When thinking about July Fourth and American Independence, it only makes sense to begin with George Washington. But there’s so much more to Independence Day than one legendary colonial general. What began essentially as consumer-led boycotts against unfair prices on things like stamps and tea became a revolution of ideas that changed everything. The radical notion that ordinary people’s interests, prosperity, and pursuit of happiness should be the goal and purpose of government sparked an uprising that continues to reverberate around the world nearly 250 years later.
This year, to celebrate the Fourth, dive into this revolutionary book list that gives you a chance to learn more about the people, the events, and the ideas that shaped our nation.
The Revolutionary People
The founders of the United States of America all began as loyal citizens of the British Empire. But then something changed. What circumstances caused these men—and women—to openly declare their grievances and then fight—and win—an epic battle for independence, liberty, and freedom? Each of these books about the remarkable people present at the birth of our nation will help you appreciate just how difficult and personal their decisions were to reject king and country for something revolutionary.
Nathaniel Philbrick, 2021
Does George Washington still matter? Author Nathanial Philbrick certainly thinks so, and he makes his case masterfully in this account of Washington’s tour of the thirteen fledgling colonies he’d been elected to lead. Philbrick and his family followed Washington’s trail to gain a better understanding of Washington’s legacy.
Philbrick takes a blunt, honest look at our first president to tell the story of how one man’s total commitment to a more perfect union shaped a new nation. Does Washington matter? Does he matter to you personally? You’ll have a better answer after reading this book.
Esther Forbes, 1942
Esther Forbes, writer of Johnny Tremain, another beloved revolutionary war title we highly recommend, wrote this brilliant biography of Paul Revere and won a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.
You’ll feel the desperation of Bostonians suffering under an unstable currency, high taxes, and a shortage of critical goods in this non-fiction glimpse into colonial life in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. Would you have joined the Sons of Liberty or remained loyal to the crown? Get to know Paul Revere as you’re drawn into his world in this classic book about one of the revolution’s great heroes.
Ron Chernow, 2005
This mammoth biography inspired the musical “Hamilton,” giving this founding father a modern moment in the sun.
Hamilton’s story is, in many ways, the story of everything America stands for—the idea that anyone, even a young man of illegitimate birth with no education and no claim to any form of status or “nobility,” can rise to greatness solely on the tides of hard work and grit. Hamilton was ambitious, imperfect, passionate, and brilliant, all of which led him to make an indelible mark on democracy in America.
Cokie Roberts, 2004
The founding fathers get a lot of press, but behind – and beside – all these men were remarkable women who were equally committed to the ideals of freedom and liberty. Cokie Roberts tells their stories using research pulled from personal letters and journals. Without women like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Deborah Franklin, the budding new country might never have blossomed.
Jack Rakove, 2010
How were the founding fathers created? How were the leaders we revere formed, and what influenced their decisions and opinions? How did such a diverse group of men come together to solve the problem of self-government?
Historian Jack Rakove attempts to answer these and other questions about the group of revolutionaries we call our founding fathers.
The Events that Shaped History
True revolutionaries must fight to achieve their goals. The stories of the battles between the world’s greatest military power and the colonies are thrilling, sometimes heartbreaking, and always fascinating.
Robert Middlekauff, 2005
The Glorious Cause by historian Robert Middlekauff is volume one of the Oxford History of the United States and covers the military details of the American Revolution. If you’re interested in the war, this book is considered one of the finest on the subject.
The fight for freedom lasted eight long years. This narrative account of the battles and strategies that won – and lost – the war moves at a fast pace. Even though you know how things turn out, you’ll keep turning the pages until the final victory is won.
David McCullough, 2006
Focusing on one year in the revolution gave author David McCullough the chance to shine a spotlight on specific people, battles, and moments in the first year of the war. The entire book builds towards a dramatic conclusion when Washington crosses the Delaware and earns victory at Trenton.
This book tells the stories of history the way you wished you had learned them in school. The entire fate of America rested on the events of 1776, and you’ll relish rediscovering what makes this such a significant year in the history of our country. You’ll savor every word and then recount the stories to your children and grandchildren.
The Ideas that Motivated Action
The United States of America was built on ideas, ideas that are still regularly discussed and debated today. Just listen to the news, and you’ll hear, repeated in modern terms, many of the same arguments the founding fathers had about individual rights and liberties, representative government, and all the rest.
The founders fought to establish the United States and the constitution, and its citizens have fought ever since to keep it going. These books will give you a critical perspective on the ideas at the heart of America that you can use to understand the issues of our day
Pauline Maier, 1997
Reading this account of the origins and history of the Declaration of Independence will give you an entirely fresh outlook on its meaning and importance. Pauline Maier brings the Declaration close by sharing details gleaned from expert detective work about every word and phrase used in the document.
You’ll discover that the Declaration was not the first of its kind and that it was echoed in local “declarations” across the colonies. You’ll also learn what happened after the momentous signing and how it came to be Venerated as something almost sacred.
Gordon S. Wood, 1991
Consider this remarkable fact: society in the American colonies pivoted from being monarchical, ordered, and highly deferential to a society that was liberal, commercial, and democratic without a reign of terror or widespread indiscriminate violence.
The change took place organically, without other upheavals like industrialization or urbanization. While the revolution wasn’t peaceful by any means, it was positively dignified and stately when compared to other such revolutions in history. (Think about France and Russia for a few not-so-dignified examples.)
Gordon Wood posits that the American Revolution is the greatest revolution the world has ever known because it took place in the minds of colonists who were transformed by ideas of democracy, equality, and the freedom to pursue private interests. This Pulitzer Prize winner is truly a book about transformation; you’ll love every page.
Sarah Vowell, 2016
History doesn’t always have to be heavy, as author Sarah Vowell proves in this lighthearted but carefully researched, thought-provoking book about Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette and the tension between idealism and reality. When Lafayette sailed into New York Harbor in 1824, thousands came out to greet him. But life in the United States was tense as the conflict between the North and South had already resulted in bloodshed.
Lafayette was a reminder of the revolution and everything the country was meant to be in a moment when the reality was vastly different from the ideal. (Not unlike today, we might add.)
Sarah Vowell is the cool history teacher you wanted, dishing out plenty of humor and snark along with spot-on historical facts that help you understand how we got where we are today. Her observation that “…the quintessential experience of living in the United States [is] constantly worrying whether or not the country is about to fall apart” is at the heart of the Somewhat United States.
T.H. Breen, 2019
We’ve talked a lot about the founding fathers. However, it was ordinary men and women who embraced the ideals of the new nation, fought and died to make them a reality, and then had to govern the new nation.
Mr. Breen read countless newspapers, journals, and other publications from the time to get a greater idea of what it actually meant to fight for independence. What ideas drove fathers and sons to pick up their weapons and sacrifice their lives? What was it like for an uneducated farmer to be suddenly democratically elected to public office?
This book contains stories of the people on the front line whose biographies you won’t see lining library shelves but who sacrificed everything for the Revolution.
Take a Deeper Dive into the American Revolution
Add these and other similar titles to your shopping cart today and make this a July Fourth to remember. Reading about the American Revolution is the perfect way to celebrate.
You’ll discover new people, insights, and new ways to understand the controversial issues of our day. We’re confident you’ll walk away from this reading challenge with something new to think about and maybe a good story or two to tell at your July Fourth BBQ.
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