Interesting Books to Read

Here’s a list of books I hope to read in the future. I’ll try to add links/annotations to as many as I can. Hopefully this list will give you a good idea of what kinds of topics I’m most interested in! If you’ve read any let me know, I’d love to get a second opinion!

Primary Sources

James O. Pattie, “The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie,” 1831.

-Frances Trollope, “Domestic Manners of the Americans,” 1832.

More on this cool book here.

-Washington Irving, “Astoria: Adventure in the Pacific Northwest,” 1836.

-Josiah Gregg, “Commerce of the Praries,” 1844.

Thomas James, “Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans,” 1846.

James B. Finley, “Pioneer Life in the West,” 1854

Frank Marryat, “Mountains and Molehills,” 1855.

Frederick Law Olmsted, “The Cotton Kingdom,” 1861.

Before he became the Father of Landscape Architecture, Olmsted was an accomplished journalist and writer. According the a synopsis from the Library of Congress, he was hired by the New-York Daily Times (today the New York Times) in the 1850s to report on conditions and life in slaveholding states. His articles were subsequently published as A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), A Journey in the Back Country (1860), and in a two-volume compilation of material from all three books, The Cotton Kingdom (read a contemporary review here).Together Olmsted’s keen observations created the most complete contemporary portrait of the South on the eve of the Civil War, concluding that slavery harmed the whole of Southern society.

William Howard Russel, “My Diary North and South,” 1863.

Randolph Marcy, “Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border,” 1866.

Elizabeth Keckley, “Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House,” 1868.

Samuel Bowles, “Our New West,” 1869.

Clarence King, “Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada,” 1872.

Martha Summerhayes, “Vanished Arizona,” 1874.

John Wesley Powell, “The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons,” 1875.

Before he founded the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1879, Powell led the first expedition of white men through the Grand Canyon in 1869. Though I’ve heard that he exaggerates a lot and takes more credit than he deserves, the story of this one-armed Civil War veteran leading a band of students along the Colorado River is a classic.

Williard Glazier, “Peculiarities of American Cities,” 1886.

An interesting tourist’s book for the late 19th century, this is an account of many of the major (and some smaller) cities in the United States complete with descriptions of interesting things in each one (with pictures!). I especially want to read the descriptions of Baltimore, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and St. Louis to compare to today.

-Ezra Meeker, “Pioneer Reminisces of Puget Sound” 1905.

Iola Beebe, “The True Life Story of Swiftwater Bill Gates,” 1908.

William Thomas Cox, “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts,” 1910.

A fantasy field guide written by Minnesota’s first State Forester. With illustrations by the Chief Dendrologist of the Forest Service. What more could you ask for? The book was a fairly influential piece of folklore even though it largely forgotten in the decades after it was written. Sounds like a contradiction to me but I’d never say no to a book that chronicles the Squonk, a mysterious creature of the Pennsylvania woodlands that is so ashamed of his appearance that it constantly weeps.

Matthew Henson, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole,” 1912.

Caroline Cowles Richards, “Village Life in America, 1852-1872, Including the Period of the American Civil War as Told in the Diary of a School Girl,” 1913

-E.J. Stackpole, “Behind the Scenes with a Newspaper Man: Fifty Years in the Life of an Editor,” 1927

-Zora Neale Hurston, “Mules and Men,” 1935

An important collection of African American folktales and hoodoo compiled by Harlem Renaissance artist/gifted anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. When I used to work at the National Anthropological Archives, I wrote a blog post about this book’s original manuscript that you can read here.

-Robert and Helen Lynd, “Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts,” 1937

-John E. Washington, “They Knew Lincoln,” 1942

-Goodman, Jack edt. “While You Were Gone,” Simon and Schuster, Inc. 1946

-Creel, George, “Rebel at Large: Recollections of Fifty Crowded Years,” 1947

-Pyle, Ernie. “Home Country,” William Sloane Associates, Inc. 1947

-Grace Tully, “FDR, My Boss,” 1949

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote that “a presidential associate, moreover, inevitably tends to overrate the significance of the things he knows about.” Grace Tully, FDR’s personal secretary, had this to say about books written by the men who were close to the president: “none of them could know that for each minute they spent with the President he spent a hundred minutes by himself and a thousand more with scores of other people- to reject, improvise, weigh and match this against that until a decision was reached.” Thoughtful words, and I’m sure this will be a thoughtful and interesting read.

