This month’s history picks feature way over our usual quota for World War material, with Paul Byrnes’s The Lost Boys, DJ Taylor’s Lost Girls and Ronald Rosbottom’s Sudden Courage looking through various lenses at the youth of the era and how they were impacted by the wars – going overseas from New Zealand to fight, losing their friends and family in England and how society changed along the way, or when the war showed up on their doorstep in occupied France.
Elsewhere, we’ve got Bletchley Park and D-Day looking at the famous codebreakers and their influence as an intelligence agency. It’s not just the good guys who were hard at work cracking ciphers – Christian Jennings’s The Third Reich is Listening covers German efforts in the field during World War II. To ensure this post isn’t just about that particular era of history, we’ve also got Marilyn Garson’s experiences in Gaza in 2014 and Marie Arana’s wider history of Latin America.
Still lives : a memoir of Gaza / Garson, Marilyn
“Marilyn Garson was an experienced aid professional who created jobs at the edge of war. In 2011, she was invited to move to the Gaza Strip. Marilyn became the Economic Director of a large NGO programme, leading an ambitious young Palestinian team. In 2014, Marilyn witnessed first-hand the impact of Israel’s urban assault and massive civilian displacement. The UN was prepared to shelter 35,000 displaced Gazans, but 293,000 arrived. Locked in beneath the bombs, they had nowhere safer to go, and nothing but the United Nations flag and international law to protect them.” (Catalogue)
Silver, sword and stone / Arana, Marie
“Silver, Sword and Stone is a vibrant, sweeping history of Latin America, told through three compelling lenses. The first, precious metal, of which silver is an enormous part, is an obsession that burned brightly in pre-Columbian times, consumed Spain in its relentless conquest of America, drove a system of exploitation, and has morphed into Latin America’s hope for the future. The second, the ‘sword’, is the culture of violence: from the Aztec and Inca empires through the bloody nineteenth-century wars of independence to state terrorism, the Shining Path, and today’s drug wars. The third, embodied in temples, elaborate cathedrals, or simple piles of rock, is the region’s fervent adherence to religious institutions, built in stone. Vivid and impeccably researched, Silver, Sword and Stone is the definitive narrative history of a region with a tumultuous but little-understood present as well as past.” (Catalogue)
Sudden courage : youth in France confront the Germans, 1940-1945 / Rosbottom, Ronald C.
“On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into Paris. Eight days later, France accepted a humiliating defeat and foreign occupation. Most citizens adapted and many even allied themselves with the new fascist leadership. Yet others refused to capitulate; in answer to the ruthless violence, shortages, and curfews imposed by the Nazis, a resistance arose. Among this shadow army were Jews, immigrants, communists, workers, writers, police officers, shop owners, including many young people in their teens and twenties. Ronald Rosbottom tells the riveting story of how those brave and untested youth went from learning about literature to learning the art of sabotage, from figuring out how to solve an equation to how to stealthily avoid patrols, from passing notes to stealing secrets – and even learning how to kill. ” (Catalogue)
The cult of Trump / Hassan, Steven
“In The Cult of Trump, mind-control and licensed mental health expert Steven Hassan draws parallels between our current president and people like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon, arguing that this presidency is in many ways like a destructive cult. He specifically details the ways in which people are influenced through an array of social psychology methods and how they become fiercely loyal and obedient. Hassan was a former “Moonie” himself, and he draws on his forty years of personal and professional experience studying hypnosis and destructive cults, working as a deprogrammer, and a strategic communications interventionist. He emphasizes why it’s crucial that we recognize ways to identify and protect ourselves and our loved ones.” (Catalogue)
Bletchley Park and D-Day : the untold story of how the battle for Normandy was won / Kenyon, David
“Since the secret of Bletchley Park was revealed in the 1970s, the work of its codebreakers has become one of the most famous stories of the Second World War. But cracking the Nazis’ codes was only the start of the process. Thousands of secret intelligence workers were then involved in making crucial information available to the Allied leaders and commanders who desperately needed it. Using previously classified documents, David Kenyon casts the work of Bletchley Park in a new light, as not just a codebreaking establishment, but as a fully developed intelligence agency. This account reveals the true character of Bletchley’s vital contribution to success in Normandy, and ultimately, Allied victory.” (Catalogue)
The Third Reich is listening : inside German codebreaking 1939-45 / Jennings, Christian
“The success of the Allied codebreakers at Bletchley Park was one of the iconic intelligence achievements of World War II, immortalised in films such as The Imitation Game and Enigma. But cracking Enigma was only half of the story. Across the Channel, German intelligence agencies were hard at work breaking British and Allied codes. The Third Reich is Listening is a gripping blend of modern history and science, and describes the successes and failures of Germany’s codebreaking and signals intelligence operations from 1935 to 1945. The first mainstream book that takes an in-depth look at German cryptanalysis in the Second World War, it tells how the Third Reich broke the ciphers of Allied and neutral countries, including Great Britain, France, Russia and Switzerland.” (Catalogue)
Operation Swallow : American soldiers’ remarkable escape from Berga Concentration Camp / Felton, Mark
“In this little-known story from World War II, a group of American POW camp leaders risk everything to save hundreds of fellow servicemen from a diabolical Nazi concentration camp. Their story begins in the dark forests of the Ardennes during Christmas 1944 and ends at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in the spring of 1945. Operation Swallow provides a historical, first person perspective of how American GIs stood up against their evil SS captors who were forcing them to work as slave laborers. Written from personal testimonies and official documents, Operation Swallow is a tale replete with high adventure, compelling characters, human drama, tragedy, and eventual salvation.” (Catalogue)
The lost boys : the untold stories of the under-age soldiers who fought in the First World War / Byrnes, Paul
“In the First World War of 1914-1918, thousands of boys across Australia and New Zealand lied about their age, forged a parent’s signature and left to fight on the other side of the world. Though some were as young as thirteen, they soon found they could die as well as any man. This extraordinary book captures the incredible and previously untold stories of forty Anzac boys who fought in the First World War, from Gallipoli to the Armistice. Featuring haunting images of the boys taken at training camps and behind the lines, these tales are both heartbreaking and rousing, full of daring, ingenuity, recklessness, random horror and capricious luck. A unique perspective on the First World War, The Lost Boys is military history made deeply personal, a powerful homage to youthful bravery and a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of war.” (Catalogue)
Lost girls : love, war and literature, 1939-51 / Taylor, D. J.
“Who were the Lost Girls? At least a dozen or so young women at large in Blitz-era London have a claim to this title. But Lost Girls concentrates on just four: Lys Lubbock, Sonia Brownell, Barbara Skelton and Janetta Parlade. Chic, glamorous and bohemian, as likely to be found living in a rat-haunted maisonette as dining at the Ritz, they cut a swathe through English literary and artistic life in the 1940s. They all had very different – and sometimes explosive personalities – but taken together they form a distinctive part of the war-time demographic: bright, beautiful, independent-minded women with tough upbringings behind them determined to make the most of their lives in a highly uncertain environment. However tiny their number, they are a genuine missing link between the first wave of newly-liberated young women of the post-Great War era and the Dionysiac free-for-all of the 1960s. Hectic, passionate and at times unexpectedly poignant, this is their story.” (Catalogue)