Historic Non-Fiction Recommendations

PDF Version of Recommendations

Overview: The Historic Non-Fiction genre is writing that tells about real, people, places, and events from the past. This genre is about a historical period of event of significance; it cannot focus on one individual.

Title Author Description
In the Garden of Beasts

1170 Lexile

448 Pages

Erik Larson The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

304 Pages

1040 Lexile



Deborah Hopkinson Award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson pieces together the harrowing, tragic story of the TITANIC in this Sibert Honor volume. In this award-winning book, critically acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the voices and stories of real TITANIC survivors and witnesses to the disaster — from the stewardess Violet Jessop to Captain Arthur Rostron of the CARPATHIA, who came to the rescue of the sinking ship. Packed with heartstopping action, devastating drama, fascinating historical details, loads of archival photographs on almost every page, quotes from primary sources, and painstaking back matter, this gripping story, which follows the TITANIC and its passengers from the ship’s celebrated launch at Belfast to her cataclysmic icy end, is sure to thrill and move readers.
Women Making America

379 Pages

Heidi Hemming U.S. women’s history for everyone! Explore the history you never learned in school. Experience the everyday struggles, delights, and courage of America’s women from the Revolutionary War to the present. Dabble in history at a glance, or immerse yourself in comprehensive study. Most importantly, it is not the typical narrow-focused history of white women of means, but the multifaceted story of the diversity of histories that speaks to all women of the United States. A joy to read!


Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science.

1130 Lexile

166 Pages

Marc Aronson &

Marina Budhos

“Only 4 percent of the slaves taken from Africa were brought to North America, which means that 96 percent went to the Caribbean, Brazil, and the rest of South America, mostly to work with sugar.” This surprising fact points to the authors’ argument that the enormous growth in the sugar trade in the 17th and 18th centuries was the major factor in slavery. They argue, too, that sugar was instrumental in spreading the idea of freedom, an idea that changed the world.
Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

1190 Lexile

144 pages

Rosalyn Schanzer It was January, 1692, and as an icy winter wind shrieked through Salem Village, Massachusetts, two young girls began to twitch and choke and contort their bodies into strange abnormal shapes and speak in words that made no sense. Their family tried every remedy in the book, but nothing worked. Finally a doctor announced his dire diagnosis: The girls were BEWITCHED! And then the accusations began. This book tells the gripping true story of the victims, accused witches, scheming officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness afflicting two children into a witchhunt that took 20 lives and ruined hundreds more.
Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers

256 Pages

Brandon Marie Miller “Oh, Oregon, you must be wonderful country,” mused Amelia Knight, ironically, in 1853, after another punishing day of wagon travel, including journeys through mud and water up to the wheel hubs. A few decades later, Kansas settler Mary Pease found her voice in populist politics of the day: “Wall Street owns the country,” she decried, rallying farmers with a hauntingly contemporary refrain. Miller’s profile of 16 western women, many not especially well known, is a major expansion and revision of her earlier title, Buffalo Gals: Women of the Old West (1995), a more general treatment of pioneering and native women.
Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

1000 Lexile

192 Pages

Albert Marrin Saturday, March 25, 1911, was a day of unspeakable tragedy in the history of America. The peace of the spring afternoon in the area of New York’s Washington Square was broken by the screaming sirens of fire engines, and witnesses looked on in horror as the top three floors of a nearby ten-story building were engulfed in flames. The building housed the Triangle Waist Company, a manufacturer of women’s blouses. With no other way of escaping the conflagration, scores of employees leaped from the windows, their clothes and hair ablaze. Within minutes, 146 workers died. The victims were almost all young women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-three, and most were recent immigrants, Italians and Russian Jews. The Triangle Fire was more than an isolated tragedy on the landscape of history; it was “part of a larger story woven into the fabric of American life.”
Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow 1050 Lexile

176 Pages

Susan Campbell Bartoletti Hitler’s plans for the future of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellent history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were victims of leaders who took advantage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means.
Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

920 Lexile

272 Pages

Steve Sheinkin Harry Gold was right: This is a big story.” So begins this depiction of the “creation-and theft-of the deadliest weapon ever invented.” Sheinkin has again brought his superior talent for storytelling to bear in what is truly a gripping account of discovery, espionage, and revolutionary changes in both physics and the modern world. This fascinating tale, packed with a wide cast of characters, focuses mainly on three individuals: spy for the Soviets Harry Gold, leader of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Knut Haukelid, who sabotaged German bomb efforts while working for the Norwegian resistance.
Band of Brothers

