Best Gifts for History Buffs

Best Gifts for History Buffs

If your holiday shopping includes a history lover, HISTORY's editors have carefully chosen gifts and experiences for fans of any era. Whether it's historical letters, a 2021 calendar, or a set of the same teas American patriots dumped into Boston Harbor, there's history here to read, watch, listen, use, play and wear.

HISTORY recommends products our editors think you’ll like (many created by us!), and if you buy something through our links HISTORY may get a share of the revenue. Prices may fluctuate.

History by Mail

Weekly Historic Letters, from $49.99 for 3 months, Letterjoy

Who doesn’t love getting a letter in the mail? Letterjoy sends your favorite history buff one historic letter weekly from figures like John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, based on monthly themes. Each letter is carefully selected, researched and reproduced on fine stationery, paired with an expertly researched "postscript" that puts the letter in historical context. Plans range from one year for $159.99 ($13.33 per month) down to six months for $99.99 ($16.66 per month) or three months for $49.99 ($16.66 per month). Reduced rates available for educators’ in-classroom use.

Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the End of WWII

BUY HERE: V-Day WWII Battles T-Shirt, $30.95 and up, HISTORY Store

2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, which makes this special edition t-shirt a timely gift for all military history lovers, especially WWII buffs. The design on the back lists each battle in which American forces were involved in chronological order starting from Pearl Harbor and ending with the final engagements in the Pacific in the shape of a “V” for victory. It also includes a quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

For an even more immersive gift, pair the sweatshirt with a $33.95 World War II on the Homefront Poster, showing more than 100 WWII patriotic posters that hung in U.S. post offices, railroad stations, schools, restaurants and elsewhere, exhorting Americans to buy bonds, contribute to scrap drives and otherwise support the national war effort.

READ MORE: How Did World War II End?

Super Fast Super Spy Craft

BUY HERE: Metal Earth SR-71 Spy Plane 3-D Metal Model, $6.95, Amazon

If you’ve got a big need for speed—but only a little room on your bookshelf or desk—check out this model of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which holds the manned flight speed record of 2,193 miles per hour, set on July 28, 1976. This unassembled model comes in a flat envelope with easy-to-follow instructions and is best for ages 14 and up.

READ MORE: Area 51's Most Outrageous Top Secret Spy Plane Projects

It's Always Rosie Time

BUY HERE: Rosie We Can Do It Watch, $29.97, National Archives Store

An icon on your wrist. Rosie the Riveter, the steely-eyed World War II heroine with her red bandanna, blue coveralls and flexed bicep, exemplifies the boundless skill and can-do attitude of American women. This bright, colorful timepiece, with its signature polka-dot strap, will continue to inspire that irrepressible, roll-up-the-sleeves spirit.

READ MORE: Black 'Rosies': The Forgotten African American Heroines of the WWII Homefront

New Facts Daily

BUY HERE: This Day in History Box Calendars, $14.95, HISTORY Store

Learn something new every day with HISTORY's 2021 This Day in History box calendar, filled with 365 of history’s most influential and extraordinary events, inspiring people and inventions and facts any trivia buff will love. A This Day in History Wall Calendar is also available.

Other topics for box calendars are This Day in Military History, This Day in Women’s History, and Unexplained Mysteries for each day of the year.

READ MORE: This Day in History

Just in Time

BUY HERE: Chronology 20th Anniversary Edition, about $17, Amazon

Which came first—Isaac Newton’s telescope or Martin Luther’s 95 Theses? Test your knowledge of the past with this Chronology card game where players compete to put historical events in the correct chronological order; the first player to build a timeline of 10 cards wins. Recommended for 2 to 8 players, ages 14+. Includes 429 double-sided cards with 858 events. History is more fun with friends!

Votes for Women

BUY HERE: Votes for Women Puzzle, $20, Uncommon Goods

2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted American women the right to vote, and this 500-piece puzzle shows the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement—both women and men, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass.

READ MORE: The 19th Amendment

Sketches of War

BUY HERE: Drawing Fire: A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II, from $14.88, Amazon

When 18-year-old Pawnee Indian Brummett Echohawk joined the Oklahoma National Guard in 1940, little could he predict that his brigade, the Thunderbirds—made up of cowboys, farmers and more than a thousand Native Americans—would be hailed by General George Patton as “one of the best, if not the best division, in the history of American arms.” The Thunderbirds of the 45th Infantry fought their way across Europe, culminating in the liberation of prisoners from the Nazi’s infamous Dachau concentration camp. Echohawk, a talented artist, created annotated combat sketches during his service, which form the basis of this unique memoir recounting battles in Sicily, Salerno and Anzio.

WATCH: No soldier survives alone. Based on an extraordinary true story, "The Liberator" is available now on Netflix. Produced by A+E Studios. Watch preview here.

Hundreds of Hours of History

BUY HERE: HISTORY Vault Subscription, $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, HISTORY Vault

For the documentary and video buff, a HISTORY Vault subscription offers documentaries and series exploring the events and people that shaped our world, from ancient empires to modern warfare. Stream hundreds of hours of acclaimed series, probing documentaries, and captivating specials commercial free.

