Posts Tagged ‘history’

Views on American History and Politics

Monday, June 16th, 2014

The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman.

“By the president of the prestigious Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the life story of the most controversial, volatile, misunderstood provision of the Bill of Rights. At a time of renewed debate over guns in America, what does the Second Amendment mean? This book looks at history to provide some surprising, illuminating answers. The Amendment was written to calm public fear that the new national government would crush the state militias made up of all (white) adult men–who were required to own a gun to serve. Waldman recounts the raucous public debate that has surrounded the amendment from its inception to the present. As the country spread to the Western frontier, violence spread too. But through it all, gun control was abundant. In the 20th century, with Prohibition and gangsterism, the first federal control laws were passed. In all four separate times the Supreme Court ruled against a constitutional right to own a gun. The present debate picked up in the 1970s–part of a backlash to the liberal 1960s and a resurgence of libertarianism. A newly radicalized NRA entered the campaign to oppose gun control and elevate the status of an obscure constitutional provision. In 2008, in a case that reached the Court after a focused drive by conservative lawyers, the US Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution protects an individual right to gun ownership. Famous for his theory of “originalism,” Justice Antonin Scalia twisted it in this instance to base his argument on contemporary conditions. In The Second Amendment: A Biography, Michael Waldman shows that our view of the amendment is set, at each stage, not by a pristine constitutional text, but by the push and pull, the rough and tumble of political advocacy and public agitation”– Provided by publisher.

I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir by James Webb.

“James Webb, author of Fields of Fire, the classic novel of the Vietnam War–former U.S. Senator; Secretary of the Navy; recipient of the Navy Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart as a combat Marine; and a self-described “military brat”–has written an extraordinary memoir of his early years, “a love story–love of family, love of country, love of service,” in his words. Webb’s mother grew up in the poverty-stricken cotton fields of Eastern Arkansas. His father and life-time hero was the first of many generations of Webbs, whose roots are in Appalachia, to finish high school. He flew bombers in World War II, cargo planes in the Berlin Airlift, graduated from college in middle age, and became an expert in the nation’s most advanced weaponry. Webb’s account of his childhood is a tremendous American saga as the family endures the constant moves and challenges of the rarely examined Post-World War II military, with his stern but emotionally invested father, loving and resolute mother, a granite-like grandmother who held the family together during his father’s frequent deployments, and an assortment of invincible aunts, siblings, and cousins. His account of his four years at Annapolis are painfully honest but in the end triumphant. His description of Vietnam’s most brutal battlefields breaks new literary ground. One of the most highly decorated combat Marines of that war, he is a respected expert on the history and conduct of the war. Webb’s novelist’s eyes and ears invest this work with remarkable power, whether he is describing the resiliency that grew from constant relocations during his childhood, the longing for his absent father, his poignant goodbye to his parents as he leaves for Vietnam, his role as a 23-year-old lieutenant through months of constant combat, or his election to the Senate where he was known for his expertise in national defense, foreign policy, and economic fairness. This is a life that could only happen in America” — from publisher’s web site.


Watergate Book 40th Anniversary

Friday, June 13th, 2014

This Friday, June 13,  NPR’s Morning Edition featured Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, authors of All the President’s Men (find this book in our catalog).

“This is the book that changed America. Published just two months before President Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men revealed the full scope of the Watergate scandal and introduced for the first time the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing through headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward deliver the stunning revelations and pieces in the Watergate puzzle that brought about Nixon’s shocking downfall. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post, toppled the president, and have since inspired generations of reporters.

All the President’s Men is a riveting detective story, capturing the exhilarating rush of the biggest presidential scandal in U.S. history as it unfolded in real time. It is, as former New York Times managing editor Gene Roberts has called it, “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time.”” (Simon and Schuster)



The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

(Find this book in our catalog)  This international bestseller is a fun & funny satire that begins when Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window at the Old Folk’s Home where he lives. He is escaping the 1ooth birthday party planned for him by the home’s director. Still wearing his slippers, he makes his way to the bus station where, by stealing a suitcase, he sets in motion a series of events that will include a number of murders, some new friends, a whole pile of money, an elephant, and a trip to Bali. He will also reveal to his new friends the many episodes of his life, including that he was an explosives expert with a taste for vodka. Author Jonasson, cleverly ties Allan to historic events from his birth in 1905, to his present predicament in 2005. Allan is loveable, his friends are unusual, & the characters he meets are mostly unaware that both he & the author are making fun of them. Brilliant, unique & with a fresh take on history, this is a novel that will interest & amuse anyone.

