Category: Recent picks

Fabulous Frocks: New Zealand History Recent Picks for January

At first glance the title of this post does not make much sense, as you scroll down through the book titles depicting pig hunting and hunting with helicopters, lost gold and lost heritage in forgotten landmarks. Keep scrolling and you will see the Hawkes Bay Maraekakaho sheep and cattle station and then on to unique motorbike collections, the first New Zealand craft beer, and finally Dolphins of Aotearoa. The last title is a book called Women of Substance, unfortunately we have no cover image but with the tagline “the Otago women who wore fabulous frocks,” it is my pick of the bunch and why it gets the mention in the title. It tells the story of 39 dresses featured in an exhibition at the Otago Settlers museum. Each frock dating from 1859 to the late 1880s is photgraphed and described in detail and with a short biography of its wearer gives an insight into the life and times of these women.

Syndetics book coverThe black singlet brigade : tales of adventure in the NZ bush / Tony Walsh
“Tony Walsh was first introduced to NZ’s bush clad ranges, to pig hunting and some life-defining experiences by Ned Tuite, whose usual attire was a black woollen bush singlet and a pair of khaki shorts suspended from a thin leather belt. Through Ned, Tony met a band of those iconic good keen men of an era now past, and began a journey of experiences he will never forget. There were the likes of ugly Eddie, who ate all the pigs’ ears; Jack, who thought the ghosts were after him after a midnight tumble down the hill; or Charlie, who didn’t know whether to mash his spuds before or after they were cooked. Men whose characters were as colourful and multifaceted as the forests and mountains they came from. The Black Singlet Brigade is a memoir written with eloquence and a dash of humour at every turn. It combines the untamed beauty of the wild with hilarious adventures and unique characters to build a picture of a life long gone, in the bush and back-country of New Zealand.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverInjun Joe : the legend of Smoking Joe Collins / Marion Day.
“This is the life story of Injun Joe, born Wellwyn Harris Collins in 1950. Joe became well known as an elite hunter-helicopter pilot, one of New Zealand’s most dangerous occupations of the time, in what is now known as The Last Great Adventure.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverLost Gold : the 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson / Paul Bensemann.
“As a young man in the mid-1970s, Paul Bensemann was told an archetypal ‘lost gold’ story by his neighbour, a tobacco farmer in the Motueka Valley on the edge of what is now Kahurangi National Park. The story concerned an old prospector who had found a huge exposed gold reef, shining in the sun, deep in the mountain wilderness of Northwest Nelson. Just before he died, the prospector drew a map, and to Paul’s amazement his neighbour then produced the old, tatty, hand-drawn map, which had been handed down to him from his father. Lost Gold follows the many twists and turns of this 105-year-old story, and tries to explain why the reef has never been rediscovered. But in the end, whether or not the reef exists is only part of the story, and perhaps the bigger treasure here is the real tale of men in pursuit of their own El Dorado.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverNew Zealand’s lost heritage : the stories behind our forgotten landmarks / Richard Wolfe.
“Features 20 notable structures which, for various reasons, no longer exist. Most of the buildings have been demolished in the name of urban development, creating controversy. Each building is discussed and illustrated including the circumstances of its demise. The selection includes: Ruapekapeka Pa in Northland (burned down deliberately), Admiralty House in Auckland (demolished to make way for new roads) Wellington’s Parliament Buildings (accidental fire) Invercargill’s Seacliff Asylum (fire), TJ Edmonds landmark factory (bulldozed). What emerges is a fascinating social and historical narrative that sheds light on parts of New Zealand’s cultural history and reveals the truth of the old adage that history repeats.” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverA changing land : Sir Donald McLean’s Maraekakaho, 1857 to today / Alan Scarfe.
“The first two parts tell the story of the development of Hawke’s Bay Maraekakaho, one of the country’s largest and most iconic sheep and cattle stations which was established by Donald McLean and then further developed by his son Douglas McLean. The final part of A Changing Land traces how much of Maraekakaho has evolved into a varied patchwork of stock and cropping farms, vineyards, smallholdings, olive groves, alpaca farms and tree plantations over the last century.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverKiwi bike culture : unique motorbike collections / Steve Holmes.
“Delves into the love affair New Zealanders have with their motorbikes. From Harley-Davidsons to Vespas, and everything in between, this book is about the men and women whose lives revolve, in some way, around two-wheeled machinery.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverThe McCashin’s story and the Kiwi brewing revolution it sparked / John McCrystal & Simon Farrell-Green.
“The craft beer industry is one of New Zealand’s local business success stories, and it’s thriving. It all began with Terry McCashin establishing Mac’s Ale back in the 1980s. This book tells the story of the entrepreneurial McCashin family and the challenges they’ve faced over the years. They’re now rebuilding their brand with new beers such as Stoke, and a highly successful range of ciders. It also includes general craft beer information such as: What makes a craft beer; how beer gets made; a day in the life of McCashins; how to drink beer; what sort of glass to use; what different styles mean; the difference between an ale and a lager. Plus: Nelson: The craft beer capital. What has made Nelson such an extraordinary place for craft beer? The book includes short profiles on each of the breweries, pubs and cafes on the trail and the remarkable story of New Zealand hops and how they’ve supported Nelson and New Zealand’s craft beer revolution.” (Adapted from publisher information)

