Photo of a sparkler with a tablet featuring the cover of the book "Hamilton"

Recommended Reads

8 patriotic books to read for the Fourth of July


It’s time to celebrate Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean we have to just focus on fireworks and cookouts. There are a lot of fantastic books about the Revolutionary War and the Colonial period that you could read to mark the 4th of July this year.

Actually, for a lot of the books on this list, you aren’t going to finish them on the 4th, so you might want to pencil in a bit more time. (For instance, the really great George Washington biography mentioned below is 42 hours on audiobook, but so worth every minute, I promise.) Since you’re going to want to settle in with one of these titles ASAP, let’s dive right in with some of my favorite books about the Revolution and Colonial America that you can borrow on the Libby app.

For the longer books, remember that if no one else is waiting, Libby will let you renew your checkout if you aren’t finished when your loan period runs out.

God Save Benedict ArnoldGod Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America's Most Hated Man by Jack Kelly
🎧 Audiobook

Known as the greatest traitor in American history, Benedict Arnold’s story is actually far more interesting than a lot of people know. Born into a prosperous family undone by grief and his father’s alcoholism, Arnold left school and the promise of a Yale education at age 14 to become an apprentice to an apothecary. As an adult, he became a merchant and sailor, using the latter skill to serve the Patriot cause in the Battle of Lake Champlain. But his war record as one of George Washington’s favorite generals reached its zenith at the Battle of Saratoga, which ended in the first-ever surrender of a British army. How did one of the Colonists’ brightest military minds then decide to sell secrets to the British and attempt to hand over the strategic fort at West Point? Kelly explains it all, and more, in this riveting biography.

I Survived the American RevolutionI Survived the American Revolution, 1776 by Lauren Tarshis and Leo Trinidad
🎧 Audiobook

Even kids can get in on the fun of learning about the Revolutionary War with this fantastic graphic novel. The story opens with young orphan Nate at his uncle’s house in Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s the summer of 1776, and everyone is discussing the war and whether General Washington can possibly hold off the superior British troops. After angering his uncle by defending two of the household slaves, Nate runs away and suddenly finds himself in the middle of the Battle of Brooklyn in late August. The tale is harrowing, the art exciting, and the fantastic back matter will help kids learn about this pivotal moment in American history.

American InheritanceAmerican Inheritance: Liberty and Slavery in the Birth of a Nation, 1765-1795 by Edward J. Larson
🎧 Audiobook

Pulitzer Prize-winner Larson explores the Revolutionary Era from an often-overlooked angle — how slavery impacted the War of Independence and the years surrounding it. Even before the war, legal cases in Britain began changing the status of slaves in the Colonies, and when war broke out, both sides struggled with how to use the enslaved population to their own benefit, usually with little regard to any benefit to the slaves themselves. But this is only the first part of the book — the rest examines the fate of the enslaved as some states begin abolishing slavery, while others want the Constitution to offer legal protection for them to continue the practice of owning other human beings. This book is as readable as it is informative.

The RevolutionaryThe Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff
🎧 Audiobook

Many in England, as well as his fellow Founding Fathers, believed Samuel Adams was the most vital figure in sparking the Revolutionary War, and yet he’s one of the least well-known men of early America. That’s why it’s such a treat that Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff has penned a vibrant and compelling portrait of this mysterious and yet hugely significant American patriot from his speeches, voluminous newspaper editorials, and what others, friends and enemies, said of him. From his pre-war years as a businessman (and yes, brewer) to his years in government following the Revolution, this is the Adams book we, and he, have always deserved.

Washington: A LifeWashington: A Life by Ron Chernow
🎧 Audiobook

Keeping with the theme of Pulitzer Prizes, Ron Chernow won the award for this biography of George Washington. The size of this tome might be a little intimidating to some (remember, 42 hours on audiobook), but trust me when I say it’s extremely readable. Chernow digs deeply into every aspect of Washington’s life — his childhood and relationship with his difficult mother, early career as a surveyor and in the British Army, and marriage to Martha and their years at Mount Vernon. Then of course, come the years of the Revolution, followed by his presidency, all influenced by his relationships with the other Founders as they shape this new country.

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
🎧 Audiobook

One of the most significant of Washington’s relationships was with Alexander Hamilton. Chernow tackled this Founding Father, as well, and while he didn’t win another Pulitzer for this book, he did manage to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical phenomenon. Chernow’s enthusiasm for Hamilton and Washington, Colonial America, and the Revolutionary War is palpable on every page of both of these biographies, making them a joy to read. If you decide to dive into this book after you finish Washington (this one is a mere 36 hours on audio), you’ll officially be a late 18th-century America expert. By the way, both audiobooks are read by Scott Brick, who is just spectacular.

The Odyssey of Phillis WheatleyThe Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet's Journeys Through American Slavery and Independence by David Waldstreicher
🎧 Audiobook

Part history, part literary criticism, this biography of Phillis Wheatley showcases one of early America’s most important figures. Brought to America as a slave at the age of 7, Wheatley was taught to read and write in the Boston home where she was sold. As a teenager, she was writing poetry that would impress the city, and soon the Colonies as a whole, and eventually even readers far away in Britain. Waldstreicher’s book astutely pieces together what we know of Wheatley’s life and what might be best guessed, as well as vividly describing the society in which she was raised, freed, and eventually flourished as the first author of African descent to be published in North America.

Washington's SpiesWashington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose

I will freely admit that a big part of my fascination with the American Revolution is thanks to the AMC show Turn: Washington’s Spies. But if I thought the show was good, when I finally got my hands on the book that inspired the show, I was even more impressed. Rose’s book is an exciting and quick read that looks into the first American spy network. The central figures are one of George Washington’s most trusted scouts (and best friend of Nathan Hale, who was executed by the British for spying early in the war), a Long Island farmer and a quiet Quaker who had trouble sleeping even before becoming a spy. This unlikely group, along with a few other colorful characters, helped influence the course of the war, and Rose’s telling of this lesser-reported aspect of the Revolution brings them all to life.

*Title availability may vary by library and region.

Celebrate our nation’s independence with a look back. Borrow from your library on the Libby app.

RELATED READ: 10 captivating history books that read like novels

Published Jun 28, 2023


About the Author

Shelia Mawdsley did everything from answering questions at the Reference Desk to tech training to running a classic lit book club in her 17 years in public libraries. Now she helps other public libraries make the most of their OverDrive collections. In her spare time, she’s either writing or reading, usually with an opera playing in the background. If you ever run into her, ask Shelia about #WITMonth.


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