Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia or Washington DC, you’ve come to the right place!
What Kind of Books are Included On This List?
Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, and non-fiction books about these states. We’ve grouped the books by state and also indicated the time setting of each. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.
History of Maryland
Long before European settlers arrived, Maryland was inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Piscataway, Nanticoke, and Powhatan. In 1634, European colonists settled in this area, and Maryland became one of the original thirteen American colonies. Maryland played a crucial role in the American Revolution and the Civil War a decade later. Despite being close to the Confederate states and deeply divided, Maryland remained part of the Union during the Civil War. The bloodiest single-day battle in American history occurred in Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle significantly impacted the war’s outcome and led to President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Located in the mid-Atlantic region, Maryland’s widely varied landscape stretches from the Chesapeake Bay in the east to the Appalachian Mountains in the west, with the rolling hills of the Piedmont region in between. In addition to being one of the country’s largest and most ecologically significant estuaries, the Chesapeake Bay also has immense economic importance. In colonial times, it facilitated trade, serving as a gateway for shipping goods like tobacco, fish, and grains to Europe. In the 19th century, it was vital for transporting goods and raw materials via steamboats and schooners. In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812.
In the 19th century, Baltimore, situated on the Chesapeake Bay’s northern shore, emerged as a major port city. Today, the Chesapeake Bay supports a lucrative seafood industry, including commercial fishing and aquaculture. The state’s largest city has maintained its historic waterfront charm through the years, with cobblestone streets, preserved architecture, and the iconic Inner Harbor. Also located along the Chesapeake Bay, the capital city of Annapolis is smaller and quieter than Baltimore but also boasts a well-preserved colonial historic district. Annapolis is home to the United States Naval Academy.
Several of Maryland’s other major cities, including Silver Spring, Frederick, and Rockville, are considered part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area because of their proximity to the Nation’s capital and efficient public transportation access for commuters. Being part of the D.C. metro area comes with a wide range of economic, cultural, educational, and social opportunities, making these Maryland cities attractive places to live and work for many people.
Books Set in Maryland
History of North Carolina
North Carolina has a long and storied colonial history. In 1587, twenty years before the establishment of the first of the original 13 American colonies, John White led a group of English settlers to Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. He traveled back to England for additional supplies, and when he returned in 1590, the Colony of Roanoke had vanished. The fate of the colonists remains a historical mystery to this day. By 1712, North Carolina became a separate royal colony, and it played an important role in the American Revolution with key battles waged on its soil.
North Carolina ratified the United States Constitution in 1789 and was the twelfth state to join the Union. Seventy years later, in 1861, North Carolina was one of the last states to secede from the Union. Although the state was initially reluctant to join the Confederacy, it relied on slave labor as a major tobacco producer with a robust agricultural economy. During the Civil War, many towns and cities were damaged or destroyed. Nonetheless, numerous well-preserved colonial villages remain, including Old Salem in Winston-Salem, allowing visitors to glimpse into early American history.
After the war, North Carolina, like the rest of the South, faced a challenging period of Reconstruction and rebuilding. The implementation of Jim Crow laws reinforced segregation and discrimination. One of the most significant events in North Carolina’s Civil Rights Movement was the Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, when four African-American college students sat at a segregated Woolworths lunch counter. Their courageous act sparked a wave of similar demonstrations across the state and the nation, highlighting the injustice of racial segregation.
The largest city in the state, Charlotte, is known for its modern skyline, NASCAR culture (including the NASCAR Hall of Fame), and professional sports teams. The city offers a blend of cultural attractions, dining options, and outdoor activities, including the U.S. National Whitewater Center. North Carolina boasts numerous renowned universities like Duke University in Durham, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. North Carolina has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with attractions like the Biltmore Estate, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the thriving music and film industry in cities like Asheville and Wilmington.
North Carolina’s geography spans a wide range of landscapes, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. One of its most iconic features is the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands off its northeastern coast. Stretching for 200 miles and characterized by sandy beaches, rolling dunes, and abundant wildlife, the Outer Banks are known for their natural beauty and provide a unique blend of recreational opportunities. They are also home to historical sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where the first powered flight took place in 1903.