Tuskegee's Famous Fliers

BUY HERE: The Tuskegee Airmen, An Illustrated History, from $27.95, Amazon

The Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American pilots in the history of the U.S. military, broke through a massive color barrier to become decorated WWII fliers. This extensive illustrated history offers a detailed insider’s look at their training, deployment and combat in Europe and Africa. See where they lived, worked, played and fought. And meet the critical non-flying support players—the medics, navigators, weathermen, parachute riggers and more—who helped make their success possible.

READ MORE: How the Tuskegee Airmen Became Pioneers of Black Military Aviation

On the Map

BUY HERE: Atlas of World War II, about $26.50, Amazon

Start with an astounding array of rare wartime maps—some with generals’ scribbled notations, others used by downed airmen to plot their escapes, still others with ominous coffin markers to show where civilians had been exterminated. Add in vibrant new explanatory cartography, related photos, first-person accounts and confidential documents. The result? A coffee-table WWII history book from National Geographic that Greatest Generation buffs will devour.

READ MORE: World War II: Causes and Timeline

Declare It

BUY HERE: Declaration of Independence Print, $28.95, HISTORY Store

For the American Revolution history buff, what could be more inspiring than a hand-printed broadside of the Declaration of Independence that arrived in Boston about July 15th, 1776—and whose lofty vision of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was read to gathered throngs three days later from the balcony of the Old State House? Printed with historic methods on an authentic colonial-era press at the Printing Office of Edes & Gill in Boston.

Pair your copy of the declaration with this “Revolutionary Superheroes” T-shirt featuring George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Abigail and John Adams.

READ MORE: 9 Things You May Not Know About the Declaration of Independence

The Civil Rights Movement, in Graphic Novel

BUY HERE: March, about $33, Amazon

The Mississippi freedom summer. Selma’s “Bloody Sunday.” The signing of the Voting Rights Act. Experience the most epic moments of the Civil Rights Movement through the intimate lens of Congressman John Lewis, one of the key figures in the struggle to end racial segregation. Winner of multiple awards, including the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, this trilogy of graphic novels comes as a commemorative edition housed in a handsome slipcase. Also available as an ebook.

WATCH MORE: John Lewis - Civil Rights Leader

Brewing Up Revolution

BUY HERE: Boston Tea Party Tea Sampler, about $15, Amazon

Fans of tea and American history will cozy right up to this Boston Tea Party sampler set from Solstice Tea Traders. Complete with six 4-ounce assorted loose-leaf teas (oolong, bohea, congou, souchong, singlo and hyson)—the same types thrown over the side of British ships during the famous revolt—it also includes reusable tins and a fascinating history fact sheet.

READ MORE: The Boston Tea Party

Crack the Norse Code

BUY HERE: Vikings: The Rulers of Sea and Sword, $14.99, Amazon

This special edition bookazine explores the Viking Age and the influence these legendary warrior-trader-explorers had across four continents for more than 400 years. Learn about unique navigational techniques that allowed them to plunder and conquer Europe and the British Isles...the incredible Norse stories that are still told today...and how their culture embraced female warriors at sea as well as at home.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Vikings

Sip from Liberty

BUY HERE: Monticello Jefferson Cup, $45, Monticello

Thomas Jefferson was meticulous in many things, from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to the drinkware he used at his Virginia home, Monticello. Bring Jefferson’s words and taste home with a reproduction pewter Jefferson Cup—based on a set the third president had made in 1810—bearing his iconic words “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” For a lighter take, another version includes Jefferson’s philosophy on wine: “A very favorite wine…a necessary of life with me.”

READ MORE: A Brief History of Presidential Drinking

Walk with Greatness

BUY HERE: American leaders socks, about $12 for a pack of four, Amazon

What to get the guy—or gal—with a truly historic sense of style? Cool history-themed socks sporting images of George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Abe Lincoln and Ben Franklin. The colorful unisex footwear guarantees the wearer will always be in inspired company.


Best Gifts for History Buffs (2021 Guide)

Nerds unite and history buffs rejoice. If you know a history lover, then you probably know more information about random periods in our world’s history than anyone else. But, how do you translate that love into a great gift idea?

Historically themed gifts are easy to come by, but knowing which one will make the best gift is its own challenge. Here is a peek at some gift considerations you want to make for your favorite history buff.


1. History Game

What would a history buff love more than to test their knowledge and show it off to their friends?! There are lots of history-related and themed games out there.

You could go for more of a trivia game where their knowledge is put to the test or if they’re interested in a specific time period, you could find a board game related to the time period. For example, if they love medieval times, you could get them the game of Stratego.

Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this gift idea for the history buff in your life!


Nerdy History Gifts

Let’s start off with a few geeky history buff gift ideas to add a spark of fun to your gift-giving. These are perfect when you’re just simply too tired to give the history buff in your life yet another 600-page tome.

(However, speaking from experience, we can’t get enough of those 600-pagers. So keep giving them to us.)

1. History Buff T-Shirt

It might be sad but then again it might also be true. But you won’t be sad when you see how much the history buff in your life loves this shirt.

Probably the only shirt I would like more than this is the Clever Girl Jurassic Park t-shirt. I know, random.

2. If Anyone Khan, Genghis Khan Coffee Mug

You don’t really have to know much about Genghis Khan to think this Genghis Khan Coffee Mug is funny. But the more you know, the funnier it gets.

3. Marie Antoinette T-Shirt

AVAILABLE HERE

You know the quote. Of course, she really didn’t say it. But this t-shirt is still a great gift for your history buff.

