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Learn From The Past: Get Wise About our Civilization With This List of World History Books

Do you want to read the best world history books but not sure where to start? Here are some essential titles to add to your reading list.
by Chris Allmer | Oct 25 2023

Since Herodotus, widely regarded as the first historian, wrote his history of the Greco-Persian wars in the 5th century BC, countless history books have been published. And every single year, hundreds more are added to the list. So, how can you find the best world history books hidden in this multitude?

At Blinkist, we’ve reviewed the best world history books and pulled out our favorites. While some of these are classics — bestselling books read by millions — others are less well-known gems. Read on to discover some of the best out there.

Feed Your Wisdom With This List of the Best World History Books

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Incredible as it might seem, Homo sapiens have only been on the planet for around 300,000 years. Considering that the Earth is around 4.5 Billion years old, modern humans have been around for a very brief moment.

Yet, we’ve done quite a bit in our relatively short span. In his widely acclaimed bestselling history book, Yuval Noah Harari explains how a species of hairless, tailless ape managed to dominate the entire planet completely.

The Code Book by Simon Singh

Unlock the secret world of codes, ciphers, and cryptology. In this fascinating journey through history, Singh delves into the captivating stories behind some of the most notorious and influential codes in our world’s past.

From the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Enigma machine used during World War II, “The Code Book” offers an enthralling exploration of the ways in which secret messages have shaped world events.

The Things We Make by Bill Hammack

This remarkable world history book unveils the untold stories behind the objects that have shaped our civilization. From the wheel to the smartphone, Hammack takes readers on a thought-provoking exploration of the inventions and innovations that have propelled humanity forward.

Through his expertise as an engineer, Hammack reveals the fascinating history behind our everyday artifacts but also shows the ingenuity, resilience, and creativity of the human spirit. 

Best History Books about Philosophy

Philosophy for Life by Jules Evans

This captivating history book takes readers on a journey through time, exploring how ancient philosophies can be applied to modern-day challenges. Discover how philosophy can be a guiding light in times of uncertainty, providing intellectual tools to manage stress, find meaning, and cultivate resilience.

By delving into the profound ideas of philosophers from different eras and cultures, you unlock a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you.

Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman 

Look no further than “Lives of the Stoics” for an insightful exploration of ancient philosophy. This book delves into the lives of prominent Stoics who shaped the course of history.

Through meticulously researched biographies, the authors vividly bring to life figures such as Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca, shedding light on their philosophies and their impact on society. With a historical approach that intertwines context, anecdotes, and practical wisdom, “Lives of the Stoics” is a captivating guide to navigating life’s challenges.

Whether you’re a seasoned history buff or simply curious about the wisdom of the ancients, this book will inspire and enlighten you.

The Analects by Confucius

Dive into the profound teachings of one of history’s greatest philosophers. As you immerse yourself in this influential book, you’ll uncover the wisdom and timeless insights that have guided societies for centuries.

Whether you’re fascinated by philosophy or simply seeking guidance for a meaningful life, “The Analects” offers a profound journey into the depths of human nature and the quest for personal and societal growth. 

Best History Books About America

The Soul of America by Jon Meacham

This book chronicles the nation’s journey through challenging times, offering a fresh perspective on its triumphs and setbacks. By tracing America’s path through its darkest moments, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, Meacham reminds readers of the nation’s capacity for resilience and renewal and explores the soul of a nation that continually strives for a better future.

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James

We all know that the French Revolution transformed Europe. But far fewer of us will also know how much they influenced societies across the wider world. Aside from France itself, no nation was affected more by the revolutionary ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité than Haïti.

In his groundbreaking history book, The Black Jacobins, C. L. R. James tells the story of the Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave who, inspired by the revolution in France, resolved to banish colonialism and slavery from the island of Haïti. In doing so, he led the first successful slave rebellion in history.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

This groundbreaking work has garnered acclaim from influential figures like Oprah Winfrey, who hailed it as “an instant American classic.” A thought-provoking world history book that challenges our understanding of societal structures.

Drawing parallels between the caste systems of India, Nazi Germany, and the United States, Wilkerson unveils a powerful analysis of the invisible barriers that shape our lives. 

