Great history books for students

When Reading History, Read Great Books, advises Diane Ravitch. She quotes Will Fitzhugh, who publishes historical research by high school students in the Concord Review. Common Core State Standards calls for students to read more nonfiction, but they don’t suggest reading complete history books, Fitzhugh writes.

. . . we find them suggesting little nonfiction excerpts and short speeches to assign, along with menus, brochures, and bus schedules for the middle schoolers. Embarrassing.

. . . Everyone is afraid to mention possible history books if they are not about current events, or civics, or some underserved population, for fear of a backlash against the whole idea of history books.

His favorites: Mornings on Horseback (the young Teddy Roosevelt) by David McCullough for high school freshmen, Washington’s Crossing (military history of Revolutionary War) by David Hackett Fischer for sophomores, Battle Cry of Freedom (Civil War) by James McPherson for juniors, and The Path Between the Seas (building of the Panama Canal) by David McCullough for seniors.

What else? I keep thinking of The Red Badge of Courage. It’s fiction, but reputedly so accurate that Civil War veterans couldn’t believe Stephen Crane wasn’t a combat soldier. It sparks students’ imaginations,  it’s short and there’s  no sex.

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