4. Historical Finger Puppets

5. Axis and Allies 1942 – 2nd Edition

There are many popular and oft-played variations of Axis & Allies including Europe, 1941, and even Axis & Allies Zombie Edition.

But you won’t go wrong with the 1942 Second Edition, which is probably the consensus favorite among those who care.

Other fun history-related board games:

    – A mega-hit (as far as board games go), in which you are the leader of one of the 7 great cities of the ancient world. Build your city and army, gather resources, expand trade routes, and cap it off by constructing on of the ancient wonders of the world. – This is a favorite in our house. Not history per se, but the game pits you as an old-world farmer trying to sow and harvest crops, bake bread, manage your flocks and – slowly – expand your tiny shack into a livable cottage. But the seasons pass quickly, and your family must be fed. Will you have enough resources to last the winter? – This looks like a fun stocking stuffer. I haven’t played this one, but it comes highly reviewed. The game is played by arranging each card – which has an historical event on it – in the correct order on the timeline.

Conference Recordings

Some in-person conferences will record some or all of the sessions, and post them online to watch from home – for a small fee.

This can be a great gift for genealogists because it can get a bit pricey to attend one of these conferences between the actual admission fee, airfare, lodging, etc.

One of my favorite conferences is by the National Genealogical Society. They post their videos on playbackngs.com where you’ll see the different packages that are available.


34 best books for history lovers: BBC History Magazine’s Books of the Year 2020

In the Christmas 2020 issue of BBC History Magazine, 10 historians selected their favourite historical page-turners published in 2020. First to choose is Gareth Williams. Williams’ most recent book is Unravelling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNA (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019)…

War Against Smallpox by Michael Bennett

Two books that resonated with me this year cover different eras in the 200- year campaign to defeat smallpox, one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Michael Bennett’s War Against Smallpox(CUP) explains how vaccination conquered the world in the quarter-century after Edward Jenner introduced it in the 1790s. It’s an incredible journey, with walk-on parts for Napoleon, Jefferson and the tsar of Russia.

The Great Inoculator by Gavin Weightman

Gavin Weightman’s The Great Inoculator(Yale) looks at variolation, the bizarre 18th-century precursor of vaccination. Patients were deliberately infected with smallpox (not the harmless cowpox used in vaccination), hoping to confer protection against future attacks. Amazingly, it worked, notably in the hands of Daniel Sutton, a non-medical entrepreneur, who marketed his secret method as “safe, quick and pleasant” and apparently variolated more than 10,000 people without a single death from smallpox. He built up a huge franchise but later lost out to plagiarists and ultimately vaccination. His story isn’t “untold”, but Weightman relates it with clarity and verve.

Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre

For my last choice I want to jump to 1949 when, without warning, the USSR exploded an atomic bomb. Behind the leaking of atomic secrets to the Soviets was Ursula Kuczynski, a pro-communist German Jew known to her English neighbours as “Mrs Burton” and as “Sonya” to her Red Army bosses. As related by Ben Macintyre in Agent Sonya(Viking), her espionage career took her to China, Poland, Germany and England. The cover blurb claims her story “has never been told”. In fact, a translation of Kuczynski’s autobiography appeared in 1991, but, as expected, Macintyre makes this a riveting and thought-provoking read.

Chosen by Tom Holland. Tom Holland’s latest book is Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little, Brown, 2019)

Sicily ’43 by James Holland

I hope I will not be accused of undue nepotism when I nominate my brother James Holland’s Sicily ’43(Bantam) as a revelatory read. The latest in a series of books that trace campaigns of the Second World War, it combines the experience of men (and occasionally women) on the ground with a searching analysis of the tactical and strategic layers of an operation that, in this brilliantly detailed study, is redeemed from the enormous condescension of posterity.

The Story of China by Michael Wood

I also hugely enjoyed Michael Wood’s The Story of China(Simon & Schuster), a book that is learned, lyrical and astonishingly comprehensive in its scope. It was exactly the single volume history of this brilliant and remarkable civilisation that I had always dreamed of finding.

Thebes by Paul Cartledge

The art of fusing scholarship with readability is similarly evident in Paul Cartledge’s history of Thebes(Picador), a city that has always been the ugly duckling of ancient Greek history. The great value of this book is that it enables us to see the Thebans not through the eyes of their enemies, but as they themselves would have wished to be seen.

Finally – a slight cheat – I would like to recommend the Patreon account of the brilliant scholar of Old English, Eleanor Parker, whose blog and tweets have long been a source of particular delight to me. Subscribers to her Journey Through the Anglo-Saxon Yearaccount receive regular and seasonally appropriate posts on the rhythms of the Anglo-Saxon calendar: full moons, feast days, the cycles of sowing and reaping. In this strange and fractured year, I have found Parker’s posts a source of comfort and – dare I use the word? – joy.

I only hope that some enterprising editor has subscribed to her account and will commission her to transcribe it into a book.

Chosen by Priya Atwal. Atwal is the author of Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire (Hurst, 2020)

Stealing from the Saracens by Diana Darke

Grounded at home during the ‘Great Lockdown of 2020’, the summer and autumn months brought with them a surprising gift: the opportunity to read and reflect deeply, thanks to some particularly wonderful historical writing. Travelling abroad was not an option while I was living with vulnerable family members, but Diana Darke’s Stealing from the Saracens (Hurst) transported me to some of the grandest architectural sites of Europe. It vividly reveals how many of the continent’s most iconic Christian buildings are deeply inspired by medieval Islamic, ‘Saracenic’ influences. Darke’s message that “no society exists in isolation, and everything is connected” feels all the more moving as we live through a global pandemic.