-White, E.B., “The Points of My Compass: Letters from the East, the West, the North, the South,” 1962

-Martha Clevenger, “‘Indescribably Grand’: Diaries and Letters from the 1904 World’s Fair,” 1996

-Teratol, Romin, “Travelers to the Other World: A Maya View of North America,” 2010

From the early 1960s through the 2000s, Smithsonian anthropologist Robert Laughlin lived and worked in the Mexican state of Chiapas, where he studied the language and culture of the Mayans who lived there. In 1963 and again later in the decade, he invited two of his Mayan friends to come back to the United States. This book contains the narrative written by these two men, Romin Teratol and Antzelmo Peres, as they observed American culture firsthand. I’ve read some snippets from this book, including their reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination (they were shocked that “the murderer had never met the president”), Vietnam War protests, and the use of machines in everyday work and life. Sounds really interesting to see the United States through someone else’s eyes! Review of the book here.

Secondary Sources

-H.L. Barnum, “The Spy Unmasked: Or Memoirs of Enoch Crosby,” 1886

-Gilbert Seldes, “The Seven Lively Arts, ” 1924

-Mark Sullivan, “Our Times” (6 volumes), 1925-1936

I currently have the first volume but am hunting for the rest. Sullivan was an accomplished journalist and writer, as well as a respected Republican. He had lots of contacts in American politics and used them to write this popular history of the first quarter of the 20th century. Dan Rather later wrote that “ It is fair to say that no series of nonfiction books, all on the same general subject by the same author over such a compact space of writing time, ever captured the country so completely sold so well, was so widely read and acclaimed, and had such a lasting, growing reputation for excellence as Mark Sullivan’s Our Times.” Sullivan was also big on using unorthodox (for the time) sources like advertisements, popular music, and school textbooks to help tell the story of American history. Although it has been criticized for focusing too much on stories of consensus and ignoring ugly realities of American society (race, gender, class issues, etc.). Still sounds like a really interesting read!

-Herbert Asbury, “The Gangs of New York,” 1928. [also any other book by him about underworld crime]

-Preston Slosson, “The Great Crusade and After.” 1930

A history of the 1920s, this book was written immediately after the decade closed so I imagine it sees the Roaring Twenties much differently than later historians did. History is different when its still fresh. You can read a contemporary review of this book here.

Fredrick Lewis Allen, “Only Yesterday.” 1931

-Constance Rourke “American Humor: A Study of the National Character.” 1931

-Mirra Komarovsky, “The Unemployed Man and his Family.” 1940

-West, James, “Plainville, USA.” 1945

Similar to the Middletown book by Robert and Helen Lynd, this book is a sociological study of a small rural Ohio town done in the 1940s. In an interesting article about the history of Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward, Michael Barton writes that West’s book is “a keen-eyed account and even comical in its observations of the local class system.” You can read a review of the book here.

-Randolph, Vance. “Ozark Superstitions,” Columbia University Press. 1947

-Hunt, Aurora, “The Army of the Pacific: Its Operations in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Plains Region, Mexico, Etc., 1860-1866,” 1950

-Julian Watkins, “The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958: Who Wrote Them and What They Did,” 1959

-Peter Gay, “Wiemar Culture: The Outsider as Insider.” 1968

-Ann Banks, “First Person America.” 1980

-Lee Clark Mitchell, “Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response,” 1981

-Lorena Hicock, “One Third of the Nation: Lorena Hicock Reports on the Great Depression.” 1983

-Roy Rosenzweig, “Government and the Arts in Thirties America: A Guide to Oral Histories and Other Research Materials,” 1986

-Michael Schudson, “Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion,” 1986

-Emory Elliott, “The Columbia Literary History of the United States,” 1988

-James Gilbert, “A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s,” 1988

-Susan J. Douglas, “Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922,” 1989

-James Gregory, “American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California.” 1991

-Lynn Dumenil, “The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s,” 1995

-Otto Friedrich, “Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s.” 1995

-Herman Viola, “Diplomats in Buckskin: A History of Indian Delegations in Washington City.” 1995

Written by the former director of the National Anthropological Archives (where I used to work), this book is a history of various Indian groups that traveled to meet with US government representatives in D.C. and other places from colonial times to the 20th century. The book is organized thematically, and I’d like to especially read the section on Indian life in D.C. I’m sure that the book uses a lot of really neat archival sources since Dr. Viola had so many at his finger tips at the NAA and nearby at NARA, LOC, etc.

-Susan Smulyan, “Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting 1920-1934,” 1996

-William Bird and Hary Rubenstein, “Design for Victory:World War II Posters on the American Home Front, ” 1998

-Maurice Isserman, “America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s,” 1999

-Roland Marchand, “Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business,” 1999

Simone Weil Davis, “Living Up to the Ads: Gender Fictions of the 1920’s,” 2000

-Gerald Nachman, “Raised on Radio,” 2000

-Clark Davis, “Company Men: White-Collar Life and Corporate Cultures in Los Angeles, 1892-1941,” 2001

Saverio Giovacchini, “Hollywood Modernism: Film and Politics in the Age of the New Deal,” 2001

-Pamela Liard, “Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing,” 2001

-Steven Watts, “The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life.” 2001

-Kathy Newman, “Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947,” 2004

-Jackson Lears, “Something for Nothing: Luck in America,” 2003

-Susan Merrill Squier (editor), “Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture,” 2003

-Douglas Craig, “Fireside Politics: Radio and Political Culture in the United States, 1920-1940,” 2005

-Louis Warren, “Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show,” 2006

Read a review for the book here.

