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12 Books for the History Buffs on Your Holiday Gift List

5 minute read

This holiday season is an abundant one for those with a taste for stories about the past, with a spate of new and new-ish books that offer something for everyone—from a heavy presidential biography for someone who aced American History to an examination of how TV shows got to be so good for someone who prefers her history with a cultural angle.

Here are the history books to get for everyone on your shopping list, from sports fans to art aficionados.

For the Royals-Watcher

Basic Books

Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe

By Sarah Gristwood

Anne Boleyn, Catherine de Medici, Isabella of Castile and several female Tudors wielded massive influence in the 16th century. This book examines their power and explains their rise to the top.

For the Foodie


Ten Restaurants That Changed America

By Paul Freedman

As a nation of immigrants, the U.S. has seen culinary culture play major role in society, as it constantly reflects and reshapes national identity. Freedman singles out 10 restaurants, from Chez Panisse to the Mandarin, that were integral in the evolution of our food history.

For the Medical Mind


How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS

By David France

The outbreak of HIV was one of the most fraught medical catastrophes of all time, requiring massive funding and research even as segments of the public shied away from taking action. This book, from the creator of the documentary of the same name, celebrates the activists and scientists who took on the incredible challenge of developing treatment.


For the Pop-Culture Fan


The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific

By David Bianculli

Conventional wisdom holds that in this post-Sopranos, post-Mad Men world, television has become the new frontier of creativity. But how did we get from boilerplate sitcoms on network TV to experimental dramedies on streaming services? The TV critic for NPR’s Fresh Air explains.

For the Queer-History Connoisseur

Penguin Press

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady

By Susan Quinn

After she learned of her husband’s affairs, Eleanor Roosevelt’s marriage became a more practical than romantic union, but she was not done with love. The first lady had a number of romantic alliances over her lifetime—but Quinn focuses on her relationship with the Associated Press reporter assigned to cover her, Lorena Hickok, who served as a ballast to Roosevelt during her difficult years in the White House. (While letters between the two don’t definitively prove they were physically sexual, they are certainly suggestive.)

For the Art Lover

Penguin Press

Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner

By Franny Moyle

The Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is one of the most famous artists in Western history. This biography explores not only what made him great, but also how his life and work was shaped by a rapidly changing Britain and Europe.

For the Music Fan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

By David Hajdu

Thanks to its broad range of subcultures and genres, from the blues to country, the U.S. is arguably the capital of global pop music. Critic David Hajdu traces the trajectory of American hits, from the iconoclasts of Vaudeville to the protest songs of the 1960s.

For the Presidential Reader

Random House

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

By Ronald C. White

The 18th president of the United States certainly doesn’t go unrecognized in the pantheon of great American leaders, but White makes a fresh argument for why we should hold the gifted general and politician in even higher regard.

For the True-Crime Addict


Who Killed These Girls?: Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders

By Beverly Lowry

In 1991, in the back of a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas, four girls were found dead. Lowry follows the emotional and frustrating investigation to find their killers, which has taken different shapes over the years as technology and resources have changed. Officials have yet to successfully prosecute the responsible parties.

For the Sports Fan

Basic Books

A History of American Sports in 100 Objects

By Cait Murphy

Murphy tells the grand story of athletics in America through 100 artifacts that document our games and our heroes, from the dress Billie Jean King wore in the Battle of the Sexes to one of Michael Phelps’ signed swim caps from the 2008 Olympics.

For the Stargazer

Basic Books

Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets

By Tyler Nordgren

An astronomer explains how solar eclipses have gone from terrifying omens to sought-out events for tourists, explaining the advances in science and changes in society that took place along the way. Readers should aim to finish it before Aug. 21, 2017, when a total eclipse of the sun will occur in the U.S. for the first time in nearly 40 years.

For the Ancient-History Buff


Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World

By Thomas F. Madden

As the songwriter wrote, you can’t go back to Constantinople—or for that matter, Byzantium. But you can find out how and why the same city survived so many drastic changes over more than two millennia. In a major “biography” of a city at the center of the world, Madden documents the history of the place that has been home to Greeks and Ottomans, Muslims and Jews, the ancient world and the society of the future.

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