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  • 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.

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  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: , consider the source, , history, ,   

    The Ex-Presidents Bookshelf 

    With a few notable exceptions, becoming president of The United States is a demanding career path that requires boundless energy, deep resources both personal and practical, and formidable brain power. Just getting into office takes decades of work, and once there, you’ve got to be able to process a lot of information and basically be always-on. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ex-presidents do things like write books after they leave office—a lifetime of outperforming everyone else from your high school class doesn’t just go dormant when you leave your successor’s inauguration. It also shouldn’t surprise that many of these books are excellent works that endure the test of time.

    Here are 10 books written by ex-presidents that deserve their shelf in your personal library.

    The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
    This new release gets the top spot for the simple reason that it’s the rare work of fiction by an ex-president. No one could have predicted that Bill Clinton had the chops to write a novel, but partnering with Patterson means that whatever Bill might lack in storytelling skills is made right. The combination of one of the modern masters of the thriller and someone who spent eight years as the most powerful man in the world, reading all the classified reports and dealing with situations we won’t even learn about until a century from now, is pretty exciting, and the premise had us hooked from page one: determined to stop a terrorist threat, the president goes rogue—and goes AWOL—and takes matters into his own hands.

    The Diary of James K. Polk During His Presidency, by James Polk
    What makes this book a must-read? On the one hand, it’s a glimpse into what being president was like in the mid-19th century, when the U.S. was a much different country and holding the office was a much different job. On the other hand, Polk passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks after leaving office, leading many historians to note that he therefore had no opportunity to edit and revise his memoirs. These are the raw notes he took, in the moment, recording his thoughts and reactions in real time. Considering hew began keeping a diary in service to his frequent arguments with his cabinet, the drama quotient is delightfully high.

    Crusade in Europe, by Dwight D. Eisenhower
    Eisenhower is one of then most remarkable men to have ever served as president. After a brilliant military career that culminated in the D-Day invasion of Europe and the ultimate defeat of the Axis powers in World War II, Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 and became one of the most important people to serve in the office, overseeing a country that was rapidly transforming into a superpower in just about every sense of the word—military, economic, and otherwise. His 1948 book about his experience in World War II is remarkable, walking you through events and decisions that continue to impact our world today and giving you a glimpse into the challenges of commanding such a huge and disparate military effort.

    Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy
    Kennedy’s authorship of this book has been thrown into question over the years, but it remains a remarkable book from a politically ambitious senator who would be elected president a few years after its publication. What sets it apart from many other books by politicians is the fact that Kennedy didn’t write about himself, instead choosing to highlight eight other senators throughout American history who risked their political lives and futures to do what they felt was right, despite pressure from their peers or party to do otherwise. Whoever actually wrote the book, it’s a stirring work that still reminds us that sometimes, you have to put country over party, and justice over everything.

    The Virtues of Aging, by Jimmy Carter
    Jimmy Carter lost his bid for re-election in 1980, when he was 56 years old. Nearly two decades later, on his way to being one of our wisest and steadiest ex-presidents, he wrote this charming, thoughtful rumination on aging in modern times, a subject few like to think about. He was in his mid-70s then, of course, and that seemed like an appropriate time to think about old age, but here we are, 20 years after that moment, and Carter is, thankfully, still with us, and still active. If you can’t learn something about aging gracefully from a man who’s been alive post-presidency almost as long as he was alive pre-presidency, you’re not trying very hard.

    Portraits of Courage, by George W. Bush
    Like John F. Kennedy before him, Bush chose to make his 2017 book not about himself, but about the true heroes that serve our country. Poignantly, many of the men and women depicted in Bush’s portraits served while he was president, meaning that his decisions directly affected their lives, a heavy burden that many would seek to insulate themselves from. Bush is a surprisingly accomplished artist, proving that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, or to grapple with the darker side of your legacy in new ways. His own courage in addressing the consequences of his own decision-making results in a remarkable book.

    The Jefferson Bible, by Thomas Jefferson
    The amazing thing about the United States is how dynamic it is; laws are reinterpreted, policies changed, and roles redefined on a regular basis. Determining what our Founding Fathers truly thought about various subjects has therefore become more than an academic exercise, but a vitally important element of our legislative and judicial process. Thomas Jefferson had very unique ideas about religion and spirituality that don’t necessarily jibe with today’s mainstream understandings of either, and his “bible” is a prime example, a version of the book Jefferson hand-crafted by cutting out sections and rearranging them onto the page with glue–excising the miracles, references to Jesus’ divinity, and other aspects of the good book Jefferson found to be “fanciful.” The result is a fascinating glimpse into one of our most unusual presidential minds.

    Through the Brazilian Wilderness, by Theodore Roosevelt
    There have been few presidents as accomplished—and indefatigable—as Roosevelt, who served led the Rough Riders, served two presidential terms, ran for a third, and spent his retirement doing more before 6AM than most of us do all week. Roosevelt was pushed throughout his adult life to be physically fit and strong after a childhood of weakness and poor health, and his expedition into uncharted areas of South America at the age of fifty-five is a testament to the energy he brought to every aspect of his existence. The expedition encountered cannibals, flesh-eating bacteria, and plenty of other dangers, but was ultimately a scientific success on a grand scale. Roosevelt’s firsthand account is thrilling, and will make you wonder why modern presidents seem to do little more than collect fees for speeches.

    Dreams of My Father, by Barack Obama
    Obama remains a singular president, and a man already recognized for his writing and speaking prowess long before his political career saw him become the first black president of the United States. His 2004 book explores his biracial legacy in a strikingly personal manner. Where most political books tend towards policy and wonky recitations of campaign speeches, Obama chose to be intimate and honest as he struggled with his father’s memory, his African roots, and his identity as an American. Even if he hadn’t become president, this would be a book worth reading, just to understand a little better what it means to be an American in the 21st century.

    Personal Memoirs, by Ulysses S. Grant
    One of the greatest examples of a memoir written by a man with nothing left to lose, this vibrant and sharply written work was composed by Grant when he was dying and nearly broke—he wrote it hoping set his family up with an income after he was gone (and died just a few days after completing it). In these pages you get insight into Grant, who was both one of our greatest military leaders and possibly one of our worst presidents—either a drunken layabout or a brilliant commander, depending on who you ask. His decisions during his military career had direct impact on the development of this country, and his decisions while president are still being debated today. This is a book any student of history should read.

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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/05/29 Permalink
    Tags: , history,   

    June’s Best History Books 

    Give your summer reading a solid foundation with the month’s best new history books, including the incredible true stories of the murder trial that launched Abraham Lincoln’s toward the presidency, Vladimir Putin’s plot to destroy democracy, an exploration of one of the most enduring mysteries in history, and more.

    First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, by Kate Andersen Brower
    Often overlooked, sometimes derided, and, on 14 occasions, destined to be president, our vice presidents occupy a strange place in our democratic system: limited in power and status, yet imbued with the potential to ascend to the highest levels of both. This book explores both the men who have served in the position and the presidents whose political lives they were tethered to, for good or ill. The result is a fascinating look at a role that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, revealing the personalities and politics that have shaped the course of American history—even if you can’t necessarily name them all. Brower also considers the ways the role has changed over the years, and the men who have influenced those changes through political power, force of will, or simple chance.

    Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency, by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
    It’s possible to forget Abraham Lincoln existed before he was our 16th president—and pursued a very successful legal career. In 1859, he took on what would turn out to be his final case before running for president, a murder trial. A man named Greek Crafton assaulted a man named “Peachy” Quinn Harrison. Harrison responded by fatally stabbing Crafton, and was indicted for murder. Lincoln’s deft defense earned Harrison an acquittal, in part due to his stirring closing arguments. Abrams, chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News, argues this trial provided the momentum to push Lincoln to run for the highest office in the land. Along the way, he underscores how Lincoln’s many talents—public speaking and persuasion chief among them—made him ideally suited to lead the country during its most dangerous period.

    The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age, by David E. Sanger
    The use and misuse of cyberweapons—malicious code and weaponized software designed to cripple systems and steal data—has become one of the most active fronts in the invisible war between the United States and various terrorist cells and rouge nations. Sanger traces the decline in America’s power in this sphere over the last few years, arguing we’ve been left largely paralyzed and unable to deploy weapons developed to fight the threat. At the same time, hacking and data theft allowed Russia to meddle with one of the most important elections of recent years, and the United States hasn’t done much to prevent future attacks. The end result is an atmosphere of constant paranoia, of endless attacks and counterattacks that leave no trace and thus get almost no attention from the media—but which could have a terrible impact on all of us.

    Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump, by Dan Pfeiffer
    The cohost of Pod Save America and one-time senior adviser to President Obama offers a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the 2008 presidential campaign and Obama’s eight years in office. Irreverent and smart, Pfeiffer offers anecdotes that, in turn, hilarious, alarming, or simply interesting. Along the way he provides advice to a Democratic party reeling from the Trump victory in 2016, and suggests what must be done to shore up the liberal cause that has struggled to define itself. His considers fake news, social media, and how the Democrats can win future elections in the age of Trumpism.