Syndetics book coverDolphins of Aotearoa : living with New Zealand dolphins / Raewyn Peart. ”Dolphins of Aotearoa explores the ongoing relationship between humans and dolphins in New Zealand. Over this nation’s rich history, numerous people, both Maori and Pakeha, have sought out dolphins and significant numbers of dolphins have sought out people. This book tells the stories of many of these remarkable encounters. Importantly, Dolphins of Aotearoa also summarises the work of the dedicated scientists and researchers who over recent decades have learnt so much about our dolphins. Extensively researched and lavishly illustrated with historic and contemporary photographs, and incorporating a guide to all of the dolphins of New Zealand.” (Syndetics summary)

Women of substance : the Otago women who wore “fabulous frocks” / Seán G. Brosnahan.
“Fabulous Frocks was the title of an exhibition held at the Otago Settlers Museum in 2003. The exhibition presented 39 dresses from the Museum’s costume collection worn by nineteenth-century Otago women. A la mode in the mud: The colonial pursuit of fashion. The colonists’ dream: Genteel, respectable and upwardly mobile. In search of the women behind the dresses. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

New year, new history

At the start of a new year the New Zealand collection continues to collect more stories about the past. If you have ever wondered why New Zealanders love pets then Creature Comforts may have some of the answers. In three special interest histories there is a look into New Zealand Aviation history, the cultural heritage created by Bohemians who settled in Puhoi in 1863 and also how the Australian and New Zealand armies transported the soldiers to Gallipoli in 1914. Changing times looks at post-war New Zealand from 1945 and there are two books on more recent events, the Pike River tragedy and also how Alasdair Thompson’s life changed following being at the centre of a media storm.

Syndetics book coverCreature comforts : New Zealanders & their pets : an illustrated history / Nancy Swarbrick.
“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world: more than half of all Kiwi households have a cat and nearly a third have a dog, while many have other pets. Yet, until now, no book has explored how pet ownership came to be such an integral part of the New Zealand way of life. Beautifully illustrated, with many previously unpublished historical images, Creature Comforts chronicles the major events and ideas that have shaped pet ownership in New Zealand. This fascinating and entertaining book explains the strong relationship New Zealanders have with their animal companions, and how this has changed over time. The book looks at the social impact of pet fanciers’ organizations, the moral influence of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and other animal welfare groups, the educational role of calf clubs, and the debates stirred up by animal rights movements.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverA passion for flight : New Zealand aviation before the Great War / Errol W. Martyn.
“Volplane Press in association with the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand is proud to announce publication of the first volume of Errol Martyn’s new trilogy – A Passion for Flight, a history of New Zealand aviation before the Great War of 1914-1918. This definitive work presents for the first time a detailed record of all known New Zealand-related aeronautical activity of the long-neglected pioneering period of 1868-1914. It includes eye-witness accounts and over 100 illustrations, many of which are published for the first time. All known patents, flying machines – designed, constructed or trialled – aerial events and the personnel involved are described in detail. (It is generally not realised that some 70 patents were applied for and more than 30 gliders or aeroplanes were completed or begun in New Zealand by 1914.)” (adapted from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverBohemian journey : a musical heritage in colonial New Zealand / Roger Buckton.
“In 1863, settlers from Bohemia arrived in a densely forested and rugged valley in Puhoi, north of Auckland. Bohemian Journey traces their cultural heritage as it evolved in a new country amidst a dominant British culture, itself coming to terms with pioneering life. Isolated by geography and language, the Puhoi settlers’ heritage of music and dance helped them to celebrate their achievements as they broke in the land and built a thriving community.” (back cover)

