Summer Reading Lists tend to be light and frothy “beach reads.” Here’s a historian’s summer reading list with a slight twist: a “water” theme. These are some of my favorite history books –recent and not-so recent– that may help you keep cool by taking you down to the water. Go ahead, dive in!
*Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journal of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick.
Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, leads a band on an exploration of the Colorado River in rowboats.
*Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky.
A slim volume about the fish that helped inspire the discovery of North America.
*The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.
Riveting account of TR’s nearly fatal trip on an unexplored tributary of the Amazon.
*The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto.
Great history of early Manhattan. And its about an island –surrounded by water.
*The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald.
The real story behind those swashbuckling “sea dogs” that Hollywood has always loved.
*The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada by Neil Hanson.
Tells the real story of one of the most important, and mythologized, moments in history.
*The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough.
One of McCullough’s best. You can also make it a McCullough “Water Trilogy” by adding *The Johnstown Flood, an account of the tragic 1889 dam failure in Johnstown, Pa., and *The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
*In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick.
An earlier book by the author of Mayflower explores the tragedy that inspired the “Mother of all Summer reading books,” Moby-Dick.
If that’s not enough whaling, there is also *Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin which describes the industry that once “lit the world” with whale oil and its unique place in American History.
PS: No book reports required after you finish the summer reading list.