Great Gifts for History Lovers 2017

It can sometimes be difficult to find the right gift for your history loving friend or spouse. Hopefully, we can help. This is our 2017 list of great gifts for history lovers.


If in doubt, get a book. History lovers adore books. Some of our recommendations are less academic then some of the books that appear on our other book lists, but they do represent outstanding recent books that most history lovers should enjoy. Here are some releases that are worth your history lovers attention. In addition to the standard paper format, some of these books are also available on Kindle, iTunes Books, and Audible.

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire by Karl Jacoby (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017)

How did a former slave from Texas named William Ellis, transform himself into a fabulously wealthy Mexican millionaire named Guillermo Elliseo after the Civil War? Historian Martha A. Sandweiss stated that Jacoby's tale of William Ellis crafts "a powerful narrative about the porous borders of class, race, and national identity in late 19th and early 20th-century American life." Jacoby's book successfully illuminates both a life of a unique and fascinating American while addressing broader issues of race and the American borderlands. The book was also the recipient of the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the OHA.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (Vintage, 2017)

Blood in the Water investigates the Attica prison in September 1971 and its consequences. The Attica riot is a key event in U.S. civil rights history. Thompson carefully reconstructs the events at the prison during the riot between September 9-13, 1971. The New York Times stated that the power of her book come "from its methodical mastery of interviews, transcripts, police reports and other documents covering 35 years." The book was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen (Random House, 2017)

While Kurt Andersen is not an historian, he has written book an exhaustively researched book explaining why Americans repeatedly get hoodwinked by conspiracy theories. He argues that fantasy is embedded deeply into our national character. Throughout our history, the United States has been a country of conmen, hucksters and hustlers. While Americans like to think of ourselves as the inheritors of the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, we probably have more in common with the hustler who conned them out of their horse.

American Girls in Red Russia - Julia Mickenberg

American Girls in Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream by Julia Mickenberg (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

American Girls explores the history of the American women who went to Russia looking for adventure, freedom, revolution, work and a new life. After they moved to Russia they found challenges and hardships. Many were disturbed by both the conditions of the country and the treatment of people by the new government. American Girls in Russia explores the stories of these women and provides a glimpse into both their lives and the conditions in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 30s. Check out our interview with Julia Mickenberg.

The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (Yale University Press, 2017) Sinha's award-winning book (now in paperback) argues that abolitionism was not a movement of middle-class white reformers, but a much more complex mix of men, women, blacks, whites, free and unfree. Additionally, Sinha places the abolition into a transnational perspective. The Slave's Cause was awarded by the Avery O. Craven Prize (OHA) and Best Book Prize by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in 2017.

American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 by H.W. Brands (Anchor, 2011)

In the last half of the 19th Century of a small number of American business quickly turned America into a world economic power. Rockefeller, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan not changed the economic future of the control but threatened its democratic character. Despite its size, Brands moves this story along at a quick pace and explains how these men accrued extraordinary power and wealth.

White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (Penguin, 2017) White Trash is one of the most timely books in recent memory. Isenberg places at white poverty and issues of class at the center of American social and political history. She argues that poor white Americans has factored in the rise of the Republican party in the 19th century, the Civil War, the New Deal and LBJ's efforts to create the Great Society. This is a group of Americans that often been dismissed and ignored, but have always played a role in the political life of America.

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of American by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)

Custer is one of the most debated and controversial 19th century American military leaders. Stiles attempts to better understand a complicated man and shatter the mythology that has surrounded him. Stiles book shows that Custer helped shaped an era that he often struggled to adapt to. Custer's Trials was the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for history.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Book, 2013)

If your history lover enjoys a drink or two, Stewart's book is a must-read. Stewart describes how 150 plants, flowers, trees and fruits have been fermented and distilled to create beers, wines, and spirits. Alcohol has played a huge economic, social and political role in world history and she distills this in her humorous book.

Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America by April Haynes, University of Chicago Press (2015)

Haynes mixes the history of medicine, anti-slavery reform, race and moral & sexual reform in Antebellum America. Haynes dug deeply into historical archives to tell a complex story about sexual reform efforts in America. It's a unique and fascinating book.

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens, (University of Georgia Press, 2017)

Owens explores the development of American Gynecology. To put it mildly, the history of American Gynecology has an extraordinary dark side. The pioneers of gynecology performed experimental surgeries and procedures on poor African American and Irish women without there consent. Owens has written a thoughtful and insightful history that reexamines these figures and their actions.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday, 2017)

Grann's book shows how a series of mysterious series murders in the Osage community in Oklahoma made it possible for an ambitious J. Edgar Hoover to increase the prestige, influence, and power of the FBI while it was still in its infancy. The Osage Murders examines the two dozen brutal murders and how the community's newfound wealth lead to these homicides. This is non-fiction that reads like a detective novel.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Penguin Books, 2005)

Lin-Manuel Miranda adapted Ron Chernow's book Alexander Hamilton for his Tony award-winning stage play Hamilton. Chernow's book has been a must-read since. While Chernow's book has been criticized for bordering on a hagiography, Chernow gives Alexander Hamilton the biography he deserves. Booklists

Need more help? You can check out some of our most popular booklists for ideas.

  1. American Revolution Top Ten Booklist
  2. Alexander the Great Top Ten Booklist
  3. Gilded Age/Progressive Era History Top Ten Booklist
  4. The Greek Philosophers Top Ten Booklist
  5. Civil War Battles Top Ten Booklist
  6. American Civil War Biographies Top Ten Booklist
  7. Civil War Battles Top Ten Booklist
  8. Social History of American Medicine Top Ten Booklist
  9. American Legal History Top Ten Booklist
  10. Origins of the French Revolution - Top Ten Booklist
  11. Origins of World War One - Top Ten Booklist
  12. Gender in Early America Top Ten Booklist
  13. 2016 American Historical Association Book Awards
  14. 2017 Organization of American Historians Book Awards
  15. 2016 Organization of American Historians Book Awards


Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Almost everyone can now read books on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. These are fairly unsatisfactory options because the reading experience is typically a disappointment. It's hard to recommend reading serious history books on a phone or tablet over a paper book. The Kindle Paperwhite most closely mimics paper books. It's easier to read for long periods of time than phones and tablets. While you cannot take notes in the book the way you can with a paper book, you can store an enormous number of books on the Paperwhite.

In an ideal world, paper books are the best solution, but the Paperwhite is a solid device for reading books and it's great for travel. Amazon has Kindles that range in price from $79.99 to $249.99. The Paperwhite at $119.99 is a great deal. It has more than enough storage and a great screen. That makes it hard to recommend the more expensive models.

Bodum Chambord French Press

Reading a great book while drinking coffee can be a glorious experience. There are currently 1001 ways to make coffee, but if you like rich, strong coffee - get a French press. It consistently makes the best coffee. Admittedly, it takes slightly longer than popping a pouch or pod into a coffee machine because you have to boil some water and then let the coffee steep for 3 minutes. But these tasks require very little oversight and you can do them while you put your breakfast together. There are a ton of great French presses. This one has the benefit of both holding 3 cups of coffee and being relatively inexpensive. As long as your not a klutz, it will last forever. If you are clumsy, get a French press made out of stainless steel. Think of it as a klutz tax. You can also find great single-serving French presses.