The 10 Best Books for History Majors to Read This Summer

Classrooms Team

Aug 25, 2021

We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.

Whether you’re a history buff about to go into college for the first time, or you’re a history major looking for brand new events, people, and places to learn about this summer, there are so many great books about — and directly from — different historical periods and places. History is a vast plethora of stories and people, and there are so many opportunities to learn more about it. Whether you love modern history, ancient history, American history, or global, there are so many great books to choose from.

Summer reading is all about branching out into your own personal interests. Even if your focus in school is a bit more specific, you can use your summer to read up on other parts of history that you find interesting. From political theory in its primary source to niche social and historical events, there’s no shortage to the learning you can do right from your own backyard or beach spot. Here are some of the best books for history majors, nonfiction lovers, and history buffs that you can read this summer.

1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

If you’re thinking about primary sources and political theory, and you haven’t read The Communist Manifesto yet, it might be the best place to start. Communism is gaining a new popularity as a modern political theory, and reading Marx straight from the source can increase your understanding and lend historical perspective.

2. A History of American People by Paul Johnson

If you’re interested in American history, this book is a great summer read for you. While this book is a bit older — only following up into the Clinton administration — this book has a wide range, all the way from the colonies up to the modern era. It’s often considered a classic historical book.

3. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

While this book is a mashup of political theory, science, and history, it’s truly a feat of achievement. Based on theories of agriculture, sociology, and colonialism, this book will give any reader a lot to think about.

4. African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa by Michael Gomez

If you want to know more about African history, specifically during the Medieval era and middle ages, this book is perfect for you. All too often, the nuances of African history aren’t taught enough in history classes and programs, and this is a great view into some of the specifics of older West African history in a time period that often gets overwhelming focus in Europe.

5. Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend

Ancient civilizations are always an intriguing subject to learn about, and if you’re interested in the Aztecs, this new book will likely reignite that flame! Whether you’re a buff on ancient civilizations or a newbie to them and starting off with the Aztecs, you can find a lot to love in this book. 

6. Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History by Catherine Cenzia Choy

If you’re interested in Asian American history as well as Asian and Pacific Island history, this book could truly hit the spot for you. Granting a closer look into the cultural and historical phenomena of nursing exchanges from the Philippines into the United States, this book is an opportunity to study something that’s very close to home in many people’s families.

7. Exploring Gypsiness by Ada Engebrigsten

The Romani people have a deep and rich history, and if you want to spend time this summer reading up on not just the history, but the identity as well, this book could be perfect for you. Focusing on power exchanges and Transylvanian culture, this book about Romani existence, identity, and culture is a great read for both modern understanding and historical knowledge.

8. Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy

Chernobyl has gotten a lot of attention recently, and if you’re thinking about reading up on it and learning more about the nuclear accident and the aftermath it caused, this book could be the perfect pick for you. Sure, it can get heavy, but if you’re curious, you should give it a try.

9. The Odyssey by Homer

Time for another primary source and historical text? The Odyssey is a great text to try out if you’re interested in ancient Greece. Technically an epic poem, The Odyssey is an entertaining and adventurous story by Homer, great for history buffs looking for something with a bit of a story and narrative. 

10. The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton

This book is an odd tale from the vault of French history — and it’s a great read if you’re looking for a weird story to entertain. Chocked full of other episodes in French cultural history, it’s one of those books that isn’t so much of a larger historical chronicle, but smaller chips of history.

The Best Books for History Majors

If you’re a history major looking for a great read this summer, there are so many great reads to choose from. Whether you’re diving into ancient history or present cultural phenomena, you can find so many amazing books to crack open this summer. Do you have any books you’re excited to read this summer?

Written By