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A Historian’s Reading List for 2016



Above: Free Angela Davis poster, Havana, 1971

I start each and every day by reading a couple of chapters of a history (or related) book. I do this primarily to keep up on the literature, making it possible for me to know what I’m talking about when I write my own work. Of course, I’m not reading the way most of you would read. I largely don’t care about the details and am mostly uninterested in the factual material except as it pertains to my own work. So I’m not always reading these books particularly closely like I would read a novel or a piece of literary nonfiction. But all of these books help me to build a structure that I can draw upon in the future, knowing I can revisit and read more carefully when they are relevant to whatever I happen to be working on at a given time. I provide this background so that people understand why this list is so long. Obviously this reflects my own interests in labor, environment, and capitalism, as well as my need to teach the Civil War course at my institution.

Here is every history I have completed in 2016. I put an asterisk after the works I would most recommend to general readers.

1. Darlene Rivas, Missionary Capitalist: Nelson Rockefeller in Venezuela
2. Matt Garcia, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement*
3. Chad Montrie, Making a Living: Work and Environment in the United States
4. Robert Johnston, The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon
5. Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement
6. Elizabeth Faue, Communities of Suffering and Struggle: Women, Men, and the Labor Movement in Minneapolis, 1915-1945
7. Carol A. MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaii
8. Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832*
9. Doug Rossinow, Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America
10. James J. Lorence, Palomino: Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest
11. David R. Farber, Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s
12. Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies*
13. Graham White, Henry Wallace: His Search for a New World Order
14. James Whorton, Before Silent Spring: Pesticides and Public Health in Pre-DDT America
15. James Green, The World of the Worker: Labor in Twentieth-Century America
16. Richard Peterson, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity
17. Elizabeth Jameson, All that Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek
18. Steven Conn, Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century*
19. Kathryn Newfont, Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina
20. Willie Lee Nichols Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment
21. Landon R.Y. Storrs, Civilizing Capitalism: National Consumers’ League, Women’s Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era
22. Margaret Garb, Freedom’s Ballot: African American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration
23. N.D.B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida*
24. W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward A History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880
25. Randi Storch, Working Hard for the American Dream: Workers and Their Unions, World War I to the Present*
26. Andrew Arnold, Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disasters in Pennsylvania Coal Country
27. Carl J. Bon Tempo, Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War
28. David Halle, America’s Working Man: Work, Home and Politics among Blue-Collar Property Owners
29. Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History*
30. Cindy Hahamovitch, No Man’s Land: Jamaican Guestworkers and the Global History of Deportable Labor*
31. Gunther Peck, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930
32. Kris Paap, Working Construction: Why White Working-Class Men Put Themselves—And the Labor Movement—In Harm’s Way
33. Stepan-Norris and Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions
34. Deborah Rosen, Border Law: The First Seminole War and American Nationhood
35. James Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism
36. Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007
37. Michael Todd Lands, Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis*
38. Erin Royston Battat, Ain’t Got No Home: America’s Great Migrations and the Making of an Interracial Left
39. Timothy Messer-Kruse, The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks
40. Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution
41. Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War*
42. Seth Garfield, In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region
43. Thomas Klubock, La Frontera: Forests and Ecological Conflict in Chile’s Frontier Territory
44. Nancy Woloch, A Class By Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s
45. Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time*
46. Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South*
47. Michelle Brattain, The Politics of Whiteness: Race, Workers, and Culture in the Modern South
48. Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia
49. William Bauer, We Were All Like Migrant Workers Here: Work, Community, and Memory on California’s Round Valley Reservation, 1850-1941
50. Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
51. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad 1876-1917
52. C.J. Hawking and Steve Ashby, Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement
53. John Cumbler, Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, the State, New England, 1790-1930
54. Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century
55. Bruno Ramirez, When Workers Fight: The Politics of Industrial Relations in the Progressive Era, 1898-1916
56. Gary Gerstle, Working-Class Americanism: The Politics of Labor in a Textile City, 1914-1960
57. Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer, Green Backlash: The History and Politics of Environmental Opposition in the United States
58. Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America
59. Christopher Jones, Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America
60. Richard Rajala, “A Dandy Bunch of Wobblies” Labor History 1996
61. Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom*
62. Michelle Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction
63. Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
64. Tera W. Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
65. Sonia A. Hirt, Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation
66. Robin Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression*
67. Peter Levy, The New Left and Labor in the 1960s
68. Brian Allen Drake, ed., The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War
69. James Patterson, America’s Struggle Against Poverty, 1900-1994
70. Ahmed White, The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America
71. Jefferson Cowie, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics*
72. Thomas Devine, Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism
73. Michael Williams, Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis
74. Natalie M. Fousekis, Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-1971
75. Rolf Peter Sieferle, The Subterranean Forest: Energy Systems and the Industrial Revolution
76. John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkton, eds, New Working-Class Studies
77. Chad Berry, Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles
78. Mark Hanna, Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740
79. Paul Greenough and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, eds., Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia
80. Clete Daniel, Culture of Misfortune: An Interpretative History of Textile Unionism in the United States
81. Daniel Schneider, Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem
82. Christopher Gunn, Workers Self-Management in the United States
83. E.A. Wrigley, Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England
84. Bruce Baker and Brian Kelly, eds., After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South
85. Carole Boyce-Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones
86. Elizabeth McKillen, Making the World Safe for Workers: Labor, the Left, and Wilsonian Internationalism
87. Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland and the Tragedy of American Labor
88. Lara Vapnek, Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920
89. Phoebe Kropp, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place
90. Kenneth Warren, Wealth, Waste, and Alienation: Growth and Decline in the Connellsville Coke Industry
91. Kim Phillips Fein and Julius Zelizer, eds. What’s Good for Business: Business and American Politics since World War II
92. Robert Rotenberg and Gary McDonogh, eds., The Cultural Meaning of Urban Space
93. Pratt, Melosi, and Brosnan, eds., Energy Capitals: Local Impact, Global Influence
94. Alejandro Velasco, Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela
95. Stacey Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction
96. David Stradling, Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers and Air Quality in America, 1881-1951
97. Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918*

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  • Ramon A. Clef

    A friend gave me River of Dark Dreams late last year, but I haven’t gotten to it. Since you starred it, I’ll move it up in the reading list.

    ETA: I read books on software development lifecycle the same way you read history. Some of my colleagues are amazed that I read “so many books” but I’m not engaging with them the way I do fiction, history, and popular science.

    Another ETA: Workers Self-Management in the United States looks like it might have crossover value with my professional interest (self-organizing teams is a big thing in software development), so I’m adding that one, too.

    • Ronan

      I’ve read (chunks) of it, as a complete dilettante, and it’s really good (the authors writing style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it)
      Having said that, I read books in a haphazard manner, returning over time to them, not finishing many for years, so can’t speak to the whole book (I’ll get back to you in 2018 with a full review)

    • djw

      I read all three of the new(ish) big “cotton slavery and capitalism” books and they’re all well worth your time, but with respect to Baptist and Beckert I think this is the best one.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    98. I.X. Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning?

  • Ronan

    Is fall of the house of Dixie any good ?

    • Woodrowfan

      Levin is a skilled historian. I just started it and (so far) it’s very good.

    • Yes, quite strong.

  • Scott Mc

    Do y’all have an amazon or barnes and noble affiliation? If so, might I suggest making these recommendations links to those sites? If I got the affiliate #’s, I might be able to do it in comments… There are at least a half dozen or so I’m interested in reading (only perused have the list so far).

  • Woodrowfan

    between this thread and the previous one I ended up buying a half-dozen more books.

  • delosgatos

    Just a suggestion, ‘twould be easier to spot the recommendations if the asterisks were in front of the numbers rather than at the ends of the lines.

  • howard

    i’d just like to say that even though it’s your job, that’s an impressive reading list considering that reading is far from all you do with your time.