1200 Lexile

336 Pages

Stephen Ambrose As grippingly as any novelist, preeminent World War II historian Stephen Ambrose tells the horrifying, hallucinatory saga of Easy Company, whose 147 members he calls the nonpareil combat paratroopers on earth circa 1941-45. Ambrose takes us along on Easy Company’s trip from grueling basic training to Utah Beach on D-day, where a dozen of them turned German cannons into dynamited ruins resembling “half-peeled bananas,” on to the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of part of the Dachau concentration camp.
Flags of Our Fathers: A Young People’s Edition

950 Lexile

224 Pages

Michael French In the winter of 1945, on the tiny island of Iwo Jima, a ferocious, epic battle was fought, resulting in the loss of more than 48,000 lives and producing what was to become one of the most recognizable symbols of World War II: a photograph of six soldiers raising an American flag on the peak of Mount Suribachi. One of the six, Navy corpsman John Bradley, came away from this historical moment with a deep and mysterious silence about his role in the flag raising. Even his wife heard him speak of it only once in their 47-year marriage.
A Night to Remember

950 Lexile

182 Pages

Walter Lord James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic movie is a smash hit, but Walter Lord’s 1955 classic remains in some ways unsurpassed. Lord interviewed scores of Titanic passengers, fashioning a gripping you-are-there account of the ship’s sinking that you can read in half the time it takes to see the film. The book boasts many perfect movie moments not found in Cameron’s film. When the ship hits the berg, passengers see “tiny splinters of ice in the air, fine as dust, that give off myriads of bright colors whenever caught in the glow of the deck lights.”
Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex

1170 Lexile

208 Pages

Nathaniel Philbrick On November 20, 1820, the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry whale.   Within minutes, the twenty-one-man crew, including the fourteen-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson, found themselves stranded in three leaky boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with barely any supplies and little hope. Three months later, two of the boats were rescued 4,500 miles away, off the coast of South America. Of the twenty-one castaways, only eight survived, including young Thomas.
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

980 Lexile

280 Pages


James Swanson New York Times bestselling author James Swanson delivers a riveting account of the chase for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. Based on rare archival material, obscure trial manuscripts, and interviews with relatives of the conspirators and the manhunters, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is a fast-paced thriller about the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth: a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia.
Assassination Vacation

1150 Lexile

258 Pages

Sarah Vowell Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.





1180 Lexile

342 Pages

Dave Eggers When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers’s riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy — an American who converted to Islam — and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

1140 Lexile

370 Pages


Rebecca Skloot Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

1130 Lexile

165 Pages

Jim Murphy 1793, Philadelphia. The nation’s capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown. Jim Murphy describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took on the city’s residents, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices. Drawing on first-hand accounts, Murphy spotlights the heroic role of Philadelphia’s free blacks in combating the disease, and the Constitutional crisis that President Washington faced when he was forced to leave the city–and all his papers–while escaping the deadly contagion. The search for the fever’s causes and cure, not found for more than a century afterward, provides a suspenseful counterpoint to this riveting true story of a city under siege.
The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story

1030 Lexile

448 Pages

Richard Preston The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus. A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic “hot” virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their “crashes” into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance

1090 Lexile

144 Pages

Jennifer Armstrong In August 1914, Ernest Shackleton and 27 men sailed from England in an attempt to become the first team of explorers to cross Antarctica from one side to the other. Five months later and still 100 miles from land, their ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice. The expedition survived another five months camping on ice floes, followed by a perilous journey through stormy seas to remote and unvisited Elephant Island. In a dramatic climax to this amazing survival story, Shackleton and five others navigated 800 miles of treacherous open ocean in a 20-foot boat to fetch a rescue ship.
Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart

870 Lexile

206 Pages


Randall Brinks An examination of long-secret government files, exclusive interviews, and reinterpretation of long-misunderstood photographs and data offers strong evidence for a solution to the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.
Code Talkers: A Novel about the Navajo Marines in World War II

