould to Bill Gates (2000) Charles R. Geisst
Old Money (1988) Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr.
A far from complete selection of perspectives on the early to late middle 20th century…
No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt and the WW2 Home Front (1994) Doris Kearns Goodwin
Truman (1992) David McCullough
Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Having Our Say (1993) Sarah L. Delany, A. Elizabeth Delany
Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick (2012) Peter Collier
The Refugees (2017) Viet Thanh Nguyen
Black Political History: From the Arch of Safety into the Mouth of the Lion (2020) Ken Raymond
War on America:
Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice (2014) Sidney Powell
Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy (2021) Andy Ngo