Books Set in North Carolina
History of Ohio
Before European settlement, the region that is now Ohio was inhabited by various indigenous groups, including the Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware tribes. After the American Revolution, the Northwest Territory, which includes present-day Ohio, was ceded to the United States by the British. This territory was opened for settlement after the American Revolution, attracting waves of pioneers seeking new opportunities and land. In 1803, Ohio became the 17th state to join the Union.
During the Civil War, Ohio was a crucial battleground state, contributing thousands of soldiers to the Union Army. Notable figures like Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman hailed from Ohio and played pivotal roles in the Union’s victory. Ohio’s strategic location, agricultural output, and industrial capacity made it a vital asset to the Union cause.
The 19th century also saw the rise of manufacturing in Ohio. Cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo became industrial hubs, with industries such as steel production and manufacturing playing a crucial role. The development of the railroad and the Great Lakes made Ohio a transportation hub, facilitating the movement of goods and people. In the 20th century, Ohio continued to evolve economically. The state became a leader in the automotive industry, with cities like Akron known for rubber production and Toledo for glass manufacturing. Cleveland’s steel industry was a powerhouse, contributing to Ohio’s reputation as an industrial stronghold.
Columbus, as the state capital and largest city, is a hub for education and healthcare, hosting institutions like The Ohio State University. Cleveland, located along the shores of Lake Erie, features world-class museums and a lively music scene, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cincinnati, located along the Ohio River, is strongly connected to its German heritage, evident in its distinct architecture and culinary traditions. Toledo, situated on Lake Erie, is known for its glass production and a growing healthcare and research sector. And Akron, once famous for its rubber industry, has evolved into a city of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The northern part of Ohio is characterized by the Great Lakes region’s flat terrain, while the south is hillier, forming part of the Appalachian Plateau. Lake Erie, along the northern border of the state, spans about 9,910 square miles and is a popular destination for anglers. Lake Erie’s islands, like Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, provide a relaxing getaway with water-based activities and charming communities.
Books Set in Ohio
History of Virginia
The history of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I, “Virgin Queen,” began long before English colonists landed at Jamestown in 1607. The area was home to numerous indigenous tribes like the Powhatan, Monacan, and Nottoway. As English colonization progressed, Virginia became instrumental in the struggle for American independence. It was the birthplace of several founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Virginia’s Patrick Henry famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!” in 1775, symbolizing the Revolutionary fervor. The state subsequently played a key role in the Revolutionary War, culminating in the 1781 victory at Yorktown, where British General Cornwallis surrendered.
During the Civil War, Virginia was a battleground state. Its strategic importance was heightened by Richmond’s designation as the Confederate capital. Numerous significant battles, like those at Bull Run and Appomattox Court House, took place on Virginian soil. The war’s conclusion in Virginia signaled the end of the Confederacy. Post-war, Virginia faced the challenges of Reconstruction.
Fast-forward to the 20th century, Virginia became a notable battleground for the Civil Rights Movement. The 1951 Moton High School strike in Farmville laid the groundwork for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Later, Virginia’s massive resistance against desegregation became emblematic of the Deep South’s reaction to federal mandates.
Situated on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., Virginia boasts over 3,000 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The Tidewater region, with its flat terrain and wetlands, transitions into rolling hills in the middle of the state before giving way to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains in the east. Virginia’s rivers, notably the James, Potomac, and Rappahannock, have historically provided essential transportation routes and abundant natural resources.
Each of Virginia’s major cities has a distinctive character and historical significance. Richmond, the state capital and one-time capital of the Confederacy, is a mix of modern amenities and preserved historical sites. Virginia Beach is the state’s largest city, and its extensive coastline is a prime destination for tourists seeking beach recreation. Nearby, Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval base. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is called the “Star City of the South” because of the prominent Roanoke Star that sits atop Mill Mountain. Nestled along the Potomac River, just outside of Washington, D.C., Alexandria is known for its well-preserved Old Town with brick sidewalks and 18th-century buildings. And Arlington, located directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is home to the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
Books Set in Virginia
History of West Virginia
Before European exploration, indigenous tribes such as the Monongahela, Cherokee, and Shawnee inhabited the rugged terrain of West Virginia. West Virginia, originally part of Virginia, became a separate state during the Civil War. Differences in economy, views on slavery, and other factors led to its separation from Virginia. West Virginia was admitted to the Union as an independent state on June 20, 1863.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the demand for coal surged as the U.S. underwent rapid industrialization. West Virginia, with its rich coal seams in the Appalachian Mountains, became a hub for coal mining. Towns sprang up around mines, often isolated and dominated by company-owned infrastructure. Coal barons and mine owners became immensely wealthy, while miners frequently labored in dangerous conditions, leading to significant labor movements, like the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.
