This month’s history picks are largely about the negative and grim, just in time for the holiday season. Pleasant subjects like the Ukrainian famine, mistreated POWs in Britain during World War 2, and failures of military in the Middle East during the post-9/11 operations are all visited. Fortunately we have something a bit more positive to bring the mood back up with an examination of how Chaucer’s works reflected fourteenth century society, and closer to home we have a history of the Hawke’s Bay area.
Red famine : Stalin’s war on Ukraine / Anne Applebaum.
“From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain , a revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes–the consequences of which still resonate today. In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization–in effect a second Russian revolution–which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.” (Syndetics summary)
Richard Nixon : the life / John A. Farrell.
“At the end of WWII, navy lieutenant “Nick” Nixon returned from the Pacific and set his cap at Congress, an idealistic dreamer seeking to build a better world. Yet amid the turns of that now-legendary 1946 campaign, Nixon’s finer attributes gave way to unapologetic ruthlessness. The story of that transformation is the stunning overture to John A. Farrell’s magisterial biography of the president who came to embody postwar American resentment and division. Richard Nixon is a gripping and unsparing portrayal of our darkest president. Meticulously researched, brilliantly crafted, and offering fresh revelations, it will be hailed as a master work.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
Destructive creation : American business and the winning of World War II / Mark R. Wilson.
“During World War II, the United States helped vanquish the Axis powers by converting its enormous economic capacities into military might. Crucial in this effort were business leaders. Some of these captains of industry went to Washington to coordinate the mobilization, while others led their companies to churn out weapons. Offering a groundbreaking account of the inner workings of the “arsenal of democracy,” Destructive Creation also suggests how the struggle to define its heroes and villains has continued to shape economic and political development to the present day.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
The London cage : the secret history of Britain’s World War II interrogation centre / Helen Fry.
“Behind the locked doors of three mansions in London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens neighborhood, the British Secret Service established a highly secret prison in 1940: the London Cage. This riveting book reveals the full details of operations at the London Cage and subsequent efforts to hide them. Helen Fry’s extraordinary original research uncovers the grim picture of prisoners’ daily lives and of systemic Soviet-style mistreatment.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
Losing small wars : British military failure in the 9/11 wars / Frank Ledwidge.
“This new edition of Frank Ledwidge’s eye-opening analysis of British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan unpicks the causes and enormous costs of military failure. Updated throughout, and with fresh chapters assessing and enumerating the overall military performance since 2011–including Libya, ISIS, and the Chilcot findings–Ledwidge shows how lessons continue to go unlearned.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
The fall : the evidence for a golden age, 6,000 years of insanity, and the dawning of a new era / Steve Taylor.
“It is not “natural” for human beings to kill each other, for men to oppress women, for individuals to accumulate massive wealth and power, or to abuse nature. The roots of our current malaise lie in an “ego explosion” which occurred several thousand years ago. “Primitive,” pre-civilization men and women were largely free of our social ills and had a more unified and harmonious state of being than us. This intensively-researched, highly praised book explains the origins of our problems and suggests what we can do to return to a state of harmony.” (Syndetics summary)
The history of Hawke’s Bay / Matthew Wright.
“Hawke’s Bay has a remarkable history, brief by world standards, yet filled with colour, pace and life. This illustrated history covers the broadest sweep of Hawke’s Bay’s past, telling the wider tale of people and their ideals. It extends from the Maori history of the district to Hawke’s Bay’s rumbustious settler era, the highs and lows of the twentieth century with its wars, depressions and booms; and the remarkable social transformations of the early twenty-first.” (Syndetics summary)
The expanding blaze : how the American Revolution ignited the world, 1775-1848 / Jonathan Israel.
“The Expanding Blaze is a sweeping history of how the American Revolution inspired revolutions throughout Europe and the Atlantic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jonathan Israel, one of the world’s leading historians of the Enlightenment, shows how the radical ideas of American founders such as Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe set the pattern for democratic revolutions, movements, and constitutions in France, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Canada, Haiti, Brazil, and Spanish America.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
Chaucer’s people : everyday lives in medieval England / Liza Picard.
“The Middle Ages were turbulent times. In the fourteenth century alone, England was ravaged by war, plague, revolt and the overthrow of a king. Among the surviving records, the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer is the most vivid. But what does it tell us about the everyday lives of medieval men and women? What did people eat, wear, read and think? Drawing on contemporary experiences of a vast range of subjects including trade, religion, toe-curling remedies and hair-raising recipes, Chaucer’s People recreates the medieval world in all its glorious detail.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)