With over 3 million copies sold worldwide, Swedish author Jonasson has a debut hit. He is a former journalist and had his own production company until he felt the need for a change & decided to write his first novel. As he says of Allan, It’s Never Too Late to Start Over. Jonasson lives in Sweden with his son, a cat & some chickens. His second book, The Illiterate Who Could Count, will be published in 2013.

Click here for article:  is the author’s website.

Posted by Julia

Pulitzer Prizes for Letters

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes  in the letters categories were announced Monday, April 15. They are:

Fiction: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Find in our catalog)

Summary:  “”The Orphan Masters Son” follows a young mans journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the worlds most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother–a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang–and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didnt know what starving people looked like.” Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, “The Orphan Masters Son” is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, “The Orphan Masters Son” ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of todays greatest writers.”

General nonfiction: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (Find in our catalog)

Summary:  “Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in an explosive and deadly case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life. In 1949, Floridas orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By days end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.” And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning civil rights movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight–not after the Klan had murdered one of Marshalls NAACP associates involved with the case and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next. Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBIs unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACPs Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.”"

History: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall (Find in our catalog)

Summary:  “The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the twentieth century. Fought over a period of three decades, the conflict drew in all the world’s powers and saw two of them–first France, then the United States–attempt to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces. For France, the defeat marked the effective end of her colonial empire, while for America the war left a gaping wound in the body politic that remains open to this day. How did it happen? Tapping into newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations and making full use of the published literature, distinguished scholar Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to lose their way in Vietnam. Embers of War opens in 1919 at the Versailles Peace Conference, where a young Ho Chi Minh tries to deliver a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson. It concludes in 1959, with a Viet Cong ambush on an outpost outside Saigon and the deaths of two American officers whose names would be the first to be carved into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In between come years of political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering and miscalculation, as leaders on all sides embark on a series of stumbles that makes an eminently avoidable struggle a bloody and interminable reality. Logevall takes us inside the councils of war–and gives us a seat at the conference tables where peace talks founder. He brings to life the bloodiest battles of France’s final years in Indochina–and shows how from an early point, a succession of American leaders made disastrous policy choices that put America on its own collision course with history: Harry Truman’s fateful decision to reverse Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policy and acknowledge France’s right to return to Indochina after World War II; Dwight Eisenhower’s strenuous efforts to keep Paris in the fight and his escalation of U.S. involvement in the aftermath of the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu; and the curious turnaround in Senator John F. Kennedy’s thinking that would lead him as president to expand that commitment, despite his publicly stated misgivings about Western intervention in Southeast Asia. An epic story of wasted opportunities and tragic miscalculations, featuring an extraordinary cast of larger-than-life characters, Embers of War delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another. This book will become the definitive chronicle of the struggle’s origins for years to come.”

Biography: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (Find in our catalog)

Summary:  “Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in present-day Haiti, Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but then made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.”

Poetry: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds (Find in our catalog)

Summary:  “In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom. As she carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending, Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip; the radical change in her sense of place in the world. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music–sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry she has yet given us.”


Best Nonfiction

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

This outstanding nonfiction was recommended by Publisher’s Weekly.

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo by Richard Lloyd Parry (Find in our catalog).

Excerpt from Library Journal review in our catalog: “This true crime tale reads like a novel, but few of its fictional counterparts have this much insight into murder cases and the psychology of the people involved. Foreign correspondent and author Parry (Tokyo bureau chief, The Times; In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos) tells the story of Lucie Blackman, a young Englishwoman who mysteriously disappeared in Japan in 2000. He vividly captures the atmosphere and culture of Tokyo, where Blackman lived before she disappeared, and tells of her family’s excruciating attempts to find answers and the bizarre trial of the man accused of her brutal murder. Parry remains objective but writes sympathetically of all involved. He delves into the lives of members of the victim’s family as well as of the accused man, adding layer upon layer of complexity to an already complicated case.”

The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675 by Bernard Bailyn (Find in our catalog).

