Since our May 15 issue will feature summer reads, highlighting a wide variety of lighthearted fare, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend three serious, meticulously researched works of history. I encourage all history buffs to dig into at least one of these expert studies before diving into their beach reading.

First up: Alan Taylor, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for William Cooper’s Town and The Internal Enemy. His latest, American Civil Wars: A Continental History, 1850-1873 (Norton, May 21), is “a richly detailed, compulsively readable history of perhaps the most dramatic period in the history of North America,” according to our starred review. As in his previous books, the author expertly synthesizes countless historical sources and narrative threads as he takes us through a significant period that included the American Civil War, Canada’s transition away from being a British colony, and the French invasion of Mexico.

Those subjects have all been separately covered in other books, but Taylor’s genius is his ability to move deftly among them, showing us the big picture while never neglecting the human side of the story. “Given the momentous events and delicious cast of characters, as well as the two-time Pulitzer winner’s masterful storytelling skills, it’s no surprise that the book is nearly impossible to put down,” notes our critic.

In Heart of American Darkness: Bewilderment and Horror on the Early Frontier (Norton, May 28), Robert G. Parkinson takes us back to the colonial era, presenting what our starred review calls “a scarifying, blood-soaked portrait of savagery on the early frontier—much of it committed by European settlers.” The title, with its nod to Joseph Conrad, prepares readers to meet a Kurtz-like character named Thomas Cresap, an English trader who massacred a group of Mingo people along the banks of the Potomac River in 1774. Parkinson uses the bloody tale to expand on the history of the Appalachian frontier; as our reviewer notes, “other slaughters followed—and in them, intriguingly, Parkinson locates the first glimmer of the colonists’ decision to shake off British rule by force.” In addition to unearthing little-known elements of colonial history, the author brings in Thomas Jefferson and other major players, creating “a superb addition to the history of the late colonial era and Revolution.”

On a more global level, I highly recommend Empireworld: How British Imperialism Shaped the Globe (PublicAffairs, May 7) by Sathnam Sanghera. In this follow-up to his outstanding Empireland, the author trains his sharp eye well beyond the boundaries of the British empire, demonstrating the long-lasting effects of imperialism on regions across the world. From Delhi to Barbados to Lagos, Sanghera immerses readers in the complexity of empire building, and he balances his colloquial storytelling with diligent research (the bibliography alone is 60 pages long). In our starred review, we note the author’s ability to synthesize hundreds of years of history into an accessible text. “If the scope of his interrogation is vaster and therefore harder to contain than that of his earlier work,” writes our critic, “his honest attempt to reckon with it is just as compelling.”

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction editor.