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  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2018/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    November’s Best New History Books 

    November’s best new history books travel back to America’s founding, remember the men and women who claimed victory in World War II, celebrate the achievement that was the moon landing, and revisit one of the most amazing rescues ever performed.

    Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants, by H. W. Brands
    American history loves to celebrate past presidents, but Brands new book shifts the focus to three men who never managed to be elected to the nation’s highest office—and yet had a profound impact on its history. Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster served in high positions in the early 19th century—secretary of state and vice president among them—and the author argues that their ambitions to eventually become presidents themselves in many ways helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War, as they made compromises great and small, abandoned their natural principles, and fiercely defended the status quo in the hopes that it would make them more electable. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, makes the case that these men each represented tensions in the origins of our country that the founding fathers left unresolved, leading directly to the schism that almost split the United States in two.

    Churchill: Walking with Destiny, by Andrew Roberts
    There is little question Winston Churchill is one of the most fascinating political figures of the 20th century. Born into privilege in a time of imperial power, he was a resolute believer in British authority, a brilliant writer, and legendary political and military strategist who nevertheless saw his career come crashing to what should have been its ignominious end after World War I. That he went into the political wilderness only to return as prime minister in 1940, them seemingly single-handedly save the country from ruin, is a testament to his powers. Roberts offers a comprehensive look at Churchill the man, the politician, and the friend; it’s a respectful but thoroughly honest portrait of a man whose flaws were as huge as his talents—and whose impact is still felt today.

    Apollo to the Moon: A History in 50 Objects, by Teasel E. Muir-Harmony
    Fifty years have passed since man first walked on the moon. This remarkable book recounts that historic effort and achievement in a unique, powerful way, focusing in on 50 objects connected to the project, each of which tells a part of the overall story. A survival kit, a Russian stamp, the lunar rover, plastic astronaut figures, astronaut food and, of course, moon rocks—the accounts of this varied objects offers both visual delights and an absorbing trip into a heady era of scientific ambition. Connected to each photo and object are people, of course—the astronauts, engineers, politicians, and journalists who each contributed something to one of the greatest achievements of mankind; and their stories are here as well.

    The Allies: Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and the Unlikely Alliance That Won World War II, by Winston Groom
    Surprisingly underplayed in many histories of World War II, the disparate personalities and political realities of the Allied leaders—Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin—made their enduring alliance surprising, and surprisingly effective. Groom, a noted historian and novelist (Forrest Gump), uses both skills to great advantage as he breathes life into the three leaders who came together to stop the desperate threat of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. Giving the reader insight into both the personal and political background of his main players, Groom brings their complex relationships to life and explores how each man compromised just enough at just the right moments to keep a fragile alliance together until the war could be won.

    The Boys in the Cave: Deep Inside the Impossible Rescue in Thailand, by Matt Gutman
    Just a few months ago, the world paused to watch a remarkable story unfold: in Thailand, a soccer coach took his team on a excursion to explore a cave system, and a sudden storm surge flooded the caves, trapping them inside. Over three weeks, an immense effort was launched to locate the boys in the pitch black caves, then figure out how to get them out safely despite varying water levels, the boys’ varying swimming capabilities, and the incredible danger of navigating underwater in the pitch black. Gutman, a chief national correspondent at ABC News, uses his own coverage and extensive interviews to craft a compelling narrative of this remarkable story, offering heretofore unknown details and perspectives on a rescue that, up until the last possible moment, remained in question.

    John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, by Richard Brookhiser
    With the Supreme Court on everyone’s mind these days, it’s a serendipitous moment for the release of a biography of John Marshall, the man who almost single-handedly defined the Supreme Court for the nation and raised its prestige. A hero of the Revolution who revered George Washington, Marshall became chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, assuming leadership of a little-regarded group that met in a basement. Over the course of his storied career, he guided the court to a reputation as an impartial defender of the constitution and the final word on legal issues that were shaping the still-molten nation into the country we recognize today.

