Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve reviewed more than 600 nonfiction books. Out of those I’ve selected ten that significantly changed my mind with new information and new insight—plus thirteen more that did so a little less. They cover a wide swath of territory, from ancient history to espionage, and medical science to geopolitics and World War II.
Unless you read a great deal of nonfiction, it’s unlikely that more than one or a few of the authors of these books will be familiar to you. But I’ve judged every one to be entirely credible. Most bring deep personal knowledge of their subjects. And many have won major literary awards for their work. And I’ve given every one of these books a five-star rating.
I’m listing the top ten books here in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names, with links that lead to my posted reviews. The following thirteen are similarly arranged.
The top 10 nonfiction books that changed my mind
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (2009) 576 pages ★★★★★—How the gold standard caused the Great Depression
Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief by Tennent H. Bagley (2013) 320 pages ★★★★★—Startling revelations from a top KGB spymaster
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014) 320 pages ★★★★★—Revisionist US history from an indigenous perspective
Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War by Howard W. French (2021) 528 pages ★★★★★—An eye-opening account of Africa’s pivotal role in world history
American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by Adam Hochschild (2022) 432 pages ★★★★★—Repression, censorship, and official violence in the First Red Scare
Normandy ’44: D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France by James Holland (2020) 864 pages ★★★★★—Debunking the myths about D Day and Normandy
The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives by Naoise Mac Sweeney (2023) 448 pages ★★★★★—Debunking the myth of “Western Civilization”
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann (2011) 560 pages ★★★★★—After the Columbian Exchange, nothing was ever the same
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott (2017) 335 pages ★★★★★—This book will challenge everything you know about ancient history
The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit—Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness by Craig M. Wright (2020) 317 pages ★★★★★—What is a genius? Does IQ matter?
13 more nonfiction books that changed my thinking
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War by Scott Anderson (2020) 702 pages ★★★★★—How the CIA helped set the course for a half-century of US policy
Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-creation of World War II Through the Eyes and Minds of Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts (2005) 384 pages ★★★★★—Misjudgments and misunderstandings in World War II
The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles (2015) 257 pages ★★★★★—An entertaining account of deception in world war II
Presidents in Crisis: Tough Decisions inside the White House from Truman to Obama by Michael K. Bohn (2015) 388 pages ★★★★★—An eye-opening plunge into Presidential decision-making
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark (2008) 431 pages ★★★★★—Why is the Global North so much richer than the South?
Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis (2016) 398 pages ★★★★★—A balanced new history of Israel, warts and all
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017) 347 pages ★★★★★—The case that helped put the FBI on the map
Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer by Steven Johnson (2021) 320 pages ★★★★★—Why are people living so much longer these days?
The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan (2012) 448 pages ★★★★★—Geopolitical analysis illuminates history and world politics
Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues by Jonathan Kennedy (2023) 336 pages ★★★★★—How microbes have shaped world history
Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink by Anthony McCarten (2017) 217 pages ★★★★★—New insight into Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in US History by Joe Navarro (2017) 369 pages ★★★★★—The worst spy scandal in US history, and it’s not what you think
The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America by Daniel Okrent (2019) 497 pages ★★★★★—The racist movement that stopped immigration a century ago
For related reading
You’ll find more good nonfiction books about some of the areas addressed in the list above at:
- 20 top nonfiction books about history
- Science explained in 10 excellent popular books
- 10 top nonfiction books about World War II
- My 10 favorite books about business history
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.