A book, a really good book, is a wonderful corrective to the saccharine myths that distort our understanding of the past. It matters little whether the works are fiction or nonfiction.
For those who think the nineteenth century was a page torn out of "Little House on the Prarie," I'd recomend Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip, with its grim photographs and tales of brutality, ruin, suicide and incest.
Those who believe Currier & Ives gave an accurate picture of nineteenth century farming should read Hamlin Garlin's collection of short stories, Main Travelled Roads for a grim picture of what the grinding poverty of farming was really like.
To gain a deeper understainding of the human cost and suffering involved in settling the Ohio country, I recommend Conrad Richter's triology, The Awakening Land, which consists of "The Trees," "The Fields," and "The Town." (The 1978 miniseries of the same name bowdlerized the triology terribly.) The last novel, "The Town" contains a lyric and tragic story of the love between Chauncy Wheeler and Rosa Trench that makes Romeo and Juliet read like a sitcom.
It's a cliche to say that those who forget their history are forced to relive it, but a cliche is a cliche because it contains an element of truth.