Syndetics book coverVoyage to Gallipoli / Peter Plowman.
“At the commencement of World War I in 1914, Australia had only been a nation for 13 years and the RAN was only three years old (NZ had been a dominion for 7 years and had no independent navy). As young men rushed to enlist, the governments of both countries had to find ways of transporting them to a war being fought half a world away, and protecting them against German raiders en route. It was a massive undertaking. In Voyage to Gallipoli maritime historian Peter Plowman takes the story from the planning stages and the requisition of ships through to the Gallipoli landing of 25 April 1915. Included are many newspaper accounts of various events in port and on board and quotes from diaries and memoirs of sailors and soldiers involved, giving descriptions of conditions on board. By the time of the blooding of ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, the force had been moulded very much ‘on board’ and ‘in transit’. Two appendices give details of all the transport ships involved.” (Adapted from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverChanging times : New Zealand since 1945 / Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow.
“Pirate radio in the Hauraki Gulf and the first DC8 jets landing at Māngere; feminists liberating pubs and protests over the closing of Post Offices; kōhanga reo and carless days: Changing Times is a history of New Zealand since 1945. From a post-war society famous around the world for its dull conformity, this country has become one of the most ethnically, economically and socially diverse countries on earth. But how did we get from Nagasaki to nuclear-free? What made us embrace small-state, free-market ideology with such passion? And were we really leaving behind a society known for its fretful sleepers and ‘the worship of averages’? In Changing Times, Jennifer Carlyon and Diana Morrow answer those questions, taking us from the ‘Golden Weather’ of post-war economic growth, through the globalisation, economic challenges and protest of the 1960s and 1970s, and on to the free market revolution and new immigrants of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout, stories from the lives of New Zealanders are key: a tank driver yelling in his sleep after World War II, a woman in the Wairarapa discovering The Feminine Mystique, a Tapawera forestry worker losing his job. This is a powerful history of the transformation of New Zealand life.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverTragedy at Pike River Mine : how and why 29 men died / Rebecca Macfie.
“On a sunny afternoon in November 2010, in the beautiful Paparoa Range of the South Island, a massive explosion rocked an underground coal mine. Later that day two ashen men stumbled from the entrance. Twenty-nine men remained unaccounted for. Initial probes revealed fatally high methane levels in the mine – conditions deemed unsurvivable for the trapped men. But it was only after a second blast five days later that all hope was extinguished.Tragedy at Pike River Mine is a dramatic, superbly researched and page-turning account of a disaster that should never have happened, of the dramatic political and legal fallout, and the effect on the small West Coast community. It reveals an appalling string of mistakes, from consent being given for the mine in the first place, to lack of proper monitoring equipment, pressure to ignore safety requirements, and effectively only a single exit. It puts a human face on the people who suffered, and provides penetrating insight on who’s to blame.This is an essential read for everyone who cares about the future of New Zealand and our values as a nation. Rebecca Macfie’s writing on Pike River has been hailed for its veracity, perspicacity and powerful human interest.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverLife changing : learning from the past, fixing the future / Alisdair Thompson.
“In Life changing, Alasdair Thompson outlines the events surrounding his sacking as chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, New Zealand’s largest business membership organisation, after twelve years of reorganisation and rebuilding the Association. He reveals his upbringing, the people and events that shaped him, his views on business, economics and public policy, and outlines a career in local government and in various local authorities and boards. We see the man behind the media target, and he shares his beliefs and values, his crises, as well as personal transformation and newfound faith and peace. Thompson’s was at the centre of a media maelstrom that led to his downfall. This book describes how he and his family coped with the aftermath and ultimately moved on, happier and stronger.” (Syndetics)

New history books

Anniversaries of the outbreak of World War 1 and JFK’s assassination have ensured these topics are well represented in our latest arrivals. But there are also the accounts of the life of Henry VIII’s mother, the man behind Red Cloud’s War, and how an Englishman became Champion Fromager. Plenty of variety and historical intrigue to build into your plan for holiday reading.

Syndetics book cover“The Prime Minister’s ironing board and other state secrets : true stories from the government archives, by Adam Macqueen.
“Stored in Whitehall’s archives are everything from blood-chilling warnings of imminent nuclear attack to comical details of daily life in the corridors of power. Concerned notes from ministers on the subject of the Heir to the Throne’s potential brainwashing by Welsh terrorists are shelved alongside worries about housemaids ‘on the wobble’ at Chequers. These, and other unlikely revelations are revealed in this constantly surprising book.” (description from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe heart of everything that is : the untold story of Red Cloud, an American legend, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.
Red Cloud (1822-1909) was an Oglala Sioux war chief who successfully led his warriors against the U.S. Army. “From 1866 to 1868, Red Cloud proved such a brilliant tactician that the United States sued for peace to end what became known as Red Cloud’s War.” (Library Journal) Red Cloud’s story deserves wider readership. Recommended.

Syndetics book coverFighting on the Home Front : the legacy of women in World War One, by Kate Adie.
When a generation of men left home and country to fight, women emerged from the shadows to take up more public and non-traditional roles including transport, policing, munitions. They were acquiring their own independent income, which was a new venture for many, which changed the way they viewed themselves and the world, after the War. Next year is the anniversary of the beginning of World War 1 and the tide of new books is beginning to arrive. This treatment is a welcome addition to the collection.

Syndetics book coverA farewell to justice : Jim Garrison, JFK’s assassination, and the case that should have changed history, by Joan Mellen.
At 647 pages, this book is not for the faint-hearted. It aims to examine the case through District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation and the complexities he faced. But the reader is not assisted to unravel the enormity of Garrison’s task – with a topical rather than chronological arrangement. The book’s strength is the new information uncovered from access to previously unreleased documents. The library has also recently received Not in your lifetime : the assassination of JFK, by Anthony Summers, and They killed our president : 63 reasons to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK , by Jesse Ventura with Dick Russell and David Wayne.

Syndetics book coverThe conquest of the ocean : the illustrated history of seafaring, by Brian Lavery.
As with all one volume outlines, the author is challenged to scamper through waves of material without drowning in detail, and somehow make it all readable and interesting. In this case, Lavery tries to tell thousands of years of stories of those who sailed the seas from explorers to traders. Technological milestones such as the development of the sextant or shipping design are also touched on. Publisher Weekly writes “salty sailors should slake their thirst elsewhere,” but if you’re a plebian land-lubber like myself, there’s plenty of interest here.

