“A generation that ignores history has no past and no future.”
-Robert Heinlein, author
History, simply defined, informs our understanding of the world. And as the quote above implies, we can’t know where we’re going until we understand where we’ve been.
Through the ages, historians from Herodotus to John Gibbon, W.E.B. Dubois to Niall Ferguson have explored events of their lives, and the past, to better help us understand the world around us and our place in it.
With their data, research, and storytelling, historians recreate worlds that we could previously only dream about. They bring the past to life and teach us valuable lessons about our societies and the systems we’ve created to navigate through them. They show us that history is rarely easy, pretty, or right. And in that, too, great lessons are to be learned. “History,” said Maya Angelou, “despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
At Roanoke County Public Library, the possibilities to explore history are endless. Through video documentaries, research materials, databases, books and more, the entire world is at your fingertips.
Below is a list of some of my favorite history reads, and the historians who wrote them. All are available through the library.
- Rick Atkinson - The British Are Coming: The first book in Atkinson’s Revolutionary Trilogy, recounting the War of Independence from Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777.
- Stephan Ambrose - Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and The Opening of the American West: From New York Times best-selling author of Band of Brothers, a definitive history of Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the Louisiana Purchase.
- Mary Beard - SPQR: a History of Ancient Rome: A sweeping history of how the Roman Empire rose and, ultimately, fell.
- Douglas Brinkley - American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and The Great Space Race: A look at JFK’s great challenge to place a man on the moon and the men, women, and technology that made it happen.
- Ron Chernow - Hamilton: The ultimate history of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography was the inspiration for Hamilton: The Musical.
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song: Harvard scholar Gates takes us through the history of the Black Church tradition in America and its important place in our culture today.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin - Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln: A look at Abraham Lincoln’s career and his pivotal decision to create a cabinet formed of his political rivals.
- Susan Williams, Library Assistant
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