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Organize Your Geography, Biography, and History Books in 4 Easy Steps

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Geography, biography, and history books have something for almost everyone. There are books on travel memoirs and maps.  There are biographies and family histories. If you are a history buff of any stripe, this section is for you.

Let’s get started.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Home library organization

People who love books often accumulate large collections. When you find yourself wanting to consult a particular book only to find yourself wasting a lot of time tracking it down, it can be a frustrating experience. You’re pretty sure you still have it, but it’s lost among all the others. 

In an earlier post, I outlined the advantages of using the Dewey Decimal Classification system for organizing your nonfiction books. If you have a lot nonfiction print books in your collection, it would be best to read that post first.

If you suspect your collection contains a lot of General Knowledge, Philosophy and PsychologyReligionSocial ScienceLanguage,  Natural Science, Applied Science and technology, Arts and Recreation, or Literature books, I already have posts for those types of books as well.

woman taking picture

In my first post, I listed a few of the types of subjects that belong in the 900s (Geography, Biography, and History) section. In addition to books on travel in like Myanmar or Nepal, there are books on mountain climbing expeditions written in the 1800s. Books to help you get the most out of a trip to Spain on a budget and fascinating biographies of people from all over the world, in all walks of life are in the 900s. And you can find histories on the ancient Sumerians, books on native peoples from the Americas, and books on explorations of extraterrestrial worlds. It’s a massive and fascinating section.

If  you own more than 30 geography, biography, or history books, read on. This post will give you the guidance to further refine the placement of the geography, biography, and history books in your collection.

Dewey Decimal Categories

The chart above covers the basic ten categories of the DDC. If you haven’t gone through your books to decide where they belong, you may want to look at my previous post and go through those steps first. Then come back here for more in-depth information on the tenth category:  the 900s Geography, Biography, and History.

The 4-step process for home library organization

The four-step home organization process is covered in more detail in “Easy Home Library Organization Using the Dewey Decimal System.” But here, briefly, are the steps:

  1. Examine the chart above.
  2. Decide in which category each book belongs. 
  3. Make piles of books for each category.
  4. Decide where each category will be housed.

Very few personal collections contain books in every category. You may be surprised to find 90 percent of your books can be grouped into one specific section.

Below is a chart that further subdivides the Geography, Biography, and History category.

You may want to look over each subdivision and further divide your books accordingly. If you chose to keep records of your books as suggested in “Easy Home Library Organization Using the Dewey Decimal System, you may want to  update your books’ numbers. For instance, if you had 30 books marked as belonging in Applied Sciences, you may now have 10 of those marked at 910, 5 as 920, 3 as 950, and 12 as 970. More information on that process is in “Simple Record-Keeping for Your Home Library.”

Every book collection is different. The point is to narrow your collection down more specifically, so you will be able to locate the books effortlessly when you need to find one. An added benefit is the serendipitous connections that can be made when similar books are placed together. 

The geography, biography, and history books in brief

Who doesn’t love a good story? This section is packed with them. Travel and exploration stories from the past, to how to best navigate Disney World with kids under age 5 are two examples. And while some biographies can be found under the subject category (an example would be Albert Einstein biographies in the science section), many libraries shelve all the biographies either in the 920s or in a separate section altogether (usually labeled “B”). And history—not only is it instructive to read about mistakes made in the past, it’s fascinating as well.

900 General geography, biography, and history

old letters

The the general or multidisciplinary treatments of geography, biography and/or history go in 900-909. This section also has books on the study of history. As with all academic disciplines, the topic of history has both philosophies and theories. The study of history involves specific methods and techniques for collecting and evaluating evidence. Books outlining them go in this first subsection. Education, research, and oral histories are shelved here. World history books belong in this section as well.

Recommended books in general geography, biography, and history:

  • The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
  • Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History by John Clive
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Conflict by William Shawcross

910 Geography and travel

Many, many people love to travel. This section has books on travel to places all over the world. You can be educated about people who have travelled by walking, passenger jets, cars, boats, and even rickshaws. There is information about countries and their currencies, food, tourist attractions, accommodations, along with travel tips for specific age groups, disabilities, and interests. Travel stories and memoirs, some of my favorite reading, go in this section.

This section also has books on geographic information systems, geographic dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, and atlases.  Information on historical and ancient travel are in the 910s too.

Recommended books in geography and travel:

  • In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • The Mapmakers by John Noble Wilford
  • Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
  • Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  • Coming into the Country by John McPhee
  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
  • Endurance: Shackleford’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 

920 Biography, genealogy, and insignia

statue of Abraham Lincoln

Books about how to write biographies, memoirs, and more traditional  biographies are shelved here. In my schools, I opted to shelve the collective biographies (biographies that cover two or more people) in 920 and biographies on one individual in 921. After those two sections, I shelved books on genealogy, the history of names, insignia, and family histories, as well as genealogical sources, personal names (surnames, forenames, and names for babies), heraldry, royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood, decorations, autographs and forms of insignia and identification.