Syndetics book coverThe cheese and I : an Englishman’s voyage through the land of fromage, by Matt Feroze.
“Matt Feroze had a rather unusual dream: to become a cheesemonger in the highly competitive French cheese industry. To accomplish this, however, he would have to give up a good job as an accountant in England and say goodbye to his friends and family, moving to a country in which he struggled with the language and knew next to nothing about the profession he wished to enter. Yet only a year later he was being crowned Champion de France des Fromagers, beating veteran French cheesemongers to the title and opening up a wealth of new opportunities for himself. The Cheese and I is the remarkable story of how he pulled off such an incredible feat.” (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverPreemptive love : pursuing peace one heart at a time, by Jeremy Courtney.
An account of the author’s efforts to establish the Preemptive Love Coalition in Iraq. Their aim is to save children with life-threatening heart defects by selling locally made shoes. The narrative is approached through the thoughts of both patients and adversaries. This is a true story of people trying to live with an attitude of “love first, ask questions later”.

Syndetics book coverElizabeth of York : the first Tudor queen, by Alison Weir.
Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV, was caught up in the Wars of the Roses. As wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, she had tremendous influence, but the woman herself is an puzzle. After her marriage she emerges as a model consort and wife, mild, pious, and the mother of 7 children. “In “Elizabeth of York, ” Alison Weir builds a portrait of this beloved queen, placing her in the context of the magnificent, ceremonious, often brutal world she inhabited, and revealing the woman behind the image.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book cover1914 : the year the world ended, by Paul Ham.
“Few years can justly be said to have transformed the earth: 1914 did. In July that year, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Britain and France were poised to plunge the world into a war that would kill or wound 37 million people, tear down the fabric of society, uproot ancient political systems and set the course for the bloodiest century in human history. In the longer run, the events of 1914 set the world on the path toward the Russian Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of Nazism and the Cold War….” (drawn from Syndetics description)

Syndetics book coverThe faithful scribe : a story of Islam, Pakistan, family and war, by Shahan Mufti.
“Journalist Mufti, incorporates the stories of his family and ancestors into a larger history of Pakistan and its post-9/11 political turmoil. He begins on the eve of his parents’ wedding in 1971, which coincides with the day India intervened in Pakistan’s civil war… Mufti describes his family’s alienation and harassment while briefly living in Ohio at a time rife with anti-Muslim sentiment and memories of acclimating when they moved back to Pakistan. He recalls living in Pakistan during the deadly protest at the Red Mosque and attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister. … This astonishingly detailed, well-researched history is brought to life by the addition of Mufti’s personal story and journalistic acumen.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

The best of History for June

We give you the pick of the crop for this month’s History Recent Pick. Our favorite new books deal with how Romans handled disasters, how the Tudors came to power in England, and a history of Greenwich village. We also have selected for you books dealing with life before WWI (for Downton Abbey fans), how the Iron Curtain came crashing down, and the peculiar life and times of a spy’s wife.