    We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    This collection of essays by Coates, now available in paperback, is drawn from his writing for The Atlantic during the years 2008 to 2016, roughly paralleling the Obama administration, and ending on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. These are the essays that made Coates a figure no serious thinker could ignore; they trace the evolution of his thought from the optimism of Obama’s first election to the somewhat darker mood of the later years. In new annotations, Coates adds a wealth of background to the original material, including new reflections, contemporaneous notes taken from his journals, and personal stories that expand on and illuminate his themes.

    Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics, by Lawrence O’Donnell
    MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell makes a persuasive argument that the modern American political morass can be traced firmly back to 1968, the year Nixon was elected to his first term. O’Donnell examines all the dominoes, beginning with Eugene McCarthy’s decision to run against Lyndon Johnson, which he argues spurred Johnson to make the unusual decision not to seek a second term, setting in motion a series of events that ended with Nixon triumphant and the liberal wing of the Republican Party extinguished. O’Donnell backs up his writing with in-depth research and detailed sources; this is the sort of history book that illuminates more than just a single event.

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  • Jeff Somers 7:51 pm on 2018/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    October’s Best History Books 

    Presidents of War, by Michael Beschloss
    From the War of 1812—the first conflict conducted by an American president—to the Vietnam War, renowned historian Beschloss analyzes wartime presidents and offers insights on their performance, the results of the conflict, and their subsequent records on civil rights and more. Discussing everything from Polk’s performance during the Mexican-American War, through the Civil War, to all the presidents who oversaw the conflict in Vietnam, Beschloss points out that every war president has received extraordinary powers from Congress, but not all have used those powers well or wisely, and not all American wars have yielded benefits for the country.

    In the Hurricane’s Eye, by Nathaniel Philbrick
    It’s not crazy to say that in 1780, the cause of the American Revolution wasn’t looking so great. With an army in tatters and a government lacking resources or organization, the Americans seemed doomed to defeat. Yorktown changed everything, and Philbrick, an award-winning historian specializing in American stories, lays out the thrilling and unpredictable events that conspired to give American forces the one decisive win that made victory inevitable. Coordinating with a naval force not under his direct control and existing hundreds of miles away should never have worked, but somehow Washington and his allies managed it, birthing a new nation in one bold stroke.

    The White Darkness, by David Grann
    Grann (Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon) tells the fascinating story of Henry Worsley, a man obsessed with Ernest Shackleton’s missions to the Antarctic. Distantly related to one of Shackleton’s crew, Worsley collected Shackleton memorabilia and trivia until he finally set out in 2008 with a few companions to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps, and later returned again in 2015 to attempt, at age 55, something that Shackleton never could: walking solo across Antarctica. Grann tells this remarkable story with the aid of dozens of incredible photos from both Shackleton and Worsley, images that underscore the incredible strength and courage both expeditions required.

    American Dialogue, by Joseph J. Ellis
    Few are more qualified to write about the ways the beliefs and writings of our Founding Fathers can inform and comment on the many challenges facing America today than Ellis, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Ellis focuses in on four of the men who helped form our nation: Thomas Jefferson, whose attitudes towards race reflect the division and incoherency still on display today; John Adams, whose cynicism towards the goals of economic equality has been borne out generation after generation; James Madison, whose work to transform a loose alliance of former colonies into a true nation still reverberates through every Supreme Court nomination; and George Washington, who regarded his fellow man’s best aspects with a tired realism any modern citizen will find surprisingly relatable.

    On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, The Korean War’s Greatest Battle, by Hampton Sides
    In September of 1950, General Douglas MacArthur ignored intelligence indicating major Chinese troop movements and the concerns of his president, Harry Truman, and ordered a landing at the port of Inchon. Very quickly, more than 30,000 U.N. soldiers found themselves surrounded and cut off, and proceeded to survive for three weeks, fighting off overwhelming numerical superiority. Sides smartly focuses on the incompetence and racism of men like MacArthur that allowed the debacle to happen, setting the stage for the general’s firing a few months later. He also stresses the individual heroism and courage displayed by many of the soldiers caught up in the incompetence, making the retreat from Chosin Reservoir one of the most compelling stories in military history.

    Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, by Max Hastings
    British writer Hastings turns an objective outsider’s eye on America’s most divisive war, tracing the events of the conflict in Vietnam from its beginnings in the 1950s to its ignominious end in the 1970s. Along the way he explodes some persist myths about the war, including the idea that the United States was losing when it made the final decision to withdraw. He also offers clear-eyed assessments of the mistakes that allowed the war to drag on, and the men who made them, including president Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor (and future Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger. Where many studies of the War in Vietnam are narrow in scope, Hastings offers a wide view with plenty of context.

    When the Killer Man Comes, by Paul Martinez
    Trained by famous sniper Nicholas ‛The Reaper’ Irving, Paul Martinez became a champion shooter, and did six tours in Afghanistan. In this intimate and fascinating book, Martinez balances exposition aimed at for readers who have never served in the military with cinematic descriptions of missions that pitted him against the Taliban, Chechen terrorists, and Uzbek Militants. Martinez doesn’t glamorize his service or offer false resolutions to his missions, which often simply ended, as opposed to ending with the bang of a Hollywood film, and he doesn’t shy away from recording his doubts and misgivings about his service and his frustration with the apparent futility of much of his work. The result is a compelling memoir that gives readers insight into a truly harrowing aspect of warfare.

    Impeachment: An American History, by Jon Meacham, Timothy Baftali, Peter Baker, and Jeffrey A. Engel
    Contrary to popular misconception, impeachment alone does not remove a sitting president, it simply charges them with “high crimes and misdemeanors” sufficient to warrant removal from office. Designed to be an extreme solution, it’s only been invoked three times—and all three times, it’s failed to remove the president in question: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 were acquitted by the senate, and Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 before his trial could begin. Meacham, Baftali, Baker, and Engel explore the motivations behind each impeachment proceeding—motivations typically more personal and political than legal—and offer up an objective view of the procedure, how it was meant to be used, and how it’s actually been used throughout history. There are few more timely books on the shelves right now.

    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy
    Stories of World War II often focus on the heroic deeds of male soldiers, but newly declassified documents reveal a shadow army of women who also did their part—the codebreakers. Recruited from colleges and secretarial pools for their math skills, these women were set to the task of breaking enemy codes, but their efforts and achievements were top secret, and their stories largely unknown—until now. Battling the expected sexism and hostile attitudes of their male counterparts and supervisors, tens of thousands of women helped to end the war much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and Mundy rescues their stories from obscurity and gives them the credit they deserve. In fact, she makes a solid case that without these women, we might not have won World War II at all.

    Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
    Andrew Jackson remains a divisive figure nearly 200 years after the end of his presidency, making him an ideal candidate for a history investigating the man as much as the events that shaped his life. The focal point is the battle that made Jackson a national figure: the British targeted the port of New Orleans in the War of 1812 for obvious reasons—it was the main supply point for the nascent United States of America, and the fledgling country’s defenses were weak and disorganized. Jackson managed to pull together a coalition of defenders and organize a brilliant defense of the city, saving his country and catapulting him to fame. Kilmeade and Yaeger bring slick energy to their subject, making this a fun, informative read, newly available in paperback.

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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , history, history binge, richard nixon, , watergate   

    The Ultimate Slow Burn Reading List 

    Podcasts have come into their own in recent years, and in a post-Serial world, we’re all suffering from choice paralysis when it comes to picking our next engrossing listen-in.

    Right now, the podcast that’s proving to be the most addictive of them all is Slate’s Slow Burn, now in its second season. After a season spent teasing out the untold and overlooked stories behind the Richard Nixon/Watergate (and making us obsess over that 18 minutes of missing tape again), the show has moved on to the logical followup, focusing on the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late-1990s, and the president’s subsequent impeachment back in the 1990s.

    If you haven’t listened yet, binge away. If you have, we’ve come up with a reading list of books mentioned on the show, used in the research process, or which complement the proceedings.

    Season 1: Watergate

    All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
    If you’re going to sound smart about Watergate—still the number one “gate” of many in American politics—you have to start with the mother lode, the book famed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein penned about their investigation into the scandal that shook the country and took down a president. In a modern day when the term “fake news” is common parlance, it’s refreshing to be reminded what real journalism looks like. It’s also easy to forget what a sensation the book was when it first published in 1974.

    Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, by Stanley I. Kutler
    You can’t beat original sources for getting your facts straight and gaining insight into historic events, and Richard Nixon was kind enough to literally record everything that happened in the Oval Office as he was conspiring to abuse his power, break the law, and cursing a blue streak. Twenty-five years after the existence of the tapes was revealed, Kutler successfully sued to get access to all of them, and it’s quite amazing to see the conspiracy unfold in black-and-white as the events at the Watergate Hotel are directly addressed by an increasingly paranoid, desperate president.

    The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate, by James Rosen
    John Mitchell was, by all accounts, the most powerful member of Nixon’s cabinet, an attorney general confident in his sense of justice and how to enforce the laws of the land. He was also the highest-ranking member of the government to spend time in jail, convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury—distinctively not law-and-order activities. The question of what Mitchell knew and what he did about it—and whether he was set up as the fall guy for the president—brings a flavor of uncertainty to what is largely settled history. This book paints a sympathetic portrait of Mitchell, which complicates the traditional narrative of Watergate—and makes this deeply-researched work a must read for anyone diving into Slow Burn.

    Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, by Conrad Black
    To understand Watergate, you have to understand Nixon: a ball of rage, intelligence, insecurity, and resentment mashed within a brilliant politician. No stranger to legal difficulties and falls from grace himself, Conrad Black brings a warm sympathy to Nixon that somehow makes the president’s flaws shine even more brightly. Nixon was a complicated man, not a cartoon villain, and yet he often undermined his own success and seemed incapable of enjoying it. If you think of Slow Burn as a reality-based aural novel, this book will assist in your appreciation of Nixon the character.

    Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, by J. Anthony Lukas
    Beginning as a work of journalism chronicling the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, this 1973 book is a visceral work of time travel. Where many history books can be a bit bloodless, calmly consider ing events of the distant past, Lukas captures not just the facts but the sense of chaos and decline that afflicted the country as the Watergate scandal spiraled out of Nixon’s control. It’s an incredibly detailed, well-organized account of the scandal, walking the reader through every drip of new information and every move the White House made as it sought to avoid its inevitable fate.

    The Great Coverup, by Barry Sussman
    While most Watergate accounts focus on the public events and the personalities involved, Sussman’s digs into the skulduggery and secret orders intended to keep the scandal contained—even as it was blown ever wider in congressional hearings and newspaper reports. The laundry list of things Nixon attempted in his efforts to stave off disaster included everything from interfering with the courts, to directing the CIA and FBI to investigate his enemies, to announcing military movements seemingly designed to change the headlines. Sussman captures all of it in fascinating detail.

    Season 2: The Clinton Impeachment

    The Death of American Virtue: Clinton Vs. Starr, by Ken Gormley
    This massive, almost overwhelming book is not just a source of information, but an experience. Packed with endless detail, it follows every thread of the Whitewater investigation that ultimately led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, making it the ideal reference guide to Slow Burn’s new season. No one in this shabby drama comes off well—not the president, nor the special counsel, and certainly not the other politicians involved.

    My Life, by Bill Clinton
    Clinton’s charm is a physical force, and explains much of his political success. It’s certainly on full display in this autobiography. Going in knowing that he’s trying to charm you is a smart strategy, but there’s still a lot of fascinating stuff here that helps explain how a brilliant man could repeat mistakes over and over again—and how a newly-elected governor could so alienate everyone in his state that he found himself in the political wilderness for years could become a president who then immediately alienated many in the federal government. Knowing how Bill Clinton ticks will inform and shade the rest of this season for you—even if it’s hard to trust what he says here about the Lewinsky affair.

    Monica’s Story, by Andrew Morton
    There’s a crucial voice missing in season two of Slow Burn—that of Monica Lewinsky herself (she understandably declined to be interviewed for the podcast). We do get a glimpse of the events from her perspective in this 1999 book from Andrew Morton, based on hours of intimate interviews with the young intern who held the fate of a country in her hands. While we will probably never know if Morton’s account is skewed by his own biases (at least until Lewinsky decides to tell her own story—though that looks unlikely), his work remains essential to our understanding of how a private affair became a public scandal, and goes a long way toward challenging the Lewinsky’s image as a lovesick little girl, painting her as a real, complex person with her own sense of agency.