Best History Books About Europe

Napoleon The Great by Andrew Roberts

Few individuals in history have had such a significant impact in such a short period as Napoleon Bonaparte. From his election as First Consul in 1799 to his eventual defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon conquered huge swathes of Europe, revolutionizing laws and political systems across the continent as he went.

In his popular history book, Napoleon The Great, author and historian Andrew Roberts explains how this lowly Corsican corporal rose to become one of the key figures in European history.

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku

From the depths of the Holocaust to a life dedicated to spreading love and compassion, Jaku’s memoir offers a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. Allow “The Happiest Man on Earth” to leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul.

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones

In this gripping world history book, Jones delves into the captivating stories of the most influential rulers such as Julius Caesar or Catherine the Great. Jones masterfully analyzes the rise and fall of these iconic figures, exposing the complexities of their reigns and the impact they had on shaping our world. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply fascinated by the dynamics of power, this book will leave you spellbound.  

Best History Books about Asia

Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient by Edward W. Said

Have you noticed the way Asian or Middle Eastern countries are portrayed in the Western media? Usually, they are shown as wild and exotic places, the home to societies grounded in autocracy and mysticism, very different from the nations of the West, with their rational and scientific way of life.

This view is, of course, completely false. In Orientalism, Edward Said takes the Western view of Asian and African culture and history to task. He explains how the West’s warped view of these continents says more about the West than the societies it supposedly describes.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

We all know that Genghis Khan was a bloodthirsty tyrant who rampaged over Asia, leaving a trail of total destruction in his wake. Or was he? Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World will make you re-examine what you thought you knew about the Mongols of the twelfth century.

They’ll show you why it’s unfair to imagine them as uncivilized barbarians. Indeed, the Mongol army under Genghis Khan and his descendants brought trade, civilization, and order to the lands they conquered. In doing so, they helped create the modern world.

 Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson

The recent history of the Middle East has been, to put it lightly, turbulent. Over the past few decades, much of the area has witnessed foreign invasions, civil war, religious repression, dictatorship, and revolutions.

It’s almost as if the region has produced more history than it can actually handle. But why is this the case? In Lawrence in Arabia, we go back to reveal how a small cast of characters forever changed the Middle East during World War I.

The revolts, betrayals, and nation-building over this period continue to influence the Middle East to this day.

Best History Books about Africa

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Take a remarkable journey through history and witness the indomitable spirit of Nelson Mandela. This extraordinary book provides a powerful firsthand account of his struggle against apartheid and his lifelong dedication to justice and equality.

Mandela’s memoir has been hailed as a testament to the strength of the human spirit, earning accolades from global leaders like Barack Obama, who labeled it “an emblem of the South African experience.” You will not only gain a deeper understanding of a pivotal moment in world history but also draw invaluable lessons on resilience, leadership, and the power of forgiveness.

River of the Gods by Candice Millard

In the 19th century, the search for the source of the Nile River captivated explorers and fueled the ambitions of European colonial powers. Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, sent by the Royal Geographical Society, became rivals on this perilous quest. Candice Millard’s “River of the Gods” immerses readers in this gripping tale of adventure and ambition against the backdrop of Africa’s colonial exploitation.

The Rift by Alex Perry

Embark on a captivating exploration of Africa’s tumultuous past and present with this compelling world history book that sheds light on the complex dynamics of the African continent, offering a comprehensive account of its history, conflicts, and aspirations. Whether you’re a history aficionado or simply curious about Africa’s journey, “The Rift” is a must-read that will expand your understanding and leave a lasting impact. 

While this list just scratches the surface of the great swathes of world history, we hope it will give you a good overview of some of the most popular history books out there, and why they’ve become so well-loved. 

Not enough for you? Discover the vast collection of captivating history books available on Blinkist, your go-to platform for concise and insightful book summaries. Immerse yourself in a tapestry of historical narratives, from ancient civilizations to modern-day events, and unlock a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped our present. 

Start exploring Blinkist’s extensive selection of history books and uncover the hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Expand your historical knowledge with Blinkist today!

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