Books Relating to International Organizations
The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen. 4.3 stars, 592 pages (407 pages before the Appendices). Here is the author discussing the book on C-SPAN.
At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire. The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way. France, Belgium, Japan and the British dominions reluctantly agreed to an Anglo-American proposal to hold and administer those allied conquests under "mandate" from the new League of Nations. In the end, fourteen mandated territories were set up across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. Against all odds, these disparate and far-flung territories became the site and the vehicle of global transformation.Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey by Brian Urquhart. 4.07 stars (Goodreads), 512 pages (458 pages of text). Here is an article on Dr. Bunch with two short videos.
In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League's experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. Featuring a cast of larger-than-life figures, including Lord Lugard, King Faisal, Chaim Weizmann and Ralph Bunche, the narrative sweeps across the globe-from windswept scrublands along the Orange River to famine-blighted hilltops in Rwanda to Damascus under French bombardment-but always returns to Switzerland and the sometimes vicious battles over ideas of civilization, independence, economic relations, and sovereignty in the Geneva headquarters.
A superb narrative biography of the international diplomat and racial pioneer―the basis for the acclaimed four-part PBS TV series. Ralph Bunche was instrumental ― sometimes at great personal risk ― in finding peaceful solutions to incendiary conflicts around the world, while at the same time he was never far from the realities of racial prejudice. Bunche rose from modest circumstances to become the foremost international mediator and peacekeeper of his time, winner of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize and key drafter of the United Nations charter. Drawing on Bunche's personal papers and on his many years as Bunche's colleague at the UN, Brian Urquhart's elegant biography delineates a man with a zest for life as well as unsurpassed integrity of purpose.Scandinavian History
A Warrior Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611-1721 by Henrik Lunde. Only available in hardcover. 3.9 stars, 320 pages.
This book examines the meteoric rise of Sweden as the pre-eminent military power in Europe during the Thirty Years War during the 1600's, and then follows its line of warrior kings into the next century until the Swedes finally meet their demise, in an overreach into the vastness of Russia. A small Scandinavian nation, with at most one and a half million people and scant internal resources of its own, there was small logic to how Sweden could become the dominant power on the Continent. That Sweden achieved this was due to its leadership―a case-study in history when pure military skill, and that alone, could override the demographic and economic factors which have in modern times been termed so pre-eminent. Once Protestantism emerged, via Martin Luther, the most devastating war in European history ensued, as the Holy Roman Empire sought to reassert its authority by force. Into this bloody maelstrom stepped Gustav Adolf of Sweden, a brilliant tactician and strategist, who with his finely honed Swedish legions proceeded to establish a new authority in northern Europe. Gustav, as brave as he was brilliant, was finally killed while leading a cavalry charge at the Battle of Lützen. He had innovated, however, tactics and weaponry that put his successors in good stead, as Sweden remained a great power, rivaled only by France and Spain in terms of territory in Europe. And then one of his successors, Karl XII, turned out to be just as great a military genius as Gustav himself, and as the year 1700 arrived, Swedish armies once more burst out in all directions. Karl, like Gustav, assumed the throne while still a teenager, but immediately displayed so much acumen, daring and skill that chroniclers could only compare him, like Gustav, to Alexander the Great.A Family of Kings: The descendants of Christian IX of Denmark by Theo Aronson. 4,5 stars, 428 pages (378 pages of text).
HENRIK O. LUNDE, born in Norway, moved to America as a child and thence rose in the U.S. Army to become a Colonel in Special Forces. Highly decorated for bravery in Vietnam, he proceeded to gain advance degrees and assume strategic posts, his last being in the Plans and Policy Branch of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe. After retirement from the Army he turned to writing, with a focus on his native North, and given his combination of personal tactical knowledge plus objective strategic grasp has authored several groundbreaking works. These include Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War, about Norway 1940, Finland’s War of Choice, and Hitler’s Wave-Breaking Concept, which analyzes the controversial retreat of Germany’s Army Group North from the Leningrad front in WWII.
In 1863, Queen Victoria decreed that Edward, Prince of Wales, should marry Princess Alexandra, daughter of the obscure and unsophisticated heir to the Danish throne. The beauty, grace and charm of Prince Christian's daughter had prevailed over the Queen's intense dislike of the Danish royal house, and had even persuaded the embarrassingly difficult Bertie to agree to the match.The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth. 4.5 stars, 300 pages. Selected
Thus began the fairy-tale saga of a family that handed on its good looks, unaffectedness, and democratic manners to almost every royal house of modern Europe. For, in the year that Alexandra became Princess of Wales, her brother Willie was elected King of the Hellenes ; her father at last succeeded to the Danish throne; her sister Dagmar was soon to become wife of the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia; and her youngest sister Thyra later married the de jure King of Hanover.
