12 Must-Read Books On Lighthouses

Lighthouses evoke many emotions- a lonely building acting as a beacon of hope and saviour to ships and boats on a stormy night. They are the mainstays of navigation and have played an important maritime role for well over 2 millennia.

The conventional image of a lighthouse portrays a tall tower capped by a solitary light that often revolved throughout the night. Since ancient times, lighthouses have been in use by the Greeks and Romans to ensure safe navigation.

The Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria is one of the most famous buildings to have been constructed and was the tallest structure for several centuries.

It was ultimately brought down by a series of fires and earthquakes but has been designated a Wonder of the Ancient World.

Today, modern navigational aids have shunted lighthouses to the background. They are cheaper and more accurate than traditional lighthouses.

GPS and aerial navigation means are used by ships and small boats to sail away from potential hazards. But there is no denying the remarkable role played by these structures over the years. They have kept countless sailors safe from the perils of running aground and dashing into rocks.

As lighthouses became expensive to maintain and required large spending on maintenance, engineers looked to cheaper and sustainable alternatives. With time, lighthouses have now become tourist destinations and a thing of the past. Very few are still in use today, and the vast majority are closed off to the public.

Nevertheless, lighthouses continue to intrigue and mystify people from around the world. Marine Insight presents our top 12 books on lighthouses that you should get your hands on.


They are guaranteed to pique your interest in these marvels of engineering and the important role they played in ancient times.

So, sit back as we take you through our must-read book list on lighthouses!

1. Lighthouse: An Illuminating History of the World’s Coastal Sentinels

By R. G. Grant

The first book on our list is a handy guide to the rich history of lighthouses. Filled with details of the very first ones dating from the 18th century to the modern ones in the 19th century, the building and architectural styles are analyzed in close detail throughout this guide. Alongside the histories of each lighthouse, a special mention is made to the keepers and caretakers who maintained and ran each one. This book also includes significant tales of each building, the famous shipwrecks in the area, ships that were saved by these silent sentinels, and the bravery of the keepers.

This book also includes a rather unique feature not found in similar guides – archival blueprints to a few lighthouses. It also provides the reader with architectural plans and reviews of some of the most beautiful ones ever built. The famed structures covered in this book include the Eddystone, Sandy Hook, Montauk Point, Stannard Rock, Borkum Grosser, Green Point, Tillamook Rock, Cape Hatteras, and Erie Harbour lighthouses.

Lighthouse: An Illuminating History of the World's Coastal Sentinels
  • Hardcover Book
  • Grant, R. G. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 05/15/2018 (Publication Date) - Black Dog & Leventhal (Publisher)

2. Lighthouse of the World: A Celebration of the World’s Most Beautiful Lighthouses

By Lisa Purcell

If you’re on the lookout for a book that captures the beauty of lighthouses, then this is a must-read for you. Filled with amazing visuals taken from around the world, it transports the reader back in time to the oldest structures that have stood the test of time.

Covering some of the most beautiful lighthouses ever built, author Lisa Purcell does an excellent job of collecting these structural enigmas. Covering different continents and visiting the shores of several countries, the illustrations and photographs in this book are visual masterpieces.

Some of the famous lighthouses this book covers include those at Shark Island (Sydney Harbour), Kribi (Gulf of Guinea), Rubjerg Knude (Denmark), the Tower of Hercules (Spain), St. Anthony’s Lighthouse (Cornwall), Whitefish Point Lighthouse (on Lake Superior), and Jeffrey’s Hook (near the Hudson River).

Interesting facts and features are covered in detailed sections. It also draws the reader’s attention to special lighthouses such as those at Barnegat Long Beach Island and the ancient Kopu watchtower of Estonia.

Each one is accompanied by a series of stunning images and illustrations aimed at providing the reader with a complete overview of how these lighthouses were built and functioned.

Lighthouses of the World: A Celebration of the World's Most Beautiful Lighthouses
  • Purcell, Lisa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 03/03/2020 (Publication Date) - Skyhorse (Publisher)

3. Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

By Eric Jay Dolin

From bestselling author and governmental policy advisor Eric Jay Dolin, this book on the silent sentinels of America’s coastline is a must-read and one of the most highly rated books on our list. Putting forward the story and history of some of the lighthouses that have contributed to the maritime industry around the country, it details the role they have played in trade and commerce. The tales are beautifully woven and place focus on each lighthouse and its epic history.

The book looks to highlight the political, military, and technological factors that went into the construction of American lighthouses. It looks at the timeline of these structures, from the era of colonial rule to that of a growing nation and eventually a global superpower. The contribution of these lighthouses is often ignored, but this book makes an excellent statement on how they shaped America.

For those interested in the history, intense struggles, and global ramifications of America’s coastal sentinels, we can recommend this as your go-to book on the subject.

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse
  • Hardcover Book
  • Dolin, Eric Jay (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 04/18/2016 (Publication Date) - Liveright (Publisher)

4. The Lighthouse Stevensons

By Bella Bathurst

The surname Stevenson often reminds us of RL Stevenson, author of the famous classic “Treasure Island”. But well before his time, his ancestors were no less famous and were known across Great Britain as the Lighthouse Stevensons. Pioneers in the construction, maintenance, running, and lighting mechanisms of these structures, the Stevensons revolutionized the modern lighthouse while staying true to the classic British architectural styles that were commonplace on the coastline.

Author, researcher, and winner of the 1999 Somerset Maugham award, Bella Bathurst chronicles the life and times of the Stevensons and their immense contribution to the lighthouse industry. Beginning with the founding of the Northern Lighthouse Trust in 1786 and the subsequent appointment of patriarch Robert Stevenson as the Chief Engineer, the book goes into the development of a unique style of construction developed by their family. They revolutionized the lights that topped these structures, working on more robust ways to ensure the beam never went out.

Besides their contribution to the construction process, they also standardized and regularized maintenance operations to ensure that these structures survived countless storms.

The modern-day behemoths that protect ships and sailors on lonely coastlines around the world are indebted to the pioneering work done by the Lighthouse Stevensons, and this book is an extraordinary read that chronicles their lives and work. For history buffs and lighthouse aficionados alike, this is an excellent book to pick up for a thrilling read.

The Lighthouse Stevensons
  • Bathurst, Bella (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 11/07/2000 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

5. Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers

By Elinor De Wire

While the majority of books in our list focus on the lighthouses- their history and architecture, an often-forgotten part of the lighthouse are the keepers and caretakers who tirelessly kept it maintained and in running condition. One of the few books that focus on the lives, training, and challenges faced by these men and women, Guardians of the Light is a gripping tale that is sure to keep you engrossed.

The book opens with the first human “guardians” of 1716 (the year America got its first lighthouse) and the role they played in maintaining it. The work and equipment used by them are described in detail while also including significant aspects of their daily life.

The book then progresses to the 20th century and the gradual decline in the number of people being employed to maintain lighthouses. It finally concludes with the early 1980s, when the last manned lighthouse was automated.

This book draws on a wealth of information from sources including letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as detailed recountings of the daily affairs of these lighthouse guardians. Although there are no lighthouse keepers today, this book is sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia and a renewed sense of awe for the service rendered by these silent guardians.

Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers
  • De Wire, Elinor (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 332 Pages - 06/01/1996 (Publication Date) - Pineapple Press (Publisher)

6. The Lighthouse Encyclopaedia: The Definitive Reference (Lighthouse Series)

By Ray Jones

Readers and critics alike have agreed that this comprehensive and detailed guide on lighthouses is an excellent source of information that does justice to the immense knowledge behind constructing and running lighthouses.

These marvels of engineering are extremely tall, must withstand storms and earthquakes, have to function for 24 hours every day throughout the year, and most importantly – save the lives of mariners and sailors who would have otherwise crashed into dangerous rocks dotting the coastline.

Filled with amazing detail and stunning images of famous lighthouses around Europe, North America, and Australia, the book chronicles facts and figures that go into constructing, maintaining, and operating these structures. The details in this guide are well documented and backed by lighthouse engineers and experts.

