Last updated: August 18, 2021

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Welcome to Monederosmart! History is the social science of knowledge through enquiry. Its study, when you have the right books, can become an exciting journey through the past of the world.

This branch of knowledge is much more than dates and names. Understanding history helps us to understand the present and why things are the way they are. Although many people decide to stick with the knowledge acquired at school, it is never too much to contrast and complement those classroom sessions with new learning.

The writing of history is an activity, although scientific, with a high level of subjectivity, as it lends itself to readings and interpretations by the researcher. That is why, in this article, we will give you all the tools and advice you need to choose the best history book on the market.




The most important things

  • A history book is a text that compiles information about an important event or personage in a particular place and time. It is the main tool for the study of this discipline and its ramifications. Through them, we can know and understand our past and present.
  • The market offers a huge number of categories, collections and titles related to the study of history. The main segmentation lies in the differentiation between academic books (for specialised audiences) and popular books (for the general public), as well as the literary sub-genre known as the historical novel.
  • Walking through the history and non-fiction sections of bookshops, we are often overcome by a sense of curiosity, uncertainty and even scepticism. If you are about to purchase a history book, take into consideration factors such as reader profile, tone, category, subject matter and length.

The best history books Our recommendations

Buying guide: What you need to know about history books

History as a discipline is extremely broad, so it is often divided into periods, geographical areas or specific events. To help you make the right purchase and get the information you need, here is a brief guide to everything you need to know about history books.

A history book is a panoramic view of time and space. (Photo: alphaspirit / 123rf)

What is a history book and what are its advantages?

A history book is a text that compiles verified and authoritative information about events relevant to a country or region. Depending on the type of approach, it may include the author's interpretations or additional annotations. It should always be made explicit whether the text is objective or subjective.

History books are often very diverse and cover different aspects or important episodes. They also offer different perspectives on the same topic, allowing the reader to enrich his or her knowledge and make his or her own value judgements.

The disadvantage, in contrast, lies in the difficulty of providing homogeneity in the delivery of information. History, as we know, can be told in many different ways. Therefore, it is common for there to be variations in discourse depending on the publisher and its commercial or ideological interests.

Advantages
  • They help to understand reality
  • They can be general or specialised
  • They offer a plurality of ideas
  • They focus on the causes of events
  • Most are accessible and formative
Disadvantages
  • Information can be biased or tendentious
  • Not all are reliable
  • There can be variations of information
  • They can be quite extensive
  • They have fallen into disuse

Academic or popular history books?

One of the substantial differences between history books lies in their target audiences. This will determine the narrative line, the language, the resources and the tone with which the topics will be approached. We can point to two main categories that segment the market on the basis of content.

Academic. This includes all scientific texts. Academic books are those used for training or research purposes and which, in turn, comply with strict methodological standards. Here we find other branches of the discipline, such as historiography and historiology.

Popular. These are all the history books that do away with technicalities or academic concepts in order to offer much more accessible content. They are characterised by their use of semi-formal language and their focus on relevant topics and aspects in order to guarantee understanding of the subjects.

Academic Academic Popular
Language Formal, technical Semi-formal
Academic value Yes Not always
Target audience Specialised students, researchers, professors General public
Distribution Specialised bookshops, libraries General physical and online bookshops

What are historical novels?

It is a text that uses one or more real events, places or characters to tell an invented story. It should be emphasised that historical novels are always fiction, as they include fantastic elements that are not necessarily based on in-depth historical studies.

Although these types of texts should not be used as a reference or study of formal history, they are a great complement to understand some aspects of history, especially in the social spectrum. Historical novels can bear witness to history through the voice of the forgotten, such as The Diary of Anne Frank.

A great example of this phenomenon can be found in Mexico, where the literary genre known as the revolutionary novel was born. This style is characterised by taking passages from the Mexican Revolution and introducing fictional characters that portray the way of life at the time, such as Los de abajo and El águila y la serpiente.