Syndetics book cover1913 : the world before the Great War / Charles Emmerson.
“Forever in the shadow of the war which followed, 1913 is usually seen as little more than the antechamber to apocalypse. Our perspectives narrowed by hindsight, the world of that year is reduced to its most frivolous features – last summers in grand aristocratic residences, a flurry of extravagant social engagements – or its most destructive ones: the unresolved rivalries of the great European powers, the anxieties of a period of accelerated change, the social fear of revolution, the violence in the Balkans. Our images of the times are too often dominated by the faded pastels of upper-class indulgence or by the unmitigated blackness of a world rushing headlong into the abyss of an inevitable war. 1913: The World before the Great War proposes a strikingly different portrait, returning the world in that year to its contemporary freshness, its future still undecided, its outlook still open. Told through the stories of twenty-three cities – Europe’s capitals at the height of their global reach, the emerging metropolises of America, the imperial cities of Asia and Africa, the boomtowns of Australia and the Americas – Charles Emmerson presents a panoramic view of a world crackling with possibilities, from St Petersburg to Shanghai and from Los Angeles to Jerusalem. What emerges is a rich and complex world, more familiar than we expect, connected as never before, on the threshold of events which would change the course of global history.”–Publisher’s description. (courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe village : 400 years of beats and bohemians, radicals and rogues : a history of Greenwich Village / John Strausbaugh.
“In this sprawling, crowded, biography on one of New York City’s more alluring and storied neighborhoods, former New York Times commentator Strausbaugh traces the history of Greenwich Village from its beginning as bucolic countryside to its current incarnation as both tourist destination and astringent residence for the elite. In between, Strausbaugh introduces a dizzying array of historical figures and events so salacious the book reads more like one long gossip column full of sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, art, music, the mob, and more. None of this is a bad thing; for long stretches, the pages practically turn themselves. Along the way, readers are fed fascinating little tidbits and images: Washington Square Park as a boggy mass grave site for the city’s paupers and Yellow fever victims, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her sister Norma teaching themselves to swear while darning socks, a drunk Jackson Pollock’s frequent violent outbursts at the Cedar Street Tavern, and much, much more. No citation will do the book justice; it deserves to be read while walking below 14th Street silently mourning the loss of a neighborhood that has given so much by way of art and culture. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverBosworth : the birth of the Tudors / Chris Skidmore.
“On the morning of 22 August 1485, in fields several miles from Bosworth, two armies faced each other, ready for battle. The might of Richard III’s army was pitted against the inferior forces of the upstart pretender to the crown, Henry Tudor, a 28-year-old Welshman who had just arrived back on British soil after fourteen years in exile. Yet this was to be a fight to the death – only one man could survive; only one could claim the throne.
It would become one of the most legendary battles in English history: the only successful invasion since Hastings, it was the last time a king died on the battlefield. But BOSWORTH is much more than the account of the dramatic events of that fateful day in August. It is a tale of brutal feuds and deadly civil wars, and the remarkable rise of the Tudor family from obscure Welsh gentry to the throne of England – a story that began sixty years earlier with Owen Tudor’s affair with Henry V’s widow, Katherine of Valois.
Drawing on eyewitness reports, newly discovered manuscripts and the latest archaeological evidence, Chris Skidmore vividly recreates this battle-scarred world in an epic saga of treachery and ruthlessness, death and deception and the birth of the Tudor dynasty.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRoman disasters / Jeremy Toner.
“Blending contemporary sociological theory with historical accounts, Cambridge Classicist Toner covers the many disasters that afflicted the world of the Roman Empire: earthquakes, fires, floods, famine, plague, and war. Although one chapter is devoted to the brutality of conflict, he finds little distinction between natural and man-made catastrophes in terms of effects. The ancient narrative of disaster illustrates how pagan and Christian Romans interpreted events: both felt that disasters were divinely instigated. Pagans were inclined to see “political and social negligence…as the underlying cause”; Christians saw disasters as “a simple metaphor for the tortures of hell.” Punishment for collective sin and warning of imminent judgment were also popular themes. Unlike pagans, Christians used disasters as an opportunity for the duty of charity. Toner’s analysis of internal reactions to disaster is intriguing and shows that human beings react in much the same way today as they did 2,000 years ago. It’s intentional: throughout he compares current responses to events which “destroy order” with classical ones; from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius to the Pacific tsunami of 2004, the physical and mental toll on individuals and societies is shown. Toner brings us closer to the people of the past as well as shedding light on our contemporary reactions to disaster”. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverIron Curtain : the crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 / Anne Applebaum.
“At the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union unexpectedly found itself in control of a huge swathe of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to a completely new political and moral system: communism. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete.Applebaum describes in devastating detail how political parties, the church, the media, young people’s organizations – the institutions of civil society on every level – were quickly eviscerated. She explains how the secret police services were organized, how the media came to be dominated by communists, and how all forms of opposition were undermined and destroyed. Ranging widely across new archival material and many sources unknown in English, she follows the communists’ tactics as they bullied, threatened and murdered their way to power. She also chronicles individual lives to show the choices people had to make – to fight, to flee, or to collaborate.Within a remarkably short period after the end of the war, Eastern Europe had been ruthlessly Stalinized. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization of cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality and strange aesthetics. Iron Curtain is a brilliant history of a brutal world began, an exceptional work of moral reckoning and a haunting reminder of how fragile free societies can be.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMrs Zigzag : the extraordinary life of a secret agent’s wife / Betty Chapman & Ronald L. Bonewitz.
“When Betty Farmer married double agent Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag, she knew her life would never be ordinary. Yet even before her marriage to Eddie, her life involved incendiary bombs, serial killers, film roles and love affairs with flying aces. After her marriage she coped with Eddie’s mistresses, his criminal activities, separations and personal traumas. Coming from humble origins, Betty would, in time, own a beauty business, a health farm and a castle in Ireland, become the friend and confidante of film stars and an African president, and the honoured guest of Middle Eastern royalty. In an age where women were still very much second-class, she became a perfect example of what, in spite of everything, was possible.Much has been written about Eddie Chapman, films have been made, television programmes produced. Yet alongside Eddie for most of his extraordinary life was an equally extraordinary woman: Mrs Zigzag. This book tells the story of the Chapmans’ often fraught but ultimately loving relationship for the first time.” (Syndetics summary)

