by H. W. Brands
Ron Chernow. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. The best combination of narrative and analysis on the banking house that made J. P. Morgan the towering financial figure of his time.
Matthew Josephson. The Robber Barons:The Great American Capitalists. The classic muckraking account of the generation of industrialists and financiers who built modern American capitalism. More than any other book, this one is responsible for the shadow the captains of industry still labor under in history.
Jacob Riis. How the Other Half Lives. Danish-immigrant-turned-investigative-journalist prowls the Lower East Side with notepad and camera in hand, recording and depicting the lives of the desperately poor.
Booker T. Washington. Up from Slavery: An Autobriography. The best-titled memoir in American history and one of the best overall. Recounts the life of the great African American leader, who rose from bondage to international fame by dint of intelligence, shrewdness and sheer hard work.
William Riordon. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. A delightful primer on big-city machine politics, by a prominent politico. The machines have largely vanished, but Plunkitt’s philosophy still goes far to explain American politics.
Willa Cather. My Antonia. A beautifully crafted evocation of life on the Plains frontier, which was disappearing even as Cather wrote.
Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. The last days of the free Sioux, as told by one of their medicine men.