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Historical

  • 50 Children

    50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman. “This non-fiction book is an unbelievable testament to the amazing things that some people will do to help others in desperate times.  Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were a prominent Philadelphia Jewish couple that traveled into Nazi Germany and Austria to save Jewish children.  They worked through all levels of US Government to get the appropriate visas and paperwork, and risked their own lives to travel through Europe and meet with Nazi officials.  At the time, there was significant backlash from other refugee and Jewish groups that had not been as successful in bringing people safely to the US.  An inspiring story at any time, but especially at this point in our nation's political climate when there are so many refugee groups trying to gain entry.”

  • Ahab's Wife: Or, the Star-Gazer

    Ahab's Wife: or, the Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. “I didn’t see this on your list and it’s one of my favorite books!!”  Amazon: From the opening line—"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last"—you will know that you are in the hands of a master storyteller and in the company of a fascinating woman hero. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby-Dick, Sena Jeter Naslund has created an enthralling and compellingly readable saga, spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. At once a family drama, a romantic adventure, and a portrait of a real and loving marriage, Ahab's Wife gives new perspective on the American experience.

  • Aristocrats

    Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox: by Stella Tillyard. From Amazon:  "An intimate, detailed portrayal of the lives of four eighteenth-century sisters, great granddaughters of King Charles II who lived wealthy, public lives.  It is based on diaries and letters and reveals the joys and tragedies they shared."

  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie -- "I loved this book! Good review: This book was a charming vignette about a most unlikely subject: the re-education of two city boys during Mao's cultural revolution in China. The two young men are sent to a remote mountain called Phoenix of the Sky where they work like peasants in the fields and are allowed no books. But life in the remote mountains is never dull.”

  • Blood and Thunder

    Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides. “In the summer of 1846, the Army of the West marched through Santa Fe, en route to invade and occupy the Western territories claimed by Mexico. Fueled by the new ideology of “Manifest Destiny,” this land grab would lead to a decades-long battle between the United States and the Navajos, the fiercely resistant rulers of a huge swath of mountainous desert wilderness. In Blood and Thunder, Hampton Sides gives us a magnificent history of the American conquest of the West. At the center of this sweeping tale is Kit Carson, the trapper, scout, and soldier whose adventures made him a legend. Sides shows us how this illiterate mountain man understood and respected the Western tribes better than any other American, yet willingly followed orders that would ultimately devastate the Navajo nation. Rich in detail and spanning more than three decades, this is an essential addition to our understanding of how the West was really won.”

  • Boys in the Boat

    The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown  "I knew nothing about rowing before reading this, but now get I why people get hooked on the sport.  Great history of Germany before WW 2 and the 1936 Olympics.  Wonderful read."  "Getting raving reviews from my in laws... it has popped up in other must read lists."

  • Brunelleschi's Dome

    Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King “about the master who built the Duomo in Florence (since I went there in April it was particularly relevant)."This is short, historical, but interesting enough to read like fiction. Was probably more engaging since I was reading it while I was actually viewing the building. So if anyone is heading to Florence this summer, this is the book for them."

  • City of Falling Angels

    The City of Falling Angels By John Berendt. He’s the author ofMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book traces the events surrounding the fire which destroyed an opera house in Venice. Some have told me that this was not as gripping as “midnight,” but the Amazon reviews were pretty good.

  • Cleopatra

    Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff Biography. “Not one I would have picked up but given to me by a friend. I devoured it in a few days." … “Great read, great history as biography.” … “Read this on your Kindle or with dictionary at your side. A light rompy read, this is not... however, it is a very interesting and well researched story about the mesmerizing Cleopatra.”

  • Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother

    The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother By James McBride.

  • Columbine

    Columbine by Dave Cullen. "Wow! This book hooks you from page one and never lets go. The Columbine massacre is a fascinating story to start with but Dave Cullen does a fantastic job of putting you in the school on that horrible day and into the minds of the killers, the victims, and the town. It would be easy to write a sensational account of such an infamous day in history but this book does not read like sleazy tabloid reporting. Cullen is thoughtful and empathetic but also painfully honest about debunking some of the myths around the killers and even the victims. I could understand why someone may not feel up to tackling a book on this subject matter but if you are remotely interested in reading a book on Columbine I would highly recommend Cullen's."

  • Conversations with Kennedy

    Conversations with Kennedy by Ben Bradlee "Ben Bradlee, who was then the White House correspondent for Newsweek, and his first wife and their young kids lived around the corner in Georgetown from Senator Jack Kennedy and his wife and young kids. Then Kennedy won the presidency. The two couples hung out a lot -- many private dinners at the WH just the four of them, often after the switchboard would call the Bradlees at 6 p.m. and ask if they’d be able to come over for a quick dinner. Bradlee kept a diary of every conversation he had with the president, with the promise that it wouldn’t be published until after he’d been out of office for many years. Some of the conversations were pretty unbelievable. The tension builds as the dates of the diary entries progress until November of 1963. Riveting. Plus, you can’t help but think: what would it be like if your friend got elected president?"

  • Courtesans: Money Sex and Fame in the 19th century

    Courtesans: Money Sex and Fame in the 19th Century By Katie Hickman. Biography of five “kept women” of the 19th century. Very interesting and dishy. These women were total rule-breakers in that Victorian era, yet they were enormously influential and quite famous.

  • Dead Wake

    Dead Wake by Eric Larsen. “The story of the final voyage of the passenger liner The Lusitania and the confluence of events that lead to its sinking at the start of WW1.  Chapters alternate between the stories of the passengers and crew and the unfolding political situation as the US and President Wilson sought to avoid involvement in the European conflict.  A perfect balance between a novel and an historical account of the early days of WW1.” …..From Amazon:  “On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas. Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.”

  • Empire of the Summer Moon

    Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne.  “In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all. S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up. Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six; full Comanche braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backward by Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun. The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne’s exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being. Against this backdrop Gwynne presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower-blue eyes who was kidnapped by Comanches from the far Texas frontier in 1836. She grew to love her captors and became infamous as the "White Squaw" who refused to return until her tragic capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. More famous still was her son Quanah, a warrior who was never defeated and whose guerrilla wars in the Texas Panhandle made him a legend. S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told. Empire of the Summer Moon announces him as a major new.”

  • Fiasco

    Fiasco by Tom Ricks. "Lots of policy makers changed from optimism to pessimism after reading this book. Great overview of how things went wrong in different parts of the government, and intelligible to non-military folks."

  • Five Sisters

    Five Sisters By James Fox. This is another biography about a Virginia family, in this case the Langhorne sisters, who include Irene (the original Gibson girl) and Nancy Astor. Their family was remarkable – almost Kennedyesque. It was a quick read, and very entertaining.

  • Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship

    Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship By Jon Meacham. This recounts the complicated friendship of FDR and Churchill.

  • Hellhound on His Trail

    Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides. From Random House:  “”On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the American South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign. On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers’ cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis that April. With relentless storytelling drive, Hampton Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life—an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.”

  • Hemingses of Monticello

    The Heminsges of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed. "If you are a history buff you will love it. Get past the deep detail in the beginning and it is very readable. You will see a whole new side of Thomas Jefferson." The story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha.