The best history books of July

Chris Schluep on July 07, 2020

The best history books of summer

There's a little something for everyone in the best history books of July. Starting off, we have A Most Beautiful Thing, which is our spotlight pick for best of the month. The book is inspiring and uplifting, and will leave you having mostly warm thoughts about the human spirit. That's not quite true for the other three books listed below—where you will find true crime, the life of a notorious Senator, and an examination of a train robber whose story is woven into the lore of the West. One thing that these four books do share, however, is that they all tell great stories. It takes all types to fill life's rich tapestry. Happy reading, and you can find all of our picks for best history of the month here.

A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper by Arshay Cooper

Our spotlight pick of July, The Most Beautiful Thing is the story of the first all-Black high school rowing team, told by a member of that team, Ashay Cooper. Amazon editor Al Woodworth quotes Arshay in her best of the month review: "I am done with my old life. I choose rowing. I choose a future." Al goes on to say, "And so begins the pursuit of rowing in unison, which would expose Cooper and his teammates to college campuses, different states, internships and jobs. In some ways this is a memoir of underdogs fighting their way to the top, but it’s also about how an entire population is left out of the opportunity loop and how a seemingly small thing like sports can change lives."

The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice by David Hill

There's nothing like a little bit of true crime as the summer grows hot. And if it has a hint of Southern Gothic to it, all the better. Hot Springs, Arkansas has a past that's way more sordid than most realize, and author David Hill is here to tell us about it. Horse racing, casinos, brothels, and the mob found their way to the little southern town, and Hill focuses on three characters—a bar girl, a mob boss, and a talented gambler who was the son of a Cherokee bootlegger—to weave their opportunistic, backstabbing, dark, dangerous, and rousing tale from a bygone era.

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by Larry Tye

Larry Tye has written some great histories in his career, and he continues the trend with Demogogue. While the word "McCarthyism" is known to most, what isn't known is just how little time it took Senator Joe McCarthy to rise and fall, destroying careers and lives, before he ultimately died in of alcoholism. This is the fascinating story of a war hero who made it to the Senate and wanted to find a cause. What followed is history, but not one that remembers him very kindly.

Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw by Charles Leerhsen

A biographer is best who can take a historical character, snip away at the legend, and portray that character in their full humanity. That's what Charles Leerhsen does here. Cassidy comes off as a man of many facets—yes, he was a criminal, and a very talented one; but he was thoughtful and he was gifted with talents that shouldn't necessarily have led him to robbery. He didn't need to do it, but he did. Leehrsen leads us to ask why.

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