Because we’re not really traveling right now, except to the couch to open up a book or catch some Netflix, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to travel in time, at least literarily. So I put the question out on Facebook: do you have a favorite history, memoir, or historical fiction. And wow, did people come through!

I tried to catch all of the responses (a few tangential threads developed and some nuggets might have gotten lost in there) and compiled them, below. The books with the asterisks were recommended by multiple people.

Histories and Memoirs

  • All but my Life (Gerda Weisserman Klein)
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)
  • The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown)*
  • Climbing the Mango Trees (Madhur Jaffrey)
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (Caroline Alexander)
  • The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue (Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman)
  • Educated (Tara Westover)
  • Founding Mothers (Cokie Roberts)
  • Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson)
  • Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (John Heilemann, Mark Halperin)
  • Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (Colin Dickey)
  • Grant (Chernow) *
  • Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law (Haben Girma)
  • Hamilton (Ron Chernow) *
  • Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir (Madeleine Albright)
  • How the South Won the Civil War (Heather Cox Richardson)
  • In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)
  • The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science (Andrea Wulf)
  • Kent State (Deborah Wiles)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (David Grann)
  • Lab Girl (Hope Jahren)
  • Madame Secretary (Madeleine Albright)
  • Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible (David Teems)
  • Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)
  • The Master Plan: my journey from life in prison to a life of purpose (Chris Wilson)
  • Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit (John Douglas)
  • Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis (Tim Townsend)
  • No Ordinary Time (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • One Summer: America, 1927 (Bill Bryson) *
  • In Looking (Alexandra Horowitz)
  • Radium Girls (Kate Moore) *
  • The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Men Who Brought Them Down (Colin Woodard)
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (Candace Millard)
  • Say Nothing (Patrick Radden Keefe)
  • Shadow Divers (Robert Kurson)
  • Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle (Kristen Green)
  • The Splendid and the Vile (Erik Larson) *
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
  • The Spy and the Traitor (Ben Macintyre)
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibrahim X. Kendi)
  • Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer (Lynne Cox)
  • Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Goodwin) *
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (David Cordingly)
  • Up from Slavery (Booker T. Washington) *
  • The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation (Donald Morris)
  • Zealot (Reza Aslan – also others of his) *
  • Zeitoun (Dave Eggers)
  • First in His Class (David Maraniss)
  • Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) *
  • Isaac’s Storm (Erik Larson)
  • Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (John Douglas, Mark Olshaker)
  • My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor)
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Simon Prebble)

Historical Fiction

  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  • The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion (Fannie Flagg)
  • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
  • Alice (Stacy Cordery)
  • The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan)*
  • The Book of Lost Friends (Lisa Wingate)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)*
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (Kim Michele Richardson)
  • Cloudsplitter (Russell Banks)
  • Code Name Helene (Ariel Lawhon)
  • The Dutch House (Ann Patchett)
  • The Girl with No Name (Diney Costeloe)
  • The Giver of Stars (Jojo Moyes) *
  • The Good Lord Bird (James McBride) *
  • Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell)
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (V.E. Schwab) *
  • Lovely War (Julie Berry)
  • The Maggie Hope Series (Susan Elia MacNeal)
  • The Mirror and the Light (Hilary Mantel)
  • Mrs. Everything (Jennifer Weiner)
  • My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell)
  • My Dear Hamilton (Laura Kaye and Stephanie Dray)
  • Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)*
  • One Thousand White Women (Jim Fergus)
  • Outlander Series (Diana Gabaldon)
  • Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)
  • People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)
  • Refugee (Alan Gratz)
  • Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay)
  • The Secrets of Mary Bowser (Lois Leveen)
  • The Seeds of America Trilogy (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Shanghai Girls (Lisa See) *
  • Sixties Trilogy (Deborah Wiles)
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)*
  • The Sound of Things Falling (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
  • The Stationery Shop (Marjan Kamali)
  • The Weight of Ink (Rachel Kadish)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)*
  • Year of Wonder (Geraldine Brooks) *

This project was rewarding in a few huge ways. I now have a list of books hearty enough to fill up several vacations, once we get to take them again. And because Jim is a big reader, we actually have some of these already in our possession.

I probably could have given myself a big shortcut on this exercise by just asking him for some book ideas. (He does not disagree with this sentiment.)

But the best gift was getting to peek inside the reading minds of some excellent people and not only be awed by the breadth of their interests but get to see friends from different corners of my life interacting over favorite books. That was a trip in itself!

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