The Best World History Books: The Top 20+ to Learn More about the Past

The Best World History Books

Exploring the complexities of the past can be captivating and enriching. So what are the best world history books out there? From Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” to Halil Inalcik’s “The Ottoman Empire,” countless reads offer unique perspectives on the events and trends that have shaped our world.

These best world history books delve into subjects ranging from the rise and fall of empires to the successes and struggles of humanity’s most innovative minds. Each one offers compelling insights, making narrowing down a definitive “best ” difficult.” But whether you’re a novice or a seasoned historian, immersing yourself in the narratives and voices of these books is sure to deepen your understanding of our shared past.

Why You Should Read the Best World History Books

The subject of world history is vast and complex, with countless events and personalities that have shaped the world we live in today. It is impossible to understand our current world without looking at its past. However, learning history is not always an easy task. Reading the best world history books is the best way to learn about the past.

The 20+ Best World History Books

The Best World History Books: The Top 20+ to Learn More about the Past


Choosing the best world history books is the perfect opportunity to understand the past better and allow us to comprehend and apply the lessons learned. Through reading, we can gain context and appreciate the vastness of the human intellect, which informs our present and future.

Below, I will list the best world history books to gain a deeper understanding of the past.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a captivating and powerful memoir that chronicles the life of the renowned civil rights activist and Nation of Islam leader. Malcolm X’s story is one of radical transformation, from his troubled childhood in Michigan to his eventual political awakening in prison and his journey to becoming one of the most influential figures in the fight for racial equality. Through his frank and unflinching account, Malcolm X shares his personal struggles and triumphs and offers a penetrating critique of American society and the injustices perpetuated against Black Americans. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is essential for anyone interested in civil rights history and the ongoing struggle for social justice.

Ruth Scurr’s biography “Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows” takes readers on an intimate journey through the life of one of history’s most fascinating figures. Scurr’s prose is a masterful balance of historical fact and vivid storytelling from his early days in Corsica to his rise as Emperor of France. But what truly sets this biography apart is its unique approach, focusing on the gardens and landscapes surrounding Napoleon throughout his life. By examining the natural world that shaped him, Scurr offers readers a fresh perspective on a man who has been the subject of countless books and movies. “Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows” is a must-read for anyone who wants to truly understand one of history’s most complex and intriguing figures.

The Ottomans are a fascinating topic that deserves exploration, and Marc David Baer’s book provides an excellent starting point for any curious reader. With a focus on the title trio of khans, caesars, and caliphs, Baer delves into the complex political and cultural landscape of the Ottoman Empire. Through his detailed research and engaging writing style, Baer brings to life the personalities and power struggles that defined this era, shedding new light on a period of history that is often misunderstood or overlooked. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking to learn something new, The Ottomans promise to be an enlightening and enjoyable read.

The history of ancient Egypt has always fascinated people around the globe with its magnificent pyramids, legendary pharaohs, and rich mythology. Toby Wilkinson’s book, A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology, delves deeper into this captivating world, uncovering the stories of the explorers and archeologists who embarked on a quest to unearth the treasures buried beneath the Egyptian sands. Wilkinson’s writing style illuminates the golden age of Egyptology, detailing the groundbreaking discoveries that changed our understanding of Egyptian history forever. From sarcophagi to hieroglyphics, embalming techniques to temple architecture, A World Beneath the Sands allows readers to immerse themselves in the fascinating world of ancient Egypt.

If you’re a history buff, you’re probably familiar with Ibn Khaldûn’s The Muqaddimah. This book is not your average run-of-the-mill history book. Rather, it’s a thought-provoking exploration of the circular nature of history and how societies rise and fall. Written in the 14th century, it’s astounding to see how relevant many of Ibn Khaldûn’s ideas are to modern times. He covers various topics, from geography’s impact on civilization to religion’s role in history. Overall, The Muqaddimah is a fascinating read for those looking to deepen their understanding of the past and how it shapes the present.

Genghis Khan, one of the most fearsome conquerors in history, left an indelible mark on the world. Jack Weatherford’s enthralling book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World brings to life the incredible story of this legendary figure. By exploring Khan’s early life and upbringing, Weatherford sheds light on the cultural and historical context of the time. He also delves into the Mongol ruler’s innovative tactics and leadership style that helped him carve out the largest empire in world history. Full of fascinating insights and meticulous research, this book offers a fresh perspective on Genghis Khan’s legacy.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what happened next? Charles C. Mann’s book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, takes readers on a fascinating journey through the aftermath of Columbus’s voyage. Mann explores his arrival’s profound impact on the Americas, Europe, and even Africa. He uncovers the complex web of global changes that resulted from the New World’s vast resources and the cultural exchange that followed. From introducing new foods to spreading diseases, Mann’s book illuminates the many ways in which Columbus’s actions transformed the world. Readers will come away from this page-turner with a newfound appreciation for the depth of impact a single historical event can have on human history.

