I usually try to avoid recommending books until I've finished reading them, but I am so thoroughly enjoying Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates that I'm going to go ahead and jump the gun on this one. Sarah Vowell (regular contributor to PRI's This American Life and author of Assasination Vacation) is the very best kind of history writer: sharp, hilarious, nuanced, detailed, and equally generous to and critical of her subjects. Her work reminds me, a bit, of some fortuitous combination of Philip Gourevitch, Adam Hochschild, James Loewen and Ira Glass. The Wordy Shipmates is Vowell's take on America's Puritan roots, and she guides her readers back through the letters, sermons, pamphlets and court documents of our forbears in order to dispel the overly-simplistic and often inaccurate caricature we have of those early settlers.
The Wordy Shipmates also gets my vote for the best opening lines in a piece of nonfiction. Vowell begins:
The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.
Go pick this one up! You won't regret it.