    The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, by Malcolm Nance
    While most everyone is aware something happened involving Russia and our electoral process in 2016, Nance (a counterterrorism analyst at NBC) puts forth an argument that it was much more than a stroke of luck or even a simple coordinated misinformation campaign. He outlines what he believes is an aggressive attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to completely remake our democracy and bring the U.S. into an “axis of autocracy.” The portrait of events he paints is alarming and thought-provoking.

    The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family, by Helen Rappaport
    Rappaport examines the slow-motion catastrophe that led to the brutal murder of the Russian imperial family in the wake of the 1917 revolution. Tracing events back decades, she explores the decisions made by the intermarried and incestuous royal families of pre-war Europe that led to the slow response and lack of support afforded Czar Nicholas and his physically fragile family after his abdication. Rappaport argues the Romanovs, who had ruled Russia for centuries, certainly didn’t have to wind up shot by revolutionaries and buried in unmarked graves. The result reads like a dark thriller whose ending you know, but which still holds you riveted to the page.

    The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, by Andrew Lawler
    The first English settlement in America, located on Roanoke Island, vanished without a trace in 1590, leaving behind only a mysterious “token:” the word “croatoan” carved into a tree. Admitting to an obsession with the mystery surrounding this disaster, Lawler describes the landscape of 16th century America and the personalities of the settlers who made the dangerous decision to build a life in a new world. Finding few solutions to the riddle despite exploring fascinating leads, the lack of resolution only underscores the power of this story—which still resonates more than four hundred years later.

    The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, by Naomi Klein
    Klein argues the slow-rolling disaster that still afflicts Puerto Rico months after the dual hurricanes that laid waste to the island is not simply a symptom of incompetence, but rather a cynical strategy designed to drive citizens to the mainland so the island can be remade into a corporate-owned paradise. Klein’s argument is persuasive—she details what she calls “disaster capitalists” who employ tactics designed to make Puerto Ricans feel helpless—but she also finds inspiration in the unexpected resourcefulness of those very citizens, seeking to weather the storm, as it were, with small-scale food production and DIY power infrastructures. Klein expects a collision between the declining power base of the cities and the community bonds of the rural areas will ultimately determine what Puerto Rico will look like a decade from now.

    Fantasyland—How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen
    Looking back over the entirety of American history, from the Puritans through Donald Trump’s presidency, Andersen argues that what many perceive as a sudden, shocking descent into fake news-fueled hysteria is actually the culmination of the journey we’ve always been on. Anti-science, religiously fundamentalist forces have always been there, Andersen argues, tracing events in history that echo the current state of affairs. He argues Trump has set himself up as the president of “fantasyland,” an imaginary America where everything is great and things are only getting better—a story that helped him claim the White House, and may keep him there in 2020.

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  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2018/05/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , history   

    10 Books that Revealed Secret Histories 

    To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, when it comes to history, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknowns unknowns. It’s that last category that’s the most fascinating; it’s very easy to assume you know more or less everything you need to about history, but occasionally, one of those unknown unknowns—those events that never made headlines, and have long since been forgotten or obscured—come to light, and change everything. The 10 books below offer perspectives on history that remained hidden for a long time. Reading them now will give you a better grasp on the world around you.

    Directorate S, by Steve Coll
    As President Trump’s recent remarks reminded us, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is crucial to American interests in the region. Pakistan’s Directorate S is a secret group within Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) charged with prosecuting illegal operations. In Afghanistan, Directorate S and the CIA often find themselves working against each other while trying to maintain a fiction of cooperation between some of the most uncomfortable allies in history. Taking an admirably objective and non-partisan view of the politics and cultures of three nations and several non-nation groups (such as the Taliban), Coll paints a complex picture of realpolitik that offers hints of what the future of the region and U.S. policy might bring while revealing a whole aspect of recent events that has been hidden from public view for decades.

    Rise and Kill First, by Ronen Bergman
    Israel’s Mossad is widely considered to be one of—if not the—most effective intelligence organizations in the world, and the Israel Defense Force, one of the most effective armed forces. But what has set Israel apart from other nations is its unrepentant embrace of targeted, state-sponsored assassination in the service of national survival. Bergman leverages access to some of the most important players in Israel’s government, intelligence services, and military to craft a definitive history of a nation that much of the world wishes to destroy, and the extraordinary means undertaken in its defense. His inclusion of extremely detailed descriptions of operations gives this book a bit of a thriller edge, while never losing sight of the ethical quandary these policies inevitably spark.

    Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
    Not everyone knows that the word “computer” once referred to a human being who literally computed sums by hand. And not everyone knows the names Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine—or at least they didn’t until Shetterly’s book arrived, followed by the film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Costner. These patriotic, courageous women were instrumental in making America’s early space program a success, despite the institutional racism and prejudice of the pre–Civil Rights Jim Crow era. Their story isn’t just one of incredible achievement, it’s also a lesson in how easily people can be erased from history when the system itself is bigoted.

    Blitzed, by Norman Ohler
    The Nazis, who were known to dabble in weird science and the occult, were pretty bonkers in general, not to mention flat-out evil. But in this book, Ohler makes the case that they were also pretty much stoned the entire time too—especially Hitler himself. Ohler goes beyond the stimulants issued to the soldiers (think what was essentially crystal meth—a pretty common practice, and one shared by the U.S. army to this day) to detail the truly awe-inspiring amount of stimulants and euphorics consumed by the top Nazis. He even speculates that, rather than suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Hitler’s erratic behavior and frail appearance toward the end of the war were due to withdrawal symptoms after the Allies bombed the factory manufacturing his pills. To say that World War II would have been very different if the Nazis had been sober may be the understatement of the 20th century.

    Radium Girls, by Kate Moore
    Any time someone questions the need for laws protecting workers from the deprivations of profit-seeking companies, you might think of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. But this story is just as tragic, and also serves as a lesson. In the early 20th century, more than a dozen women were employed to paint watches with luminous paint made from the radioactive material radium. These women were fine artists, able to manipulate their brushes expertly, often using their mouths to twist them to a fine point in order to do the detail work. Soon after, many began suffering terrible medical problems, including lost teeth and disease jawbones, sparking a decades-long legal and medical battle that redefined worker’s rights and workplace safety.

    Medical Apartheid, by Harriet A. Washington
    Most people are familiar with the horrific Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which the U.S. government allowed 600 black men sick with syphilis to go untreated so the disease could be studied, but Washington points out that this is merely the most famous instance of incredible racism inside the medical and scientific world. We tend to think of doctors and scientists as fair-minded and objective, but after reading this book you’ll know better. From slaves sold off for medical experiments to hospitals waiving fees for deceased black patients solely so they could claim the bodies for anatomy lessons and prison populations used for involuntary studies, there’s a whole secret and shameful history of abuse here that goes far beyond what most people think of when they think about racism.

    High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, by Glenn Frankel
    We all know about the McCarthy Era and the blacklisting of Hollywood figures who had ties to the Communist Party—even ancient, dubious ties. Few of us know how this shameful aspect of America’s past directly affected the films made during this period. Frankel studies one of the most famous movies of all time, the 1952 Western High Noon, which tells the story of a marshal who is abandoned by his friends and neighbors when a gang of criminal specifically targets him, and shows how the story purposefully parallels what was happening in America at the time. The film’s screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was hauled in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee—and when he refused to name other possible communists, he was blacklisted and it took him more than a decade to make his way back. His incredible script for High Noon will never be seen in the same light after reading this book.

    The Dawn of Detroit, by Tiya Miles
    When people think of slavery in the modern day they usually think exclusively about the deep south, the states that eventually formed the Confederacy, and assume that slavery was nonexistent or at least very minimal in the North. Miles’ eye-opening book debunks this assumption, however, telling the forgotten history of slavery in Detroit, beginning under French rule (when the slave population was primarily Native American—and female) and continuing long after the American Revolution placed Detroit under American control. Even the most well-explored historical subjects, like slavery, is riddled with hidden, secret aspects that slowly get buried. Miles’ exploration of this little-known facet of history will force you to reconsider all of your assumptions about the story of race in this country.

    Never Caught, by Erica Armstrong
    There are few American icons on the level of George Washington. Even those who admit Washington’s limitations as a general and a politician generally hold him in high regard as the Father of our country, beyond reproach. Armstrong recounts a lost aspect of Washington’s story, concerning the household slave named Ona Judge Staines owned by the Washingtons who managed to escape after coming into contact with free blacks in New York and the strongly abolitionist Philadelphia. Washington didn’t wish her well—he put immense effort and expense into hunting her down, hiring professional slave catchers and running numerous advertisements. This little-known aspect of Washington’s life will forever color your opinion of the great man.

    Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero, by Christian Di Spigna
    We all think we know the major players of the American Revolution, but this forthcoming book focuses on Joseph Warren, a key player in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War who is nearly forgotten today. Warren died in 1775 at the battle of Bunker Hill, and was slowly—but comprehensively—forgotten as other men stepped forward to play key roles in the story. But an argument can be made that without Warren—without the man who sent Paul Revere on his epic journey, without the man who wrote the essays that inspired the Declaration of Independence in part—the Revolution might have gone very different, or never even happened at all. Di Spigna offers a surprising story that will have you wondering why you weren’t taught about Warren right alongside Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington in school.

    The post 10 Books that Revealed Secret Histories appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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