Jan 30, 2015

Possible Books for April 2015

Woman reading (c.1912). Karl Alexander Wilke
"And she is the reader
who browses the shelf
and looks for new worlds
but finds herself.
Laura Purdie Salas
Perhaps it is time for the club again to read some North American History. Here are some books that you might consider:

Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father by Steven W. Hackel.  352 pages, 4.1 stars. Father Serra has been called the most important man in California history. He established a chain of missions through the state three centuries ago that completely changed the lives of its Indians. The Spanish heritage is marked in place names: San Diego, Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francico. Steven W. Hackel’s groundbreaking biography is the first to remove Serra from the realm of polemic and place him within the currents of history. Here is an article on Serra that mentions the book. Here is a brief article by author Hackel on Father Serra. Here is a video news report triggered by the Pope's recent announcement that Father Serra is to be recognized as a saint; Hackel is included as an expert. Selected for May 2015


Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Bridge by Kevin Starr. 224 pages, 3.8 stars. Kevin’s Starr’s Golden Gate is a brilliant and passionate telling of the history of the bridge itself, and a recounting of the rich and peculiar history of the California experience. The Golden Gate is a grand public work, a symbol and a very real bridge, a magnet for both postcard photographs and suicides. In this compact but comprehensive narrative, Starr unfolds the hidden-in-plain sight meaning of the Golden Gate, putting it in its place among classic works of art. Here is the New York Times review of the book. Here is a video with author Starr talking about the bridge.

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Guy Talese. 208 pages, 4 stars.  Towards the end of 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge—linking the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island with New Jersey—was completed. It remains an engineering marvel almost forty years later—at 13,700 feet (more than two and a half miles), it is still the longest suspension bridge in the United States and the sixth longest in the world. This is a reissue of Talese's 50 year old book on the construction of the bridge. Here is a review of the book. Here is a long video interview of the author about the book.

Americans on the Oceans
You might want to read this one page brief from the State Department's Historian on origin of U.S. interest insea power in the 1890s, especially as it was influenced by Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power upon History.
Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. 512 page (342 of text), 4.6 stars.  A Los Angeles Times Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007; A Boston Globe Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007; Amazon.com Editors pick as one of the 10 best history books of 2007; Winner of the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History. Here is the New York Times review of the book. Here is a video with Dolin describing the book. One of final four in History Book Club voting.

Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick. 480 pages (364 pages of text), 4.4 stars. America's first frontier was not the West; it was the sea. Philbrick writes about one of the most ambitious voyages of discovery the Western world has ever seen -- the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842. Here is the New York Times review of the book. Here is a long video with Philbrick discussing the expedition. Selected for April 2015

George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea by James Nelson. Paperback seems to be out of print, but available from secondary sellers, hardcover affordable. 320 pages, 4.7 stars. From the author of the critically acclaimed Benedict Arnold's Navy, here is the story of how America's first commander-in-chief--whose previous military experience had been entirely on land--nursed the fledgling American Revolution through a season of stalemate by sending troops to sea. 2009 recipient of the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for excellence in naval literature. Here is a review of the book.

Atlantic Kingdom: Americas Contest with Cunard in the Age of Sail and Steam  by John Butler (local author). 280 pages, unrated.  Atlantic Kingdom pays tribute to the Americans who challenged Cunard, the shipping company that held a monopoly on North Atlantic trade routes in the nineteenth century. In an era when civilization first grappled with large-scale technology and creative industries promised a new standard of living, competition for control over maritime trade was fierce. Cornelius Vanderbilt and P. T. Barnum were among those who battled like mythical gods for control of their domains. These titans of the Atlantic left behind them a wreckage of human lives, lost ships, and squandered fortunes in their failed bids for supremacy of the seas. Here is a review of the book.

Other American History

William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic by Alan Taylor. (427 pages of text), 4.6 stars. Winner of the Bancroft, Beveridge and Pulitzer prizes, this book presents the story of two men, William Cooper and his son, the novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new social forms and new stories that evolved with the expansion of our frontier. Read a review of the book in the Smithsonian magazine. Here is a C-Span video of Alan Taylor's presentation of the book. One of final four in History Book Club voting.

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. 448 pages (336 pages of text), 4.6 stars. Winner of the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln Prizes. this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln's lifelong engagement with the nation's critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln's greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth. Here is the New York Times review of the book. Here is a long video of the C-Span interview of Eric Foner on the book.

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O'Connell. 4.3 out of 5 stars, 432 pages of which about 350 are text. 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. Here is a review of the book in The Economist magazine.

The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War by Don H. Doyle. 4.1 stars, 400 pages. The book is not yet available in paperback but the hardback edition is affordable and available used. Author Doyle explains that the Civil War was viewed abroad as part of a much larger struggle for democracy that spanned the Atlantic Ocean, and had begun with the American and French Revolutions. Foreign observers held widely divergent views on the war—from radicals such as Karl Marx and Giuseppe Garibaldi who called on the North to fight for liberty and equality, to aristocratic monarchists, who hoped that the collapse of the Union would strike a death blow against democratic movements on both sides of the Atlantic. Nowhere were these monarchist dreams more ominous than in Mexico, where Napoleon III sought to implement his Grand Design for a Latin Catholic empire that would thwart the spread of Anglo-Saxon democracy and use the Confederacy as a buffer state. Here is a review of the book from The Economist magazine. Here is a video interview with the author on the book.

Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown. The paperback is to be published March 1, but the book has been available in hardback for some time. 416 pages (338 pages of text), 4.5 stars. Winner of the Hawley Prize, the Beverage Award and 4 other prizes. Brown tells the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia-the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium. To contain secrets, American and Soviet leaders created plutopias--communities of nuclear families living in highly-subsidized, limited-access atomic cities. Fully employed and medically monitored, the residents of Richland and Ozersk enjoyed all the pleasures of consumer society, while nearby, migrants, prisoners, and soldiers were banned from plutopia--they lived in temporary "staging grounds" and often performed the most dangerous work at the plant. Here is a review of the book. Here is a long C-Span video of Kate Brown describing the book to a Baltimore audience,

Some Other Books That Were Mentioned Last Meeting

Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent by Larry Berman. 336 pages, 4.1 stars.

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by 
Jung Chang. 464 pages (374 pages of text), 4.3 stars.

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be by Moises Naim. 320 pages, 3.9 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Allen has recommended A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin.

    He wrote "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."

    The book is 656 pages long (576 pages of text) and has a 4.4 star rating.

    There is a very interesting review of the book when it was first published from the New York Times here..

    I also found video (somewhat dated) that includes an interview with David Fromkin dealing with the material in his book.