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2019: A Historian’s Reading


For the last couple of years, I’ve posted my reading list as a historian. Here it is for 2019. Here is 2018’s list. And here is 2017. And let’s not forget good ol’ 2016.

Let me use the same language explaining this as last year:

I read these books for my own purposes–to prepare for teaching, to keep up or catch up on the historiography in my fields, occasionally to broaden my horizons. So I do not read every word of these books, nor do I generally read for factual information. I read for preparation for my work, whether my own professional writing, to inform my blog posts, to prepare for new courses, or to think through harder questions. That often means simply being aware of the basic outlines of a book so that I can go into more detail later when I need to write about a given subject. I also included the few books on contemporary politics I read this year, since there’s not much sense separating those out from historical books given my writing. Some of these are new books, most are from the last decade or so, a few are old classics that I had either never read or haven’t read in the last decade.

I have also placed bold faced asterisks after 20 books I think LGM readers would find particularly useful/I think you should buy and read. That’s not necessarily the same as what I think are the 20 best books, although there is obviously a lot of crossover. So if you are looking for a good reading list for 2020, here you go. There are well more than 20 of these that are excellent and I made my selections based on a combination of clear writing, what I think LGM readers should be reading from a political perspective, and the quality of the book. I am more than happy to talk about any of these books in comments.

  1. John Bowes, Land Too Good for Indians: Northern Indian Removal
  2. Matthew Huber, Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital
  3. Jason De Leon, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail ***
  4. Joshua O. Reno, Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill
  5. Bridget Ford, Bonds of Union: Religion, Race, and Politics in a Civil War Borderland
  6. Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II
  7. Michelle Follette Turk, A History of Occupational Health and Safety: From 1905 to the Present
  8. Elizabeth Todd-Breland, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s***
  9. Max Felker-Kantor, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of LAPD***
  10. Jack Kelly, The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, The Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America***
  11. Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation
  12. Manuel Castells, The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements 
  13. Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction
  14. Jonathan Rosenblum, Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement
  15. Geoffrey B. Robinson, The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66***
  16. Milton Nadworny, Scientific Management and the Unions, 1900-1932
  17. Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia
  18. Robert O. Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s***
  19. Michel Hogue, Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People
  20. Javier Auyero, Poor People’s Politics: Peronist Survival Networks, and the Legacy of Evita
  21. William Philpott, Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country
  22. Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development
  23. James Gross, Broken Promise: The Subversion of US Labor Relations Policy, 1947-1994
  24. Peter Rachleff, Black Labor in the South: Richmond, Virginia, 1865-1890
  25. Vanessa Ribas, On the Line: Slaughterhouse Lives and the Making of the New South
  26. Carmel Finley, All the Fish in the Sea: Maximum Sustained Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management
  27. Sandy Brian Hager, Public Debt, Inequality, and Power: The Making of a Modern Debt State
  28. Douglas K. Miller, Indians on the Move: Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century
  29. Kathryn Marie Dudley, The End of the Line: Lost Jobs, New Lives in Postindustrial America
  30. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle ***
  31. Tim Bartley, Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy
  32. Jamie McCallum, Global Unions, Local Power: The New Spirit of Transnational Labor Organizing
  33. Timothy Silver, A New Face on the Countryside: Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in the South Atlantic Forests
  34. Nancy Tomes, Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers
  35. Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision ***
  36. Jacqueline Jones, Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical
  37. James Atleson, Labor and the Wartime State: Labor Relations and Law during World War II
  38. Emily Hobson, Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left***
  39. Derek Wall, Earth First and the Anti-Road Movement
  40. Eric Freyfogle, A Good that Transcends: How U.S. Culture Undermines Environmental Reform
  41. Stacie Taranto, Kitchen Table Politics: Conservative Women and Family Values in New York
  42. Landon R.Y. Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left
  43. Peter Cole, Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area***
  44. Jessica M. Frazier, Women’s Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War
  45. Gerald Zahavi, Workers, Managers, and Welfare Capitalism: The Shoeworkers and Tanners of Endicott Johnson, 1890-1950
  46. Frank Barajas, Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961
  47. Thomas McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment
  48. Richard Follett, et al, eds., Plantation Kingdom: The American South and Its Global Commodities
  49. William Wyckoff, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide***
  50. Alan Trachtenberg, Shades of Hiawatha: Staging Indians, Making Americans, 1880-1930
  51. Adam Ewing, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics
  52. Edward Melillo, Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection
  53. Matthew Karp, The Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy
  54. Holly Jackson, American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation
  55. Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che
  56. Timothy Minchin, Forging a Common Bond: Labor and Environmental Activism during the BASF Lockout
  57. Eileen Boris and Rachel Salazar Parreñas, Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care
  58. Douglas Little, Us versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat
  59. Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War
  60. Nancy Kwak, A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid
  61. Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African-Americans, 1917-36
  62. Charles Perrow, Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origin of Corporate Capitalism
  63. Colin Fisher, Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago
  64. Louis Hyman, Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink
  65. Steven Nash, Reconstruction’s Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains
  66. Carolyn Karcher, A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgee and His Fight against White Supremacy
  67. Sharon Romeo, Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri
  68. Kathryn Hochstetler and Margaret Keck, Greening Brazil: Environmental Activism in State and Society
  69. Paul Sutter, Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South
  70. Steve Kantrowitz, More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889***
  71. Sean Ehrlich, The Politics of Fair Trade: Moving Beyond Free Trade and Protectionism
  72. Kaufman and Kaufman, Toward the Stabilization and Enrichment of a Forest Community
  73. Michelle Murphy, Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers
  74. Kristine C. Harper, Make It Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth-Century America
  75. Frederick Brown, The City is More than Human: An Animal History of Seattle
  76. George Ciccariello-Maher, We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution
  77. Lily Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party ***
  78. Andrew Denson, Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory
  79. Colleen O’Neill, Working the Navajo Way: Labor and Culture in the Twentieth Century
  80. Edward J. Escobar, Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1940-1945
  81. Fred Glass, From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement
  82. Mark Wyman, Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution
  83. Margot Minardi, Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts
  84. Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building
  85. John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race  
  86. Dorceta Taylor, The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s
  87. Murray Morgan, The Last Wilderness: A History of the Olympic Peninsula
  88. Nick Johnson, Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West
  89. Nelson Lichtenstein, Labor’s War at Home: The CIO in World War II
  90. James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America***
  91. Jeremy Milloy, Blood, Sweat, Fear: Violence at Work in the North American Auto Industry, 1960-80
  92. Andrew Kersten, Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941-46
  93. Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto
  94. Patrick Joyce, The Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City
  95. Nikhil Pal Singh, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy
  96. Richard Grossman and Richard Kazis, Fear at Work: Job Blackmail, Labor, and the Environment
  97. Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States
  98. Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
  99. L.A. Kauffman, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism***
  100. Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire
  101. Keith Makoto Woodhouse, The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism
  102. Edward Baptist, The Half That Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism***
  103. Steve Striffler, Solidarity: Latin American and the U.S. Left in the Era of Human Rights***
  104. Daniel Denvir,  All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics As We Know It***
  105. Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture
  106. David Witwer and Catherine Rios, Murder in the Garment District: The Grip of Organized Crime and the Decline of Labor in the United States***
  107. Bernice Yeung, In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers***
  108. Wendy Wolford, This Land is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meaning of Land in Brazil
  109. Mehrsa Baradran, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap
  110. Ling Zhang, The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128
  111. Mark Smith, The Smell of Battle, The Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War

I also decided to include a secondary list of books I actually read for pleasure. I have split these into two groups–books that were new to me and books I read for at least the second and sometimes up to probably the 8th or so time.

New to Me:

  1. Roberto Bolaño, The Third Reich
  2. Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
  3. Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear
  4. Gustavo Arellano, Orange County
  5. Annie Proulx, Barkskins
  6. Richard Flanagan, The Unknown Terrorist
  7. Naguib Mahfouz, The Thief and the Dogs
  8. Paul Auster, Man in the Dark
  9. John Okada, No No Boy
  10. Miroslav Penkov, East of the West
  11. Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast
  12. Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 2
  13. Ann Petry, The Street
  14. Ann Pancake, Strange As This Weather Has Been
  15. Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation
  16. Max Frisch, Man in the Holocene
  17. Sherman Alexie, Flight
  18. Meridel Le Sueur, The Girl
  19. Jean-Patrick Manchette, Nada
  20. Eudora Welty, Losing Battles
  21. Leonard Gardner, Fat City
  22. Arundahti Roy, Walking with the Comrades
  23. John O’Hara, Hellbox
  24. Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory
  25. John Le Carré, Call for the Dead
  26. Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Corner That Held Them


  1. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  2. Mario Vargas Llosa, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta
  3. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
  4. Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  6. John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle
  7. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  8. Greil Marcus, Mystery Train
  9. Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  10. John McPhee, Basin and Range
  11. Graham Swift, Waterland
  12. Junichiro Tanizaki, The Key
  13. Joan Didion, Democracy
  14. Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
  15. Jose Saramago, Blindness
  16. Alice Munro, The View from Castle Rock

Let this be an open thread on books.

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