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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2019/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , current affair, history, rachel maddow, , then and now,   

    This Season’s Best History & Current Events Books 

    As 2019 winds down, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the past—both the events of a momentous year and the more distant history that brought us to where we are today.  The best history and current events books of this season come to us from journalists like Rachel Maddow, Gail Collins, and Ronan Farrow, and historians like Amity Shlaes and S. C. Gwynne, all of them exploring the events that have and will define our lives.

    Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow
    Firebrand journalist Rachel Maddow’s latest argues that the primary corrupting influence disrupting our world today—responsible for eroding democratic norms and making things worse for just about everybody—is the oil and natural gas industry. On one hand, she makes a case that the obscene amounts of money generated by these parts of the energy sector make it easy for corporate interests to pervert good governance for their own short-term interests. On the other, she takes a deep dive into the affairs of modern-day Russia, arguing that Vladimir Putin seized control of his country’s oil and gas industry and made it (and its profits) a tool of his domestic and international policies, while simultaneously running it into the ground. It’s an incendiary take on global politics that might change the way you look at the world.

    Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law, by James B. Stewart
    James B. Stewart analyzes the ongoing collateral damage ensuing from the back-and-forth between the Trump administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, beginning with the simultaneous investigations of both the Trump and Clinton campaigns that dangerously politicized the work of the country’s main investigative body—a situation that only grew more fraught after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The result of these power struggles will redefine what the term “rule of law” means in a country where the concept is foundational; Stewart makes the case that whatever the result of these conflicts, the chief loser will be American democracy.

    Great Society: A New History, by Amity Shlaes
    Amity Shlaes makes the forceful argument that decisions made fifty years ago under the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations seeking to ameliorate the suffering of the poor have now made it nearly impossible to solve the very problems they were designed to address. The book takes a contrarian view of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, arguing that they were more similar in process than is usually accepted, and that together they doomed both the ambitious agenda of the Great Society and the administration of the Vietnam War. She suggests the spending commitments of the Great Society have not only trapped multiple generations into what she terms “government dependence,” but also now made it impossible for the government to reverse course in any meaningful way to address the issue. It’s a sobering work that reminds us that, in government, there are no easy fixes.

    Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, by S. C. Gwynne
    The Civil War remains a fascinating area of study, not least because of the contrary nature of the narrative—for long stretches, the worth of each costly skirmish was inconclusive at best, as both sides spent blood and treasure in battles that had little impact on the overall course of the conflict. That all changed in 1864 when Ulysses S. Grant was placed in charge of the federal forces; within a year, the Confederacy surrendered. Gwynne takes a detailed look at this final year of the war to discover what changed, highlighting Grant’s relative ineffectiveness as a field commander, a Robert E. Lee defined more by frustration than brilliance, and a Sherman who was simultaneously a poor general and a brilliant man. There’s still more to discover about this defining American conflict.

    Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow
    Ronan Farrow delivers a book fated to inspire future generations of journalists. While working on a related story, Farrow and his producer stumble on clues that indicate a well-known, powerful Hollywood figure is a serial sexual predator. The ensuing investigation reads like a spy thriller, as Farrow—who doesn’t lack connections and resources—faces a growing army of operatives working to derail the story and intimidate him by any means necessary. Even as Farrow is followed, surveilled, and threatened, the story remains as much about the women who sparked a global movement as it is about careful journalism.

    No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History, by Gail Collins
    The perception of age is shifting in today’s society, especially for women, who have historically struggled against prevalent ageism. Gail Collins’s latest offers a clear look back at the contributions made by women over a certain age throughout history, from Martha Washington to Muriel Fox—fascinating tales of overcoming prejudice and other obstacles while simultaneously fighting against the idea that women have a “sell-by” date that renders them voiceless, sexless, and invisible. With deep-dive analysis broken up by briefer vignettes, Collins reveals surprising facts uncovered in her research (for example, doctors once thought sexual activity would literally kill women over the age of 50) while establishing that woman have always been more than capable of handling themselves at any age.

    Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers: The Texas Victory That Changed American History, by Brian Kilmeade
    The conflict that made Sam Houston, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie household names was a pivotal moment for both Texas and the United States. But General Houston, the hero of Texas independence and its president, is often overlooked in popular history, despite his influence on this momentous event. Kilmeade seeks to remedy that with a fast-paced account of Houston’s life and career, culminating in the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texan victory that secured its independence from Mexico and ultimately set it on the path to statehood. Kilmeade brings Houston to life as a bold, flawed hero living in the midst of incredible events and surrounded by personalities large enough to match his own.

    The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, by Eric Foner
    Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner takes a deep dive into the lasting repercussions of the Civil War, most notably the so-call Reconstruction Amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th—and their enduring impact on our constitution and system of government. Foner notes that these amendments marked the first time equality was specifically extended to all Americans, and challenged tradition by charging the federal government with enforcement of the rule of law they established, rather than the states. Foner sees this change as ushering in a second iteration of the United States—one that floundered almost immediately, but which he sees as still viable; certainly the book is shot-through with optimism, and the belief that America still has a chance to become a country in which all citizens are truly equal.

    Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II, by Bret Baier with Catherine Whitney
    Co-writers Bret Baier and Catharine Whitney combines a perceptive portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a thriller-esque depiction of the fateful meeting between FDR, Stalin, and Churchill in Tehran in 1943. It was at this meeting that Stalin argued for an invasion of Nazi-held Europe to ease the pressure on the Red Army, a plan that eventually culminated in the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Baier details how Roosevelt worked to befriend and “seduce” Stalin, then took lead on the strategy and decision-making when it came time to plan the massive undertaking. Baier isn’t uncritical of the 32nd president, suggesting several decisions in which even the charismatic and brilliant Roosevelt turned out to have been in the wrong. Writing with verve, Baier and Whitney make consequential history come alive.

    What history and current affairs books are you reading this season?

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  • Jeff Somers 5:36 pm on 2019/10/01 Permalink
    Tags: abuse of power: the new nixon tapes, all the president's men, an affair of state, contempt, , history, impeached: the trial of president andrew johnson, impeachment, impeachment books, impeachment: a citizen's guide, impeachment: an american history, the case against the democratic house impeaching trump, the case for and against, the case for impeaching trump, the impeachers   

    11 Books to Help You Make Sense of the Impeachment Process 

    If you imagine discussion of current events as one of those text clouds in which the size of the word reflects its frequency of use, the word “impeachment” would likely need to be carved into the side of a mountain—certainly in the last week, and to a large extent ever since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, it’s a word on the lips of seemingly everyone, whether they are for or against our current president.

    But hearing a word a hundred times a day doesn’t necessarily mean you understand it, or its implications—especially since impeachment, despite being engraved in our constitution, is exceedingly rare, having only been formally invoked twice in history, and has never resulted in a sitting president being removed from office. As our lawmakers consider whether they are going to engage the process for a historic third time, here are 11 books that will give you insight into how impeachment works—and how it has affected Presidents in the past.

    Impeachment Overview

    Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, by Cass R. Sunstein
    Cass R. Sunstein is a recognized expert on the subject of impeachment—he gave expert testimony during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings in 1998—and his book is an excellent overview of the mechanism, purpose, and results of the process. Sunstein explains that the Founders—particularly Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin—considered it vital that a democracy have a way to remove a chief executive if a good reason to do so was extant, and insisted that impeachment be part of the new government. The author goes on to review the impeachment proceedings against both Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton. Writing in an accessible and down-to-earth style, Sunstein tells you everything you need to about the process, and provides insights drawn from his own experiences with it.

    Impeachment: An American History, by Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, Peter Baker, and Jeffrey A. Engel
    Four of our smartest living historians contribute to this thoughtful book, each taking a different angle. Jeffrey A. Engel offers a look back at what the framers of the constitution were thinking when they envisioned impeachment—concluding that their biggest concern was entanglement with foreign powers—and speculates on the chances of a modern-day impeachment success. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jon Meacham examines Andrew Johnson’s impeachment while Peter Baker handles Bill Clinton’s; the motives for bringing both cases are examined and deemed flawed, thus dooming them to failure. Then Naftali offers up an intriguing what-if, speculating intelligently on what a Nixon impeachment might have looked like. All in all, it’s a solid primer on what impeachment was meant to be versus the ways it has actually been used.