Who said history has to be boring? (Photo: bowie15 / 123rf)

Purchasing criteria

To learn history is to understand the world around us and to begin to look at it with different eyes. The books we choose to learn from can be decisive in the way we react to the past. To ensure that your judgement is not clouded by the myriad of titles available, consider the following points:

Reader profile

As mentioned above, it is important to understand the type of audience the books will have. The study of history can become a very valuable activity when it is executed in the right way and with the right means. If you are going to buy a history book, think about the profile of the reader.

Children under 12 years old. As we know, children have specific needs and interests when it comes to consuming cultural products. The ideal way to teach history to a child is to use books with didactic materials, illustrations and contents that use language appropriate for their understanding.

Adolescents and adults (general). This includes all people who are not engaged in the formal study of history, but who have interests related to it. The level of cultural background or familiarity the person has with the topics to be covered should be taken into account, as this will determine how advanced the readings can be.

Adult specialists. This is specifically aimed at people whose professional interest leans towards history. In this case, books that delve into particular subjects are recommended, taking into account that the reader already has a background in history prior to the specialised knowledge.

Tone

History is a discipline of interpretation. Although it is necessary to follow scientific procedures for its study and dissemination, each author or publisher usually has his or her own view of the facts. It is essential that you understand the type of information you are receiving and the tone in which it is presented to you.

Objective. An objective tone is when the focus is on facts and accounts that are universally accepted by the historian community. This includes scholarly books, as well as popular books that deal with general information about times or places. The best choice if you are looking for reliable sources of information.

Subjective. Texts written by prominent figures in the political life of any country, as well as thinkers and opinion leaders. There is usually an ideological bias on the part of the author. These books are very useful if you are looking to understand the political stance and historiographical opinions of the writer.

Comic-satirical. Takes aspects of history and turns them into critical interpretations of certain characters or events. Satire is expressed in a burlesque tone and explicitly for the purpose of entertainment. This type of text is aimed at people with prior knowledge of history who like acid or black humour.

Category

History books can deal with an unimaginable number of subjects, as they are a record of all the important events in the world over time. To help you start segmenting your reading, start by asking yourself what kind of focus you're looking for. Here are our top suggestions:

Universal. These deal with the most relevant events from one or all eras around the world. While some books tend to delve more into the Western world, it's a great option if you're looking to put events in different regions and cultures into perspective chronologically.

By country. This is a considerable reduction in the flow of information. A nation's history books give an account of the most relevant events, from the emergence of the first cultures to the present day. They usually provide answers to most of the things we take for granted in contemporary society.

By period. Another way of segmenting the study of history is by period. This may involve, in turn, categorisation by region or by culture. Great examples include history textbooks on Ancient Greece, World War II or the colonial period in Mesoamerica.

Object of study

Every history has a protagonist. The study and dissemination of this social science usually establishes axes of narrative and research based on one or more objects of study. So that you don't get confused by the titles, these are some of the thematic axes that you can find as part of history books.

Character. There are people whose passage through this world left an indelible mark. Unlike autobiographies, historical texts that focus on a specific character usually look at the work of the protagonist and their contribution to the world both during their lifetime and after their death.

Subject matter. Historiographical study is also concerned with the genesis, evolution and decline of certain objects or products that have marked humankind. These texts are of particular importance for understanding how present-day societies have come to develop technical, technological or theoretical advances.

Stream of thought. It is common for different disciplines to devote part of their studies to documenting their history. Some branches of knowledge such as physics, chemistry, philosophy and art give important weight to the study and understanding of their past theorists and postulates. The same is true for cinema, robotics or physics.

Extension

Considering the size of books before purchasing them is not a minor issue. In areas as broad as the one covered in this article, it may be ambiguous to speak simply of "history". Therefore, the length of books should be understood as a continuation of narratives that cannot be easily condensed.

Some publishers choose to launch several volumes or collections of books to discuss such a broad and complex subject. In other cases, it is specified at the outset that the issue in question is simply an introductory guide. The important thing is to make sure that the book contains the information the reader needs.

(Featured image photo: sondem / 123rf)

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