It includes details of the standard terminology, equipment and machinery, architecture, and history of lighthouses commonly found in these regions. It also pays attention to the lighting mechanism and how it has evolved from the 18th century up to modern times. There is also a section on the lives of lighthouse keepers and caretakers, the challenges they face, and the specialist training they received.

Lighthouse Encyclopedia: The Definitive Reference (Lighthouse Series)
  • Jones, Ray (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 296 Pages - 08/20/2013 (Publication Date) - Globe Pequot Press (Publisher)

7. Seashaken Houses

By Tom Nancollas

Covering the famed and notorious lighthouses of Britain and the surrounding isles, Seashaken Houses is an enthralling account of the various coastline structures that protected British sailors and mariners for centuries.

Paying homage to the architects, innovators, and keepers, it focuses on the rock lighthouses that dot the British landscape. Filled with detailed sections on 20 lighthouses built between 1811 and 1904, the book explores each of them and provides the reader with a complete image of what went into the building and running them.

Focusing on a select few lighthouses that have made an impact on the surrounding areas, author Tom Nancollas chronicles their history and background while also paying special attention to the architectural styles that are prominent on some of these rock lighthouses.

The special quality of this particular book is the vivid writing which places the reader right in the middle of the story and makes them feel like a part of it. With detailed sections that offer an insight into the world of lighthouses and the world around them, the book focuses on the unique aspects of each lighthouse.

It provides an insider’s view of why and how a lighthouse should be built, the different types and categories, the various factors that are taken into consideration during and after the build, the natural beauty of the surrounding coastline, and the lives of the keepers and caretakers of these lighthouses.

If you are on the lookout for a gripping and thrilling book that reads like it is fiction but is actually 100% fact, then this is the right choice for you.

Seashaken Houses
  • Hardcover Book
  • Tom Nancollas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 10/04/2018 (Publication Date) - Particular Books (Publisher)

8. Lighthouses of North America: Beacons from Coast to Coast

By Sylke Jackson

Covering the rich histories and architecture of 71 North American lighthouses, this guide is an exciting and informative read. With minute and important details packed into the 300-plus pages of this book, it leaves the reader with a renewed sense of awe for the lighthouses that cover the coastlines. Based mainly out of the United States of America and Canada, the book pays special attention to the architectural style behind each lighthouse.

There are also sections on the engineering and structure, with detailed descriptions of different styles of construction viz., conical, cylindrical, square, hexagonal, octagonal, and skeletal structures. Some of the famous lighthouses covered in this book include the Peggy’s Point Light of Nova Scotia, Presque Isle Light on Lake Erie, the Three Sisters of Massachusetts, Fire Island Light of Long Island Beach, and the notorious Alcatraz Island Light in San Francisco Bay.

For anyone interested in architecture, history, and the engineering behind these structural marvels, this is an apt book to get your hands on. Filled with detailed descriptions of the style and structure, it is sure to leave you eager to visit these lighthouses.

Lighthouses of North America: Beacons from Coast to Coast
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Jackson, Sylke (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 08/08/2013 (Publication Date) - Firefly Books (Publisher)

9. American Lighthouses: A Comprehensive Guide to Exploring Our National Coastal Treasures

By Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton Roberts

America’s lighthouses have played a major role in shaping the country, its maritime history, and it’s economy. Lighthouse historian Cheryl Shelton has collected and summarized decades of history on some of the significant lighthouses of America in this 400-page book. Coupled with stunning imagery from renowned photographer Bruce Roberts, it leaves readers with a deeper and better understanding of the work that went into erecting such structures.

With over 450 lighthouses covered in this comprehensive guide, it provides details on their architecture and extensive history. The book also includes information for visitors and tourists on visiting hours and the best way to get a full viewing experience. Besides the factual details of each lighthouse, Cheryl has also included endearing anecdotes on the lives of lighthouse keepers and workers who manned these towers. Their stories add a personal touch of realism to the guide and make for an exciting read.

