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7 great books for your summer reading list

It’s my new equation.

(Hb * X) + (Hm * H3C6H5O7) = SMP

Where Hb = History Books, Hm = Hammock, H3C6H5O7 = lemonade, and SMP = summer reading pleasure. Pretty simple really.

Take a bunch of books that have been stacking up next to my nightstand, add a brand-new hammock, a cold beverage, and just that fast you’ve got awesomeness.

Teachers should always be looking for ways to get better at what they do and reading is a great way to learn new things, meet new people, get smarter. During the school year, most of us are too busy to sit down with a good history book and just read. Blogs, quick tweets, web sites, and personal learning network kinds of stuff are about all we have time for.

But summer. Summer was specially designed for relaxing somewhere cool with a great book.

I’ve always had a summer reading list. During my middle school teaching years, it was Red Cross instruction in the morning, books all afternoon, and co-ed softball at night. Summer was the juice that got me pysched about going back to 13 year-olds.

I don’t have as much time during the summer anymore but I still have my reading list. This year? Five books for fun and two for work.


America Aflame
David Goldfield offers the first major new interpretation of the Civil War era since James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. Where past scholars have limned the war as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America’s greatest failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical religion into the public sphere. As the Second Great Awakening surged through America, political questions became matters of good and evil to be fought to the death. The price of that failure was horrific, but the carnage accomplished what statesmen could not: It made the United States one nation and eliminated slavery as a divisive force in the Union.

A Nation Rising
The narratives that form A Nation Rising each exemplify the “hidden history” of America, exploring a vastly more complex path to nationhood than the tidily packaged national myth of a destiny made manifest by visionary political leaders and fearless pioneers. Instead, Davis explores many historical episodes that reverberate to this day. The issues raised in these intertwined stories—ambition, power, territorial expansion, slavery, intolerance, civil rights, freedom of the press—continue to make headlines. The resulting book is not only riveting storytelling in its own right, but a stirring reminder of the ways in which our history continues to shape our present.

Paradise General
Dr. Dave Hnida never forgot the horror of his alcoholic father’s WWII experience, revealed as he drove his son to college, their last time together. The need to understand that horror later drove Hnida, as a middle-aged doctor, to war himself. He signed up for two tours of duty in Iraq. On the first tour, he was equipped with an M16 and medical tools and worked with convoys along the highways of Baghdad. His second time in Iraq, during the surge, Hnida worked at a combat-support hospital, the equivalent of a MASH unit. Hnida recalls the experience of working with much younger soldiers and doctors and the struggle to adjust to army discipline and protocol on top of the rigors of war and a hostile desert environment. Through it all, he developed close and abiding friendships with the other doctors and admiration for the young soldiers who risked their lives on a daily basis.

Nothing Like It In the World
The account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad — the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks. In Ambrose’s hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.

Lost Rights
Near the close of the Civil War, as General Sherman blazed his path to the sea, an unknown infantryman rifled through the North Carolina state house.The soldier was hunting for simple Confederate mementos—maps, flags, official correspondence—but he wound up discovering something far more valuable. He headed home to Ohio with one of the touchstones of our republic: one of the fourteen original copies of the Bill of Rights. Lost Rights follows that document’s singular passage over the course of 138 years, beginning with the Indiana businessman who purchased the looted parchment for five dollars, then wending its way through the exclusive and shadowy world of high-end antiquities—a world populated by obsessive archivists, oddball collectors, forgers, and thieves— and ending dramatically with the FBI sting that brought the parchment back into the hands of the government.


Child-Sized History
For more than three decades, the same children’s historical novels have been taught across the United States. Honored for their literary quality and appreciated for their alignment with social studies curricula, the books have flourished as schools moved from whole-language to phonics and from student-centered learning to standardized testing. Books like Johnny Tremain can stimulate children’s imagination, transporting them into the American past and projecting them into an American future. As works of historical interpretation, however, many are startlingly out of step with current historiography and social sensibilities, especially with regard to race. Teachers who employ historical novels in the classroom can help students recognize and interpret historical narrative as the product of research, analytical perspective, and the politics of the time. In doing so, they sensitize students to the ways in which the past is put to moral and ideological uses in the present.

Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle & High School History Classrooms
This practical resource shows you how to apply Sam Wineburg’s highly acclaimed approach to teaching, Reading Like a Historian , in your classroom to increase academic literacy and spark students’ curiosity. Each chapter begins with an introductory essay that sets the stage of a key moment in American history–beginning with exploration and colonization and the events at Jamestown and ending with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following each essay are all the materials you’ll need to teach this topic–primary documents, charts, graphic organizers, visual images, and political cartoons–as well as suggestions for where to find additional resources on the Internet and guidance for assessing students’ understanding of core historical ideas. Reading Like a Historian will help you use your textbook creatively and give you ideas for how historical instruction can enhance students’ skills in reading comprehension.

What’s on your list for the summer?

(Descriptions via Shelfari)

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Chris Moore #

    I just finished reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book blew me away. I can understand why it’s a classic and so enraged the slaveholders. It’s still relevant today. I will encourage my students to read this book that puts a personal touch to a great historical evil.

    June 7, 2012
    • glennw #

      It is a classic! I probably should put it on my list as well but I’m already off track – having found a book called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and another titled Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World written by London’s mayor.

      Oh well. I’m sure I will eventually get to every book I need to read! Thanks for the comment – would be curious to hear what your students think.


      June 7, 2012
  2. Thanks for the tip on Reading Like a Historian. I found a copy, opened it up and was floored that the lessons were essentially “ready to go.” Not only find them good for high school, but because the terms were defined and some documents were adapted for reading level, my wife is looking over it to use some of that for her 5th grade class as well.

    June 8, 2012
    • glennw #

      I really like Sam Wineburg! He always has stuff that is practical and research-based. If you like this book, you also need to check out Sam’s website – Reading Like a Historian at It has lessons from the colonial period to the present. There is another great site called Teaching History at

      Thanks for the comment! Good luck with the book!


      June 8, 2012
  3. Kathleen LaRoue #

    I really loved Paradise General. My only negative comment is that the ending feels dropped on you. The “Reading Like a Historian” looks like a good one I’ll be picking up. Do you have any World History suggestions?

    June 14, 2012
    • glennw #


      All my graduate work has been in US history so my lists are always a bot biased in that direction! But . . . just started a book that I really like called Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World. Starts back before the Romans and up to the present. Uses specific people to mold the story around. Boris Johnson is the author and current mayor of London. He writes in a very interesting and anecdotal way that makes the history fun to read.


      June 14, 2012

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