    To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz
    With the mere notion of a presidential impeachment growing more politically fraught with each passing day and every new tweet, it’s helpful to consider the process in apolitical terms—and that’s just what Harvard constitutional law Professor Laurence Tribe and constitutional lawyer Joshua Matz set out to do with this book, which aims to be the definitive guide to impeachment in the modern day. The authors recognize both the great import of the process and the political toll it takes on a government and its citizens. and attempt to place it in its proper context, above the political fray of jockeying congresspeople and sensationalizing television pundits. This revised edition, released in March (which feels like a decade ago) includes a new epilogue giving special consideration to our current headlines.

    Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment

    The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, by Brenda Wineapple
    Wineapple explores the circumstances surrounding our country’s first attempt at impeaching a president, framing Johnson’s trial as a familiar-sounding struggle between a president and congress with opposing political agendas. After the Northern victory in the Civil War, Johnson worked to undermine unification efforts and help the former Confederacy regain its prestige and power, while those in congress wished to punish and extract true political dominance over the rebels. This clash led directly to Johnson’s impeachment, and Wineapple does a great job of examining the background forces at work while keeping her focus on the proceedings themselves, using contemporary writing to give color to the personalities on display. It’s useful to see how similar the political world was even more than 150 years ago—certainly there’s a chance this book will make understanding what’s happening today much easier.

    Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, by David O. Stewart
    Stewart offers a deeper dive into the party politics involved in Johnson’s impeachment—and offers few inspiring portraits, concluding ultimately that the impeachment proceedings against our 17th president were corrupt and poorly handled from the jump. It’s easy to imagine that our current political situation is uniquely depressing, but Stewart makes it clear that in 1868, the question of impeachment was just as fraught, the politicians were just as self-interested, and the machinery of the government was just as arcane. While this might be cold comfort for all of us as we live through another chapter of tumultuous history, Stewart provides plenty of insightful takeaways that apply to what’s happening in Washington right now.

    The Case Against Richard Nixon

    All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
    Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached, but impeachment was clearly the next stop on his life’s wending political journey—and examining the frantic leadup to his resignation might actually be our closest historical analogue to what’s happening in Washington, D.C. right now. There’s no better resource concerning the events of Nixon’s truncated second term than this seminal work by legendary journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the men who did the reporting that slowly eroded Nixon’s position and revealed the true scope of the relatively minor Watergate break-in and the entirely consequential coverup the Nixon White House engaged in. Considering how often you will hear the suffix “-gate” in reference to the political scandal du jour (up to and including the case against Donald Trump), it’s essential we all understand how things went from a minor headline about a break-in at a hotel to a president resigning for the first time in U.S. history.

    Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, by Stanley I. Kutler
    One of the most startling aspects of the whole sordid Watergate scandal was the fact that Nixon recorded most of the incriminating conversations he held in the Oval Office. Even more startling is that it took a lawsuit and 25 years to get those tapes released. While this book is partially a transcript of those damning magnetic reels, Kutler offers commentary on what we’re “hearing” throughout—but the real reason to read it is for the window it opens into crisis management at the highest levels. We’re all flies on the wall as Nixon and his closest allies discuss how to manage the growing scandal and keep the president safely walled off from its legal implications. If you’re trying to imagine the conversations happening in the White House right now, this book will give you an excellent place to start.

    The Bill Clinton Affair

    An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton, by Richard A. Posner
    Bill Clinton will likely be most remembered by history as the president who had an affair with a White House intern and then lied about it, giving his political enemies all the ammunition they needed to bring impeachment proceedings against him. Posner wrote this book while everything was happening, lending it a sense of immediacy that brings this recent history to life and underscores the clunky and often byzantine rules and procedures that are dusted off when a president is impeached. A federal judge, Posner displays scorn for the legal opinions (and political capabilities) of everyone involved, from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to the president himself, even as h explanations of the relevant laws and constitutional mechanisms is clear and thorough. The better you understand the events of 1998, the better you’ll understand the events of 2019.

    Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation, by Ken Starr
    Ken Starr is far from an objective observer; his legacy is forever tied to his investigation into Bill Clinton—both the Whitewater scandal and the Monica Lewinsky affair—and the impeachment case that resulted. Here, however, Starr offers something rare—the retroactive perspective of someone directly involved with an impeachment. Starr’s opinion of the Clintons hasn’t improved with time, and he very clearly believes that the president got away with something in 1998 despite the fact that Starr never assembled sufficient evidence to actually charge Clinton with a crime. Though there is clear partisanship on display, this window onto the workings of an investigation of this scale and import, as well as the impeachment that followed, will be invaluable to anyone trying to understand what’s might happen in the next few weeks and months.

    The Evidence Against Donald Trump

    The Case for Impeaching Trump, by Elizabeth Holtzman
    Things are happening pretty fast, and the precise dynamics of the case for Donald Trump’s impeachment are already quite different than they were a few weeks ago (certainly outstripping the pace of traditional publishing). Still, Elizabeth Holtzman’s book, published last year, now seems prescient. The former congresswoman—who, let’s remember, has actually voted to impeach a president—argues that an impeachment inquiry into Trump is necessary because of what the author perceives as a pattern of consistent and purposeful attacks on the norms and rule of law. She offers up plenty of evidence to support her position; if you’re uncertain whether impeachment is the right way for the country to go, this book will certainly give you a lot to consider.

    The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump, by Alan Dershowitz
    Taking the opposite position, legendary attorney Alan Dershowitz argues that impeaching a president just because you don’t like him or the way he conducts himself in office is ludicrous. Dershowitz sees the furor over Trump as partisan bickering run rampant, and argues forcefully that if the president were a Democrat pursuing a different agenda by the same means, Democrats would not be so worried. He suggests that months or years of an impeachment circus would serve only to further fracture a country already roiled by partisan divisions, and warns that an impeachment case could boil over into something very ugly. Those against impeachment will nod along, but even those certain that impeachment is the necessary course of action will want to pick it up, if only to fully weigh the merits counter-argument.

    Whether we’re going to witness a third impeachment proceeding is in the hands of lawmakers. All we can do is read up and be ready to interpret events as they unfold—get to it!

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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2019/10/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , history,   

    The Best History & Current Affairs Books of October 2019 

    October feels like an especially good to remember that history is happening all around us, all the time. Certainly, this is the ideal month to inject more current events and history reading into your TBR list—and there are smart new books from Rachel Maddow, Ronan Farrow, Bret Baier, Gregg Jarrett to help you do just that, offering perspective on the great events that define our past and are shaping the future.

    Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow
    In her new book, firebrand journalist Rachel Maddow argues that the main corrupting influence—responsible for eroding democratic norms and making things worse for just about everybody—is the oil and natural gas industry. On one hand, she makes a case that the obscene amounts of money generated by these parts of the energy sector make it easy for corporate interests to pervert good governance for their own short-term interests. On the other, she takes a deep dive into the affairs of modern-day Russia, arguing that Vladimir Putin seized control of his country’s oil and gas industry and made it (and its profits) a tool of his domestic and international policies while simultaneously running it into the ground. It’s an incendiary take on global politics that might change the way you look at the world.

    All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator, by Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy
    Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy delve into the seamier side of current politics, examining Donald Trump’s relationships with women and weighing evidence suggesting he’s a sexual predator of some sort. They delve into fresh accusations of misbehavior on Trump’s part, and make the argument that Trump’s election and his subsequent high-profile issues in this arena have actually provided the #MeToo movement with a sense of urgency and focus it might have otherwise lacked. Few would argue that the moral compass of a president doesn’t matter, and that fact makes this assessment of our current commander in chief provocative reading, to say the least.

    Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow
    Ronan Farrow delivers a book fated to inspire future generations of journalists. While working on a related story, Farrow and his producer stumble on clues that indicate a well-known, powerful Hollywood figure is a serial sexual predator. The ensuing investigation reads like a spy thriller, as Farrow—who doesn’t lack connections and resources—faces a growing army of operatives working to derail the story and intimidate him by any means necessary. Even as Farrow is followed, surveilled, and threatened, the story remains as much about the women who sparked a global movement as it is about careful journalism.

    Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law, by James B. Stewart
    Stewart analyzes the ongoing collateral damage ensuing from the back-and-forth between the Trump administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, beginning with the simultaneous investigations of both the Trump and Clinton campaigns that dangerously politicized the work of the country’s main investigative body, and worsened when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The result of these power struggles will redefine what the term “rule of law” means in a country where the concept is foundational; Stewart makes the case that whatever the result of these conflicts, the main loser will be American democracy.

    Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II, by Bret Baier with Catherine Whitney
    Baier combines a perceptive portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a thriller-esque depiction of the fateful meeting between FDR, Stalin, and Churchill in Tehran in 1943. It was at that meeting that Stalin argued for an invasion of Nazi-held Europe to ease the pressure on the Red Army, eventually leading to the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Baier details how Roosevelt worked to befriend and “seduce” Stalin, then took lead on the strategy and decision-making in planning the massive undertaking. Baier isn’t uncritical, however, noting several places where the charismatic and brilliant Roosevelt made mistakes. Writing with verve, the co-writers make consequential history come alive.

    Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, by S. C. Gwynne
    The Civil War remains a fascinating area of study, not least because of the contrary nature of the narrative—for long stretches, the worth of each costly battle was inconclusive at best, as both sides spent blood and treasure for little impact. That all changed in 1864 when Ulysses S. Grant was placed in charge of the federal forces; a year later the Confederacy surrendered. Gwynne takes a detailed look at this final year of the war and presents some unexpected conclusions—highlighting Grant’s relative ineffectiveness as a field commander, a Robert E. Lee defined more by frustration than brilliance, and a Sherman who was simultaneously a poor general and a brilliant man. There’s still more to discover about this definitional American conflict.

    The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses, by Dan Carlin
    Dan Carlin, the man behind the Hardcore History podcast, has made a career out of encouraging his followers to consider perspectives on accepted history. Looking back through history, Carlin notes the many (many) times the world seemed poised to end—some of them not nearly as distant as we might hope. Carlin isn’t strictly a historian, and is happy to contemplate things that might have happened, suggesting alternate timelines to demonstrate his points. Every chapter (like every podcast episode) is an adventure that is simultaneously entertaining and educational. Best of all, unlike standard historical that focus on powerful figures (often by necessity, since those are usually the only ones leaving behind copious records), Carlin makes attempts to speculate about what life might have been like for everyday folk experiencing history’s waves lapping at their feet instead of surfing their crest.

    Trump vs. China: Facing America’s Greatest Threat, by Newt Gingrich
    Controversial former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich makes the case that China is not only the only country with the resources to compete directly with the United States on the global stage, but is also a country with a long history of assuming dominance over world events. He argues that China sees America’s post-World War II dominance as a temporary divergence from the natural world order in which they sit atop the world’s power structure, and outlines steps that must be taken immediately to avoid a future where the USA is second to China economically, militarily, culturally, and politically.

    Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands, by Dan Jones
    The Crusades occurred in fits and starts over the course of centuries. While most people are familiar with the board motivations for the invasion of Muslim-held territory by European powers, Jones lays out in detail the varied historical forces that led to the crusades, painting compelling portraits of the main players—including King Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin—using their own words and accounts of the campaigns. The end result is an accessible and readable book that brings a distant world closer and reveals how the ripples from these events centuries ago are still affecting world events today.

    Witch Hunt: The Story of the Greatest Mass Delusion in American Political History, by Gregg Jarrett
    Gregg Jarrett argues that the investigation into the Trump administration’s connections to Russia and other matters is essentially a political dirty trick foisted on the American public by a “deep state” that couldn’t accept his 2016 election. From Jarrett’s perspective, laws were broken, oaths were betrayed, and norms were trampled as the Democratic party and political sympathizers were blinded by their emotional reaction to their stunning loss, convincing them that there must be some sort of crime at the bottom of it. He then lays out how he believes this hoax was sold to the American public despite what he sees as a glaring lack of evidence.

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  • Jeff Somers 8:00 pm on 2019/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    The Best History & Current Affairs Books of September 2019 

    As we head into the final quarter of 2019, history isn’t slowing down to let you catch your breath. The best history and current events books coming this month include a fascinating rumination on leadership from General Jim Mattis, an analysis of our current president by Bill O’Reilly, a book about one new Supreme Court justice and a book by another, and more.

    Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by Jim Mattis and Bing West
    General Jim Mattis looks back over a storied military and political career that has taught him more about leadership than most people could ever hope to learn. Divided into three sections, Mattis’ memoir reflects on what it means to lead men directly into battle, to coordinate huge forces while being far from the front lines, and finally what it takes to weigh the needs of an entire nation when crafting strategy. Mattis, who started his career as a common recruit and became a four-star general and then, briefly, Secretary of Defense under Donald Trump, brings humility and wisdom to an uncommon memoir, a book with something to teach everyone who reads it, no matter their position or profession.

    The United States of Trump: How the President Really Sees America, by Bill O’Reilly
    Framed as a nonpartisan analysis of President Trump’s worldview and political beliefs, O’Reilly’s latest draws on direct interviews conducted with Trump as well as research into his life and experiences. The result is an attempt to offer fresh insights into how our 45th president sees both his country and the world beyond it. O’Reilly, who has known Trump personally for decades, has the inside track, and uses the skills he’s employed in his bestselling Killing series to trace the origins and evolution of Trump’s politics from his childhood all the way through the most recent developments in the White House. This is a fascinating and unprecedented in-the-moment study of a sitting president.

    The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly
    Journalists Pogrebin and Kelly, who broke several stories about Brett Kavanaugh even as his confirmation hearings descended into chaos, believed that the FBI investigation into allegations against him was truncated and crippled. Here, they finally present the sum total of their investigations into the Supreme Court justice’s upbringing, education, and young adulthood. The result is a portrait of a privileged, contradictory man—a portrait colored by never-before-seen testimony from people who knew Kavanaugh at key moments in his life. As Kavanaugh settles into a lifetime role on the Supreme Court that will allow him to influence America’s way forward for decades to come, this book offers a glimpse into the mind that will be making those consequential decisions.

    Power Grab: The Liberal Scheme to Undermine Trump, the GOP, and Our Republic, by Jason Chaffetz
    A former Utah congressman and chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform offers his perspective on how the country has changed in the wake of President Trump’s election, painting the Democratic party and the progressive movement as irrationally angry and willing to ignore or destroy both political norms and legal restrictions in order to attack conservative positions and leadership. With a healthy dose of inside baseball from his time in congress, Chaffetz accuses many on the Left of deception, corruption, and following an unconstitutional agenda hidden behind accusations of fascism and claims of resistance.

    Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump’s International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy, by Seth Abramson
    Legal and political analyst Abramson delivers a book that reads more like a summer spy thriller than reality, positing that in 2015, George Nader met with various leaders of the Arab world to unveil a plan reshape the political reality of the entire planet—with Donald Trump’s help. Abramson suggests that Nader pitched these leaders a pro-U.S. and pro-Israel alliance designed to contain the ambitions of Turkey and Iran, and that they threw their money, influence, and other resources behind Trump, who they expected to be friendly to Russia and belligerent towards Iran. It’s an intriguing argument, and, if you buy into it, a terrifying glimpse into realpolitik in the modern age.

    A Republic, If You Can Keep It, by Neil Gorsuch
    Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch made headlines when President Donald Trump nominated him to our nation’s highest court. In this book, Gorsuch seeks to define his views on the constitution, our system of government, and the rights that every American citizen enjoys. With speeches, essays, and personal notes, Gorsuch reflects on a life spent studying, interpreting, and defending the laws of the nation, and presents his arguments concerning his role as a justice—and everyone’s role as a citizen—in keeping this republic healthy for future generations of Americans. At the same time, Gorsuch offers glimpses of the personal events in his life that have shaped him just as much as his legal education and practice. Considering the immense influence Gorsuch will have on America over the coming years, this is an essential read for any enlightened citizen.

    Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump’s War on the FBI, by Josh Campbell
    Former FBI special agent and law enforcement analyst for CNN Campbell was part of the team that accompanied FBI Director James Comey to Trump Tower to brief the newly-elected president about the Steele dossier, putting him in a unique position to observe the sustained attack that the White House launched against the FBI. Campbell details the early days of the so-called Russia investigation (code-named Crossfire Hurricane), beginning with in-the-room-when-it-happened, firsthand knowledge and continuing the saga with an insider’s keen instincts in the wake of his 2018 resignation. Campbell paints a picture of a historically independent and crucial law enforcement agency that is demoralized and in danger of being politically compromised—or even destroyed—by an out of control presidential administration. His years of access lend gravitas to the incredible events he details here.