The Human Cosmos: A Secret History of the Stars by Jo Marchant

What connects us all more than the stars in the sky? Jo Marchant’s fascinating book, The Human Cosmos: A Secret History of the Stars (Canongate), is a “long history of knowledge that people have gleaned from the stars”, as well as a “glimpse into the mental universe of our ancestors”. A beautifully written blend of scientific and historical scholarship, it also makes a passionate case for why we need to peel our eyes away from our smartphones and look up to the skies more often, to recover a connection with our ancestors and restore our collective wellbeing.

The King and the People: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Mughal Delhi by Abhishek Kaicker

I was deeply impressed by Abhishek Kaicker’s The King and the People: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Mughal Delhi (OUP). In this delightful, highly readable book, Kaicker offers up a pioneering study of popular politics during Mughal rule. You’ll be amazed at how much shoemakers and coffee contributed to the making of sovereignty in early modern India!

Britain’s War: A New World 1942–1947 by Daniel Todman

As ever, scores of books about the Second World War were published this year. For me, the pick of the bunch was Daniel Todman’s Britain’s War: A New World 1942–1947(Allen Lane) – the second volume in his magisterial history of Britain during this most pivotal moment in 20th- century history. Todman covers the military events in detail, but he also deals with the social and economic costs of the war, the huge shifts in party politics, changes in religious thinking, class consciousness, attitudes towards empire, women’s rights and much more. Virtually no aspect of British life is left untouched.

Crucible of Hell by Saul David

Focusing on the other side of the world is Saul David’s brilliant Crucible of Hell(William Collins), a harrowing account of the battle of Okinawa in 1945. The attention to detail in this book is exemplary: we see the conflict from just about every angle – Japanese as well as American – drawn from eyewitness accounts and declassified documents. Okinawa is a battle too often neglected in western narratives of the war despite being, in David’s account, directly responsible for Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb later that summer.

Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro

Putting aside the Second World War, one of my other favourite books this year was James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America(Faber & Faber). In seven self-contained essays, Shapiro describes the issues that have repeatedly torn the United States apart over the past 200 years – using Shakespeare as his lens. It sounds contrived, but if you want to understand some of the deeper, historical issues behind this year’s car-crash of an election, Shapiro’s book is an excellent place to start.

Chosen by Suzannah Lipscomb. Lipscomb is the author of The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc (OUP, 2019)

The Light Ages by Seb Falk

Firstly, I’d nominate Seb Falk’s book, The Light Ages(Allen Lane). It’s stunning: both exquisitely written and so very clever. By following the life of one little-known monk, John of Westwyk, Falk opens up for us the sophisticated and utterly different ways in which people in the Middle Ages thought and makes us question our assumptions about the medieval past.

The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand

Equally outstanding in sheer quality of prose and scrupulosity of research is Emily Brand’s The Fall of the House of Byron(John Murray). This gripping tale of scandal through three generations of the Byron family will finally put pay to any idea that the Georgians were boring. Instead, we’re given a tale of murder, seduction, incest, elopement and shipwreck, all centred around the crumbling Newstead Abbey: just gorgeous.

Inge’s War by Svenja O’Donnell

Family history is also at the centre of investigative journalist Svenja O’Donnell’s Inge’s War(Ebury). Part history and part memoir, this engrossing and moving read exposes the secret shame and suffering of those on the wrong side of history and, in so doing, unearths a vitally important story from the Second World War. Its revelations and thought- provoking reflections have stayed with me.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I must mention Maggie O’Farrell’s wonderful Hamnet(Tinder Press), which superbly evokes the 16th century as she recreates the family life of Shakespeare and the death of his only son. It may make you cry, but you will not be able to put it down.

Chosen by Tracy Borman. Borman’s latest book is the third instalment of her King’s Witch fiction series, The Fallen Angel (Hodder, 2020)

Queens of the Crusades: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Successors by Alison Weir

The book that I most anticipated this year was Alison Weir’s Queens of the Crusades: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Successors (Jonathan Cape). The second instalment of her England’s Medieval Queens series, it tells the story of five “towering female figures” of the Middle Ages who broke the mould of the dutiful queen consort. They were crusaders, rebels, seductresses and intellectuals – forces to be reckoned with in their own right. Told with all of Weir’s characteristic verve and exceptional eye for detail, this book should find its way into every history lover’s Christmas stocking.

Tudor Textiles by Eleri Lynn

From royal rebels to royal fashion. Dress expert Eleri Lynn’s lavishly illustrated volume Tudor Textiles (Yale) shines a light on the dazzling beauty and extravagance of court fashion and décor. In raiding the sumptuous Tudor royal wardrobe, Lynn has uncovered some real gems: from Henry VIII’s tapestries which were worth more than the crown jewels, to the recently discovered dress thought to have belonged to Elizabeth I – the only one of her 1,900-strong dress collection to survive.

Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II by Linda Porter

Royal adornments of a rather different kind are brought to life in Linda Porter’s Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II (Picador). The sexual exploits of the “Merrie Monarch” provided ample fodder for diarists such as Samuel Pepys, but they are not the main focus here. Instead, Porter provides a set of impeccably researched pen portraits of the seven women who dominated the king’s life. Allowing the women to take centre stage for a change makes for an engaging and enlightening read.