New History Picks for May

Our History selection is a bit of a mixed bag this month and includes books about The Great Depression, The American Civil War, North Korea, Haiti, Manhattan, a 1920s president of the United States: Coolidge, and a history of Ambition. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverThe Dust Bowl : an illustrated history / by Dayton Duncan ; with a preface by Ken Burns ; picture research by Aileen Silverstone and Susan Shumaker.
“Given our current drought and economic woes, the powerhouse team of Duncan and Burns (The National Parks, 2009) chose a sharply relevant subject, the Dust Bowl, for their latest book and documentary. This riveting, illustrated volume of vivid written and oral history extends the scope of the film (premiering on PBS in mid-November) and clarifies our understanding of the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history. The Great Plains, a land of little rain and perpetual wind redeemed by buffalo grass, experienced a rare wet spell in the 1920s, just as homesteaders were encouraged to farm, and technological advances made it possible to plow up millions of acres of sod, exposing the soil. When the rains stopped in the early 1930s, fierce winds generated massive, rampaging, otherworldly dust storms. From struggling with the invasive, smothering dust to the immense folk migration as families fled west to FDR’s attempts to mitigate the disaster, Duncan and Burns chronicle every harrowing phase of this decade of human pain and environmental degradation. The result is a resounding chronicle of why we must preserve Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystems.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHaiti : the aftershocks of history / Laurent Dubois.Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
“Stereotypes, errors, and prejudice swirl around Haiti like toxic fumes, but this riveting study helps dispel clouds of ignorance. Building on his landmark synthesis of revolutionary Haiti (Avengers of the New World, CH, Nov’04, 42-1742), Dubois (Duke) summarizes colonial slave society and the liberation era, then thoroughly covers poorly understood 19th-century developments. Ongoing tensions between ruling elites and rural citizens characterized this period. Elites hoped to restore the plantation regime’s coercive labor relations; peasants sought title to land for subsistence farming and local market production. Dubois persuasively argues that the resulting stalemate defines much of Haiti’s history, shaping political as well as agricultural life. The “counter-plantation” strategy, not laziness or incapacity, explains the supposed postindependence economic decline. In the 1900s, that viable option eroded along with Haiti’s soil and smallholder rights. Brutal authoritarianism and foreign interventions are longstanding plagues, but Haitians increasingly reassert national autonomy, cultural pride, and democratic rights. Perhaps brief coverage of the post-Duvalier years indicates a future third volume. Readers will welcome further work by this major historian of this “small country but big nation.” Summing Up: Essential. All levels/collections. T. P. Johnson University of Massachusetts, BostonCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverCoolidge / Amity Shlaes.
“Reading perceived weaknesses as strengths and persistent setbacks as evidence of perseverance, journalist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) glowingly portrays Coolidge as an unappreciated economic hero. Born in Vermont in 1872, Coolidge studied law in Northampton, Mass., married schoolteacher Grace Goodhue, and doggedly climbed the Republican political ladder. From governor of Massachusetts to vice president and then president of the United States, Coolidge distanced himself from the progressive elements of his party; he championed low taxes, small government, and commerce as the foundations of prosperity. Shlaes writes with crisp, engaging prose, and her keen eye for detail is rooted in a solid collection of source material. But the story’s unrelenting linear trajectory bounces between such disparate topics as tax policies, maple syrup, and aviation with little indication of the degree of importance. Shlaes’s reluctance to critically analyze Coolidge’s political policies and actions is especially evident in her avoidance of delving into what Coolidge may have known about the Harding scandals and about weaknesses in the economy. Shlaes successfully shows, through clear explanations of Coolidge’s fiscal policies, why modern-day conservatives should consider him an economic hero, but she fails to illuminate what it meant for all Americans to Keep Cool with Coolidge during the complex 1920s. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agents: Sarah Chalfant, Scott Moyers, Adam Eaglin, and Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverMapping Manhattan : a love (and sometimes hate) story in maps by 75 New Yorkers / Becky Cooper ; foreword by Adam Gopnik.
“”Maps are more about their makers than the places they describe. Map who you are. Map where you are. Map your memories.” Cooper, writer, cartographer, and a native New Yorker, carefully assembles a surprisingly intimate collection of life stories from her art project, mapyourmemories. Laboriously hand-printing blank maps of Manhattan, she walks the length of the island asking strangers to provide their own narrative of New York. When Cooper receives her illustrated Manhattans, she finds a barrage of personal memories: from humorous insights to confessions, lost loves and childhood reminiscences; the vignettes, through maps, become love letters offering tribute to New York past and present. The maps represent New Yorkers and visitors from all walks of life: MTA employees, students, can collectors, mail carriers, artists, and city planners side-by-side with well-known New Yorkers such as chef David Chang, Yoko Ono, and Harvey Fierstein. New York reveals itself as “simultaneously no one’s city and everyone’s city.” Relationships to the city by those who have lived and loved in New York are interspersed with Cooper’s own history, artful illustrations, and quotes from street encounters. Cooper’s beautiful project linking the lives of New Yorkers is one that will continue to grow. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe impossible state : North Korea, past and future / Victor Cha.
“Former White House official Victor Cha has written the definitive volume on North Korea, arguably the world’s most menacing and mysterious nation. In The Impossible State, Cha, a singular expert on the region, exposes North Korea’s veiled past; sheds light on its culture, economy, and foreign policy; and explores the possibilities of its uncertain future in the post-Kim Jong-il era. A timely and engaging insider’s look at a volatile, and isolationist Asian juggernaut, The Impossible State will carry readers far deeper into this frighteningly adversarial country than they’ve ever traveled before”. (Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverAmbition, a history : from vice to virtue / William Casey King.
“From rags to riches, log house to White House, enslaved to liberator, ghetto to CEO, ambition fuels the American Dream. Americans are driven by ambition. Yet at the time of the nation’s founding, ambition was viewed as a dangerous vice, everything from “a canker on the soul” to the impetus for original sin. This engaging book explores ambition’s surprising transformation, tracing attitudes from classical antiquity to early modern Europe to the New World and America’s founding. From this broad historical perspective, William Casey King deepens our understanding of the American mythos and offers a striking reinterpretation of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.
Through an innovative array of sources and authors—Aquinas, Dante, Machiavelli, the Geneva Bible, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and many others—King demonstrates that a transformed view of ambition became possible the moment Europe realized that Columbus had discovered not a new route but a new world. In addition the author argues that reconstituting ambition as a virtue was a necessary precondition of the American republic. The book suggests that even in the twenty-first century, ambition has never fully lost its ties to vice and continues to exhibit a dual nature, positive or negative depending upon the ends, the means, and the individual involved.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPhotography and the American Civil War / Jeff L. Rosenheim ; [edited by Anna Jardine].
“Six hundred thousand lives were lost between 1861 and 1865, making the conflict between North and South the nation’s deadliest war. If the “War Between the States” was the test of the young republic’s commitment to its founding precepts, it was also a watershed in photographic history, as the camera recorded the epic, heartbreaking narrative from beginning to end—providing those on the home front, for the first time, with immediate visual access to the horrors of the battlefield.
Photography and the American Civil Warfeatures both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers (sometimes in the same family) preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles, and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (1863), this beautifully produced book features Civil War photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others.” (Syndetics summary)

New History picks for April

This month we have selected history books that focus on how individuals coped and still cope with historical events, sometimes of their making.

