History Books for Teenagers [Top 10 for 2023]

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Please note: This review is not written by David Bainbridge.

Why are history books so important and beneficial for teenagers?

History books are important and beneficial for teenagers because they provide a deeper understanding and insight into our world, societies, and cultures. Studying history allows teenagers to learn from the past and gain wisdom for the future.

Through reading history books, teenagers can see how societies and cultures have evolved over time, how wars and conflicts have shaped the world, and how individuals have contributed to the progress of humanity.

Furthermore, history books encourage critical thinking, as they present different perspectives and interpretations of events, people, and issues. They also help teenagers develop empathy and understanding for different groups of people, as they learn about different cultures and their struggles.

History books can also inspire teenagers to become engaged and active citizens, as they learn about the impact of political, social, and economic decisions made in the past. Finally, by learning about the achievements and challenges of historical figures, teenagers can gain hope, inspiration, and motivation to overcome their own obstacles and contribute positively to society.

Top 10 History Books for Teenagers in 2023

Below I give what I think is an excellent list of the top five history books for teenagers. I have indeed read them all and have recommended them to teenagers close to me.

1. “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn

A People's History of the United States
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Zinn, Howard (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 764 Pages - 11/17/2015 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

This is a powerful and eye-opening history book that challenges traditional narratives and provides a fresh and critical perspective on the American experience.

Zinn’s book focuses on the experiences and struggles of marginalized groups throughout American history, such as Native Americans, African Americans, and women. Zinn argues that the common narrative of American history as a steady march toward progress and democracy fails to account for the exploitation, violence, and oppression experienced by these groups at the hands of the powerful.

Through his book, Zinn encourages readers to question traditional sources of authority and to seek out alternative voices and stories. He emphasizes the importance of understanding history as a narrative constructed by people with varied motives and interests, rather than an objective record of events.

I think “A People’s History of the United States” is an important history book for teenagers because it prompts critical thinking and encourages questioning of traditional narratives. It challenges the idea that history is a static and unchanging field, and shows that the stories and perspectives we choose to emphasize can greatly impact our understanding of the past.

Furthermore, by telling the stories of marginalized groups throughout American history, the book helps to empower those who have traditionally been silenced and excluded from the American story. It can offer hope and inspiration to teenagers who may feel disillusioned by the injustices and inequalities they see in the world around them.

Overall, “A People’s History of the United States” is a powerful and important book that should be read by anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of American history and the forces that have shaped our society and culture today.

2. “Code Girls” by Liza Mundy

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Mundy, Liza (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 433 Pages - 10/10/2017 (Publication Date) - Hachette Books (Publisher)

“Code Girls” is a fascinating and compelling history book that sheds light on an overlooked group of heroes from World War II: the women cryptographers who helped win the war by breaking enemy codes and ciphers.

In the book, Mundy tells the story of a group of women who were recruited from colleges and universities across the country to work in secret code-breaking units for the United States government. Through extensive research and interviews with surviving members of these units, Mundy paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced by these women, both in their work and in their personal lives.

What sets “Code Girls” apart from other history books is its focus on the experiences of women during the war. Mundy highlights the sexism and discrimination faced by these women, both within the military and in society at large. She also demonstrates the intelligence, resilience, and determination these women displayed in the face of such challenges, and shows how their contributions helped shape the course of the war.

I think “Code Girls” is an important history book for teenagers because it challenges traditional notions of what roles women can play in society and encourages young people to think critically about the impact of gender stereotypes. It also highlights the importance of STEM education and the role of technology in shaping history.

Furthermore, “Code Girls” is a well-written and engaging book that is sure to appeal to teenagers who may be less interested in traditional history books. It is both informative and entertaining, and provides a rich and inspiring portrait of a group of women who played an essential role in one of the most important events of the twentieth century.

3. “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Park, Linda Sue (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 133 Pages - 11/15/2010 (Publication Date) - Clarion Books (Publisher)

Here is a poignant and powerful novel that tells the true story of a young boy named Salva Dut who survives a brutal war and refugee camps in Sudan.

The book is told through two parallel narratives: the story of Salva, who is forced to flee his village when it is attacked by rebel soldiers, and the story of Nya, a young girl who is responsible for fetching water for her family every day. Through these parallel narratives, Park highlights the importance of water to daily life and the devastating impact of war and displacement on ordinary people.

One of the strengths of the book is the way it puts a human face on the complex issues of war, famine, and displacement. Salva’s story is a powerful reminder of the resilience and determination of refugee communities, and the impact of conflict and political instability on people’s lives.

I think “A Long Walk to Water” is an important history book for teenagers because it helps to foster empathy and understanding for people from different cultures and backgrounds. It encourages young people to think critically about the causes and consequences of conflict and to see the common humanity of people who may seem very different from themselves.

Furthermore, the book showcases the power of education to transform lives. Salva’s story demonstrates how access to education can provide opportunities for refugees to build new lives and improve their communities. This message is especially important for teenagers, who are at a critical juncture in their own educational journeys.

“A Long Walk to Water” is a moving and thought-provoking book that is sure to resonate with teenagers. It is a powerful reminder of the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity and an important call to action to work for peace, justice, and understanding in our world.

4. “The Emperor’s Silent Army” by Jane O’Connor

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The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China
  • Hardcover Book
  • O'Connor, Jane (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 48 Pages - 04/15/2002 (Publication Date) - Viking Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

What a fascinating and informative history book this is! It tells the story of the terra-cotta warriors of ancient China. The book provides a detailed and engaging look at the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of these remarkable artifacts.

O’Connor explains how the terra-cotta warriors were created by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who envisioned an army to safeguard him in the afterlife. The book describes the historical context in which the warriors were created, as well as the intricate process of their construction and preservation.

One of the strengths of the book is its focus on the cultural and artistic significance of the terra-cotta warriors. O’Connor explores the symbolism and design of the warriors, as well as the historical and religious context in which they were created. Through detailed descriptions and illustrations, the book immerses readers in the world of ancient China and allows them to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of these remarkable artifacts.

I think “The Emperor’s Silent Army” is an important history book for teenagers because it provides a vivid and engaging look at a relatively unknown aspect of ancient Chinese culture. It also encourages young people to think critically about the ways in which history is preserved and remembered, and the cultural significance of artifacts like the terra-cotta warriors.

Furthermore, the book highlights the importance of cultural diversity and the value of exploring the rich histories and traditions of different cultures. It encourages readers to expand their horizons and appreciate the contributions of people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

All-in-all, “The Emperor’s Silent Army” is an informative and engaging book that is sure to spark teenagers’ interest in ancient history, art, and culture. It is an important reminder of the richness and complexity of human history and the enduring impact of art and culture on our world.

5. “The Harlem Hellfighters” by Max Brooks

The Harlem Hellfighters
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Brooks, Max (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 04/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Del Rey (Publisher)

“The Harlem Hellfighters” is a compelling and informative graphic novel that tells the true story of the first African American regiment to fight in World War I. The book provides a powerful look at the experiences and struggles of these soldiers, both on and off the battlefield.

The book begins by describing the discrimination and racism faced by African American soldiers in the United States military, and their subsequent transfer to the French army. Brooks shows how these soldiers were treated as second-class citizens both at home and abroad and how they fought for the freedom of others despite the lack of basic freedoms in their own country.

Throughout the book, Brooks provides a detailed look at the experiences of the Harlem Hellfighters in World War I, including their role in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The graphic novel format brings their story to life in a visceral way, capturing the horrors of war and the bravery of these soldiers.

I think “The Harlem Hellfighters” is an important history book for teenagers because it highlights the contributions and sacrifices made by African Americans in World War I and emphasizes the importance of social justice and civil rights. It provides a powerful counter-narrative to the traditional stories of war and heroism, which have often ignored the contributions of marginalized groups.

Furthermore, the graphic novel format appeals to teenagers and encourages them to engage with history in a new and exciting way. The visual storytelling allows the reader to experience the story in a more dynamic way, helping to bring the history to life.

“The Harlem Hellfighters” is a powerful book that is sure to resonate with teenagers and adults alike. It is a stark reminder of the struggles and sacrifices made by African Americans throughout history and a tribute to the courage and bravery of the Harlem Hellfighters, whose contributions helped shape the course of history.

6. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kamkwamba, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 306 Pages - 02/05/2015 (Publication Date) - Rocky Pond Books (Publisher)

Not a history book in the strictest sense of the term, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is more of a memoir that tells the inspiring true story of a boy from rural Malawi who built a windmill to bring electricity to his family and community. The book is a powerful testament to the resilience, creativity, and determination of one young boy in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

In the book, Kamkwamba describes growing up in a small village in Malawi, where he faced poverty, hunger, and lack of access to education. Despite these obstacles, Kamkwamba was determined to find a way to improve the lives of his family and community. Through trial and error, he taught himself how to build a windmill using scraps of metal and other discarded materials.

One of the strengths of this book is the way it highlights the importance of education and resourcefulness in overcoming poverty and adversity. Kamkwamba’s story serves as a reminder that even the most difficult challenges can be overcome with persistence, creativity and resourcefulness. It shows the power of innovation to transform lives and communities.

I think “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is an important history book for teenagers because it provides a powerful message of hope and inspiration, particularly in the face of the many challenges facing young people in today’s world. It also encourages young people to think critically about the issues of poverty, access to education, and environmental sustainability, as well as the role of innovation and resourcefulness in addressing these issues.

Furthermore, the book highlights the importance of diverse perspectives and experiences in shaping our world. Kamkwamba’s story provides a fresh and unique perspective on life in rural Africa, encouraging readers to broaden their understanding of the world and the people who inhabit it.

Overall, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is an important and inspiring memoir that is sure to resonate with teenagers. It encourages readers to have faith in their own abilities and to work for positive change in their communities and the world at large.

7. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

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Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History
  • 1992 Pulitzer Prize graphic novel Maus V.I
  • Spiegelman, Art (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 08/12/1986 (Publication Date) - Pantheon (Publisher)

Here is a masterpiece of graphic memoir that tells the harrowing story of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. The book is a powerful reminder of the horrors of the Nazi regime and the resilience of those who survived it.

One of the unique strengths of “Maus” is its graphic novel format, which brings the story to life in a way that traditional narratives cannot. The use of animals to represent different nationalities – Jews as mice, Germans as cats, etc. – adds a layer of complexity to the narrative, highlighting the absurdity and senselessness of the Holocaust.

Through his father’s story, Spiegelman explores complex themes of guilt, trauma, and generational trauma, showing how the legacy of the Holocaust continues to impact survivors and their families. He also provides a powerful reminder of the importance of remembrance and the terrible cost of forgetting.

I think “Maus” is an important history book for teenagers because it provides a powerful and compelling example of the importance of bearing witness to history, particularly the darkest moments of human history. It encourages young people to learn from the past and to take responsibility for creating a better future.

Furthermore, the graphic novel format of “Maus” makes it accessible to a wide range of readers, including those who may be less interested in traditional history books or who struggle with reading longer texts. The combination of visual and textual storytelling in “Maus” allows readers to engage with the history in a more dynamic and immersive way.

Overall, “Maus” is a powerful and essential book that should be read by teenagers and adults alike. It is a reminder of the importance of empathy, understanding, and remembrance in building a better world, and a tribute to the courage and resilience of those who survived one of the darkest moments in human history.

8. “1491” by Charles C. Mann

1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Mann, Charles C. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 10/10/2006 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

“1491” is a fascinating and eye-opening book that challenges traditional narratives of the pre-Columbian Americas. The book provides a compelling and detailed account of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and highlights the many ways in which Native Americans have shaped the modern world.

One of the strengths of the book is its focus on the diversity and complexity of Native American cultures and societies. Mann provides a nuanced and detailed analysis of the many different civilizations that existed in the Americas, highlighting their achievements in areas such as agriculture, architecture, and technology.

Another key strength of the book is its emphasis on the impact of the arrival of Europeans on Native American societies. Mann shows how European diseases devastated Native American populations and how European economic and political interests shaped the course of American history.

I think “1491” is an important history book for teenagers because it challenges traditional narratives of American history and encourages young people to think critically about the complex and diverse histories of the Americas. The book provides a powerful example of how the perspectives and experiences of marginalized communities can be overlooked in conventional narratives, and encourages young people to seek out alternative voices and stories.

Furthermore, the book highlights the importance of environmental sustainability and the impact of human activity on the natural world. Mann shows how Native American societies had a deep respect for the natural world and used sustainable practices in their agriculture and land management. This message is especially important for teenagers, who are inheriting a world in which environmental issues will play an increasingly important role.

Truly, “1491” is an essential book that provides a rich and detailed account of the pre-Columbian Americas. It challenges readers to think critically about the stories we tell about our history and offers a powerful reminder of the resilience, creativity, and diversity of Native American cultures.

9. “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Wilkerson, Isabel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 793 Pages - 09/07/2010 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

“The Warmth of Other Suns” is a masterful work of journalism that tells the story of the Great Migration, one of the largest and most significant migrations in American history. The book provides a vivid and compelling account of the experiences of African Americans who fled the South for better opportunities in the North, Midwest, and West.

Wilkerson weaves together the stories of multiple individuals who made the journey, drawing from years of research and interviews. Through their stories, she shows the many challenges faced by African Americans during this time period, including discrimination, segregation, and violence. She also highlights the resilience and determination of those who made the journey, and the impact the Great Migration had on American society as a whole.

One of the strengths of “The Warmth of Other Suns” is its emphasis on personal stories and experiences, making the history accessible and engaging for teenagers. It encourages readers to think deeply about the experiences of those who came before them and how those experiences continue to shape American society today.

The book also highlights the importance of civil rights and social justice, encouraging readers to think critically about the ongoing struggle for equal rights and opportunities. Through the stories of those who made the journey, it shows the importance of working towards a better future for all.

“The Warmth of Other Suns” is an important history book for teenagers that provides a powerful and nuanced perspective on the history of African Americans in the United States. It encourages young people to think critically about the legacy of racism and discrimination in our society, while also offering a message of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

10. “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kolbert, Elizabeth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 02/11/2014 (Publication Date) - Henry Holt and Co. (Publisher)

Here is a sobering and thought-provoking book that provides a compelling account of the current global extinction crisis. The book draws on extensive research and interviews with scientists, researchers, and conservationists to provide a detailed and alarming look at the impact of human activity on the natural world.

Kolbert explores the many different factors contributing to the current extinction crisis, including habitat destruction, climate change, overfishing, and pollution. She also highlights the many ways in which the loss of biodiversity will impact human society, from the loss of medicinal plants to the disruption of entire ecosystems.

One of the strengths of the book is the way in which Kolbert brings the science to life, providing vivid examples and personal stories to illustrate the impact of these issues on the natural world. The book is both informative and engaging, and provides a powerful call to action to work towards a more sustainable future.

I think “The Sixth Extinction” is an important history book for teenagers because it encourages young people to think critically about the impact of human activity on the natural world and the urgent need for action to address environmental issues. It also emphasizes the interconnectedness of human society and the natural world, and the ways in which our actions impact the health and well-being of the planet as a whole.

Furthermore, the book highlights the importance of environmental sustainability and the role of technology and innovation in addressing environmental issues. It encourages young people to look for creative solutions to complex environmental problems and to work towards a more just and sustainable future.

In my opinion, “The Sixth Extinction” is an essential and timely book that should be required reading for teenagers and adults alike. It provides a powerful and urgent reminder of the importance of protecting the natural world and the many ways in which our actions impact the health and well-being of the planet.

Final thoughts on my Top 10 list

These books cover a wide range of topics, from social justice and civil rights to the history of science and the environment, and are sure to spark interest and engagement in teenagers.

Some of them highlight fascinating and under-explored aspects of history, from the lives of women codebreakers in World War II, to the story of Chinese terra-cotta warriors, to the history of an African American regiment in World War I.

My hope is that they offer teenagers a fresh and exciting perspective on the past.


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1 thought on “History Books for Teenagers [Top 10 for 2023]”

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration is an absolutely captivating and thought-provoking book. As a young woman who loves history, I was immediately drawn to Isabel Wilkerson’s vivid descriptions of the African American migration from the South to the North and West during the 20th century.

    Wilkerson tells this complex and emotional story through the eyes of three main characters, each with their own unique perspective and experiences. Their stories are woven together beautifully, painting a picture of what life was like for African Americans living in the Jim Crow era South, and the struggles they faced as they journeyed towards a better life in the North and West.

    What struck me most about this book was how relatable and relevant it still feels today. Many of the issues that plagued African Americans during the Great Migration, such as discrimination and a lack of opportunity, are still pressing issues in our society today.

    Overall, The Warmth of Other Suns is a must-read for anyone interested in American history and culture. Wilkerson’s writing is both informative and engaging, and her portrayal of the Great Migration is both powerful and moving. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in the 20th century.

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