Chosen by Yasmin Khan. Yasmin Khan teaches at the University of Oxford. She has recently been presenting Britain’s Biggest Dig on BBC Two alongside Alice Roberts

Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire by Priya Atwal

A brilliant book from this year that is full of surprising stories is Priya Atwal’s Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire (Hurst). Atwal has managed to craft a very fresh and page-turning history of the origins and demise of the Sikh kingdom, which gives a lot more attention to the role of Ranjit Singh’s wives and children than many previous accounts of his life. In particular the story of Jind Kaur, the young regent and mother of Prince Duleep Singh, and her struggle to maintain his crown in the face of British imperial power, is very moving. These were tough and ingenious Punjabi women.

Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and British Empire by Priya Satia

My second nomination, Priya Satia’s Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and British Empire (Allen Lane), turns the lens on history as a subject, asking how we have told the story of empire in the past. The author offers a scholarly and analytical interpretation of how historians themselves have framed the ways that empire is understood in British history writing – from John Stuart Mill to EP Thompson.

Black and British: A Short, Essential History by David Olusoga

And to the present day: David Olusoga is the best possible person to write Black and British: A Short, Essential History (Pan Macmillan). This new, updated edition of his 2016 book is aimed at younger readers, and it appears at a time when many people are debating the best ways to tell histories of empire and race in the classroom. Olusoga describes it as “the book I wish I had been given to read when I was at school”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Chosen by Simon Sebag Montefiore, whose latest book is Voices of History: Speeches That Changed the World (W&N, 2019)

Hitler: Downfall 1939-1945 by Volker Ullrich

One of my favourite books from 2020 was Hitler: Downfall 1939-1945 (Bodley Head). Volker Ullrich’s superb and supreme new biography, while complementing other classic biographies of the dictator, is also fresh, up-to-date, shrewd and beautifully written. I think it’s the best biography of Hitler written so far.

The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich

I also really enjoyed the intriguing idea behind The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (Allen Lane) by Joseph Henrich. He argues that “Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic” people are atypical, because the west was formed by exceptional processes that helped Europe dominate the world post 1750. The result is a brilliant performance – accessible, playful and scholarly, turning conventional history on its head and approaching it in a new way.

The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today by David Stasavage

In fact, it would make a perfect companion piece for David Stasavage’s readable, intriguing and academic The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today(Princeton) – an outstanding volume that analyses the development of democracy and autocracy in a refreshing and relevant way.

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East by Kim Ghattas

Lastly, I loved Kim Ghattas’s colourful, grim and gripping Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East(Wildfire), which uses the Iranian Revolution and other events of 1979 to show how the Middle East turned towards extremism and intolerance.

Chosen by Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University. His books include Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century (Bloomsbury, 2018)

A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance by Stella Dadzie

Transatlantic slavery is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented periods of history. Stella Dadzie offers a much-needed corrective by centring on the experiences of black women forced into the plantation system in A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance (Verso). The horrors of enslavement, its impact on Africa, Britain’s central role, and most importantly, the fierce resistance both on the African continent and in the Americas are all evocatively drawn out. Contrary to popular narratives, black women were active agents in this history.

Obeah, Race and Racism: Caribbean Witchcraft in the English Imagination by Eugenia O’Neal

In order to enslave Africans, many slave-owners tried to violently erase all connections between the enslaved and the African continent. In Obeah, Race and Racism: Caribbean Witchcraft in the English Imagination(University of the West Indies Press), Eugenia O’Neal explores how traditional African beliefs were maintained and became a key source of resistance. O’Neal also examines how these beliefs were ridiculed, becoming proof of African inferiority, which still echoes into the present day.

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les and Tamara Payne

Malcolm X is one of the most talked about and misrepresented figures of the 20th century. In The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (Viking), Les and Tamara Payne offer a detailed portrait of Malcolm’s family, life and politics that makes clear how much his voice is needed today. The book also provides a detailed history lesson of the America that produced Malcolm, from the rise of the Ku Klux Klan to the importance of the Garvey movement, and the complicity of the state machinery in maintaining an unjust social order.

Nick Rennison selects this year’s best historical fiction. Rennison is the author of Carver’s Truth (Corvus, 2016)

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Few historical novels this year were as boldly imaginative and colourful as Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water(Raven). In the 1630s, a ship leaves Batavia in the Dutch East Indies for Amsterdam. On board is an East Indies Company bigwig and his entourage. Murder, mystery and possibly supernatural phenomena plague crew and passengers alike. As the ship sails into increasingly troubled waters, Turton’s plot grows ever more extravagant and bizarre, but his grip on his readers’ attention never slackens.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Set in the same century, but worlds away from Turton’s baroque adventure, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut novel for adults, The Mercies (Picador), charts the experiences of women from a remote Norwegian island, who have lost their menfolk during a terrible storm, following the arrival of a witch-hunting new magistrate. Hargrave’s heroine, Maren, forms a bond with the magistrate’s oppressed young wife as he doubles down on his increasingly violent persecutions in an unusual, memorable tale.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville’s intelligent, insightful novel, A Room Made of Leaves (Canongate), also features a woman obliged to cope with the inflexible pride and paranoia of her husband. In the recently established penal colony of New South Wales, Elizabeth Macarthur struggles with the demands of an unhappy marriage and slowly discovers her true self amid the initially alien landscapes of a new world.