Syndetics book coverShadow lives : the forgotten women of the war on terror / Victoria Brittain ; foreword by John Berger ; afterword by Marina Warner.
“Shadow Lives reveals the unseen side of the ‘9/11 wars’: their impact on the wives and families of men incarcerated in Guantanamo, or in prison or under house arrest in Britain and the US. Shadow Lives is both a j’accuse and a testament to the strength of women”–Cover. (courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverNapoleon on St Helena / Mabel Brookes.
“Mabel Brookes’ ‘Napoleon on St Helena’ is one of the best accounts of the fallen Emperor’s 5 1/2-year imprisonment, which ended in 1821 with his death from a stomach ulcer. It presents the full story of Napoleon’s household, with its conflicting personalities and domestic arrangements, his relationship with the local and military residents, and the long-standing feud between Plantation House and Longwood”–Cover.

Syndetics book coverThe girls of Atomic City : the untold story of the women who helped win World War II / Denise Kiernan.
“During WWII, Oak Ridge, Tenn., was one unlikely epicenter of the Manhattan Project, the top secret program that produced the atomic bomb. Selected in 1942 for its remoteness, the area, “a big war site” hiring at top dollar, immediately boomed; from across the U.S., tens of thousands of workers streamed in-many of them women looking to broaden their horizons and fatten their purses. Fully integrated into the system, women worked every job, from courier to chemist. They found an “instant community” with “no history,” but also “a secret city… [and] a project whose objective was largely kept from them.” Living conditions were Spartan-urine samples and guards were intrusive constants-but the women lived their lives. Kiernan’s (Signing Their Lives Away) interviewees describe falling in love and smuggling in liquor in tampon boxes. But like everyone else, those lives were disrupted by news of Hiroshima. “Now you know what we’ve been doing all this time,” said one of the scientists. Many moved on; others stayed-Atomic City had become home. But for the women of Oak Ridge, “a strange mix of… pride and guilt and joy and shame” endured. This intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history will appeal to a broad audience. 16-page b&w insert. Agent: Yfat Reiss Gendell, Foundry Literary + Media. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverEvents, dear boy, events : a political diary of Britain from Woolf to Campbell / edited and introduced by Ruth Winstone.
“Ruth Winstone retells Britain’s history through the great diarists of the last century, drawing back the curtain on the lives of political classes, their doubts, ambitions, and emotions. She moves deftly among those in the thick of it, showing the elation, anger, doubts, jealousy, joys and fears of those such as Nicolson, Cooper, Channon, Macmillan, Castle, Clark, Benn, Campbell, Mullin and Ashdown as they record their own and the nation’s triumphs and disasters. To this potent mix she adds the mordant perceptions of observers like Virginia Woolf, Cecil Beaton, Peter Hall and Roy Strong, and the vivid records of everyday life found in the diaries of otherwise ordinary men and women. Events, Dear Boy, Events reveals Britain’s recent past in te words of the actors who were shaping events of the day as they were happening. This is living real-time history.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHelga’s diary : a young girl’s account of life in a concentration camp / Helga Weiss ; translated by Neil Bermel.
“As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles dramatically, the potency of ­firsthand accounts increases with each passing year. Weiss’ adolescent diary begins in Prague in 1938 with the Nazi occupation and ends shortly before her deportation from the Terezin concentration camp to Auschwitz in September 1944. Preserved by her uncle, who bricked it into a barracks wall at Terezin, her diary was completed after the war by her recording of later experiences at the Auschwitz, Freiberg, and Mauthausen camps. Illustrated with family photographs and her own paintings and drawings, Helga’s Diary serves as a remarkable testament to her horrific journey and the ultimate resiliency of youth. Since so few of the approximately 15,000 children interred in Terezin survived, Helga’s Diary, like the collective reminiscences in Hannelore Brenner’s The Girls of Room 28 (2009), must speak for all the young voices that were prematurely stifled.–Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe bloody white baron : the extraordinary story of the Russian nobleman who became the last Khan of Mongolia / James Palmer.
“Palmer introduces readers to a little known, and very bizarre, episode of post-Revolutionary Russia and to its main actor, the anti-Semitic and genocidal Baron Ungern-Sternberg. One of the leaders of the anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia, Ungern-Sternberg and his army were pushed by the Bolsheviks into Mongolia, which had recently broken free from China. Conquering the country with cavalry–the last person in history to do such a thing–Ungern-Sternberg established a medieval-style dictatorship, murdering Jews and political opponents in a pogrom that foretold later atrocities by the Nazis. Writing in a popular style, Palmer vividly conveys the details of Ungern-Sternberg’s rise to power and his eventual dispatch at the hands of victorious Soviet forces. This is a paperback reprint of a book published in cloth in 2009. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)” (Syndetics summary)

Alone : an inspiring story of survival and determination / by Alina Suchanski.
Alone tells the story of a young Polish orphan who came to Pahiatua in 1944. Based on the life of her stepfather Tony Laparowski, it recounts his early childhood in Poland, his family’s deportation to the Soviet Union at the start of World War II where both his parents had perished, and his journey as an orphan from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Persia to New Zealand. Although Alina’s stepfather read the completed manuscript, sadly he hasn’t seen his story in print. He passed away in May 2012 before Alone was published.” (Staff member)

History Recent Picks for March

Below is a selection of the latest history books we have received in March. It is an ecclectic mix that deserves your attention!

