Jun 4, 2014

Possible Books for the August 2014 Meeting

We have been reading books on the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and interest has been expressed in reading a book on the origin of World War I, thus completing the set of war commemorations currently being celebrated nationwide. There are three possible books on the causes of the war that might be considered, although each is so long as to suggest it be read over a two month period:

President Obama is currently in Poland and it was suggested in our last meeting that we read a book on Poland's history. Here are three possibilities:
Syria is also in the news, and we might consider reading a book on the recent history of that country:
Finally, our regular reading schedule would have us reading a book on economic history. Several have been listed on the club websiteCapital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty (2014, 4 stars, 696 pages) has been widely reviewed and is an exceptional best seller for a book on economics. 


  1. Allan mentioned Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Deckle Edge. The book was published in 2013. It has a 4 star rating average from 175 Amazon customers, and is 672 pages.

  2. Chris gave us this list for World War I:

    Dreadnought:: Robert Massie. This is an excellent popular book on the arms race building up to the Anglo-German rivalry that led to the First World War.

    The Pity of War: Niall Ferguson. Though he is a economic guy and the charts and economic theories are way over my head being a social/military historian, he deeply influenced my thinking when it came to research on my major (which is the Great War). His basic thesis is that the Great War became a world war because Great Britain choose to become involved. Had it stayed out, it probably would have remained a European War.

    The other good history book that I have read on the origins of the war are the books by Hew Strachan, who was probably one of the best authors writing on the war as of a few years ago.

  3. The book by Hew Strachan is The First World War (2005, 4- stars, 384 pages).

    Chris' other two books are long enough that we might consider them for a two month period.

  4. Norm writes:

    What about Asian history? There is wealth of books on Chinese history (as well as an excellent EdX MOOC course – check out https://courses.edx.org/courses/HarvardX/HAA1x/1T2014/courseware/c5e28d5a52d44a758372fdfb6565a75e/b3d10574a87d4f10a46dd8802aeb871a/
    and https://courses.edx.org/courses/HarvardX/HAA1x/1T2014/courseware/c5e28d5a52d44a758372fdfb6565a75e/4d82a828028d4d84b9d860128a3002b9/1Much
    Much of its content is in print from one of its lecturers.

    John Fairbanks’ book on Chinese history is quite good, but is now a half-century dated (I audited his course in the mid-60’s).

    Japanese history has been neglected, but there are two aspects that have are probably in print by now: Japan leading up to Perry, and consequences of Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

    The only books on Korean history I know of are in Korean. I could ask around for any in English. One of our friends is a former ambassador to North Korea and consul-general to US – he may know. (He wrote a short treatise on his experience in North Korea which has now been translated into English, although it is hard to find – we may have the only copy in the metro area.)

    Indochina would be interesting for its ancient period, for the war the we (read: the Dulles brothers) foisted upon them, and for developments since then. I am intrigued by reports that Americans are now embraced by the Vietnamese – how did this come about after all the destruction we rained upon them? Also, while we have some gruesome accounts as to the effect of agent orange on US military personnel, I have seen nothing about its effect on Vietnamese including civilians and children.

    I was fascinated by Papua New Guinea during my year there as Fulbright professor, but I looked in vain for anything historical – the main reason being, I suppose, that almost none of the hundreds of languages there had written form; and most of PNG had no contact with the outside world prior 1930 (somewhere I have a photo of that first meeting, showing the astonishment of residents of the interior upon first encountering whites).

    I am not interested in the Indian subcontinent – too complex, too much influenced by myth and superstition, too devious in many respects. I found out everything worth knowing through the Kama Sutra, and by having dated an Indian woman for some years; grateful I am now for the events that ended that involvement.

    One other area I would like to consider – Viking history. In their search for trade routes to the Aegean they populated some of western Russia, then occupied northern France and invaded England (following an earlier failed attempt from the east), made the earliest European contact with the western hemisphere, etc. There should be a good read on them somewhere.

  5. Stuart wrote:

    Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August is a brilliant and beautifully written book. It is one of my two models for the very best historical writing. (The other is Bruce Cattons' This Hallowed ground, still, in my opinion, the best one-volume history of the Civil War.) No mistake that Guns of August was a Pulitzer Prize winner. It also may be the most important history book of the 20th century. Robert Kennedy, in his memoir of the Cuban missile crisis (Thirteen Days) says that JFK had read Guns of August a few months earlier and cited the blindness of the leaders of that day in stumbling into war in 1914, in his rejection of the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a majority of his cabinet, to launch air strikes against the Soviet missile sites and invade Cuba before the missiles became operational. We now know that that would probably have triggered nuclear war, since the Soviet ground force commander in Cuba had authority to use the short-range nuclear weapons at his own discetion that were already operational, unknown to US intelligence at the time.

  6. William Easterly (economist) says Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings is the "best of the recent books for the looming anniversary of start of World War I."