6 New Reads to Help You Understand History in America

American history is one contradiction after another. The nation’s most important documents profess a devotion to liberty, equality, and justice for all; the actions of its citizens and leaders all too often fail to embody these ideals. Why does this happen? What effects do these contradictions have on America and the world as a whole? Is there a way to prevent such inconsistencies and work toward a better, more thoughtful, and more inclusive nation?

Education, including self-education, is a good way to counteract misinformation and confusion. These U.S. history books delve into very different aspects of the American story, from foreign policy to the lives of individuals who risked all for a noble cause. Sometimes painful, sometimes enlightening, and always fascinating, the six books featured here will broaden your perspective on the history of one of the most influential nations on Earth—and help you figure out the best ways of navigating the imperfect future America’s actions have helped to create.

All That She Carried

Ashley, like many enslaved girls in the antebellum American South, was sold away from her family at an early age. Before they were separated, Ashley’s mother Rose managed to give her a personalized knapsack filled with keepsakes—proof of Rose’s love that Ashley could take with her wherever she went. All That She Carried is the touching story of how that knapsack was passed down from generation to generation, and what it can tell us about slavery, history, humanity, and love.

Eileen Gonzalez is a freelance writer from Connecticut. She has a Master’s degree in communications and years of experience writing about pop culture. She contributes to Book Riot and Foreword Reviews, and she occasionally tweets at @eileen2thestars.