The Abstainer by Ian McGuire

Grenville’s character is based on a real-life pioneer of white Australia, and Ian McGuire’s The Abstainer(Scribner) similarly has a plot inspired by genuine historical events. It is set largely in Manchester in the 1860s, after three Irishmen, Fenians committed to the struggle to free Ireland from English rule, have been hanged. World-weary policeman James O’Connor and Irish-American assassin Stephen Doyle, who is intent on revenge for the hangings, stalk one another through the city’s streets and beyond in a gripping story of violence, obsession and the urge for retribution.

Execution by SJ Parris

Meanwhile, espionage in the Tudor era has provided the backdrop for the sequence of enjoyable historical thrillers by SJ Parris, who has turned Giordano Bruno, the 16th-century heretic and philosopher, into an engaging hero. Execution(HarperCollins), the latest in the series, sees Bruno once more in the employ of Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and playing a dangerous game as an undercover agent amid conspirators plotting to assassinate the English queen. Parris combines vivid details of Elizabethan life with an ability to create intriguing characters and sustain a thoroughly entertaining narrative.

Looking for more recommendations like these? Explore our picks of the best historical fiction books, the best history board games and our favourite HistoryExtra podcasts of 2020


1. “Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis,” by Jared Diamond

About: The Pulitzer Prize-winning UCLA geography professor and author of best-seller “Guns, Germs, and Steel” takes a critical look at how societies respond to crises and why some nations recover from trauma while others don’t.

The buzz: Matt Damsker for USA TODAY says it is “a well-documented comparative study exploring how nations can change for the better through the sort of coping mechanisms we typically associate with personal trauma.”


Gifts for the History Buff in Your Life

Are you looking for the perfect gift for the history buff in your life but don’t know where to start? Consider these unique gifts thoughtfully curated by the American Battlefield Trust. Any purchases made through Amazon Smile will result in a portion of the proceeds being donated to the American Battlefield Trust and preserving our hallowed grounds.

1. A "Map of Gettysburg and Vicinity" Print is the perfect addition to any history buff’s office.

American Battlefield Trust Store

Originally published by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association in 1886, this incredibly detailed and unique map was created to help raise awareness and funds to purchase parts of the Gettysburg battlefield so that these hallowed grounds could be preserved forever. The map shows Civil-War battle positions in surrounding Gettysburg. Union lines are shown by blue dashes and Confederate lines by red ones. It also shows locations of artillery, other significant features of the battlefield, some dwellings with names of residents, vegetation, drainage, roads, and railways.

2. This Coffee Mug is perfect for your history buff to enjoy their morning cup of coffee in style.

American Battlefield Trust Store

Coffee and historic preservation go together nicely. Proudly display your passion for saving battlefields at the breakfast table or the office. We recommend sipping from this mug as you plot your next site visit.

3. Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Eastern Theater book is the perfect balance of thoughtful and informative.

American Battlefield Trust Store

“I just love those maps that you guys send to me.” It is a sentiment that we hear often, referencing one of our cornerstone initiatives — a quest to accurately and dynamically map the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the American Civil War.

The American Battlefield Trust and its members have preserved more than 53,000 acres of battlefield land across 143 battlefields, in 24 states. Other than physically walking across the hallowed ground that we have saved together, the best way to illustrate the importance of the properties we have preserved is through our battle maps.

We've created hundreds of maps detailing the action at major battles and now – for the first time ever – we have collected the maps of iconic battles of the Civil War’s Eastern Theater into a single volume. From First Bull Run to the Surrender at Appomattox Court House, you can follow the major action of the Eastern Theater as it unfolded by utilizing this unparalleled collection of maps.

4. For a unique gift, consider Kyle Thompson’s "From the Fields" CD. This haunting and beautiful CD provides a collection of period songs and originals recorded on the battlefields of the Civil War.

American Battlefield Trust Store

Recorded on the battlefields of the Civil War, Kyle Thompson's simple arrangements reflect the horror and sadness of war. This haunting blend of both period songs and originals is a must-have for Civil War buffs.

  • Battle Cry Of Freedom
  • A Letter From Shiloh
  • Glory Road
  • Angel Of The Battlefield
  • Johnny Has Gone For Soldier
  • Vicksburg Lament
  • Gettysburg
  • Lorena
  • Andersonville
  • Shiloh Reprise
  • A Soldiers Diary
  • From The Fields
  • Amazing Grace

5. Is the history buff in your life looking to touch up on some Civil War knowledge? Consider gifting them the Generals South, Generals North: The Commanders of the Civil War Reconsidered.

American Battlefield Trust Store

By the time the Civil War was over, 583 generals had served in the Union army and 572 in the Confederate army. A few were brilliant. Many should never have held command. But others learned on the job and did their utmost—or even gave their utmost. All were faced with a mission daunting beyond our ability to imagine. They commanded regiments, brigades, divisions, corps, and armies bigger than any ever before fielded on the North American continent. Both sides started practically from scratch, building very large armies from forces miniscule or nonexistent and planning the strategy and tactics of warfare on a scale and of a nature no American had even contemplated.

