40 Firsthand Accounts That Everyone Should Own

You can’t argue with someone’s personal story. You can’t deny what they saw. Oh, you can dislike it, or wish it weren’t so, or even disbelieve it. But firsthand accounts and eyewitnesses to history are the foundation that our civilization rests on. There are hundreds, no thousands, of books that tell about events major and minor throughout history and around the world, and you’d be wise to collect them in print. Here is a short list of 40 firsthand accounts that everyone should own. Okay, actually there are 42.

Firsthand accounts

These are mostly about American history and western civilization. They have usually been corroborated by multiple other witnesses to their events (though not always). But they tell the human stories of the wars, the nations, the movements, and the discoveries of the human race.

And they deserve a place in your home library. Why? Because many of these have been “re-imagined” in history textbooks, school classrooms, university lectures, and internet searches. Too often, modern historians want to give their opinion of people and events in history. You know, opinions are interesting, but the journals are a thousand times better.

In this list you’ll find everything from American pioneers to Viking invasions; American Indian attacks to slave narratives. You’ll read about things you are proud of and things you wish had not taken place. Because history isn’t right or wrong: it’s a continuous story of people and the things they do. And sometimes those things are noble and sometimes they are embarrassing. But they happened, and we need to remember that they did.

Journals and First-Hand Accounts

  1. Anglo Saxon Chronicle
  2. Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
  3. The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives by Christopher Columbus, J. M. Cohen
  4. Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
  5. Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth by Anonymous, Dwight Heath
  6. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: with Related Documents by Mary Rowlandson, Neal Salisbury
  7. Thirty One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains
  8. Life of Black Hawk, or Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak: Dictated by Himself by Black Hawk
  9. Letters From an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth Century America by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur
  10. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  11. George Washington, Writings
  12. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  13. Private Papers of William Wilberforce by A. M. Wilberforce
  14. The Journals of Lewis and Clark
  15. The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca by Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca, Rolena Adorno 
  16. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  17. King of the Wild Frontier: An Autobiography by Davy Crockett
  18. A Tour on the Prairies by Washington Irving
  19. Phillis Wheatley: Complete Writings
  20. I Rode With Stonewall: Henry Kidd Douglas
  21. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
  22. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
  23. Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit
  24. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
  25. Mary Chesnut’s Civil War by Mary Chesnut, C. Vann Woodward
  26. All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes by Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Robert Hunt Rhodes
  27. Last of the Desert Frontiersmen by Jack Longstreet
  28. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey
  29. Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories 1857-1866
  30. Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton
  31. Ranch on the Ruidoso: The Story of a Pioneer Family in New Mexico, 1871-1968
  32. My Friend Doc Holliday by Wyatt Earp
  33. Grace McBride: Missionary Nurse by Lila Watson
  34. All in a Lifetime by Frank Buck
  35. The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi
  36. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  37. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  38. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien
  39. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  40. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
  41. The Diary of Anne Frank
  42. God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew

NEW! The Knowledge Keepers Home Library Series

In 2020 I began doing something I’ve thought about for many years: bringing old, important, out-of-print history books back to print for 21st century readers. These are what I consider to be the most important kind of history books, just like in the list above. They are available to purchase here on Knowledge Keepers as well as Amazon.

Knowledge Keepers Home Library Series

I hope you’ll begin to stock these accounts (and many others) in your home library. Invest in an extra bookcase, stack them against the wall, and by all means READ THEM. Become a Knowledge Keeper and help preserve the history of the human race.

Knowledge Keepers has two types of inventory:

  1. Physical books that we sell secondhand
  2. Amazon affiliate links

When you purchase through the Knowledge Keepers affiliate link, we receive a small commission from your purchase. It’s our way of recommending great books for your home library when we don’t have them in inventory.

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Book list: 40 firsthand accounts that every home library should have

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