The 4 Best AP US History Textbooks- Reviewed




What are the best AP US History textbooks available for purchase?

Which books should you read for your course and AP exam preparation? In this article, we’ll go over the most common APUSH textbooks, as well as some books to think about if you’re self-studying or on a tight budget. If you want to get your own AP US History textbook, keep reading!

Changes to the AP Exam in 2021 as a result of COVID-19

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be conducted in three sessions between May and June.

The dates of your tests and whether they will be online or on paper will be determined by your school. Check out our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article to understand more about how everything will work and get the most up-to-date information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes mean for you.

A Quick Reminder: Don’t Be Hasty in Purchasing Your Own APUSH Textbook

The College Board does not propose any particular US history textbooks for the AP class, but it does keep a list of sample books that APUSH teachers could use.

Even if your AP teacher uses a less popular textbook, as long as it largely adheres to the updated APUSH curriculum, it will contain the information you require.

I also strongly advise you to purchase an AP US History prep book in the early spring to help you study. This book will analyze everything on the test in minor detail than a textbook, allowing you to recall the most important facts, dates, people, and movements. Your review book will also assist you in preparing for the periods and themes covered in the US History exam.

That being said, if you’re self-studying for the APUSH exam, your class doesn’t use a textbook, and you’d like one, or you’re an instructor, here are some excellent AP US History textbooks to take into account.

Most Renowned AP US History Textbook: The American Pageant, 17th Edition


Amazon’s price for the hardcover is around $140, and the eTextbook is about $80

When I arrived at Stanford, whenever AP US History came up in conversation (which happened more than once, because we were nerds!), everyone around me began talking about this textbook. Everyone except me seemed to have read this textbook in high school! My high school did not use it, so I had no idea what the fuss was about.

The American Pageant turns out to be among the most well-written, readable textbooks on any topic, and it’s a preferred choice among high school teachers for AP US History, with by far the most online buzz.

One of its main flaws is also one of its main strengths: it’s written more like a novel than a textbook, so people who prefer something more straightforward may not enjoy it.

For example, here’s what the section on Christopher Columbus in The American Pageant looks like:

“Christopher Columbus stepped onto this stage. This skilled Italian sailor convinced the Spanish monarchs to provide him with three small but seaworthy ships crewed by a motley crew. He bravely unfurled the sails of his cockleshell craft and set sail westward. His primitive sailors, fearful of venturing into the unknown ocean, became increasingly rebellious. Failure lingered after six weeks at sea when the crew spotted an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. Thereby, a new world swam within Europeans’ vision.”

It’s written in the style of a novel!

In comparison, a more straightforward textbook introduction to Columbus (from Making America) reads as follows:

“Christopher Columbus, an adventurous sailor from the Italian port city of Genoa, confronted John II of Portugal in 1484 and asked him to assist a voyage westward from Portugal to the East Indies. The king refused when his geographers warned him that Columbus had underrated the distance. Undaunted, Columbus pitched his plan to different European governments over the next few years, but no one was willing to take the risk. Finally, in 1492, the defeat of the Moors by Ferdinand and Isabella presented Columbus with an opportunity.”

Even though The American Pageant is a bit flowery, it reads more smoothly and memorably than the more straightforward textbook version. But, aside from the language, Pageant contains all of the facts and assists you in making connections between different periods in US history.

Making connections is extremely useful for the APUSH test. Since the essay prompts will require you to make links between time periods and trends, simply knowing what happened and when will not suffice. The American Pageant will prepare you by describing and interpreting the book’s connections and trends. (By the way, if you want a quick, straightforward summary of the events, you can get it later in the year from an APUSH prep book.).

Briefly, if you’re a student or a teacher having trouble deciding which textbook to use for your class, this is a solid choice.

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Making America, 7th Edition, is your best bet for self-study.

Amazon’s price for the hardcover is around $160, and the eTextbook is around $70.

This was the same textbook I used in high school for my AP US History class, and I scored a 5 on the AP exam (read more about AP scoring here). It’s not as novel-like as The American Pageant, so it’s less enjoyable to read, but it’s still very readable, detailed, and concise. Furthermore, it is sometimes used in college courses on US history, indicating its high quality.

Because of the clarity of the timeline, this is an excellent choice for self-study. Because you won’t have an instructor to explain the various periods in US history and why the chronology is partitioned up the way it is, a textbook that clearly outlines all of this will be critical to helping you comprehend American history.

If you have a firm grasp on what happened when (for instance, “the Constitution was ratified in 1788”), it will be much easier to begin linking events to a more extensive discussion of historical themes in an essay (“the ratification of the Constitution ended a period of uncertainty following the Revolutionary War”).

Eventually, I appreciated the chapter summaries and the discussion questions; both tools enabled the information to sink in. Again, this built-in review is an excellent feature if you’re studying independently.

The Unfinished Nation, 9th Edition is the best budget option.

Amazon’s price for an eTextbook is approximately $33.

The Unfinished Nation is a solid, readable textbook purchased as an eTextbook for around $30-$35. (The hardcover version of this Edition is much more difficult to find and thus more expensive.)

While the textbook is chronological, it also focuses on social and political movements; this is especially useful for APUSH essay questions that make it possible to create connections across significant time periods.

The Unfinished Nation has a distinct narrative voice, and while it isn’t as novelistic as The American Pageant, it’s still a worthwhile read. If you need to purchase an AP textbook for yourself and are okay with using an eTextbook instead of a hard copy, this is a great (and inexpensive) option to consider.

The best book for APUSH exam preparation is America’s History, the 8th Edition.

Amazon’s price for the hardcover is around $170, and the eTextbook is around $100.

This textbook best aligns with the College Board’s recently redesigned APUSH objectives and employs many of the same chronological divisions, which is extremely useful when studying for the final AP exam.

Even though the College Board provides multiple examples of APUSH textbooks that could be used in class, as previously stated, this one was originally written for the AP US History course in 2015. Several of the textbooks on the list are also used for overall US history courses at the high school and college levels; however, other authors tend to use time period divisions that make the most sense to them rather than those that resemble the AP US History course guidelines; as a result, teachers frequently have to bridge the small gaps between their textbooks and the official APUSH guidelines.

This Edition (there is the 10th Edition, but the 8th Edition is still the most popular) includes many historical documents, like founding documents and Supreme Court decisions, to grant you more practice using primary sources, which is important for the AP US History exam.

Additionally, America’s History includes an online quiz feature to help you prepare for the AP exam’s multiple-choice section, which accounts for 40% of your total score.

To summarize, if you’re worried about being ready for the AP test in May (or getting students ready!), this textbook is an excellent choice.

What’s Next?

Are you searching for more APUSH resources? See our top AP US History review books, as well as our extensive collection of APUSH practice tests and free online quizzes.

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