Historical & Historical Fiction
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Living in Portland, you can’t turn a city corner without being reminded of Lewis and Clark’s fabled journey across the Northwest. They traversed a nation with the aid of Shoshone guide Sacajawea in the early 1800s, chronicling all the flora, fauna, tribal encounters, and vast landscapes they encountered along their journey. The language can be difficult to decipher at times, but it’s a richly detailed account of our nation’s early natural history, and exploration.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was always renowned for his eccentric and intriguing personality, whether he was dabbling in electricity, drinking beer, or serving as Postmaster General of the United States. Needless to say, he remains a hallmark of American history more than 200 years after his death. His autobiography offers personal stories, exploits, and general insights to his life in the days before the American Revolution.
Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt
There are few people involved today that boast a background as sprawling and diverse good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt. He was the leader of the Republican Party and the short-live Bull Moose Party of 1912, as well as an acclaimed naturalist, cowboy, hunter, author, and soldier in the Spanish-American War. The man is considered an American legend for both his exploits in office and outside of it — and his autobiography tells it all.
The Life of Buffalo Bill: An Autobiography by William Frederick Cody
Buffalo Bill is one of the most iconic and colorful characters epitomizing the American Old West. Although he was a plainsmen, buffalo hunter, and scout (who had his Medal of Honor revoked and reinstated years later), his claim to fame was his Wild West show. His deeds were many, his prejudices few, and his autobiography follows his story from the time of his birth in 1846 until he was 44 years old. It’s not all of his life’s work, but it’s the foundation.
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana
After being stricken by measles and subsequent vision damage while attending Harvard, Dana enlisted as sailor on a two-year voyage around Cape Horn on the brig Pilgrim. He kept a diary of his travels along the way, known as Two Years Before the Mast, and filled it with passages of practical naval jargon, animated imagery and some of the first descriptions of 1830s California. However, it’s more so a historical tale than one of adventure.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Believe it or not, the initial critical reception to Hugo’s 1862 classic tale of redemption wasn’t exactly positive (though it was a commercial success). It focuses on ex-convict Jean Valjean, as well as the lives and interactions of other characters, beginning in 1815 and lasting through the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. Hugo’s writing is elaborate — detailing French history, architecture, and politics in the process — and is still considered some of the best of 19th century literature to this day.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
The Mississippi River had a profound and pivotal on Twain from the time he was a little boy until his death in 1910. Mississippi is a memoir, a steamboat-era novel that summarizes the river’s discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1541, Twain’s time as a steamboat pilot, and his eye-opening return to the river many years after industry and greed had befallen upon the surrounding banks. It revels in Twain’s knack for observation, while providing backdrop for the author’s classic tales.
South: The Story of Shackleton’s Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
It seems like almost all stories coming out of Antarctica either deal with penguins, polar bears, or survival. Being a first-hand account of 28 men marooned on polar ice a nearly fatal shipwreck in unforgiving waters, Shackleton’s tale represents the third option. It recaps the journey, from Shackleton’s burning desires to traverse Antarctica to the subsequent catastrophe and ensuing struggle to survive, albeit with descriptive prowess and sea-log flare.