Books About American History You Weren’t Taught in School

American history books can only teach students so much. In school, we learn the highlights, the big dates, the major wars, and move on. We don’t get the chance to dig into the subtle nuances and lesser known stories. But that’s the glory of further education and BOOKS!

Here we’ve compiled just a few books about American history that you’ve maybe never heard discussed in your grade-school classroom.

The books cover everything from the illegal slave trade, to Hawaiian cowboys, to the birth of the communications age. 

Tap Code: The Epic Survival Tale of a Vietnam POW and the Secret Code That Changed Everything by Col. Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry

Air Force pilot Captain Carlyle Harris became the sixth American POW captured when his plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1965. For eight years, he and hundreds of other Americans suffered torture and abuse at Hoa Lo prison. At some point during his imprisonment, Harris remembered learning an old, unused World War II communication method through tapping on common water pipes: Tap Code. He taught the code to many other POWs, who then taught others. It became a lifeline and often a morale-booster as the men tapped messages of faith to each other. Tap Code shows how Carlyle Harris’s ingenuity kept himself and his fellow POWs alive and ready to prevail. 

Books About American History You Weren't Taught in School color of compromise

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise is a deep look at the connection between the church and racism throughout American history. Tisby covers every detail of how the American church has held up systemic racism. Also, Tisby offers ways to make progress. The Color of Compromise is a call to action for all Christians. 

Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West by David Wolman and Julian Smith

In August 1908, three men traveled the 4,200 miles from Hawaii to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to put their rodeo skills to the test. They were originally dismissed by white men, who viewed themselves as the only true cowboys. However, the native Hawaiian cowboys went on to prove themselves as American legends in the world of rodeo. Aloha Rodeo weaves the dramatic tale of these men, along with the history of ranching in the Hawaiian islands. 

The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and the Birth of the Communications Age by Scott Woolley

Scott Woolley’s The Network is the origin story of the American airwaves. The book recounts the decades-long friendship between a media mogul and a famous inventor. David Sarnoff wholeheartedly supported his friend Edwin Armstrong—the developer of the first amplifier, modern radio transmitter, and FM radio. Sarnoff believed these inventions would change the world of communication forever. But in the mid-1930s, Armstrong believed Sarnoff was working with the government to take control of the airwaves. Overcome with stress from endless litigation over his inventions, Armstrong died by suicide. This opened up a way for future corrupt politicians and corporations to put a price on air. 

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, Cudjo Lewis represented only one of the millions of people transported from Africa to America as slaves and was still alive to tell the story. Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Plateau, Alabama, the African-centric community founded by Cudjo and other formerly enslaved people. There, she recorded Cudjo’s firsthand account slavery in the United States. Hurston wrote Barracoon based over a few months of conversations with Cudjo.

Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America by Stephen Mansfield

Throughout Abraham Lincoln’s life, he fought with God and His existence. He spent some time as an atheist, then changed his mind. However, he always struggled with the truth of the Bible and preachers. He wrestled with God’s purposes in the Civil War. Stephen Mansfield takes us on this religious journey in Lincoln’s Battle with God, a largely unknown facet of American history.  

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Seven-year-old Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family found themselves uprooted from their Long Beach home in 1942. They were then sent to live at Manzanar internment camp with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. The California camp featured cheerleaders, sock hops, and a dance band along with the standard watch towers and armed guards. Farewell to Manzanar tells Wakatsuki’s story of survival and overcoming hardship thirty years after she first was sent to Manzanar. 

Page Chasers, do you have an recommendations? What are some other books about American history that you weren’t taught in school?

Want more book recommendations from the Page Chaser team? Check out our Currently Reading list!

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