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Historical

  • In the Kingdom of Ice

    In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. “New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age. In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores. James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever." The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice—a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival. With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.”

  • John Adams

    John Adams David McCullough "It will weigh down your beach bag terribly, but worth every sandy page! Really brings the history to page-turning life!" This powerful, epic biography, unfolds the adventurous life journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second president of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the most moving love stories in American history.

  • Last Lion

    The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory and The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester. "These are the first two in what was to be a trilogy of Churchill biographies by Manchester. Manchester died in 2004, but journalist Paul Reid is finishing the third one, and it's supposed to be published late this year. So let's read the first two and then we can all go to the party at midnight at Barnes & Noble on the eve of the release of the third and final volume." (Context:  this contribution was added the year the last Harry Potter book came out.  As it happens, the final volume was, indeed, released in 2012.)

  • Lee Miller: A Life

    Lee Miller: A Life By Carolyn Burke. "Lee Miller is the Forest Gump of the art & photography world.  She was a muse of Man Ray, Conde Nast & other arty men, then ended up taking all the most amazing photos of WW2 as a correspondent for Vogue (inc. bathing in Hitler’s tub). Wild."

  • Lincoln at the Bardo

    Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders "This is such a different way of story telling (including quotes - real and fictional - about Lincoln and the historical setting). I think going in without a lot of preconceived ideas and just letting the story unfold is the best way to go. The premise is Lincoln visiting his eleven year old son's grave the day of his burial. But really the heart of the book for me was the wide ranging cast of characters who are between the worlds - in the Bardo of the title - and their touching, funny, tragic, and heart breaking stories. I listened to this book on audio which I highly recommend. There are over 160 voices and they all bring these characters to life (so to speak). Many of the characters make fairly brief appearances but they are vivid in my memory.”

  • Little History of the World

    A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich "Sort of a Cliff Notes of world history, from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, written for younger readers (so not a lot of dates and names) with a wry sense of humor. Get the full sweep of human history -- including the rise of fall of civilizations, great works of art and the progress of science -- in forty very short chapters. Gombrich wrote it at age 26 before WWII in Vienna, but then at age 92 updated it to include the rise of the Nazis (who banned the book) and his own escape from the Holocaust. Beautifully written and concise. Originally written in German, now published in twenty-five languages. I read it out loud to our kids a few years ago and am currently re-reading it. Also comes as an audiobook, for long car rides."

  • Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln

    Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman. From Amazon: "Mary is a novel written in the first person, comprised of notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was an inmate of a lunatic asylum. She takes up her pen to block out the screams and moans of the other inmates and to save her own sanity. According to these notes, although she held séances in the White House and drove her family deeply into debt because of compulsive shopping, she was perfectly sane. She makes a good case for herself, despite occasional manic behavior and often uncontrollable grief." From an Amazon reviewer: "It is a cracking good read; rich in detail, engrossing, and an interesting take on an historical figure who continues to be controversial. Like Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"--another great example of looking at familiar events through the eyes of its often-maligned main character--Newman allows Mary Todd Lincoln writes her own story, this time from the asylum where her son Robert has committed her."

  • Mountains Beyond Mountains

    Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder.  "This book on Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health in Haiti is a fabulously compelling story of a struggling country and a man committed to its people that reads like a beautiful novel. The book stayed with me long after I put it down."

  • My Promised Land

    My Promised Land; The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel  by Ari Shavit  "an authoritative and deeply personal narrative on the state and existence of Israel.  I wanted answers to questions like: Why does Israel exist and how is it that the issues are so completed and seemingly unresolvable?  So far the book is a page-turner and gets rave reviews on its accuracy, richness and insight."

  • Night

    Night By Elie Wiesel. “His acct of the Holocaust, I hadn’t read it since I was in 8th grade & clearly didn’t get it all. Unbelievable. Short & dense.”

