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American History & Jewish History Blog
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
April 8, 2021

National Library Week: Staff Reading Picks

Did you reach the end of the Internet while stuck at home during the pandemic? If so – or you’re just looking for a new medium – we’ve gathered a list of some of our staff’s favorite American History books in a nod to National Library Week. Let us know if you pick one up and what you think!

Eliza Kolander, Strategic Partnership Manager: 

They’ll Cut Off Your Project: A Mingo County Chronicle is a memoir by Huey Perry in which he recounts his efforts to help a local, low-income Appalachian community achieve self-sufficiency and challenge the corrupt local government who tried to block their progress at every turn.

Michal Gorlin Becker, Administrative Director: 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson is the story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer who used this event to target his victims.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts is a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism that exposes why the AIDS epidemic was willfully ignored or underplayed by public health professionals.

Ariane Weisel Margalit, Director of Special Projects: 

Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward Lawson delves into the 1925 Scopes Trial, which pitted creationism against evolution, and influenced the ongoing discussion regarding religion in American society.

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural by Wendell Berry is a collection of twenty-four essays in which the author explains the interconnectedness of humans, animals, land, weather, and family.

Thea Wieseltier, Director of Public Affairs:

Truman, David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of President Harry Truman.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a New York Times  best-seller that reflects on America’s race problem, through letters of the author to his adolescent son.

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner discusses the enormous shift in America following the Civil War and the end of slavery and its enduring relevance in contemporary America.

Grant is a 2017 New York Times best-selling biography on Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow.

Naomi Weiss, Research Associate: 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the  Murder of a President by Candace Millard explores Garfield’s assassination at the hands of a mentally unbalanced office-seeker through the lens of pitfalls of contemporary medicine.

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto takes a look at the rough and tumble colony of New Amsterdam, contrasting it with the dour New England that looms large in the American imagination, and discusses how the Dutch Republic planted the seed of liberalism in the American cultural landscape in their colony at Manhattan.

Caitlin Winkler, Researcher, Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War: 

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. DeAnne Blanton and Lauren  M. Cook tell the overlooked stories of women who disguised themselves as men and fought for both the Union and the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

The Things They Carried is a collection of interlinked short stories by Tim O’Brien about the experiences of men in a platoon serving in the Vietnam War

Alexandra Apito, Researcher, Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War: 

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who

 Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, rejected by the secret service because she was a woman and had a prosthetic leg, was the first woman deployed to occupied France to spy on behalf of the British.

Kenny Kolander, Research Associate: 

Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of a Young Black Girl in the Rural South by Anne Moody is an eye-opening memoir of a woman who was born to sharecroppers in rural Mississippi and her journey to stand at the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement.


Jamie Levavi, Director of Digital Projects has a great recommendation for children that might be more accessible than Twain’s suggested reading for young adults:

The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern. For much lighter reading, this children’s book made an impression on me in elementary school – to the point that as an adult, I recalled it and bought it for my daughters. Less a story of U.S. history, and rather the true story of a young woman who did not allow the norms of the time to bind her, The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson, is about a young woman who successfully disguised herself as a man and served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. This book and others like it, such as the Who Was series, are fantastic biographies that will get kids curious and reading and will stick with them!


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