12 Best History Books That Define Our World

Best History Books

Human beings are plagued by curiosity. Where did we come from? What was in that vast expanse of time before our existence at this moment now? Is the history we know actually true? How much do we know about those times and how much is still hidden? Although we cannot know these truths completely, we can come close to them through history books.

Great history books have the power to whisk you away to a different era, a different culture, and different times altogether. So, for all the curious minds out there, here are the best history books of all time that you must read at least once in your life.

Top 12 History Books of All Ages That Will Change Your Life

Truly, there is no one specific history book that can be labeled “the best”. That’s because the history of the world and human beings is as vast as the mysterious stretch of time itself. Therefore, we have compiled this list according to different categories. The following books are the best history books in their respective category.

Books about World History

This category focuses on the grand narrative of mankind’s journey from the beginning of time to the present day. These are life-changing books that will change the way you view the world.

1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

This critically acclaimed history book is a staple of contemporary literature. It is authored by one of the most intellectual minds of our times. “Sapiens” provides a comprehensive overview of the entire human history from hunter-gatherers to the present day. Moreover, it is written in a clear, simple, and engaging way that makes it easy to understand even complex topics.

Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Year Released: 2011 (Hebrew edition), 2014 (English edition)

  • 1 international New York Times bestseller for 182 weeks
  • Best Book in 2014 by National Library of China’s Wenjin Book Award
  • Critically acclaimed worldwide

Quotes to Remember:

“Happiness begins within. Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring you happiness. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.”

2. A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything

As the title suggests, this book contains the history of everything – from the creation of the universe to the inner workings of human beings. It is full of fascinating facts, historical anecdotes, and witty humor. Reading history was never this fun!

Author: Bill Bryson
Year Released: 2003

  • Winner of the Aventis Prize for Science Books (2004)
  • Shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Medal for Science Books (2004)
  • 1 International New York Times bestseller, translated into over 40 languages.

Quotes to Remember:

“The most astonishing thing about the universe is not that it exists, but that we can understand it even a little.”

3. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

The Silk Roads

This book offers a fresh perspective on the history of the world. Instead of the typical Eurocentric view, it focuses on Eurasia – East & Asia – as the main factor in driving the culture, tradition, trade, and technologies of the world.

Author: Peter Frankopan
Year Released: 2015

  • Outstanding debut nominee for the Guardian First Book Award (2015)
  • Critical acclaimed worldwide

Quotes to Remember:

“The history of the Silk Roads reminds us that the world is a much more interconnected place than we often imagine.”

4. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Guns, Germs, and Steel

This thought-provoking book by Diamond challenges traditional theories about why some societies formed more advanced civilizations than others. It offers keen insight on a wide range of topics such as geography, biology, technology, warfare, etc.

Author: Jared Diamond
Year Released: 1997

  • Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (1998)
  • McNeil Prize in Humanities (1997)

Quotes to Remember:

“The development of civilizations was not a matter of inherent superiority; it was a matter of historical chance.”

Best Classic History Books of All Time

This section includes some of the greatest classics in literature, talking about early civilizations and their complexities.

5. Herodotus’ Histories

Herodotus' Histories

What better way to learn history than from the Father of History himself, right? Herodotus’ Histories is one of the oldest & earliest known works of history. It talks in great length about the Greco-Persian Wars that happened between 492-449 BC.

Author: Herodotus
Year Released: Believed to be written between 440 and 430 BC

Quotes to Remember:

“I do not write for those who want to hear just one version of a story; I set down all the versions that are told.”

6. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

One of the classics of Roman literature, this book offers a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It is a must-read for history nerds!

Author: Edward Gibbon
Year Released: 1776 (Volume 1), 1788 (Volume 6)

Quotes to Remember:

“History is the record of a struggle between liberty and authority – the unceasing recurrence of injury and revenge.”

7. The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War

Another great history classic by the man often referred to as the “Father of Scientific History”. This book is well-known for its objective, evidence-based analysis of the Peloponnesian War between Athens & Sparta in ancient Greece. It explores themes of war & peace, politics of power & leadership, and the understanding of modern conflicts.

Author: Thucydides
Year Released: Believed to be written during 431-404 BC

Quotes to Remember:

“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

8. The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji

One of the greatest Japanese classics, it is also one of the most famous books translated into English. It chronicles people’s lives during the Heian Period, providing an accurate and groundbreaking historical insight. Moreover, this book is known for its timeless themes of love, loss, and the search for meaning. Relatable even today.

Author: Murasaki Shikibu
Year Released: Early 11th century

Quotes to Remember:

“In this world, nothing remains constant. Even the strongest feelings lose their intensity with time.”

Books about Specific Eras & Events

Instead of history as a broad subject, the books in this category focus on pivotal events & eras that altered the course of history.

9. The Guns of August

The Guns of August

This book focuses on the outbreak of World War I in 1914. If you want a deep dive into the complexities, sense of optimism, and miscalculation that made the war inevitable, then this book is for you.

Author: Barbara W. Tuchman
Year Released: 1962

  • Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (1963)

Quotes to Remember:

“The nations went to war in 1914 on a summer’s day with a gay abandon and a hope of victory that would have been impossible a year earlier.”

10. Battle Cry of Freedom

Battle Cry of Freedom

This book covers the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Providing deep insight into the complex political & social tensions that led to the tragic wars, it is truly one of the best history books of all time. It goes beyond just an account of the war, it offers viewpoints of soldiers, politicians, civilians, as well as the African-Americans.

Author: James McPherson
Year Released: 1988

  • Pulitzer Prize for History (1989)

Quotes to Remember:

“Perhaps the tragedy of the Civil War was not that it happened, but that after it happened, the North failed to define the meaning of victory clearly enough.”

11. A World Lit by Fire: An Invention Printing

A World Lit by Fire: An Invention Printing

Stacy Schiff is one of the most prolific female artists in historical literature with more than 5 biographies countless awards & nominations under her name. In this book, she focuses on the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century and how it changed the course of humanity.

Author: Stacy Schiff
Year Released: 2016

  • Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (2017)
  • National Book Award for Nonfiction (2016)
  • Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction (2017)

Quotes to Remember:

“Printing allowed people for the first time to argue with the text in front of them, to form their own conclusions, to challenge authority.”

12. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

History is made up of actual events and when it comes to books based on true stories, Endurance is among the top. It chronicles the harrowing tale & survival struggle of what went on during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914.

Author: Alfred Lansing
Year Released: 1959

  • Critically acclaimed for its captivating narrative that brings the past to life.
  • Commercial success with 60 years in printing and still counting.

Quotes to Remember:

“Endurance is not just the ability to withstand hardship; it is the ability to work out a way, with courage and ingenuity, to turn hardship into triumph.”


History didn’t happen in isolation. It is not just a collection of names and dates on paper. It is rich and dynamic. It’s about real people, their lives, their thoughts, and how it all made way for the civilization as we know it today. That’s why, reading the best history books is so important. It expands your mind and gives you a new perspective of the world. So, take these books & happy reading!

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Alisha Shabbir is a Student, Content Writer and hopefully, a Future Bestselling Author, whose sole passion is to create content that's not only Aesthetically Pleasing but also Progressively Life Changing. Currently, she has all her resources focused on producing content that improves the quality of life. She writes on a broad range of topics which cover different aspects of life and tackle various issues When she's not working, you can find her buried in Books, lost in Music or Procrastinating on her assignments.