    A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, by Jeffrey Toobin
    Toobin’s brilliant bookreads like a thriller detailing a slow-rolling group of scandals that alone would have been merely disastrous, but combined, almost destroyed a president. The author brings a level of even-handed, journalistic objectivity to the flashy sex and money scandals that spurred impeachment proceedings and cast the Clintons as something more than just politicians for millions of conspiracy-minded Americans. It’s a recounting of outrageous events that shows clarity and laudable restraint.

    Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History, by Russell L. Riley
    Bill Clinton was president for eight years, and it’s important to look past the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals and delve into what his administration accomplished during that time, if only for added context. This collection of interviews offers a sharp impression of what life was like in the Clinton White House—how things ran, which personalities dominated, and, of course, how business got done even when the future of the administration hung on a vote in the Senate.

    Blood Sport: The Truth Behind the Scandals in the Clinton White House, by James B. Stewart
    Stewart focuses on the scandals that underlay the investigations, which swirled together to reinforce each other, bring each other back from obscurity, and create a palpable sense that something must be wrong, in the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire sense. Pivoting off the shocking suicide of Vince Foster (an event that still gets plenty of attention from Clinton conspiracy theorists) Stewart separates fact from fiction in each strand of the Clintons’ no good, very bad couple of years, a time when everything they did—and didn’t do—seemed to hurt them.

    Contempt: A Memoir, by Ken Starr
    If there’s one voice people have been waiting for in the context of the Whitewater investigation and eventual impeachment proceedings, it’s Ken Starr’s. Derided by some as an incompetent who messed up the case, and by others as a stalwart defender of simple justice, Starr finally breaks his silence with this anticipated memoir of the whole dirty affair. No fan of Slow Burn—or just history—should miss their chance to see everything from Mr. Starr and his team’s perspective; he recounts the entire investigation, from the first whispers of scandal to the vote that preserved Clinton’s office.

    Did we miss any essential books on Nixon and Clinton?

    The post The Ultimate <i>Slow Burn</i> Reading List appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2018/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    September’s Best History Books 

    This month’s crop of history books includes a fascinating look into the nature of leadership from one of our greatest living historians, a thriller-like recounting of one of the most incredible feats of spycraft ever, a long-awaited memoir from Kenneth Starr, and several books that try to peek into the future by tracing patterns from the past and present.

    Leadership: In Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    One of America’s most popular and accomplished historians, Pulitzer-winning Doris Kearns Goodwin examines one of the most important and least-understood of human attributes: leadership. Trying to figure out what leadership means and how it manifests, Goodwin returns to four presidents she has studied the most closely in her career: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson, seeking clues as to the nature of leadership and how it manifests in some but not others. Most importantly, she explores the question of whether leaders rise to the challenges they come across or if they shape the times around them instead. From someone as steeped in history as Goodwin, this is a thought-provoking work packed with almost casually-dropped insight and information that will help you better understand the people who have steered our country.

    The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben Macintyre
    Times of London writer Macintyre expertly tells the true story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who became the single most important double-agent in MI6 history until his cover was blown by CIA double-agent Aldrich Ames. Paced like a thriller, this incredible story doesn’t rely on guns and derring-do to get a rich sense of suspense and page-turning energy, but rather the constant paranoia and stress of the spy’s life as Gordievsky passes information to his British handlers via spy-movie tricks like microfilm, worries about his wife turning him in, and deals with sudden assaults from suspicious KGB superiors. A masterclass in modern-day espionage techniques and stakes, this is as entertaining as history gets.

    21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari
    Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankindand Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, offers up a sprawling contemplation of the future we are rapidly hurtling towards, speculating on economies that don’t require people to buy or sell anything and the prospect of losing control of our minds and bodies to those who have a better understanding of how to manipulate the data we carry with us. Without preaching any particular solution, Harari provokes thought and offers his remarkable store of knowledge as context for his explorations of different challenges we are all either facing right now, or will be facing very quickly. Those who wish to be prepared for the coming world would be well advised to read this book.

    Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation, by Ken Starr
    For all the ink that’s been used to study Bill Clinton’s presidency, his scandals, and his impeachment, the time has finally come for what may be the most important and conclusive perspective of all: that of Ken Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the president. Starr was cast as a villain by much of the media during the investigation and impeachment proceedings that marred Clinton’s administration, but in this explosive new book he asserts that a goal that will no doubt resonate with people today: that he was simply trying to demonstrate that the president was not above the law. Starr includes many details and personal opinions he was careful to keep out of his official 1998 report, making this a must read for any history buff.

    These Truths: A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore
    Perspective is a powerful aspect of history, and Lepore, a Harvard professor and writer for the The New Yorker, offers plenty in her assessment of how the guiding principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence have been battled over through the course of our history. Ranging from colonial times all the way to the modern day, Lepore examines how the United States has lived up to the lofty expectations of the “truths” of political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people—and how it has failed to live up to them. Anyone who imagines that the political life of past eras was somehow more settled and civil might be surprised to find that politics has always been rough, rude, and locked in battles to define what liberty means.

    Killing the SS: The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
    O’Reilly and Dugard bring their twin talents of thriller-style pacing and studious historical research to bear on the Nazi Party in their latest in the best-selling Killing series. In the wake of Germany’s defeat in World War II, thousands of Nazi war criminals fled and found sanctuary around the world. A disparate group of people from around the world, including an American veteran of D-Day, a German lawyer who’d once signed a Nazi loyalty oath, and highly-skilled Israeli Mossad agents came together to track the movements of these war criminals and bring them to justice in a story given a breathless sense of tension and suspense by O’Reilly.

    How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization, by Mary Beard
    Beard looks at two connected aspects of visual art throughout history in this book conceived as companion pieces to the PBS TV shows “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith.” In part one, she examines depictions of the human body over the course of centuries, from the sculpted male bodies of Greek statuary to the domestic scenes of women on pottery that advertise a traditional feminine lifestyle that wouldn’t be out of place in 1950s America. In part two, she examines the way the divine has been represented in art, tracing our relationship with our gods through the way we have drawn, sculpted, and painted them over the years. Along the way, Beard entertains, informs, and offers plenty of fascinating detail that will illuminate your concept of both history and human nature.

    Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama
    Fukuyama turns his perceptive powers on the subject of identity politics, which he argues are inspired by the fundamental psychological desire for “recognition of dignity.” Fukuyama sees the results of identity politics on both the left and right side of modern politics; where some seek dignity through being recognized as equals (resulting in the left’s obsession with marginalized people), others seek it through superiority (resulting in dictatorships and support for authoritarians). Tracing the development of these ideas throughout history and turning to some of the great philosophical minds to explain the human nature involved, Fukuyama ends with suggestions for how to redefine identity in order to bring the world closer together. An inspiring and thought-provoking read.

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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2018/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    July’s Best History Books 

    There’s no better time to contemplate how the past shapes the present (and the future) than the month we celebrate the birth of our nation. This month, we have a potent list of new history books that help you see the bigger picture, including an investigation into one of the biggest naval disasters ever, the inspiring story of a man held captive by Somali pirates, and the heroic story of Jews who escaped Hitler’s Germany only to volunteer to take up arms and go back to fight the Nazis.

    Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
    In 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. Nearly 900 of the crew survived the sinking—but 600 of them died over the next four days as they floated helplessly in the water. Vladic and Vincent expose the Navy’s incompetence and the effort to cover up the disaster by blaming the ship’s captain, who was court-martialed in a suspiciously quick and secretive action—and who later killed himself. Captain Charles McVay III was eventually proved to be innocent of the charges, but the truth of the Navy’s mistakes and their horrific results have remained largely unknown, until now.

    The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast, by Michael Scott Moore
    Fascinated by the idea of pirates operating in the 21st century, Michael Scott Moore journeyed to Somalia to witness the phenomenon firsthand. He quickly got more than he bargained for when he was kidnapped by those very pirates, who demand a ridiculous $20 million ransom from his horrified mother—and later, from anyone who’d listen. Moore, knowing there’s no way he’d fetch the ransom, settled in for what turned out to be more than two years of captivity, during which he was treated both extremely poorly and with surprising kindness by desperate men never seemed to have any personal grudge against him—they just wanted their money. In this eye-opening look at the conditions that drive men to piracy, Moore’s sangfroid under stress is remarkable—and occasionally hilarious.

    Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, by Condoleezza Rice
    Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice examines democracy and asks the fundamental questions: how do countries become democracies, and what’s the state of democracy in the modern world? She traces the development of democratic institutions and outline the stages societies go through when becoming democratic, and offers cogent analysis of “failed experiments” like Russia, which at one time seemed headed for democracy and now seems doomed to autocracy. Most notably, Rice takes on the election of Donald Trump and analyzes the disruption caused, ultimately concluding that this too is part of democracy, while cautioning that democracy’s survival is never a given and must always be defended—beginning with a defense of its most basic institutions.

    Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, by Richard Ratay
    Ratay’s combination memoir and history lesson examines the role of the classic road trip, using his own family traditions as a jumping-off point. He relates the joyous road trips of his youth, playing games in the back seat of the family car while his parents engaged in an epic battle of wills over when to pull over and get gas. He considers the influence of the road trip and America’s general love affair with automobiles (and the freedom they represented) that prompted constant safety upgrades and the development of the interstate road system, one of the most ambitious, successful infrastructure projects in history. Noting that the nature of the road trip is changing due to smartphones, cheap air travel, and other factors, Ratay’s book is a reminder that sometimes the way things were was better.

    Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler, by Bruce Henderson
    During World War II, nearly 2,000 young Jewish men escaped the Nazis and emigrated to the United States, only to join the armed forces and return to fight. Henderson focuses on eight of these men, “Ritchie Boys” who underwent intensive training in order to fight Germans and interrogate German POWs. Their flawless German and intimate knowledge of German culture were invaluable to the Allies, but their work was very dangerous due to their status as Jews, which often saw them killed when other non-Jewish soldiers were spared. This largely unknown aspect of the war underscores the horrors of the Nazi regime while spotlighting acts of heroism fighting against it.

    The Brink: President Reagan and the Nuclear War Scare of 1983, by Marc Ambinder
    Ambinder’s book reads like a political thriller and relates a truly terrifying moment in history—a moment that might have ended in horrific nuclear war. To mask vulnerabilities in the United States’ early warning systems, President Ronald Reagan ramped up the nuclear arsenal on the theory that it would intimidate the Russians. Later, during Able Archer ‛83, an annual event where the U.S. and NATO tested their procedures for handing over control of nuclear weapons, the Soviets misinterpreted several new procedures and concluded the U.S. might be using the event to cover up a surprise launch. The U.S.S.R. upped their readiness and paranoia reached a fever pitch before tensions were eased and apocalypse was averted. Even today, nations still possess the ability to destroy the world several times over, making this is a necessary reminder that the people we put in charge of making impossible decisions are often only as good as the information they possess.

    The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan-American Highway, and the Quest to Link the Americas, by Eric Rutkow
    If you’re not aware that a near-continuous network of roads leads from Alaska to Argentina, this book will amaze you. With the exception of a rainforest gap in Panama, the Pan American Highway is the longest drivable road in the world, the product of a century-and-a-half of work, investment, and diplomacy. With photos, maps, and documentation, Rutkow takes us through the fascinating history of the highway’s inception, the challenges it faced during construction, the lives lost along the way, and the effect on the countries the road passes through. Whether you’ve dreamed of driving around the world or simply love world records, this is a remarkable story of a grand achievement.

    The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, by Dan Kaufman
    Wisconsin was once a thoroughly Blue state, a stronghold for democrats, unions, and even socialists. When the Democratic Party alienated many of its supporters with a rightward shift in policies, Scott Walker was elected governor in 2010, ushering in a raft of changes designed to undercut organized labor, eliminate a slate of long-term liberal policies, and cut taxes to the bone. Kaufman conducted exhaustive interviews and performed extensive research to trace the collapse of the progressives in Wisconsin and the impact of the Republican plan to turn the country Red one state at a time. Kaufman also highlights the efforts of organized, liberal citizens to take their state back and reverse its course—efforts that may yet bear fruit.

    The post July’s Best History Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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