History Overview

History is the science that studies what man has done, identifying fundamental causes.

The books listed below provide either a broad overview of history, of key topics or else the story of particular subjects across time. For history of specific periods see History.

Surveys

    Powell History – Historian Scott Powell offers classes by teleconference and recommends books to read.
  • Historical Atlas by Shepherd. Indispensible for understanding history.
  • Blackline Maps Of World History, The Complete Set 5000Bc-Present [PRINT + CD] by Terri Johnson. A favorite of homeschool parents, you can now have hundreds of outline maps of history ready for reference or printed for coloring.
  • Modern Progress by Willis Mason West. The first of the general works on the history of Western civilization that I want to recommend to today's readers is Modern Progress by Willis Mason West. West's theme is progress. He values present-day America, freedom, and technology, and he seeks to present the past in terms of the fundamentally positive progression, without, however, treating progress as an oversimplification. West's telling is fundamentally successful.(out-of-print, see sources.)
  • A History of Knowledge by Charles Van Doren. The pivotal events, people, achievements and ideas of world history. His overall theme, that ideas move history, is well illustrated. The Marxist interpretations of the modern world should be discounted.
  • The Ascent of Man by J. Bronowski. The development of man from primitive beginnings through his greatest achievments.
  • The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin. A History of Man's Search to Know his World and Himself.
  • The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson. A sweeping, original and insightful survey of human history. The value of this book lies less in the teaching of the particular events of history and more in the conclusions and integrations it draws from those events. As such, it is useful when starting to study history, but much more valuable to read again after one has learned much factual detail.

Key Topics

  • The Greeks by Kitto. The best overall summary of ancient Greece. Kitto captures the full range and dynamism of Greek history, art and thought.
  • A World Lit Only by Fire, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance by William Manchester. The author illustrates and explains the medieval mind, characterized by its "staggering mindlessness," which persisted without improvement or much change for nine hundred years, which lack of rationality left all of Christendom in a condition of bizarre superstition, brutal subsistence and early death. Out of this dark age, the rediscovery of Greek virtue, particularly in the form of Aristotle, gradually brought an interest in rationality and living on earth back to men. This flowered in the Renaissance, as artists and intellectuals championed the Greek virtues, setting the stage both for reactionary responses of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and -- ultimately more important -- for the eventual philosophic and political revolutions of the Enlightenment.
  • The Industrial Revolution by T. S. Ashton. The story of the emergence of industrial civilization.
  • The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789 by Edmund S. Morgan. Survey of political history from the beginning of the Imperial Crisis to the ratification of the Constitution, ideal as an introduction to the Revolution for high school students and college freshmen. According to Morgan, the Patriots consistently upheld the principle that no man may be taxed without his consent. The Constitution was framed to preserve that liberty which the Patriots won in the Revolutionary War.
  • The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff. A brilliant study of America today -- and the "ominous parallels" with the chaos of pre-Hitler Germany. Demonstrates the fundamental role of ideas in shaping history.

See the various sections of this web site for more extensive recommendations.

Specialized Histories

  • Sex in History by Reay Tannahill. A survey of sex, its parctices and attitudes, its social and moral interactions, across all major civilizations from the earliest times to the present day.
  • Barmi, A Mediterranean City through the Ages by Xavier Hernandez, Pilar Comes and Jordi Ballonga. Drawings show the evolution of a settlement from the 4th Century B.C. to modern times. (out-of-print, see sources.)
  • Inventing the Modern World, Technology Since 1750 by Bud, Niziol, Boon and Nahum of the Science Museum, London. Lavish pictures illustrate the rise of the modern world as science and an Aristotelean attitude towards life was applied to the problem of creating knowledge, comfort and prosperity. Unfortunately, the book suffers from Marxist and even environmentalist interpretations, so concentrate on the facts presented and the pictures, not on the false explanations.
  • Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward Creasy. In Creasy's own words, "there are some battles...which claim our attention...on account of the enduring influence on our social and political condition, which we can trace up to the results of those engagements. They have for us an abiding and actual interest, both while we investigate the chain of causes and effects, by which they have helped to make us what we are; and also while we speculate on what we probably should have been, if anyone of those battles had come to a different termination."
  • The Noblest Triumph, Property and Prosperity through the Ages by Tom Bethell. A detailed history of the concept and application of property rights, from ancient Greece to the present day, this book provides numerous examples of the correlation between prosperity (result) and respect for property under the law (cause).
  • The History of Western Education by William Boyd. Good. Written in the 19th-century style of broad generalizations. (The history of education is crucial knowledge for any serious student of history.) (out-of-print, see sources.)
  • A History of Political Theory by George Sabine. 775 pages. A good survey of Western political theory, characterized by analysis in terms of fundamentals, and by sweeping generalizations which are correct at best, and provocative at worst. He understands the difference between classical and seventeenth-century political theory in terms of collectivism vs. individualism (which is good). However, he is weak on Locke and the eighteenth century theory (he is sympathetic to the attacks on Locke). The book is quite good in terms of clarity and style. Quite readable. (out-of-print, see sources.)
  • Art History by Sandra Shaw. These lectures cover man's creation of art from the earliest stone-age beginnings through the late Roman empire, showing the function of art in human life, the evolution of art as man's cognitive abilities and sense of the world and his place in it developed, and, reflexively, Ms Shaw uses her experience as an artist and knowledge of Objectivism to look freshly at the evidence of art and make novel observations on the evolution of man's intellectual abilities and worldview.

See History for more topics and details.

History as a Science

  • In Defense of History by Richard J. Evans. An overview of the meaning of history as a science and defense against the postmodernist attempts to recast history as group-subjective lies.
  • The Killing of History, How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering our Past by Keith Windschuttle. A clear defense of history as a science and an especially incisive analysis of the modern advocates of history as myth.

Links

George Washington, painting by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington, painting by Gilbert Stuart

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Zeus or Poseidon, mid 5th Century Athenian sculptor

Zeus or Poseidon, mid 5th Century Athenian sculptor

Bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti

Bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti

"Lucy," Australopithecus afarensis reconstruction by Gary Sawyer at the Hall of Human Origins, American Museum of Natural History, NYC

"Lucy," Australopithecus afarensis reconstruction by Gary Sawyer at the Hall of Human Origins, American Museum of Natural History, NYC