910 Lexile

240 Pages

Josepf Bruchac Throughout World War II, in the conflict fought against Japan, Navajo code talkers were a crucial part of the U.S. effort, sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code that used their native language. They braved some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and with their code, they saved countless American lives. Yet their story remained classified for more than twenty years. But now Joseph Bruchac brings their stories to life for young adults through the riveting fictional tale of Ned Begay, a sixteen-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker. His grueling journey is eye-opening and inspiring. This deeply affecting novel honors all of those young men, like Ned, who dared to serve, and it honors the culture and language of the Navajo Indians.
Geeks:  How two lost boys rode the internet out of Idaho

1070 Lexile

256 Pages

Jon Katz Jesse and Eric were geeks: suspicious of authority figures, proud of their status as outsiders, fervent in their belief in the positive power of technology. High school had been an unbearable experience and their small-town Idaho families had been torn apart by hard times. On the fringe of society, they had almost no social lives and little to look forward to. They spent every spare cent on their computers and every spare moment on-line. Nobody ever spoke of them, much less for them. But then they met Jon Katz, a roving journalist who suggested that, in the age of geek impresario Bill Gates, Jesse and Eric had marketable skills that could get them out of Idaho and pave the way to a better life. So they bravely set out to conquer Chicago—geek style. Geeks is a humorous, moving tale of triumph over adversity and self-acceptance that delivers two irresistible heroes for the digital age and reveals the very human face of technology.
Six Days in October

1040 Lexile

160 Pages

Karen Blumenthal Over six terrifying, desperate days in October 1929, the fabulous fortune that Americans had built in stocks plunged with a fervor never seen before. At first, the drop seemed like a mistake, a mere glitch in the system. But as the decline gathered steam, so did the destruction. Over twenty-five billion dollars in individual wealth was lost, vanished, gone. People watched their dreams fade before their very eyes. Investing in the stock market would never be the same.

Here, Wall Street Journal bureau chief Karen Blumenthal chronicles the six-day period that brought the country to its knees, from fascinating tales of key stock-market players, like Michael J. Meehan, an immigrant who started his career hustling cigars outside theaters and helped convince thousands to gamble their hard-earned money as never before, to riveting accounts of the power struggles between Wall Street and Washington.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

1200 Lexile

376 Pages

Adam Hochschild In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million–all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. forgotten–onto the conscience of the West.
Midnight Rising: John Brown, and The Raid That Sparked the Civil War

384 Pages

Tony Horwitz Late on the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown launched a surprise raid on the slaveholding South. Leading a biracial band of militant idealists, he seized the massive armory at Harpers Ferry, freed and armed slaves, and vowed to liberate every bondsman in America. Brown’s daring strike sparked a savage street fight and a counterattack by U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee. The bloodshed and court drama that followed also shocked a divided nation and propelled it toward civil war. Tony Horwitz’s Midnight Rising brings Brown and his uprising vividly to life and charts America’s descent into explosive conflict. The result is a taut and indispensable history of a man and a time that still resonate in our own.
Amistad:  A Long Road to Freedom

1050 Lexile

112 Pages

Walter Dean Myers In 1839, there was a rebellion on the slave ship Amistad. In a bloody struggle, the African captives aboard rebelled against their kidnappers and declared mutiny. While trying to sail the ship home, the Africans accidentally ended up in New York. They were later imprisoned and put on trial for murder. Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers’s probing look at this triumph over indignity and injustice shows the events’ effect on the country America has become.
Sensational Trials of the 20th Century

1010 Lexile

Betsy Harvey Kraft Eight of America’s most important legal battles, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Watergate trials, and the O.J. Simpson trial, are revisited in brief, fast-paced accounts and dramatic black-and-white photographs.

Additional Websites with Lists of Historic Non-Fiction Books:
https://sites.google.com/a/berkeleycarroll.org/middle-school-reading/book-lists/non-fiction     https://sites.google.com/a/ggwo.org/the-middle-school-corner/Home/genres/non-fiction      http://plymouthlibrary.org/index.php/teen/teen-booklists/553-across-the-ages-nonfiction-history-books-for-teens




One thought on “Historic Non-Fiction Recommendations

  1. Pingback: Non-Fiction Reading Recommendations for Middle School Students | Teaching the Writers: 7th Grade English Curriculum

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