Recommended books in biography, genealogy, and insignia:

  • American Dreams: Lost & Found by Studs Terkel
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright
  • The Founding Father: The Story of Joseph P. Kennedy by Richard J. Whalen
  • Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • Roots by Alex Haley
  • A Dictionary of Heraldry edited by Stephen Friar

930 History of the ancient world to ca. 499

One odd thing to note about this section is that the dates that are considered ancient history of one area of the world may be different from those in another. For example, the cut off point for ancient China is ca. 420 but for the Iranian Plateau it is ca. 637. I’m not sure exactly why, but I suspect it would make perfect sense to an ancient historian. Books on archaeology as a discipline, biographies of archaeologists, and archaeological discoveries belong in this section.

Recommended books in ancient history:

  • Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations by Mary Beard
  • Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  • Spirit Stones  by Dianne Ebertt Beeaff
  • The Life and Times of Constantine the Great: The First Christian Emperor by D.G. Kousoulas
  • Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J.E. Lendon
  • The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Clapp

940 History of Europe

florence italy

From here to the end of the 900s, are histories of geographical areas which pick up at whatever date their ancient history cuts off. So for the British Isles, this section would contain books that begin with events at any point after ca. 410 to the present. For Luxembourg the number would be ca. 486 to the present. The 940s contain all histories of Europe as a whole. 

Here is a list of most of the countries included, even if, in the past, they were known by a different name. I am listing them in the order they would be shelved in a library. If you have a history not specifically mentioned, place in in with the books on the closest geographical entity named.

The British Isles (Great Britain and the United kingdom), Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan counties of Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland alone.  The Republic of Ireland, England and Wales. Germany and neighboring central European countries such as Austria and Liechtenstein, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary. France and Monaco. Italy, San Marino, Vatican City and Malta. Then Spain, Andorra, Gibraltar, and Portugal. Russian, Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia), Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. Scandinavian countries in northern Europe like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland. Finally, other European countries like Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Switzerland, Greece, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Recommended books on the history of Europe:

  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
  • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and a Warning by Timothy Snyder
  • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Stachey
  • The Armada by Garrett Mattingly
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • Blood Royal: A True Story of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager
  • Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  • The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1986 by Anne Applebaum
  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
  • Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History by Robert D. Kaplan

950 History of Asia

The histories of Asia, regions of Asia, and specific countries in Asia go in the 950s. These are the current names for the places covered. Books are shelved in this order of geographic location. We begin with China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Then Korea, North Korea, followed by South Korea. Then Japan. Moving on to the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding area: Arabian Desert, Yemen (Northern and Southern), Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Then on to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. This is followed by Iran. Next the Middle East which includes Turkey, all it’s regions, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and the West Bank. Then Siberia and Central Asia including Afghanistan, Turkestan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. This is followed by Southeast Asia including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines. 

Recommended books on the history of Asia:

  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler
  • Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
  • The Bin-Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll
  • India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking by Anand Giridharadas
  • The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks
  • Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA by Steve Coll
  • First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

960 History of Africa

moroccan architecture

The history of Africa begins in the North with Tunisia and Libya, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Morocco, Ceuta, Melilla, Ceuta, Melilla, Western Sahara, the Canary Islands, and Algeria. Then we move into West Africa and its offshore islands. This includes Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. Next is Central Africa (Sub-Saharan Africa) with Cameroon, Sao Tome, Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Next are South Africa and the neighboring countries of Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. Also included are the South Indian Ocean islands and Madagascar.

Recommended books in history of Africa:

  • Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life by Martin Meredith
  • The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach
  • The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria by Elsa Marston
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ismael Beah
  • King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  by William Kamkwamba


970 History of North America

statue of liberty

Histories of the native peoples of North America either as a whole, of two or more groups, or of specific groups. Government relations with these groups go in the 970s. The histories of the current countries in North America: Canada, with all its provinces and islands; Mexico; the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the West Indies (Antilles), Bermuda, Cuba, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago; and the United States as a whole, followed by specific states starting in the Northeastern US, the Southeastern US, the South central US, the north central US, the Western US, and the Great Basin and Pacific Slope region of the US.

Recommended books in the history of North America:

  • A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz
  • Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer
  • The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough
  • American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
  • Colored People: A Memoir by Henry Louis Gates
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  • The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
  • The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

980 History of South America

This section covers the history of South America as a whole, in addition to  the native peoples of South America, beginning with Brazil, then Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, the Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Recommended books on the history of South America:

  • Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana
  • The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon by Monte Reel
  • Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon by Patrick Tierney
  • Peron: A Biography by Joseph A. Page
  • Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

990 History of Australasia, Pacific Ocean islands, Atlantic Ocean islands, Arctic islands, Antarctica, and extraterrestrial worlds

wrecked ship new zealand

The history of New Zealand begins this section, which next moves on to Australia, New Guinea, the countries of Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Hawaii, the Atlantic Ocean islands, Arctic islands, and Antarctica. This is followed by the interesting place marker for the extraterrestrial worlds, their civilizations, intelligence, and SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence).

Recommended books in the history of the rest of the world and beyond:

  • The Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty by William Bligh
  • In Search of Lemuria: The Lost Pacific Continent by Mark Williams
  • The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes
  • Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
  • Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii by Susanna Moore

Sit back and admire your organized shelves

Once you have further subdivided your religion books, be sure to update any spreadsheets or card catalogs you may have made for them. If you don’t know how, see “Simple Record-Keeping for Your Home Library.” Part of the joy of having a system is that you will never need to worry about misplacing a beloved book again.

Now pour yourself a favorite beverage and enjoy your organized book collection.

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