Jan 6, 2015

Possible Books for March 2015

Generic: The Unbranding of Modern Medicine by Jeremy A. Greene. This is a book that hits an interest of our book club in local history and another interest that has been expressed in the pharmaceutical industry. Do you remember the Generic Drug scandal of the late 1980s and 1990s? Apparently all of the 30 largest U.S. manufactures of generic drugs were implicated, and five FDA employees working in the Parklawn Building (so close to where we have been meeting all these years) were sent to jail. 368 pages, only one rating. I came across the book in an interview that the author did with Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU. Here is a review of the bookHere is an interview with one of the people who was involved in the investigations. The relevant section begins on page 10 of the transcript (The 15th page of the file.) Decision: To Be Considered for a Future Meeting.

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley follows up on his book, 1453, The Holy War for Constantinople that we read in 2010. Lepanto marked the limits of Ottoman expansion by sea power. In 1912 we read Wheatcroft's The Enemy at the Gate describing the end of Ottoman expansion in Europe in the 1683 siege of Vienna (see summary of discussion). 4.8 stars, 368 pages. Here is a review of the book, and here is a video of the author describing it. Decision: This was the Runner Up

East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute by David Kang. The book focuses on the tribute system that stabilized relations among China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam from the founding of the Ming dynasty in 1368 to the start of the Opium Wars in 1841, There were relatively few wars among those countries, albeit that the Imjin War of 1592 involved half a million Japanese invaders of Korea and 160,000 Chinese and Korean defenders. 4.3 stars, 240 pages. Here is a review of the book. Here is a video of political scientist David Kang discussing modern border disputes in East Asia. Decision: Rejected for Lack of Interest

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland. This is a modern account of the war between the Persians and the Greeks in the 5th century BC. 4.0 out of 5 stars, 464 pages.  Here is a review of the book. Here is a relatively long video of Holland's talk about the bookDecision: Rejected for Lack of Interest

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by  Alan Beattie. An editor of The Financial Times, writes about how the decisions people make determine how successful countries will be in developing their economies. 3.8 out of 5 stars, 368 pages. Here is a review of the book, and a video of an interview with the author about the bookDecision: Rejected for Lack of Interest

The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the 'Abbasid Empire by Amira K. Bennison. Bennison places Islamic civilization in the longer trajectory of Mediterranean civilizations and sees the ‘Abbasid Empire (750–1258 CE) as the inheritor and interpreter of Graeco-Roman traditions. At its zenith the ‘Abbasid caliphate stretched over the entire Middle East and part of North Africa, and influenced Islamic regimes as far west as Spain. Bennison’s examines the politics, society, and culture of the ‘Abbasid period. 3.8 out of 5 stars, 256 pages, Here is a review of the book, and here author Bennison talks in a video on the cities of the Abbasid empire. Decision: Selected for March

I found three books in lists of the best books of 2014 that might be of interest to the History Book Club:

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée. This is in the Amazon list of the best 100 books of all kinds. During the Cold War, the CIA embarked on a covert program to distribute books. One of the first and most successful of these cultural efforts was Dr. Zhivago, and the authors (experienced reporters) provide a detailed account of the book, its writing, and its success. 4.4 out of 5 stars, 384 pages. Here is a review of the book, and here is a C-SPAN book talk by author FinnDecision: To Be Considered for a Future Meeting.

Two books caught my attention in the GoodReads list of the best 100 histories or biographies of 2014.

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egyptby Kara Cooney. “This biography could only be based on conjecture and guesswork, but the addition of expertise makes it well worth reading. The author's Egyptology background provides the nitty-gritty of daily life and animates this king (at the time, there was no word for 'queen')… Cooney's detective work finally brings out the story of a great woman's reign.”—Kirkus Reviews. 4.0 out of 5 stars, 320 pages. Here is a review of the book and here is a video of a relatively long interview of the author (a UCLA professor and Discovery Channel host) that begins explaining the book. Decision: Rejected for Lack of Interest

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O'Connell. Sherman is best known as a Civil War General, but his service began in the Seminole War in Florida, and continued after the Civil War as Commanding General of the Army during the Indian Wars when he took responsibility for the safety of the transcontinental railways. This book is described as less a military history of his campaigns (although the Washington Post liked the description of the March to the Sea) than a biography of a complicated man and his development as a military expert. 4.3 out of 5 stars, 432 pages of which about 350 are text. Here is a review of the bookDecision: To Be Considered for a Future Meeting.

Hatshepsut's Temple in the Valley of the Kings


  1. Norm responded in terms of the first five books on the list:

    In order of preference, my vote on the five is:
    1) Empires of the Sea, mostly because I have a standing fascination with Suleiman and with Malta;

    2) East Asia before the West, because we have neglected eastern history (and because my wife is Korean);

    3) Persian Fire, although it is a bit long;

    4) Generic, although I would probably find this dull because I spent half my career as a health economist;

    5) False Economy, because I find his argument too glib (there is still much argument and too little agreement on why some countries have succeeded better than others), and also because I tend to distrust anything that is recommended by The Economist.

  2. I had mentioned to the group "A Peace to End All Peace" by David Fromkin (http://tinyurl.com/ns7hsgf).

    I am about 200 pages into it and it has been a total eye-opener for me, although I suspect that many of you already know a lot about the transformation of the Mid East during and after World War I. The book focuses mostly on the British actions and in the region and interaction between England and various Mid East players. The book is very detailed and you may lose track of all the names, but that doesn't prevent the story from playing out and it is not pretty. The book was published in 1989, but the 2009 paperback edition has a new afterword by the author that discusses more recent events in the region.

    My former boss at the Dept. of Transportation volunteered for two one-year assignments to Iraq during the height of the war, where he worked on teams attempting to repair/improve transportation infrastructure. He told me that everyone who went to Iraq was told to read this book and it had a great impression on him. I'm getting the same feeling, but I have a long way to go. It's not an easy or breezy read, and is over 600 pages, but it is fascinating.


  3. We considered "A Peace to End All Peace" back in July, and chose instead to read "The Long Shadow"

  4. Norm responded to Allen's comment on A Peace to End All Peace":

    This appears to be a cultural depiction of ordinary people at the time (something we have tended to ignore) rather than a political depiction. One reviewer says it is a “dumbed down” story, but another applauded it as a good starting point. Could be interesting, but it does exceed our price preferences.