  • One Summer: America, 1927

    One Summer:  America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.  From Amazon:  It’s amazing what a talented writer at the top of his game can do with a seemingly narrow topic. The title of Bill Bryson’s latest sums up the simplicity of his task: to document the “most extraordinary summer” of 1927, beginning with Charles Lindbergh’s successful flight across the Atlantic. Even though we know many of these stories--Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth’s 60-homerun season, the Mississippi River flood, Al Capone’s bullet-ridden reign over Chicago--in Bryson’s hands, and in the context of one amazing summer of twentieth-century ingenuity and accomplishment, they feel fresh, lively, and just plain fun. The book is so jammed with “did you know it” nuggets and fascinating origin stories (the opening of the Holland Tunnel, the first Mickey Mouse prototype, the source of the term “hot dog”), the effect is like sitting beside a brilliant, slightly boozy barstool raconteur, who knows a little bit about everything.”

  • Oracle Bones

    Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler. "A view of contemporary China and its ongoing changes through the experiences of a journalist (Peter Hessler) living there. It reads like part travel journal, part novel. At times I found the book fascinating and witty through the descriptions of the characters that Hessler encounters, whose lives weave through the book. At other times I found myself skimming through pages to get to something more interesting. In the end, it is an interesting read and one that certainly illuminates why I feel so lucky to have been born in this country."

  • Orpheus Clock

    The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis by Simon Goodman. “A writer discovers his father’s secret obsession of reclaiming his lost art awakening a history of being the son of a Holocaust survivor, and taking on the campaign to reclaim his birthright and artwork.”

  • Piano Tuner

    The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. "Historical fiction about a British Army officer living in Burma who sends for a Piano Tuner from London. Story revolves around the officer, the Shan rebellion, life in a British Colony and independence while the officer searches for love."

  • Politician

    The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down by Andrew Young. "I read every delicious word of this insider account of John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Rielle Hunter and their whole dysfunctional and ridiculous relationships to each other. Andrew Young was Edwards closest aide -- and the one who pretended to be Rielle Hunter's baby's father -- and has great detail into Edwards narcissism, Elizabeth's nastiness and Rielle's total craziness. Reading the book, you'll have to keep reminding yourself that this is all true story, and the man was running for president!"

  • Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989

    Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989 by Michael Beschloss. "My husband just read it and liked it."

  • River of Doubt

    The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.  "A gripping account of Roosevelt’s trip through the Amazon in the early 1900s."  From Amazon: After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever. Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubtbrings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

  • Rosa Lee

    Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America by Leon Dash. "A devastating in depth view of the underclass in DC. I read it in 2 days."

  • Saved by her Enemy

    Saved by Her Enemy: An Iraqi woman's journey from the heart of war to the heartland of America by Don Teague. "This has a compelling narrative like all the great stories in history: A hero goes on an epic mission; he faces great trials and obstacles; he finally conquers the goal; and, in the end, he learns lessons about the world and himself. In Mr. Teague's story, the beautiful lessons are that we are all united by our common humanity and that God's love, as seen through our relationships, is more powerful than divisions of race, religion or nationality. 'Saved by Her Enemy' is a true story, but it feels like a parable that teaches us once again that God is at work in this world - even in a war zone - and loving our neighbors as ourselves will result in miracles."

  • Secret Lives of the Tsars

    The Secret Lives of Tsarsby Michael Farquhar.  Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Gene Weingarten once said, "Michael Farquhar doesn’t write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin’s smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."  I do, too!  I love Michael's irreverence, and the Romanovs give him great material to work with.  Did you know, for example, that Peter the Great loved dwarves and often had them jump naked out of cakes (for amusement)?   Lots of interesting, fun facts against the colorful backdrop of Russian history.  Really worth it, as are previous works by the author:  

    Behind the Palace Door:  Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain;

    A Treasury of Great American Scandals:  Tantalizing True Tales of Historic Misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and Others Who Let Freedom Swing;

    A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors;

    A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans: Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History; and

    A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History's Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes and Frauds.