-Charles McGovern, “Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945,” 2006

-Scott Sandage, “Born Losers: A History of Failure in America,” 2006

-Inger Stole, “Advertising on Trial: Consumer Activism and Corporate Public Relations in the 1930s,” 2006

-Stephanie Capparell, “The Real Pepsi Challenge: How One Pioneering Company Broke Color Barriers in 1940s American Business,” 2006

-Peter Gay, “Modernism: The Lure of Heresy.” 2007

-Steve Wurtzler, “Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media,” 2007

-Lizabeth Cohen, “Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939,” 2008

-Lauren Sklaroff, “Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era,” 2009

-T.J. Stiles, “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbuilt,” 2009

I’m usually more interested in reading biographies and memoirs of characters from history who aren’t as well documented, but this biography of the railroad magnate Vanderbuilt looks pretty interesting. I imagine this story would help anyone interested in learning more about the rise of big business and corporate culture in the United States.

-Morris Dickstein, “Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression,” 2010

-Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz, “The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (but True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century,” 2010

-Irving Bernstein, “The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker,” 2010

-David Suisman and Susan Strasser (editors), “Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 2012

-Edward Ball, “The Inventor and the Tycoon: The Murderer Eadweard Muybridge, the Entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the Birth of Moving Pictures,” 2013

-Nell Irvin Painter, “Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Age,” 2013

-Ronald Schafer, “The Carnival Campaign: How the Rollicking 1840 Campaign of ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too’ Changed Presidential Elections Forever,” 2016

-Steven Hahn, “A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910.” 2016

A discussion of the United States’ “appetite for conquest” during its most expansive years, in this book Hahn “argues that America developed into a nation precisely because of its obsession with owning space; that is, it sought to become a continental empire, which meant acquiring land and resources, almost at any cost, and dominating sovereign peoples both at home and abroad,” according to this New York Times review. Apparently there is also a good bibliographical essay with lots of good sources in this volume too.

-Alisa Roth, “Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness.” 2018


-Percy Greg, “Across the Zodiac,” 1880.

-H. Rider Haggard, “King Solomon’s Mines,” 1885

-Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurence at Owl Creek,” 1890.

-Hamlin Garland, “Main Travelled Roads,” 1891

-Gustavus Pope, “Journey to Mars,” 1894.

William Lindsey, “Cinder-path Tales,” 1896.

Edgar Lee Masters, “Spoon River Anthology,” 1915

A collection of short poems/epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional representation of small town America. The aims of the poems is to demistify rural small town life and reveal the real story as Masters saw it (he based Spoon River on his own home town). James Thurber praised this book highly in his Soapland articles. I imagine they’re a tad depressing but still a good read about small town life in the early 20th century.

-Hamlin Garland, “A Son of the Middle Border,” 1917

-Sherwood Anderson, “Wineburg, Ohio,” 1919

-E.W. Howe, “The Anthology of Another Town,” 1920

-Sinclair Lewis, “Main Streeet,” 1920

A classic by Lewis, the novel is about a progressive woman who moves to a small Minnesota town with her new husband. After seeing their conservative ways, she attempts to bring reforms to the town with mixed success. Lewis was almost awarded a Pulitzer for the work, which is one of best known works.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Moon Maid,” 1926

-Philip Francis Nowlan, “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” 1928

A classic early science fiction piece, this book features the character Anthony Rogers, who eventually evolved into the famous Buck Rogers! A story of a WWI veteran who is placed into suspended animation during a cave-in and is woken up again in 2419. He walks into a world where the United States has been taken over by the technologically superior Airlords of Han, a conglomerate of Asian nations who control powerful floating cities. This book laid the groundwork for a lot of really great science fiction works and also has some interesting predictions of future technology!

-R.C. Sherriff, “Journey’s End,” 1928

-Edna Ferber, “Cimarron” 1929

A novel about the Oklahoma Land Rush in the late 19th century. The story follows a couple as they move to the Sooner State and make their fortune. Pretty popular in its day, it was later made into a movie in 1931 and later in 1960.

-Christopher Isherwood, “Goodbye to Berlin.” 1939

-James Street, “Tap Roots,” 1942

-Frederic Wakeman, “The Hucksters,” 1946

-James Thurber, “The Beast in Me and Other Animals,” 1948

-Marvel Essential Comics, “Sargent Fury and His Howling Commandos.” 2011


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