Fast forward to today, and the coal industry faces a decline due to environmental concerns, market shifts, and the rise of alternative energy sources. While it remains a significant part of West Virginia’s identity and economy, many mines have closed, leading to job losses and economic challenges. Efforts to diversify the state’s economy and retrain miners are ongoing, but the legacy of coal remains deeply ingrained in West Virginia’s fabric.
While West Virginia is not typically known for large metropolitan areas, the capital city of Charleston serves as the state’s cultural, governmental, and economic hub. Nestled along the banks of the Kanawha River, Charleston grew in prominence due to salt and natural gas production. Today, the city’s skyline is highlighted by the gleaming gold dome of the West Virginia State Capitol. Cultural attractions like the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences showcase the city’s commitment to education and the arts. Meanwhile, the annual Vandalia Gathering celebrates the state’s folklore, music, and traditions.
West Virginia’s stunning Appalachian Mountains, lush forests, and scenic spots, like the New River Gorge, inspired John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The iconic song is an unofficial anthem for many West Virginians.
In addition to coal mining, West Virginia has a historical connection to the glass industry, with many glassworks and artisan studios open for tours. The state has a deep-rooted musical heritage, particularly in genres like bluegrass and country.
Books Set in West Virginia
History of Washington DC
Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is situated along the northern bank of the Potomac River. It occupies just 68 square miles and is tucked between Maryland (to its northeast, east, and southeast) and Virginia (to its southwest). Despite its small size relative to the states, D.C. is densely populated. Approximately 700,000 people consider D.C. their permanent residence. The capital city also has a large transient population, including members of Congress, their staff, and other government employees who reside there for only a portion of the year. It is estimated that the population of the district swells by 79% every workday as commuters pour in from around the region.
Washington D.C. is not a state but a federal district designated in 1790 to serve as the nation’s capital. The framers of the Constitution established the District of Columbia as a separate entity to maintain political neutrality for the federal government. As such, D.C. occupies a unique position in the U.S. political system.
Unlike states, D.C. does not have full representation in the U.S. Congress. Instead, it is represented by a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives and has no representation in the Senate. Additionally, while states possess a degree of sovereignty and can pass their own laws and regulations, D.C.’s laws and budgets are subject to review and modification by Congress. D.C. is also governed differently than US states. It is overseen directly by federal authorities, whereas states operate with a greater degree of independence.
Over the years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not Washington D.C. should be granted statehood. Proponents of D.C. statehood argue that the residents of the District are subject to federal taxes and laws while lacking proportional representation in Congress. They call this a case of taxation without representation. Furthermore, they point out that D.C.’s population is larger than that of some states, yet it lacks equivalent political influence. The main counterarguments to D.C. statehood include concerns about violating the Constitutional intention regarding neutrality.
D.C. is renowned for its iconic monuments and world-class museums, most situated along the National Mall. This expansive greenway is flanked by the U.S. Capitol at one end and the Lincoln Memorial at the other. The Washington Monument, an obelisk reaching over 500 feet in height, stands near the Mall’s center, offering panoramic city views. Many other notable monuments and memorials dot the city, each celebrating pivotal figures or moments in American history. D.C. is also home to numerous world-class museums, including seventeen Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others.
Books Set in Washington DC
We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.
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Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA
If you’re participating in our 2024 Read Around the USA Challenge and reading one book per region, you can find links to every region below. If you’re doing the Challenge and reading books from every state and territory, you can get an alphabetical index here.
- Books Set in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin
- Books Set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC
- Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
- Books About Traveling Across America
- Books Set in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
- Books Set in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Books Set in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
- Books Set in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska
- Books Set in the U.S. Territories
- Books Set in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee
- Books Set in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
- Books Set in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont