History Picks for September

There’s something for everyone this September. We have a right mash-up of history picks this month: the mystery of the WWII kissing sailor, Kiwi convicts, Queen Victoria, Mexico, the Arctic, and more. Have a browse!

Syndetics book coverThe kissing sailor : the mystery behind the photo that ended World War II / Lawrence Verria & George Galdorisi ; foreword by David Hartman.
“It’s an iconic image, a sailor kissing a nurse in New York City’s Times Square. Photographed on August 14, 1945, by legendary photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt and published in Life, it captures a historic moment, the end of WWII. It’s a safe bet that most of the book’s potential readers have seen the photograph, but who are the people in it? That’s the mystery Verria and Galdorisi attempt to solve in this fascinating piece of detective work. Over the years, there have been numerous theories, and numerous people have come forward saying they are the sailor or the nurse. Verria and Galdorisi offer what they hope is undeniable proof of the unnamed couple’s true identities. They make a persuasive case, assessing the validity of some of the claimants’ stories, using various investigative techniques, including some very clever photographic comparisons, to zoom in on two specific persons who seem to fit the bill. Ultimately, you either accept the authors’ conclusions or you don’t, but you can’t deny that the book provides an intriguing and unique perspective on one of the twentieth century’s most memorable moments.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

Syndetics book coverConvicts : New Zealand’s hidden criminal past / Matthew Wright.
“New Zealand’s Pakeha origin as a bolt-hole for convicts escaping Australia, a place where former convicts joined whaling and sealing gangs, and where sea captains thumbed their noses at the law, has been quietly forgotten. It has become a hidden part of our past, buried under the convenient fiction that the Treaty of Waitangi is the sole pivot of New Zealand’s colonial story. In Convicts: New Zealand’s Hidden Criminal Past, noted historian Matthew Wright challenges that notion. Our early nineteenth-century Pakeha past is, at least in part, a story of convicts who had found their way past the edge of the law, an age of heroic tales of survival, scurrilous deeds, cannibalism and piracy.Matthew Wright is one of New Zealand’s most published historians and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of University College, London. ‘Matthew Wright is one of our most prolific social historians, an assiduous researcher and an engaging writer.'” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverShooting Victoria : madness, mayhem, and the rebirth of the British monarchy / Paul Thomas Murphy.
“Queen Victoria’s stature not only attracted throngs of admirers but also seven unstable and incompetent failed assassins, whose attempts led to the creation of England’s detective branch and engendered bursts of popularity for the queen. A Victoriana expert at the University of Colorado, Murphy recounts in a fresh, lively narrative how these deluded subjects managed to channel their mental instability or optimistic naivete into assassination attempts with barely functioning pistols or stout canes, all remaining far removed from the more sophisticated and politically motivated revolutionaries threatening other contemporary European thrones. Instead, they included a depressed hunchback and two poets suffering from head injuries who, rather than gaining notoriety, sank back into obscurity. Murphy deftly weaves their life stories in with the reactions of Victoria and Albert and other notables as the government struggled to define a policy for punishing assassins…” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)

Syndetics book coverMexico : democracy interrupted / Jo Tuckman.
“In 2000, Mexico’s long invincible Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the presidential election to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN). The ensuing changeoverafter 71 years of PRI dominancewas hailed as the beginning of a new era of hope for Mexico. Yet the promises of the PAN victory were not consolidated. In this vivid account of Mexico’s recent history, a journalist with extensive reporting experience investigates the nation’s young democracy, its shortcomings and achievements, and why the PRI is favored to retake the presidency in 2012. Jo Tuckman reports on the murky, terrifying world of Mexico’s drug wars, the counterproductive government strategy, and the impact of U.S. policies. She describes the reluctance and inability of politicians to seriously tackle rampant corruption, environmental degradation, pervasive poverty, and acute inequality. To make matters worse, the influence of non-elected interest groups has grown and public trust in almost all institutionsincluding the Catholic churchis fading. The pressure valve once presented by emigration is also closing. Even so, there are positive signs: the critical media cannot be easily controlled, and small but determined citizen groups notch up significant, if partial, victories for accountability. While Mexico faces complex challenges that can often seem insurmountable, Tuckman concludes, the unflagging vitality and imagination of many in Mexico inspire hope for a better future.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe daring dozen : 12 Special Forces legends of World War II / Gavin Mortimer.
“In this new book by journalist Gavin Mortimer, The Daring Dozen reveals the 12 legendary special forces commanders of World War II. Prior to World War II the concept of ‘special forces’ simply didn’t exist. But thanks to visionary leaders like David Stirling and Charles Hunter, our very concept of how wars can be fought and won have totally changed. But these 12 extraordinary men not only reshaped military policy, they led from the front, accompanying their troops into the heat of battle, from the sands of North Africa to jumping on D-Day and infiltrating behind enemy lines. Each embodies the true essence of courage, what Winston Churchill remarked ‘is esteemed [as] the first of human qualities.’ But Mortimer also offers a skilful analysis of their qualities as a military commander and the true impact their own personal actions, as well as those of their units, had on the eventual outcome of the war.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverA cartoon war : the cartoons of the New Zealand Freelance and New Zealand Observer as historical sources, August 1914-November 1918 / Sarah Murray.
“Cartoons were an important medium of communication in New Zealand during the first world war. In pictorial weeklies like Wellington’s New Zealand Free Lance and Auckland’s New Zealand Observer, cartoons provided commentary on the events of the war and expressed the attitudes and concerns of particular segments of society. This monograph, A Cartoon War, is about the role editorial cartoons played in New Zealand during that war. The monograph was compiled by Sarah Murray, currently curator of Canterbury social history at Canterbury Museum, and was adapted from her MA thesis. This work is the first in a series by the NZ Cartoon Archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverTitans of history / Simon Sebag Montefiore ; with John Bew … [et al.].
“In The Titans of History, Simon Sebag Montefiore brings together a vivid and compelling selection of the lives of the towering figures that, for better of for worse, have changed the course of history. The 14th-century Mongol warlord Tamerlane, who once ordered the building of a pyramid of 70,000 human skulls from those that his army had beheaded, rubs shoulders with Oskar Schindler, the man whose selfless heroism saved over 1,000 Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis. Inbetween these two extremes are those extraordinary figures, like Henry VIII, in whom good and evil were mixed promiscuously. Inspiring and horrifying in equal measure, in The Titans of History, Simon Sebag Montefiore has created an engaging, innovative and authoritative window into the history of the world.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverArctic voices : resistance at the tipping point / edited by Subhankar Banerjee.
“A powerful collection of voices and images from the frontlines of the war against ecological devastation in the Arctic. First-person narratives from nearly prominent activists, writers and researchers who address issues of climate change, resource war and human rights with stunning urgency and groundbreaking research. Over recent years the Arctic has been a battleground for an international war over natural resources and it still remains one of the most contested lands in the world. Arctic Voices is a window into this beautiful, endangered region.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhere they stand : the American presidents in the eyes of voters and historians / Robert W. Merry.
“The rating of American presidents is a popular fascination for scholars and citizens alike. Merry believes that professionals’ opinions are, however, sometimes out of sync with those of the people and, specifically, the electorate that installed or repudiated a president. Therefore, he accords the vox populi weight equal to the verdicts of seven polls of historians conducted over past decades. The professors and the voters exhibit no differences over who were the best presidents Washington, Lincoln, and FDR but they diverge over nominees for the near-great category; electorates liked Jackson and Reagan, but historians have been critical. Likewise, the dons praise Wilson and Truman, whereas the people voted their parties out of power. To bridge such discrepancies, Merry combines fluid commentary on what impresses historians and application of his rule for the populace’s standard of approval, rewarding an incumbent with a second term and succession by his party’s nominee. Anything less plunges a president down the scale to average or failure, with near-great Polk as a conspicuous exception. This election-year debate-starter will enjoy shelf life beyond November.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)