A Family of Kings is the story of the crowned children and grandchildren of Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark, focusing on the half-century before the First World War.
In AD 793 Norse warriors struck the English isle of Lindisfarne and laid waste to it. Wave after wave of Norse ‘sea-wolves’ followed in search of plunder, land, or a glorious death in battle. Much of the British Isles fell before their swords, and the continental capitals of Paris and Aachen were sacked in turn. Turning east, they swept down the uncharted rivers of central Europe, captured Kiev and clashed with mighty Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown. (Hardcover, but not too expensive.) 4.7 stars, 288 pages.
But there is more to the Viking story than brute force. They were makers of law - the term itself comes from an Old Norse word - and they introduced a novel form of trial by jury to England. They were also sophisticated merchants and explorers who settled Iceland, founded Dublin, and established a trading network that stretched from Baghdad to the coast of North America.
In The Sea Wolves, Lars Brownworth brings to life this extraordinary Norse world of epic poets, heroes, and travellers through the stories of the great Viking figures. Among others, Leif the Lucky who discovered a new world, Ragnar Lodbrok the scourge of France, Eric Bloodaxe who ruled in York, and the crafty Harald Hardrada illuminate the saga of the Viking age - a time which “has passed away, and grown dark under the cover of night”.
Lars Brownworth is an author, speaker, broadcaster, and teacher based in Maryland, USA. He created the first history podcast, "12 Byzantine Rulers", which Apple recognized as one of the 'top 50 podcasts that defined their genres'. He has written for the Wall Street Journal and been profiled in the New York Times, who likened him to some of history's great popularizers. His books include "Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization", "The Normans: From Raiders to Kings", and "The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings".
In the early 1800's, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard's Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.More Iberian History
Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown's Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America. The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.
The Portuguese: A Modern History by Barry Hatton. 4.2 stars, 256 pages.
Combining history and anecdote, Barry Hatton paints an intimate portrait of a fascinating country and its peopleThe Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama by Nigel Cliff. 4.4 stars, 560 pages (421 of text)
Portugal is an established member of the European Union, one of the founders of the euro currency and a founding member of NATO. Yet it is an inconspicuous and largely overlooked country on the continent's south-west rim.
Barry Hatton shines a light on this enigmatic corner of Europe by blending historical analysis with entertaining personal anecdotes. He describes the idiosyncrasies that make the Portuguese unique and surveys the eventful path that brought them to where they are today.
In the fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Age of Discovery the Portuguese led Europe out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic and they brought Asia and Europe together. Evidence of their one-time four-continent empire can still be felt, not least in the Portuguese language which is spoken by more than 220 million people from Brazil, across parts of Africa to Asia.
Analyzing present-day society and culture, The Portuguese also considers the nation's often tumultuous past. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake was one of Europe's greatest natural disasters, strongly influencing continental thought and heralding Portugal's extended decline. The Portuguese also weathered Europe's longest dictatorship under twentieth-century ruler Antonio Salazar. A 1974 military coup, called the Carnation Revolution, placed the Portuguese at the center of Cold War attentions. Portugal's quirky relationship with Spain, and with its oldest ally England, is also scrutinized.
Portugal, which claims Europe's oldest fixed borders, measures just 561 by 218 kilometers. Within that space, however, it offers a patchwork of widely differing and beautiful landscapes. With an easygoing and seductive lifestyle expressed most fully in their love of food, the Portuguese also have an anarchical streak evident in many facets of contemporary life. A veteran journalist and commentator on Portugal, the author gives a thorough overview of his adopted country.
Historian Nigel Cliff delivers a sweeping, radical reinterpretation of Vasco da Gama’s pioneering voyages, revealing their significance as a decisive turning point in the struggle between Christianity and Islam—a series of events which forever altered the relationship between East and West. Perfect for readers of Endurance:Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Galileo’s Daughter, and Atlantic, this first-ever complete account of da Gama’s voyages includes new information from the recently discovered diaries of his sailors and an extraordinary series of letters between da Gama and the Zamorin, a king of modern-day Kerala, India. Cliff, the author of The Shakespeare Riots, draws upon his own travels in da Gama’s footsteps to add detail, authenticity, and a contemporary perspective to this riveting, one-of-a-kind historical epic.Prince Henry the Navigator by Sir Peter Russell. (Expensive new.) 4.6 stars, 502 pages (364 of text)
This enthralling life of the legendary fifteenth-century Portuguese prince, Henry the Navigator, is the first comprehensive biography in more than a century. Examining the full range of the prince's activities as an imperialist and as a maritime, cartographical and navigational pioneer, Peter Russell shows that while Henry was firmly rooted in medieval times, his innovations set in motion changes that altered the history of Europe and regions far beyond.Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift by Thomas E. Chávez. 4.7 stars, 330 pages.
The role of Spain in the birth of the United States is a little known and little understood aspect of U.S. independence. Through actual fighting, provision of supplies, and money, Spain helped the young British colonies succeed in becoming an independent nation. Soldiers were recruited from all over the Spanish empire, from Spain itself and from throughout Spanish America. Many died fighting British soldiers and their allies in Central America, the Caribbean, along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis and as far north as Michigan, along the Gulf Coast to Mobile and Pensacola, as well as in Europe.The group was quite interested in reading about the history of Catelonia, especially given that it recently elected a pro-independence government which is expected to call a referendum on independence in the near future. Neither of the following two books fully seemed to fit the bill, and we were asked to see if a more suitable history of this region of Spain could be identified.
Based on primary research in the archives of Spain, this book is about United States history at its very inception, placing the war in its broadest international context. In short, the information in this book should provide a clearer understanding of the independence of the United States, correct a longstanding omission in its history, and enrich its patrimony. It will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the Revolutionary War and in Spain's role in the development of the Americas.
Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris. 4.8 stars (Amazon)/4.55 stars (Goodreads), 300 pages.
How much does the world know about Catalonia and its role as a great medieval empire and one of Europe's first nation states? In Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective author Simon Harris takes the reader through 1,000 years of Catalan history focusing on the Principality's often difficult relationship with Castile-dominated Spain. This insightful and balanced history gives an insider's background to the current political situation and why Catalonia is currently deciding whether or not it wants to be independent from Spain.
Simon Harris has lived in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, since 1988, where he is a university-level teacher of English and translator. His main writing topics are Catalan history, language and culture. His first book, Going Native in Catalonia. was published by Native Spain in 2008. He self-published Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective in late 2014. He is currently working on a biography of Catalan president Artur Mas centered on the Catalan independence movement, which he plans to self-publish in spring 2015.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. 4.14 stars (Goodreads), 304 pages.
“One of Orwell’s very best books and perhaps the best book that exists on the Spanish Civil War.”—The New YorkerGhosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett. 4.3 stars, 400 pages.
In 1936, originally intending merely to report on the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, George Orwell found himself embroiled as a participant—as a member of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity. Fighting against the Fascists, he described in painfully vivid and occasionally comic detail life in the trenches—with a “democratic army” composed of men with no ranks, no titles, and often no weapons—and his near fatal wounding. As the politics became tangled, Orwell was pulled into a heartbreaking conflict between his own personal ideals and the complicated realities of political power struggles.
Considered one of the finest works by a man V. S. Pritchett called “the wintry conscience of a generation,” Homage to Catalonia is both Orwell’s memoir of his experiences at the front and his tribute to those who died in what he called a fight for common decency. This edition features a new foreword by Adam Hochschild placing the war in greater context and discussing the evolution of Orwell’s views on the Spanish Civil War.
"Part modern social history, part travelogue, Ghosts of Spain is held together by elegant first-person prose…an invaluable book…[that] has become something of a bible for those of us extranjeros who have chosen to live in Spain. A country finally facing its past could scarcely hope for a better, or more enamored, chronicler of its present."--Sarah Wildman, New York Times Book Review
The appearance, more than sixty years after the Spanish Civil War ended, of mass graves containing victims of Francisco Franco's death squads finally broke what Spaniards call "the pact of forgetting"--the unwritten understanding that their recent, painful past was best left unexplored. At this charged moment, Giles Tremlett embarked on a journey around the country and through its history to discover why some of Europe's most voluble people have kept silent so long. In elegant and passionate prose, Tremlett unveils the tinderbox of disagreements that mark the country today. Ghosts of Spain is a revelatory book about one of Europe's most exciting countries.
Late Addition to the List (Angus Deaton just won the Nobel Prize for Economics)
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton. 4.0 stars, 376 pages. Read a review by one of our members, economist Guy Pfeffermann.
The world is a better place than it used to be. People are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people and nations. In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton--one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty--tells the remarkable story of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today's disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind.