Jun 30, 2014

Possible Books for September, 2014

One of the possibilities that came out of the last book club meeting was to read a book on World War I in October or November, given that so many good books on the beginning of the war are available, but many of them are long. Please take a look again at the discussion of those books.

Someone suggested a biography of Catherine the Great. Given her role in the creation of the "modern" Russian state, this seems an interesting idea. 

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (4.4 stars, this edition 2012, 574 pages) Here is a review.
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
Someone suggested this book:

This original, deeply researched history shows the transcontinentals to be pivotal actors in the making of modern America. But the triumphal myths of the golden spike, robber barons larger than life, and an innovative capitalism all die here. Instead we have a new vision of the Gilded Age, often darkly funny, that shows history to be rooted in failure as well as success. 8 pages of illustrations
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is being celebrated this year, and it was suggested that we might read a relevant book.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd S. Purdum (4.5 stars, 2014, 340 pages of text). The book is available in hardback and kindle, but the paperback will not be published until 2015. Here is a review.
A top Washington journalist recounts the dramatic political battle to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that created modern America, on the fiftieth anniversary of its passage
It was a turbulent time in America—a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, a March on Washington and a governor standing in the schoolhouse door—when John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar racial discrimination in employment, education, and public accommodations. Countless civil rights measures had died on Capitol Hill in the past. But this one was different because, as one influential senator put it, it was “an idea whose time has come.”
In a powerful narrative layered with revealing detail, Todd S. Purdum tells the story of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, recreating the legislative maneuvering and the larger-than-life characters who made its passage possible. From the Kennedy brothers to Lyndon Johnson, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Hubert Humphrey and Everett Dirksen, Purdum shows how these all-too-human figures managed, in just over a year, to create a bill that prompted the longest filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate yet was ultimately adopted with overwhelming bipartisan support. He evokes the high purpose and low dealings that marked the creation of this monumental law, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of new interviews that bring to life this signal achievement in American history.
Often hailed as the most important law of the past century, the Civil Rights Act stands as a lesson for our own troubled times about what is possible when patience, bipartisanship, and decency rule the day.
It was suggested that we might read a biography of Metternich. There is a famous one, out of print but available used at affordable prices.

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 by Henry A. Kissinger (4.1 stars, 1973, 354 pages) Here is the Kirkus review.
The Napoleonic Wars were followed by an almost unprecedented century of political stability. A World Restored analyses the alliances formed and treaties signed by the world's leaders during the years 1812 to 1822, focussing on the personalities of the two main negotiators: Viscount Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, and Prince von Metternich, his Austrian counterpart. Henry Kissinger explains how the turbulent relationship between these two men, the differing concerns of their respective countries and the changing nature of diplomacy all influenced the final shape of the peace. Originally published in 1957.
In 2009 we read Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski which covered some of the same material.

It occurs to me that we have not read anything about U.S. foreign policy per se. A relatively new book seems interesting:

The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass (4.5 stars, 2014, 346 pages of text) Here is a review.
This magnificent history provides the first full account of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s secret support for Pakistan in 1971 as it committed shocking atrocities in Bangladesh—which led to war between India and Pakistan, shaped the fate of Asia, and left major strategic consequences for the world today.
Drawing on previously unheard White House tapes, recently declassified documents, and his own extensive investigative reporting, Gary Bass uncovers an astonishing unknown story of superpower brinkmanship, war, scandal, and conscience. Revelatory, authoritative, and compulsively readable, The Blood Telegram is a thrilling chronicle of a pivotal chapter in American foreign policy.
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction; Winner of the Lionel Gelber Prize for Best Foreign Affairs Book; One of the Best Books of the Year at * The Economist * Financial Times * The New Republic * The Washington Post * Kirkus Reviews * A New York Times Notable Book
This also seems an interesting book, dealing with a country we have not read about but which has some importance in the world.

Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani (unrated, 2013, 380 pages of text) Here is a review.
Indonesia "is the world’s fourth most populous nation and third most populous democracy. With 210 million citizens who identify as Muslim, Indonesia is also the country with the largest number of Muslims. The Indonesian capital, Jakarta, tweets more than any other city on earth, and around 64 million Indonesians (more than the population of the United Kingdom) use Facebook. It is among the world’s largest suppliers of thermal coal, palm oil, copper, tin, nickel, gold, rubber, coconuts, rice, and coffee." Los Angeles Review of Books
Previously I thought we might want to read about history related to current hot spots, especially Poland (for its relevance to the Ukrainian crisis) or Syria. I identified several relevant books. The best of these seem to be:

Poland: A History by Adam Zamoyski  (4.3 stars, 2012, 426 pages) Here is a review.
As Zamoyski set out to update The Polish Way, his bestselling first history of Poland, he realized the task required not so much re-writing as re-thinking the known facts well as the assumptions of the past. The events of the last twenty years and the growth of the independent Polish state allowed him to look at Poland's past with a fresh eye. Tracing Poland's complex development from the Middle Ages to present day, Zamoyski examines the country's political, economic, and military struggles, as well as its culture, art, and richly varied society through the ages, bringing the major events and characters in Poland's history to life.
Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East by Patrick Seale (3.9 stars, 1990, 495 pages of text) A review is here.
“This is a book in the finest tradition of investigative scholarship. The research is awesome. . . . Seale’s great strength is his ability to explain the confusing kaleidoscopic nature of Middle Eastern diplomacy. He understands the game being played and also knows the players. . . . [An] impressive book.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
And a late addition, by one of my favorite authors:

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner (4.5 stars, 1953 reprinted edition 1992, 367 pages of text) Here is the Kirkus review.
In this book Wallace Stegner recounts the sucesses and frustrations of John Wesley Powell, the distinguished ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, and the homeland of Indian tribes of the American Southwest. A prophet without honor who had a profound understanding of the American West, Powell warned long ago of the dangers economic exploitation would pose to the West and spent a good deal of his life overcoming Washington politics in getting his message across. Only now, we may recognize just how accurate a prophet he was.
"This book goes far beyond biography, into the nature and soul of the American West. It is Stegner at his best, assaying an entire era of our history, packing his pages with insights as shrewd as his prose." —Ivan Doig 
"Stegner’s book now ranks as one of the most influential books ever written about the West, and more than any other work its publication explains Powell’s resurrection to sainthood after World War Two." -- Donald Worster

1 comment:

  1. Here is one more possibility:

    The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order by Benn Steil (4.4 stars, 2013, 370 pages of text) Here is a review.

    "When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for 'a new Bretton Woods' to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil's epic account.

    "Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival. At the heart of the drama were the antipodal characters of John Maynard Keynes, the renowned and revolutionary British economist, and Harry Dexter White, the dogged, self-made American technocrat. Bringing to bear new and striking archival evidence, Steil offers the most compelling portrait yet of the complex and controversial figure of White--the architect of the dollar's privileged place in the Bretton Woods monetary system, who also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years.

    "A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history."

    Winner of the 2013 Spear's Book Award in Financial History and Co-Winner of the 2014 Bronze Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book Awards as well as various book of the year awards for 2013.