Interestingly, most of the 2021 books voted best by readers of American Heritage are about the Colonial and Founding eras.
Earlier this year, we sent our subscribers a list of some of the most recognized history books of 2021 and asked them to choose their favorites. The results of that survey may surprise you!
We initiated the survey because many of the history books we liked best last year weren't nominated for prizes. Often, the award nominations seemed political or just plain odd. So, we made an initial selection of 35 titles, and narrowed that down to the top 15 based on your responses.
We were pleased that over 250 readers of American Heritage cast their vote. Read the full ranking below.
1. Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution, by H. W. Brands
The Pulitzer Prize finalist weaves a narrative about the American Revolution that shows that, as well as a fight against the British, it was a violent battle among neighbors forced to choose sides, Loyalist or Patriot.
2. The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III, by Andrew Roberts
The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. This book looks at his reign and legacy, which were much more nuanced and fascinating than many people realize.
3. The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783, by Joseph J. Ellis
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, capturing a war that was more brutal and disorienting than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War.
4. American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, by Alan Taylor
From a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, this is the story of a fragile nation as it expands across a contested continent.
5. Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy, by Nathaniel Philbrick
Retraces President Washington’s travels through the 13 new states as he engaged with Americans about their new nation. Blends history and first-person travelogue in a meditation on America at the end of the 18th century and today.
6. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, by Nikole Hannah-Jones et al.
This book expands on the work of the “1619 Project,” which posits that the barbaric system of American chattel slavery that lasted for 250 years is the source of so much that still defines the United States.
7. George Washington's Final Battle: The Epic Struggle to Build a Capital City and a Nation, by Robert P. Watson
George Washington is remembered for many things, but few know the story of his involvement in the establishment of our capital city and how it nearly tore the United States apart.
8. Mapping America: The Incredible Story and Stunning Hand-Colored Maps and Engravings that Created the United States, by Jean-Pierre Isbouts and Neal Asbury
The story of the exploration and birth of America as told through the interpretation of hand-colored maps and engravings of the period.
How Daniel Boone’s 13-year-old daughter and two friends were kidnapped in the Kentucky territory in 1776 by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party, how Boone and his team rescued the girls, and how this affected the development of the western frontier.
10. Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, by John Ferling
The dramatic story of how and why Great Britain -- so close to regaining several southern colonies and rendering the postwar United States a fatally weak nation -- ultimately failed to win the war.
11. Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox, by Caroline E. Janney
Although most of Lee's troops at Appomattox accepted their parole to return home, thousands headed south and west, hoping to continue the fight and seething with anger at the sight of Union troops occupying their towns and former slaves celebrating freedom.
12. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith
Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on a tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—revealing how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history and ourselves.
13. On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian looks at the long road to the Juneteenth commemoration, from its origins in Texas through the enormous hardships that African-Americans endured from Reconstruction to Jim Crow and beyond.
14. About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks, by David Rooney
A surprising history of timekeeping and how it has shaped our world.
15. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson
Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues invented an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA, and launched a revolution that will enable us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.