In Generals South, Generals North, best-selling author and military historian Alan Axelrod chooses the two dozen generals who had the greatest impact on the course and outcome of the war. He presents a biography of each, narrates the major engagements in which each fought, and explores the reputation of each based on historical sources as well as the opinions of current Civil War researchers. On this basis he then assigns a numerical rating to each.

Generals South, Generals North is a must for all readers interested in the conflict.

6. The American Revolution: A Visual History is a perfect way for your history buff to uncover the remarkable story of the American Revolution in a visual medium from the Boston Tea Party to the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

Amazon

One of the biggest hurdles to understanding the revolutionary war, is the breadth of the conflict. So many moving parts, often not related at the time, but influencing each other nonetheless. This book is a great overview, hitting all the major points as they fall along a timeline from 1775-1783, and then onto the challenges of the Union. Easy to read, illustrated superbly, and presented in a format that is logical and engaging. A great addition to my library.

Get it from Amazon for $23.36

7. Is the history buff in your life looking to document their travels? Check out this Scratch Off Map of The United States.

Amazon

My wife and I got this to document the places we have traveled and will travel in the US. It looks great in a nice black wooden frame. I'm not a fan of the color gold, but the gold on this makes it look "classy" I would say, like it's more valuable than just a poster. The color is easy to scratch off, and the included stickers showing where you were born and where you want to go are a nice touch. This is hanging in our hallway now, and it looks like we had it professionally made and personalized just for us. It's a good conversation piece when you have visitors. Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who has traveled or who has the goal of visiting all of the United States. Five stars.

Get it from Amazon for $23.97

8. Add the American Trivia Game to your shopping cart for your history buff to demonstrate their knowledge—and perhaps show off a bit!

Amazon

These trivia cards are great! Printed on both sides and offer a variety of difficulty levels concerning the answers. I bought this because my 86 year old dad is in quarantine since March in another state and we ZOOM every Sunday. He enjoys asking me Trivial Pursuit questions so I decided to buy this deck to ask him some questions. He really enjoys the categories and the questions help to keep his mind sharp!!I would definitely recommend this deck of cards for the elderly to keep their minds active, as well as for anyone who enjoys trivia questions. The price seemed a bit steep at first, but for the quality and number of categories like Sports, History, Geography, etc, it is really worth the investment! These cards would be great to share with young adults, too :)

Get it from Amazon for $15.60

9. Looking to celebrate American history as you sip on your drink of choice? Consider purchasing these Product Description

Heavy duty glass and high quality etching. Very nice appearance.

These are great! I got them for my husband for Christmas, and he's going to love them! Packaged VERY well and very, very nice glasses!

Gave these to a colleague as a citizenship gift. Items were of good quality. He really appreciated them and I also ordered a pair for myself.

Get it from 10. The History Channel’s This Day in History Calendar will give the history buff in your life the gift of learning about remarkable people, extraordinary events, and fascinating facts each and every day.

Amazon

I am so glad that This Day in History has come back out with a calendar devoted to the Civil War. My Mom's husband is a bit of a history buff, and his enjoyment of the Civil War has prompted me to buy him one of these every year for the past 10 or so odd years. Last year there wasn't one which was such a bummer, but I did find a similar one which was wonderful, just not "This Day in History" wonderful.

He really enjoys reading the entire script every single day, so I get him the desktop addition so he can sit in his office and take the time to actually absorb what he is reading.

I am always trying to find new things to get him for the Holidays that would interest him, but these are by far his favorite to have. It's nice that the pages are recyclable so once he reads one he can just toss it in the recycle bin, or sometimes he will even pin one up if he really enjoys it.

Get it from Amazon for $13.85

11. Is your history buff looking for a way to enjoy a cup of tea in a more historically-oriented manner? Add the Boston Harbour Tea in a Tin to your cart!

Amazon

I've used Boston Harbor tea for years. It is a flavorful blend of Oolong and Darjeeling teas. Shipped by the British company that furnished the tea thrown into Boston Harbor. This tea is excellent hot brewed or iced. It will store for several days iced and rewarding when drunk hot. Certainly a conversation piece that will not disappoint, the metal tin is useful in the kitchen or miscellaneous drawer. You can't go wrong with this. A little expensive but if you like loose fresh brewed tea this is your ticket to the revolution.

A slightly different blend of breakfast teas, rather aromatic with more Darjeeling in the flavor than other blends and less of a strong Indian tea. I live in Massachusetts and enjoy the irony of drinking this tea in the 21st century where the Boston Tea Party is a well-known event.

Get it from Amazon for $18.95

12. This unique, woven "Victory" blanket shows the stars from Washington's HQs flag. This gift is the perfect way for your history buff to spruce up their living space.

The History List

This is a beautiful blanket. It feels like it should have cost twice as much, it's so high quality and well-made. And for its size, it somehow manages to be very lightweight, which is perfect because it can be used year-round instead of confined to the winter. Very pleased with the size, weight, craftsmanship, packaging, and service.

Following the pattern of General George Washington's battle/headquarters flag, this beautiful jacquard-woven blanket looks great as a throw and is surprisingly warm. Absolutely love this blanket, a real head-turner and conversation starter. They also make great gifts!!


The Best History Book Subscription Boxes

Book subscription services have exploded in popularity, and there are so many to choose from these days. Even though they vary in genre and theme, it can be difficult to find subscription services for particular genres and sub-genres. Lots of services offer YA or mystery or children’s books, but very few offer exclusively historical fiction, history books, or nonfiction. However, never fear! We’ve rounded up a list of history book subscription boxes and services so that you can find the perfect box that will help you dive into the past with an amazing book. Here we go!

History Book Club – https://www.historybookclub.com

History Book Club is a flexible monthly service that lets you choose as many or as few books you want per month. At the start of each month, members can purchase credits for $17.50 each, and then redeem them for new hardcover history books. You can always skip a month or save your credits, but History Book Club has a wide yet carefully curated selection of historical books from different time periods all around the world. The nice thing about this box is that it includes fiction and nonfiction selections, so you have a lot of flexibility and options! Plus, if you buy two or more books each month, they ship for free! Some current books available now include The Season: A Social History of the Debutante by Kristen Richardson, The Great Pretender by Susan Cahalan, and Dreams of El Dorado by H.W. Brands.

UOpen History & Politics Box – https://www.uopen.com/subscription-box/history-and-politics-book-subscription-box

Do your tastes veer towards nonfiction and politics? The UOpen History & Politics box is for you, then! This is a monthly subscription box that offers readers a new history book or politics book, plus the occasional goodie. The monthly box begins at $23, but if you buy more than one month, you can save big time. It’s a British-based box, which means overseas subscribers may have to pay more in shipping, but the wide selections of biographies and political books make it worthwhile. Past books have included The Trial of Adolf Hitler by David King and The Future of War: A History by Lawrence Freedman.

The Book Hook Up: Political Nonfiction – https://www.strandbooks.com/strand-subscriptions/

The Strand in New York City offers a Political Nonfiction subscription service as part of their array of popular Book Hookup subscriptions. Each month you’ll receive a new, signed hardcover history or political nonfiction book, plus an assortment of goodies from The Strand and their partners. This is a great service if you want to build your collection of collectable books, and it starts at $50 per month–or if you want a really good deal, nab it for just $200 for the entire year. Past books have included One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson and A Colony in a Nationby Chris Hayes.

Boxwalla – https://www.theboxwalla.com/shop/3232/book-box

Although Boxwalla isn’t strictly a history book subscription box, they pride themselves on picking books from all over the world that feature contemporary and classic authors, and look at both the past and present with special attention to Nobel laureates. Each month has a theme of a different destination, making it a really good choice for the diversely minded, global reader. The monthly subscription starts at $29.95, and includes two books each month, making it a very affordable box for the value. Past books include Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich and The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat.

TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations

TBR is one of the few personalized book recommendation services available. You start out by simply filling out the reader survey, which asks you what books, authors, and genres you love, all-time favorites and recent favorites, what you want more of, what you want to steer clear of, and what your dealbreakers are. Then, you’ll be matched with an expert Bibliologist who will pick out three books based on your survey responses. You can choose to receive your recommendations two ways: recommendations-only, which comes as a recommendations letter via email, or as hardcover books, which are shipped to you from Print: A Bookstore in Portland, ME.

This is an awesome service if you want to get particular about your history book picks. For example, you can ask for nonfiction history books about a certain region, or historical fiction set during the Civil War, or history books that look at certain themes or topics. And since you will receive three recommendations each quarter, you can really mix it up! Plus, TBR allows you to offer feedback on your books and your Bibliologist, and you can always revise your requests from quarter to quarter. The recommendations-only level starts at $15 per quarter, and the hardcover level is $79 per quarter!

Want to learn more about how TBR works? Read on for more details. And if you want to explore more book subscription service options, check out our list of the best book subscription services for every type of book lover!


Genealogy-related Gifts for Kids

MindWare Unbored Activity Kits: Time Capsule

This fun kit for kids ages 8 and up includes everything they need to record important information for the people of the future (and their future selves). From a date stamp and scrap book to storage tubes and photo corners, the kiddos in your life will have a blast collecting items for their time capsule. In addition to supplies, the kit also contains a field guide counting tips on which items to collect and where to look for them, and space to record current interests and activities, details about friends and family, and more.

Yellow Scope DNA & Traits Science Kit

Founded by scientists and moms, Yellow Scope is passionate about promoting women in science and putting high-quality lab equipment and experiments in the hands of curious girls. Their DNA & Traits: From Codes to Creatures kit introduces the concepts of genetics in fun and engaging ways through activities such as:

  • Isolating DNA strands from fruit and cheek cells
  • Surveying friends and family to learn about quirky traits
  • Using “DNA codes” to create cute monsters with silly features

Six Generations Card Game

In Six Generations, players (recommended ages 6 and up) compete to build a traditional family tree by taking turns adding people from each generation. There are six successive generations, with the artwork on each generation’s cards corresponding to specific characteristics of that time period. The cards are very much like traditional playing cards and can be used for a variety of game variations (scroll to the bottom of the homepage to see links to different game rules).

Pando: The Family History Game

Who knows the most about Mom and Dad’s past? Siblings (or other family members) go head-to-head to see who can earn the most points. This is a great game to get everyone talking and sharing family stories. Example questions include:

  • What was the first movie I ever saw?
  • How old was I when I got my first computer?
  • Describe where I was and what I was doing at age 20.

Get the whole family excited about ancestry with our Best Family History Projects eBook!

These family history projects will help you use your research in new and exciting ways, with tips and strategies for publishing your genealogy in a report or blog, printing decorative family trees, saving your research in the cloud and more.
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