Ready to take an American history book quiz? I’m guessing the answer is yes, because you click on a link to get here. Sometimes American history gets a bad reputation for being boring or overly praising of dead white men. That is certainly a lot of what we read about studying history and social studies in school. And I definitely understand the turnoff. But the history of the United States and North America include many fascinating stories, people, and movements. There are also so many different lenses to look at American history through. Race. Gender. Religion. Technology. Economics. Ethnicity. I could keep going and going (and going, etc.). But the truth is, that these lenses are present in every story of American history we read; even if they are only made present by their absence.
To take this American history book quiz, answer the following 10 questions. Then you will receive a nonfiction book recommendation about American history that also reflects the present moment. I tried to include a variety of books that touched on different time periods and subjects. And I also looked for books that strayed away from the stale way history is often taught in school (although you will find one about George Washington on the list!). And don’t worry, if you aren’t that jazzed about your book recommendation. There’s a list of all the possible answers underneath.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
As a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the history of the people and plants Indigenous to North America and the lessons we can all learn from the natural world.
This book is a deeply researched look at how slavery and racism influenced America’s history and present. It explores what stories and events have been hidden. And at the same time asks questions about the stories being told by landmarks and monuments ranging from Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello to a Louisiana Plantation that has been turned into a maximum security prison to a Confederate soldier cemetery.
There are lots of biographies of George Washington. But instead of presenting a straightforward accounting of his life, this book focuses on separating the legends about the man from his real life. It explores the mythos Americans have built around Washington as a historical figure, while also taking a closer look at parts of his life more reverent biographers skip over such as his behavior as an enslaver.
The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura
Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell were the first and third female doctors with medical degrees in the United States. This biography of the sisters looks at both women’s lives and relationship with each other, from their unusual childhood to their founding of the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.
American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War by Duncan Ryūken Williams
This book tells the little-known story of Japanese American Buddhists fighting for religious freedom in the Internment Camps during World War Two. With beautiful writing and extensive research, it looks at the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans through both a racial and religious lens, as many American politicians believed Buddhism was incompatible with American lifestyle.
The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America by Margaret O’Mara
This book is a well-researched, definitive history of Silicon Valley that looks at the way this small stretch of land became so technologically and economically influential throughout the world. It tells the stories of the Valley’s most influential and interesting players, while also showing the strong federal government and defense ties the area has had throughout the 20th century.
I hope got a good recommendation from this American history book quiz! For more reading suggestions check out this list of inclusive American history books or these must read books about American politics.