Roots of American History: Reading for a Boston Trip–10 Recommendations

I enjoy reading about places and people before I visit somewhere.  I don’t always get to, because I can get a tad swamped, but with enough planning and foresight I can usually at least get a bit of reading done.  Other trips, where I had months to prepare, I completed more extensive reading, like when traveled to India.

This fall we are planning a family trip to Boston.  The itinerary so far includes the Boston Aquarium, Freedom Trail, art museums, a trip to Concord, JFK Library, the Boston Symphony, and Blue Man Group.  This has been a really fun trip to plan!  If all goes well, I will definitely be blogging about Boston in the near future.

Here is my probably-too-extensive-pre-Boston reading list.

1.  The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne



It has been ages since I read this book.  I think I was 14 years old, so it is time to revisit it.  I am sure my perspective will be quite a bit different now, and perhaps I can begin to understand it.  Since Hawthorne was one of the many authors frequenting Concord I think now the time is right.

2.  Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott


This is another book I have not read since I was a child, but it was one of my childhood favorites.  I think it is a rite of passage for every young lady to bawl, laugh, and think through this book.  Since we will be visiting the Alcott home in Concord, I would love to read this book again.

3.  Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father, by John Matteson

Eden's Outcasts by John Matteson


This pulitzer prize winning biography explores the life and relationship of the Alcotts.  My husband and daughter have already read this one, and they loved it.  In fact, my father bought is for my daughter on a trip they took to Concord about four years ago.

4.  Revolutionary Summer: the Birth of American Independence by Joseph J. Ellis


This book is getting rave reviews and is only 240 pages long , written by a Pulitzer prize winning author and historian Joseph Ellis.

5.  Bunker Hill, A City, a Siege, a Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick


This book is new this summer and highlights the events leading to the beginning of the American Revolution.  Since we will be visiting Bunker Hill I am thinking this is a must read!

6.  1775:  A Good Year for a Revolution, by Kevin Phillips


Many people are familiar with David McCullough’s book 1776 which is an American History classic, but this book is more specific about Boston and what happened there.  This book is another new one this year.

7.  Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau


We will be visiting Walden pond, and it would only enhance the experience to hear about Walden first hand.  I keep thinking I need to do a Walden like experiment in my own life.

8.  John Adams, by David McCullough

John Adams 2

Apparently a well written, enjoyable biography about an infinitely interesting person.  There is also mini-series that I have heard great things about–I may be watching this instead of reading for the sake of convenience.

9.  The Pleasure of His Company, by Paul B. Fay, Jr.

I wanted to read more about JF Kennedy, since we will be visiting the Kennedy Library and since I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas recently.  But since I have some heavy hitters  on this list I thought that a lighter read would be better.  This is not a biography, but a memoir by one of Kennedy’s closest friends.


Image from Library of Congress,

10.  The Intellectual Devotional: American History: Revive Your Mind, Complete your Education, and Converse Confidently About our Nations Past, by David S. Kidder.



I picked this little book up at Barnes and Noble.  It appealed to me on several different levels.  It is comprised of short one page essays on different talks about American History.  While obviously it is not comprehensive, it would give a concise overview.  Not all of the topics are related to early American History, but many of them do, and on days where I am really swamped I could read a few of these and still feel like I am working on my goal.

Since my background is in the Humanities, with an emphasis on music, my knowledge is mostly European based. I feel very comfortable with 20th Century world history, but I could really deepen my knowledge of early American History since I haven’t focused on it much since the general ed courses I took in college.  Definitely time to amend that knowledge gap.  I am excited for this trip to Boston, and  I hope I can make it through most of these books by then!

Please…..any recommendations from readers?  I would love to hear them.


9 thoughts on “Roots of American History: Reading for a Boston Trip–10 Recommendations

  1. If you’re interested in more JFK reading I would recommend Killing Kennedy, by Bill O’Reilly. It was a surprisingly good read, and focused on facts with little speculation from the authors.

  2. I love Ellis’s George Washington bio (which I’m reading right now), but I haven’t read Revolutionary Summer yet. I’m curious to see how it compares to McCullough’s _1776_ (which was awesome).

    I own all of the intellectual devotional books series and have to say: their American History version is my least favorite. Because their books are designed for daily snippets of educational tidbits, they somehow thought it would be a good idea to provide ALL of their snippets OUT of chronological order for the history version. So one day you will be reading about WWII, another day the early colonies. That rankled me–if a book is laid out in chronological style (365 entries for 365 days), wouldn’t they want a chronological order to the material, too?

    Oh, and now I want to read that Alcott biography and Philbrick’s Bunker Hill, though you will already get an incredibly detailed and entertaining version of Bunker Hill from McCullough’s _John Adams_, which remains one of my favorite books of all time.

    Happy reading and have a good trip! I can’t wait to hear about both the trip and the reads after you’re back! 🙂

    • I think we actually might have the Ellie George Washington book. Good idea! I did notice that about the devotional book–my plan was just to find the early American History entries and read them. It is silly that it is not chronological. We are on episode 7 of the mini series made from the John Adams book. Enjoying it so far!

      • I only made it through the first episode, dangit, because the book always ruins movie versions for me! 😉 But they did such a great casting job–their actor is the spitting image of most of Adams’ portraits!

      • Yeah…I thought I should watch it before I read for that very reason! Paul Giamatti is totally fantastic as John Adams. PS–I will not be re-reading Ender’s Game before I go see the movie either! I figure I am more likely to enjoy the movie without having read the book recently.

      • Actually, I’m torn on that one–Ender’s Game was such a slow and dry book (pacing-wise; philosophically it is a work of incredible art!) that the big surprise ending was quite anticlimactic as a result. I’m hoping Hollywood will spice it up with some better timing/build-up! So I think I could recommend movie before book on that one, believe it or not (I rarely recommend movies first, lol!)

  3. If you want to read about Boston today, try Dennis Lehane: Mystic River, The Given Day, etc. He has a wonderful sense of the city. For mysteries try Jane Langton, whose detective lives in Concord (my favorite is The Shortest Day, which captures Cambridge perfectly). Also Linda Barnes for mysteries and certainly Robert Parker.

  4. I know your post is old, but I’m gleaning ideas from it for our upcoming trip Spring 2018. I also thought I’d add a totally fun series in case you’re looking to read a bit of Boston again. It’s Charlotte MacLeod’s mystery series which begins with The Family Vault.

I would love to hear from you!

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