  • LFC

    I’m reading a work of history at the moment: E. Traverso, Fire and Blood: The European Civil War 1914-1945. (Not skimming/pillaging etc but reading w/ enough care so can post a review on Amazon when I finish.) I’m finding it worth reading but don’t know whether it wd appeal to people here or not. More a series of linked essays than a book w a single tight or v. specific unifying argument. Orig. in French, which may or may not explain what might strike an Anglophone reader as an occasional tendency to overgeneralization. Fairly heavily foonoted to secondary lit in several languages.

    I tend to be more comfortable reading (some) fiction (not that I read a huge amt of fiction) in a haphazard or strictly ‘utilitarian’ way than reading non-fiction that way, unless I’m doing the latter for a specific piece of research and writing. Otherwise I prefer to properly read a whole bk, though I don’t always meet that goal, to be sure.

    ETA: The above graph not intended as criticism of the OP or anyone else. Everyone has his/her own approach to reading for his/her own purposes, and that’s fine.

    • Woodrowfan

      sounds like another addition to my Amazon wish list!

  • Warren Terra

    I’m a bit curious about process here: how you manage to read two books a week, and also how you keep track, because obviously you can’t have come up with that list from memory?

    • LFC

      I think he answered the process question in the OP here:

      I’m not reading the way most of you would read. I largely don’t care about the details and am mostly uninterested in the factual material except as it pertains to my own work. So I’m not always reading these books particularly closely like I would read a novel or a piece of literary nonfiction. But all of these books help me to build a structure that I can draw upon in the future, knowing I can revisit and read more carefully when they are relevant to whatever I happen to be working on at a given time.

      There are ways to zip through books quickly, not bothering w details, getting the big picture. (Not great at that myself, but it can be learned.) Of course I don’t know exactly what EL’s “not reading…particularly closely” amounts to: whether he’s reading every word of the bk at extreme speed, whether he’s reading topic sentences of paragraphs and skimming the rest of the paragraph except if it’s obv., say, a summing up, or what. But he’s clearly getting what he feels he needs to get b.c he’s not reading these bks for pleasure primarily but as part of his job.

      And keeping track is as simple, I wd think, as just having a pad of paper or computer file where you note the titles as you finish.

      I have to say that (roughly) 2 bks a wk, even not reading closely, is v. impressive given what else he’s doing.

      • LFC

        p.s. as howard already said, above.

      • Yeah, basically I’m not really reading them in the way the average reader would read them. I am effectively giving them a close skim, reading the introduction closely, and then it depends on the quality of the book. As far as keeping track goes, I have a couple of files that allows me to do that. I would forget the titles if I didn’t do this and thus it would have little real value for me since I couldn’t go back to them later.

  • Great to see you reccing the Judith Stein book. That one seems to have been disappeared by a lot of people who write (or dabble) in contemporary history, but it has much to add.

  • Julia Grey

    What? You couldn’t read 3 more to make it an even 100?


  • Marek

    Wait, you read all those books, and drank all that beer, and listened to all those albums, and taught your classes? No way.

    • Hogan

      In my experience you can do all those things at the same time.

      In an entirely unrelated development, I no longer teach classes.

      • Julia Grey

        Why do I have this flashback to Albert Brooks in “Network News,” reading, talking to himself, drinking wine and singing in French?

  • MarkinMo

    Nice to see Maggie Garb’s work on your list…I TA’d for her many years ago..

  • partisan

    I’m a bit surprised that Manisha Sinha’s history of abolitionism, Benjamin Madley’s account of the genocide of California Indians or Alan Taylor’s new history of the American Revolution aren’t on the list.

    • Why?

      • LFC

        I’m a bit surprised that Manisha Sinha’s history of abolitionism, Benjamin Madley’s account of the genocide of California Indians or Alan Taylor’s new history of the American Revolution aren’t on the list.

        I read James McPherson’s favorable review of Sinha’s bk in NYRB. That’s prob all EL has to do, even if he does teach the Civil War course at his univ.

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