    The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History, by Lee Smith
    Smith and Nunes present their narrative of a conspiracy to not only target and destroy President Trump, but the very institutions that sustain our republic—a conspiracy only revealed, Nunes says, due to his investigations as head of the House Intelligence Committee. The plot begins in 2016 with the FBI investigation into Russian infiltration on the upcoming elections—but Nunes claims that investigation never targeted any Russians, rather working to undermine first Trump’s campaign, and then his administration. Nunes believes his investigations expose efforts by the “deep state” to protect its own interests over those of the nation at large.

    Laughing with Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Enduring Wit and Spirit of President Barack Obama, by M. Sweeney
    Shifting gears from current controversies, M. Sweeney follows up his similarly positive books Hugs from Obama and Go High with one filled with gorgeous images of former President Barack Obama throughout the years. It’s a book to remind readers (of a favorable political persuasion, anyway) how warm, human, and truly funny Obama is. Photos of the 44th president laughing, smiling, and looking joyful are paired with some of the former commander-in-chief’s funniest remarks and one-liners from throughout his administration and beyond. For anyone in desperate need of a bit of optimism or a reminder that American politics can occasionally produce humor or even joy, this book will serve as a mental palate cleanser.

    The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, by Eric Foner
    Wars have far-reaching consequences, and Pulitzer Prize winner Foner takes a deep dive into those of the Civil War, most notably the so-call Reconstruction Amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th—and their enduring impact on our constitution and system of government. Foner notes that these amendments marked the first time equality was specifically extended to all Americans, and went contrary to tradition by charging the federal government with enforcement of the rule of law they established, rather than the states. Foner sees this change as ushering in a second iteration of the United States—one that floundered almost immediately, but which he sees as still viable; the book is shot-through with optimism and a belief that we can still be a country in which all citizens are truly equal.

    The post The Best History & Current Affairs Books of September 2019 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2019/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , history,   

    This Summer’s Essential History Books 

    July is when America celebrates its independence, which means it’s the perfect month to stock up on history books. This month’s best include new tomes from Pulitzer winners David McCullogh and Rick Atkinson, the untold story of superspy Virginia Hall, and a firsthand account of D-Day that belongs on everyone’s to-read list.

    The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCullough
    David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, returns with an in-depth study of the settlement of the Northwest Territory, telling the stories of the hardy and fearless pioneers who traveled into the unknown determined to enlarge and enrich our country with their bare hands and at risk of their very lives. The movement west began sooner than most people realize, with the first settlers—veterans of the Revolutionary War—arriving in Ohio in 1788. McCullough tells the story of the town they carved out of the wilderness through the eyes of five historical figures, who becomes characters in a story about bravery, tragedy, diplomacy, and the conquest of a wilderness that wanted nothing more than to sweep them aside.

    Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations, by William H. McRaven
    There are those people who have earned the right to have their advice listened to without question, and Admiral McRaven is one of them. McRaven entered the collective consciousness with his viral commencement speech-turned-inspirational book, Make Your Bed, but he is more than a man in uniform dispensing wisdom—he’s a true-life hero, having spent his whole adult life serving his country in some of the most dangerous places in the world. McRaven’s autobiography reads like an improbable thriller as he recounts his childhood, his career as a Navy SEAL and as commander of America’s Special Operations Forces, not to mention his involvement in events like the rescue of Captain Phillips, the execution of Osama bin Laden, and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

    Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy, by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
    Abrams and Fisher deliver a close examination of an mostly overlooked moment in 20th century: a 1915 lawsuit against former president Theodore Roosevelt. The libel suit, brought against Roosevelt by political boss William Barnes due to Roosevelt’s public assertions that he was a corrupt official, was a sensation at the time, highlighted by Roosevelt’s turn as a witness on the stand, where the full power of his personality and intellect came into view for a whole week. After 38 hours being badgered by Barnes’ lawyers, Roosevelt emerged unscathed, having made an incredible impression on everyone involved. This detailed study of the incident brings Roosevelt to roaring life, and is a treat for anyone who wants to get a clearer of one of history’s larger-than-life players.

    The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson
    Pulitzer-winning Rick Atkinson delivers the first of three books covering the Revolutionary War in astonishing detail. This initial volume takes the reader through the first 21 months of the conflict, beginning with Lexington and Concord in 1775 and leaving off in the winter of 1777. Along the way, Atkinson dives deep into the personalities on both sides of the battlefield, including men who defined the fighting, like Henry Knox and George Washington, and men who defined the struggle for hearts and minds around the world, like Benjamin Franklin. The result is one of the most detailed and comprehensive studies of the early stages of a war that seemed doomed to be a short and futile one for the Americans, but instead birthed a nation.

    Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis, by Jared Diamond
    Jared Diamond, another Pulitzer-winner best known for Guns, Germs, and Steel, returns with a unique look at history as seen through the lens of psychology, applying trauma treatment protocols to entire nations in order to explain sudden policy shifts and course corrections, from Chile’s wild political swings in the 20th century, to Japan’s opening to the West in the 19th century, to the persistence of the institution of slavery in the U.S., to the Winter War between the U.S.S.R. and Finland. Diamond argues that nations either take an honest look at themselves after disaster… or they don’t, and that willingness or unwillingness to acknowledge hard truths is the determining factor in what happens next.

    Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
    Harari is no stranger to ambitious works of sweeping historical context, and here he tackles the story of how Homo sapiens—that is, us—came to be not just the dominant species on the planet, but the sole variety of the human species left standing. Harari argues that three distinct moments of evolution revolution made us masters of the planet: a cognitive revolution that gave us a mental advantage over other species; an agricultural revolution that allowed us to form permanent settlements and complex societies; and most recently, a technological revolution that allowed us to truly master the world, its resources, and the other creatures that populate it. Harari thoughtfully weaves in the disturbing question of whether our ascendancy and mastery has actually made us happier—and offers plenty of thoughtful evidence that the answer is no.

    K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner
    Baseball fans know pitching has always been the true throughline of the game. By charting the progress of the sport through 10 distinct pitches, Kepner offers a unique perspective on one of the most analyzed and romanticized games ever devised. His investigative work traces the origins of the monumental pitches—from the curveball, first developed in 1867, to the maligned spitball, still secretly in use today—and explores the lives of legends pitching like Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez, who discuss the technical side of their profession in fascinating terms.

    The First Wave: The D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in World War II, by Alex Kershaw
    The most complex and dangerous invasion in military history needed a front line, and the people who were part of the first wave of soldiers who stormed the beaches on D-Day faced the brunt of the danger while pursuing the most difficult missions. Without them, all who followed would’ve been lost. Kershaw illuminates the stories of the men who were first on the beach, from the paratroopers who were the first to enter Normandy, to the men who led troops through thick machine-gun fire on Juno Beach, to the French commandos who came home to use their intimate knowledge of the area to undermine the German invaders’ defenses. This is an important addition to any World War II reading list.

    A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell
    Anyone interested in stories of wartime bravery should know the name Virginia Hall. She joined the State Department when the Foreign Service was uninterested, lost her leg to a hunting accident, drove ambulances in France duringWorld War II, and eagerly signed up with the British Special Operations Executive when the opportunity came. Hall was a brilliant agent, creating a well-organized and effective network that did great work fighting the Germans—until her cover was blown in 1942. She fled to Spain, then demanded to be sent back to France to continue her work. When she was refused, she joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services to assist with D-Day preparations. Hall is one of the most important—and least-known—heroes of the war, and it’s about time someone brought her remarkable story to light.

    Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day, the First Wave at Omaha Beach, and a World at War, by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice
    As the world marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the number of eyewitnesses to the heroics and horrors of that incredible achievement dwindles—making the 98-year old Lambert’s contribution especially important. Lambert’s charm and humility shine as he describes his early life, his training, and the brutal fighting he engaged in all over the theater, from Africa to Normandy, where he suffered a broken back while rescuing his fellow soldiers. The sheer level of insider detail that Lambert can offer on what it was really like to be involved in Operation Overlord is incredible, ranging from the way soldiers interacted to the equipment and training they had to work with. This is a personal and powerful testament to the heroics of an entire generation, told through an individual’s lens.

    What’s you favorite history read of the year so far?

    The post This Summer’s Essential History Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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