The main feature of this book is the stunning images and detailed information that make it a worthwhile investment for lighthouse enthusiasts and history buffs.

American Lighthouses: A Comprehensive Guide To Exploring Our National Coastal Treasures
  • Roberts, Bruce (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 02/20/2020 (Publication Date) - Globe Pequot (Publisher)

10. The World’s Greatest Lighthouses

By Annamaria Lilla Mariotti

Spanning 176 pages, the World’s Greatest Lighthouses is an effort by researcher Annamaria Lilla to collect and preserve the rich history of these maritime structures. Based on her experience visiting numerous lighthouses and sources as a lecturer in Italy and the United States, the book uses references from her acclaimed work on “The Lighthouse: A Light in Time and History”.

Since the book focuses on only the top 50 lighthouses from around the entire globe, you can be assured that you are reading about some of the oldest and most beautiful ones around the globe.

The book uses a series of amazing pictures to put across the scenic beauty and inherent architectural style of each lighthouse. It includes structures that are lesser-known and located in more obscure parts of the world while also paying homage to the larger and more famed lighthouses.

The book is packed with information and facts on each lighthouse including historic legends and the unique architectural style on display. It covers lighthouses from around the world and adds information on technological advancements, the lifestyle of people who lived in them, and the present-day caretakers of these structures.

The World's Greatest Lighthouses
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Annamaria Lilla Mariotti (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 175 Pages - 02/21/2024 (Publication Date) - White Star (Publisher)

11. The Lighthouse Story (Story Series)

By Nicholas Leach

From the editor of the international shipping magazine “Ships Monthly”, this short guide to the history of lighthouses around the world is a fascinating read. Pocket-sized and written clearly and lucidly, this book is a great choice for tourists and lighthouse-buffs alike.

The book opens by focusing on the early civilizations and their dependence on crude and often rudimentary means of guiding vessels. It then passes on to the first lighthouses built and the marked transformation they created in maritime history.

The threat and dangers of running into bad weather or slamming into reefs and sandbanks are well chronicled, drawing the reader further into why lighthouses were built.

Chronicling some of the most famous coastline structures to be built in the 19th and 20th centuries, it includes detailed sections on the innovative and revolutionary methods of lighting employed by these lighthouses.

Towards the end, author Nicholas Leach gradually draws the reader’s attention to navigation and how it changed with the advent of the modern lighthouse, particularly in and around the British Isles and Europe.

Overall, this book is a fascinating and concise read, that is ideal as either a travel companion or a quick history guide for lighthouse enthusiasts.

The Lighthouse Story (Story series)
  • Orders are despatched from our UK warehouse next working day.
  • Hardcover Book
  • Leach, Nicholas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 07/12/2019 (Publication Date) - The History Press (Publisher)

12. Sentinel of the Seas: Life and Death at the Most Dangerous Lighthouse Ever Built

By Dennis M. Powers

While the lighthouses of Alexandria and Long Island receive significant attention from historians, architects, and tourists around the world, an often-unheard-of structure sits on the coast of Northern California. Situated in a region that has claimed the lives of thousands of sailors and mariners, the St. George Reef Lighthouse is considered by lighthouse experts to be the most dangerous lighthouse to be ever built. In this enthralling and gripping tale by author and researcher Dennis Powers.

Written in his signature detailed style, this book chronicles the tale of human lives and the huge financial costs that went into building this lighthouse. Sitting on an area notoriously known by locals as the “Dragon Rocks” for the rough sea and dangerous rocks that cover the coast, a special and innovative lighthouse had to be built to keep mariners safe.

Although it required 20 times the cost of an average lighthouse, the woes kept coming. A tale filled with a history of mutiny, sacrifice, death on the high seas, and indomitable spirit and courage, Sentinel of the Sea is guaranteed to be an exciting and fast-paced read.

Sentinel of the Seas: Life and Death at the Most Dangerous Lighthouse Ever Built
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Powers, Dennis M. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 380 Pages - 02/21/2024 (Publication Date) - Citadel Pr (Publisher)

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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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About Author

Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.

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