From our catalog: “Bernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with the indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard. They were a mixed multitude–from England, the Netherlands, the German and Italian states, France, Africa, Sweden, and Finland. They moved to the western hemisphere for different reasons, from different social backgrounds and cultures, and under different auspices and circumstances. Even the majority that came from England fit no distinct socioeconomic or cultural pattern. They came from all over the realm, from commercialized London and the southeast; from isolated farmlands in the north still close to their medieval origins; from towns in the Midlands, the south, and the west; from dales, fens, grasslands, and wolds. They represented the entire spectrum of religious communions from Counter-Reformation Catholicism to Puritan Calvinism and Quakerism. They came hoping to re-create if not to improve these diverse lifeways in a remote and, to them, barbarous environment. But their stories are mostly of confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility as they sought to normalize abnormal situations and recapture lost worlds. And in the process they tore apart the normalities of the people whose world they had invaded. Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. Bailyn shows that it was a brutal encounter–brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves. All, in their various ways, struggled for survival with outlandish aliens, rude people, uncultured people, and felt themselves threatened with descent into squalor and savagery. In these vivid stories of individual lives–some new, some familiar but rewritten with new details and contexts–Bailyn gives a fresh account of the history of the British North American population in its earliest, bitterly contested years.”

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956 by Anne Applebaum (Find in our catalog).

From the catalog: “In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag , acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway. At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain , Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.”


Nonfiction – The Hinges of History

Friday, August 19th, 2011

  The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (Find in our catalog)

One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things , by Lucretius ”a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions. The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

  How the Irish saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (Find in our catalog)

This is another book about how ancient manuscripts and their preservation in monasteries have shaped our civilization today.  This is one of Thomas Cahill’s series that he named “The Hinges of History.”  This is what it says in our catalog: “Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become “the isle of saints and scholars” — and thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians. In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost — they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task. As Cahill delightfully illustrates, so much of the liveliness we associate with medieval culture has its roots in Ireland. When the seeds of culture were replanted on the European continent, it was from Ireland that they were germinated.”


American History Book Prize

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

  Ron Chernow has won the American History Book Prize, sponsored by the New-York Historical Society, for Washington: A Life (Find in catalog).  Read more about the Prize.

Summary of the book in our catalog:  “From National Book Award winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington.  In Washington: A Life celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation.  With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America’s first president.  Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull.  A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection.  In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man.  A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life.  Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods.  Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren.  He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master.  At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people.  Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency.  In this unique biography, Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America’s founding.  With a dramatic sweep worthy of its giant subject, Washington is a magisterial work from one of our most elegant storytellers.”

Sir Isaac Newton – criminal investigator

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Earlier today I posted news about the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. The Royal Society is the national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth. Founded in 1660, the Royal Society counts many of the illustrious founders of modern science among its past fellows and members (read more). Sir Isaac Newton was one of the early presidents.

Currently I am reading an exceedingly fascinating book about Sir Isaac Newton. This work of nonfiction, Newton and the Counterfeiter : the unknown detective career of the world’s greatest scientist by Thomas Levenson, reads easily, like fiction or like the best of true crime stories. Find this book in our catalog
In 1695, Isaac Newton, having lived reclusively in Cambridge for 30 years moved to London to take up the post of Warden of His Majesty’s Mint. He wanted a change of scene, but to move from Cambridge he needed some means of support other than his professorship: which perhaps explains why he took up this unlikely post. Newton could heve treated his post as a mere sinecure and left the duties of his office to lesser and ineffectual civil servants; however, during his three years in office he was notably successful in stamping out counterfeiting (pun intended!). This was vital to the economy of the time: money in the modern sense was just coming into being, but the official coinage was almost completely compromised by counterfeits. Newton brought all his genius to bear on the problem, using the new methods of science he had introduced to the world to detect, track down, prosecute, and convict many individual criminals from his office in the Tower. His chief adversary was a genius of a diferent kind: William Chaloner a brilliant counterfeiter and crime lord. In the courts and streets of London the two played out an epic game of cat and mouse.
There is much to enjoy: the readable, clear, yet technically well-informed style of the author and the extremely detailed, yet never boring description of the work of Newton and fellow natural philosophers; the rich details of society at all levels; the lively depiction of the underworld of London; the battle of the protagonists.
If you like historical true crime you will probably like:
If you like science writing that reads like fiction: