These books each cover a specific aspect or period of the 19th Century. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is designed to give you an overview of the entire century. Each of these books has an extremely wide scope and broad ambitions. They are also fairly conventional choices. When you fill a booklist with conventional safe picks, you leave off some of the good stuff. Trust us, we will get to the good stuff.
Still, if you read each of these books you will gain a solid initial grasp of 19th Century America. Are there unforgivable omissions? Yes, there are ridiculously important books that have been left off the list, but you have to start somewhere.
If you disagree with this list, please leave a comment explaining why we are completely wrong. Suggest a book and tell us which book should be removed from the list. If you make a strong case and convince us, we will happily revise this list. Remember this is a 19th Century United States STARTER booklist.
1. Early Republic: Joyce Oldham Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2000)
2. Jacksonian America: Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (Oxford University Press, 1991)
3. Politics of the Early Republic: Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005)
4. Westward Expansion/Environmental History: William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991)
5. Slavery: Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (UNC Press, 2004)
6. Pre-Civil War: David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Harper Perennial, 1977)
7. American West: Elliot West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (University of Kansas Press, 1998)
8. Civil War: James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, 2003)
9. Reconstruction: Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (Harper, 1989)
10. Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (Hill and Wang, 1966)
Check out our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.