Prepare to embark on a captivating journey through the annals of scientific discovery. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” defies convention, offering a narrative-driven approach that reads more like a thrilling story than a dry textbook. Author Bill Bryson’s conversational tone and informal style make for a refreshing and enjoyable reading experience.

What sets this book apart is its ability to demystify complex concepts without sacrificing depth. Bryson effortlessly explains the logic behind scientific breakthroughs, even shedding light on the origins of formulas used in A Level Physics. With humor and wit, he ensures that readers of all backgrounds can grasp each concept, leaving no knowledge assumption unaddressed.

Delving into the realm of past scientific endeavors, Bryson delves into the intriguing world of famous rivalries and the occasional misstep. Discover how scientists maneuvered to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and enjoy tales of resilience amidst failure. Bryson expertly intertwines the personal lives of these brilliant minds, exploring the relationships between scientists and their often overlooked companions who aided them in their groundbreaking research.

From astronomy to geology, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” covers a wide range of scientific disciplines. Prepare to encounter mind-boggling concepts that have shaped our understanding of the world. I found it fascinating to learn about the eighteenth-century belief in the “élan vital” force, which attributed life to inanimate objects. Such peculiar ideas aside, A Short History of Nearly Everything presents countless foundational discoveries that form the bedrock of modern science.

Structured chronologically, each chapter seamlessly connects one scientific breakthrough to the next. This approach provides a comprehensive understanding of how each discovery builds upon its predecessors. As I journeyed through the pages, I gained a profound appreciation for the importance of contemporary research, fueling my excitement to apply to a prestigious university renowned for its scientific endeavors.

Whether you have a general interest in science or are specifically applying to Chemistry, Physics, or Earth Sciences, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is a must-read. This book will not only satisfy your curiosity but also shed light on the “why” behind scientific inquiries. Let it ignite your passion and inspire you to embark on your own scientific odyssey at the University of Oxford.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a classic novel about Russian society during the Napoleonic era. Tolstoy masterfully weaves his characters’ personal and political lives, creating a vivid and nuanced portrayal of 19th-century Russia. From the love affairs of the aristocracy to the chaos and destruction of war, War and Peace remain a timeless masterpiece that explores the complexities of human nature and the nature of war itself. Filled with rich detail and unforgettable characters, Tolstoy’s novel is a testament to the power of literature to capture the essence of the human experience.


Which history books should I start with?

History is an incredibly vast and fascinating subject, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to begin. However, a few books are widely considered essential starting points for any new student of history. For starters, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson is exactly what it sounds like – a concise, accessible overview of various scientific discoveries and advances throughout history. 

A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn provides a different perspective on American history, highlighting the experiences and struggles of those often marginalized by traditional narratives. 

Finally, “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman is a gripping, detailed account of the first month of World War I that draws readers in and keeps them hooked until the very end. Whether you’re interested in science, social justice, or international conflict, these books are great places to start your journey through the vast and endlessly fascinating world of history.

How can I learn about world history?

Immersing yourself in world history can be an enriching experience. There are several ways to get started, from picking up a book, visiting a museum, watching a documentary, or attending a lecture. One important aspect of learning about world history is to be open to different perspectives and interpretations of historical events. 
It’s also helpful to connect with others who share your interest in history, whether that means joining a local history club or participating in online discussions. Ultimately, the best way to learn about world history is to approach it with curiosity and a willingness to explore. By learning about the past, you can gain a greater understanding of the world and the forces that have shaped it.

Are history books worth reading?

History books are often viewed as dry collections of facts and figures, but those who take the time to delve into them know they can be powerful and engaging windows into the stories and events that have shaped our world. Through the best world history books, readers can explore the triumphs and tragedies of humanity, gaining insights into the minds and motivations of heroic and notorious figures. 
Moreover, the best world history books offer the chance to connect with other cultures and periods, providing insights into worlds that might otherwise be lost. Whether studying the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome or gaining a deeper understanding of the events that led up to the American Revolution, there’s no denying the value of history books in broadening our understanding of the world around us. 
So, if you want to expand your knowledge and ignite your imagination, don’t hesitate to open a history book or two. You might just be surprised at what you discover.

How hard is world history?

World history can be a challenging subject to tackle, but it can also be a fascinating and rewarding experience. With such a vast expanse of time and cultures to cover, it’s understandable that some students might feel intimidated. However, diving into the stories of different civilizations can provide a deeper understanding of our shared human experience and the events that have shaped our world. 
Whether diving into ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, or the rise and fall of empires, world history can be a fascinating journey into the past that reveals not only the struggles and triumphs of our ancestors but also important lessons for the future. So while it may require some effort to master, studying world history can be a rewarding experience.

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Ali Kaya


Ali Kaya

This is Ali. Bespectacled and mustachioed father, math blogger, and soccer player. I also do consult for global math and science startups.