Summer School: 5 Beach Friendly History Books

War of 1812 naval battle

War of 1812 naval battle

By Daniel Ford

An American history tome might not be anyone’s first choice while parked on a beach chair, restocking Vitamin D after a long winter, and drinking a cold, frothy adult beverage.

However, there isn’t any kind of literary law that says all your beach reads need to be light, popcorn-y yarns that you breeze through in an hour and a half.

Do some learning in between sandy, romantic walks with these five U.S. history books!

1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman

This book comes with its own soundtrack!

I’d love to be able to tell you that this post doesn’t get any nerdier than that moment, but…alas.

The War of 1812 was pretty fucking goofy. Without an army or a navy, the U.S. Government at one point was debating whether or not to declare war on England and France. Which ended up looking evens sillier when the British made James Madison hightail it out of Washington right before they burned the White House to the ground.

But you’ll enjoy plenty of naval battles, a country proving it could hold its own despite its suspect war aims, and a battle fought after the conflict had officially ended.

Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2 by Robert Caro

I’m trying really hard to get Sean Tuohy to write the screenplay for Lyndon Johnson’s legendary 1948 Senate campaign.

Caro makes your heart thump describing the details of the race between Johnson and former Texas governor Coke Stevenson(this name alone should be a movie!). Johnson tried to cut into his opponent’s seemingly insurmountable lead by campaigning in a helicopter, but still had to resort to buying votes to win the election and set his course to the White House.

Stevenson at one points heads out to check out the disputed county votes himself with a retired U.S. Marshall who just happened to shot Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde (!!!!!). The election also involves a shadowy Mexican enforcer nicknamed “Indio” who eventually admitted to helping put the fix in.

Cast Bryan Cranston as LBJ and I'd pay money to see that.

Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

It’s best not to read this book while on a boat.

Unless of course you’re comfortable reading about a shipwreck caused by an angry sperm whale followed by survivors lost at sea for more than 90 days who had to draw straws to figure out who got eaten first.

It’s chilling and grim, but it’s the perfect read while enjoying low tide and being anchored by beach cocktails.

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis

The Founders can sometimes come off as a little inaccessible.

Several of them can be found memorialized in marble in Washington D.C., which doesn’t help the cause. But this book breathes life into guys like George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson (one of U.S. history’s biggest douches).

Hamilton and Burr’s duel offers the most suspense for obvious reasons, but the debate on where to place the nation’s capital and Jefferson and Adams’ renewed friendship at the end of their lives are equally as thrilling.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

One could argue that Prohibition was one of the more successful interventions in drinking history.

However, the temperance movement also facilitated the rise of organized crime and the restriction of personal freedom, as well as wasted federal dollars pursuing and prosecuting violators of the Volstead Act.

Okrent writes with a spirit and verve that grabs you from the first chapter (which details how much Americans were drinking before Prohibition set in).

The best part is you can wet your whistle while making fun of the poor schumcks getting in trouble for wetting theirs during the heyday of the Progressive movement.