Books have always been humanity’s primary means of recording history, and many readers turn to them as a means of learning more about our shared past. Nonfiction books offer straightforward, deeply researched accounts, while novels give readers the chance to experience historical events from varied and nuanced perspectives.
New York Times bestselling author David Grann has a talent for uncovering fascinating stories from history, and his latest project, Killers of the Flower Moon, perfectly illustrates just how much a book can teach you. In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, Grann revisits one of the most monstrous (and least well-known) crimes in American history, in which a large number of Native American people from the Osage Nation were murdered in the name of greed. It’s a chilling true-life murder mystery that will have your reading group asking yourselves—how did we not know about this?
For more books that highlight important events in history that you we should all know more about, check out our list below.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White assembled an undercover team and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress, who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister, Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.
The extraordinary story of how the Vatican’s imprisonment of a six-year-old Jewish boy in 1858 helped to bring about the collapse of the popes’ worldly power in Italy. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara evokes the anguish of a modest merchant’s family, the rhythms of daily life in a Jewish ghetto, and also explores, through the revolutionary campaigns of Mazzini and Garibaldi and such personages as Napoleon III, the emergence of Italy as a modern national state. Moving and informative, it reads as both a historical thriller and an authoritative analysis of how a single human tragedy changed the course of history.
“The greatest World War II story never told” (Esquire)—an enthralling account of the heroic mission to rescue the last survivors of the Bataan Death March.
On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. A recent prison massacre by Japanese soldiers elsewhere in the Philippines made the stakes impossibly high and left little time to plan the complex operation. In Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides vividly re-creates this daring raid, offering a minute-by-minute narration that unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the prisoners and their lives in the camp.
On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, the prisoners negotiated with officials for improved conditions during the four long days and nights that followed.
On September 13, the state abruptly sent hundreds of heavily armed troopers and correction officers to retake the prison by force. Their gunfire killed thirty-nine men—hostages as well as prisoners—and severely wounded more than one hundred others. In the ensuing hours, weeks, and months, troopers and officers brutally retaliated against the prisoners. And, ultimately, New York State authorities prosecuted only the prisoners, never once bringing charges against the officials involved in the retaking and its aftermath and neglecting to provide support to the survivors and the families of the men who had been killed.
Drawing from more than a decade of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy. Blood in the Water is the searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century.
It’s 1937, and the Japanese are poised to invade Nanjing. Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and the dean of Jinling Women’s College, decides to remain at the school, convinced that her American citizenship will help her safeguard the welfare of the Chinese men and women who work there. She is painfully mistaken. In the aftermath of the invasion, the school becomes a refugee camp for more than ten thousand homeless women and children, and Vautrin must struggle, day after day, to intercede on the behalf of the hapless victims. Yet even when order and civility are restored, she remains deeply embattled, always haunted by the lives she could not save.