Syndetics book coverIke and Dick : portrait of a strange political marriage / Jeffrey Frank.
“Examines the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, from the politics that divided them to the marriage that united their families. Despite being separated by age and temperament, their association evolved into a collaboration that helped to shape the nation’s political ideology, foreign policy, and domestic goals.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe birth of the West : Rome, Germany, France, and the creation of Europe in the tenth century / Paul Collins.
“The tenth century dawned in violence and disorder. Charlemagne’s empire was in ruins, most of Spain had been claimed by Moorish invaders, and even the papacy in Rome was embroiled in petty, provincial conflicts. To many historians, it was a prime example of the ignorance and uncertainty of the Dark Ages. Yet according to historian Paul Collins, the story of the tenth century is the story of our culture’s birth, of the emergence of our civilization into the light of day. The Birth of the West tells the story of a transformation from chaos to order, exploring the alien landscape of Europe in transition. It is a fascinatingnarrative that thoroughly renovates older conceptions of feudalism and what medieval life was actually like. The result is a wholly new vision of how civilization sprang from the unlikeliest of origins, and proof that our tenth-century ancestors are not as remote as we might think.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe presidents club : inside the world’s most exclusive fraternity / Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.
“The Presidents Club, established at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, is a complicated place: its members are bound forever by the experience of the Oval Office and yet are eternal rivals for history’s favor. Among their secrets: How Jack Kennedy tried to blame Ike for the Bay of Pigs. How Ike quietly helped Reagan win his first race in 1966. How Richard Nixon conspired with Lyndon Johnson to get elected and then betrayed him. How Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter turned a deep enmity into an alliance. The unspoken pact between a father and son named Bush. And the roots of the rivalry between Clinton and Barack Obama.
Timemagazine editors and presidential historians Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy offer a new and revealing lens on the American presidency, exploring the club as a hidden instrument of power that has changed the course of history.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBritain begins / Barry Cunliffe.
“Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up to date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Barry Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders – who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted one with another. Underlying this narrative throughout is the story of the sea, which allowed the islanders and their continental neighbours to be in constant contact.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCity of lingering splendour : a frank account of old Peking’s exotic pleasures / John Blofeld.
“In his early twenties, John Blofeld spent what he describes as “three exquisitely happy years” in Peking during the era of the last emperor, when the breathtaking greatness of China’s ancient traditions was still everywhere evident. Arriving in 1934, he found a city imbued with the atmosphere of the recent imperial past and haunted by the powerful spirit of the late Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. He entered a world of magnificent palaces and temples of the Forbidden City, of lotus-covered lakes and lush pleasure-gardens, of bustling bazaars and peaceful bathhouses, and of “flower houses”; with their beautiful young courtesans versed in the arts of pleasing men. With a novelists’ command of detail and dialogue, Blofeld vividly re-creates the magic of these years and conveys to the reader his appreciation and nostalgia for a way of life long vanished.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Hopkins touch : Harry Hopkins and the forging of the alliance to defeat Hitler / David L. Roll.
“The Hopkins Touchoffers the first portrait in over two decades of the most powerful man in Roosevelt’s administration.
David Roll shows how Harry Hopkins, an Iowa-born social worker who had been an integral part of the New Deal’s implementation, became the linchpin in FDR’s–and America’s–relationships with Churchill and Stalin, and spoke with an authority second only to the president’s. Gaunt, nearly spectral, and malnourished following an operation to remove part of his stomach, the newly widowed Hopkins accepted the president’s invitation to move into the White House in 1940 and remained Roosevelt’s closest advisor, speechwriter, sounding board, and friend nearly to the end. Between 1940 and 1945, with incomparable skill and indefatigable determination, Hopkins organized the Lend-Lease program and steered the president to prepare the public for war with Germany. He became FDR’s problem-solver and fixer, helping to smooth over crises, such as when the British refused to allow an invasion of Europe in 1943, enraging Stalin, who felt that the Soviet Union was carrying the military effort against the Nazis. Lacking an official title or a clear executive branch portfolio, Hopkins could take the political risks his boss could not, and proved crucial to maintaining personal relations among the Big Three. Beloved by some–such as Churchill, who believed that Hopkins “always went to the root of the matter”–and trusted by most–including the paranoid Stalin–there were nevertheless those who resented the influence of “the White House Rasputin.”
Based on newly available sources,The Hopkins Touchis an absorbing, substantial new work that offers a fresh perspective on the World War II era and the Allied leaders, through the life of the man who kept them on point until the war was won.” (Syndetics summary)

February History Picks

We hope you enjoy the selection of recent history books for February 2013. Countries featured are Australia, Great Britain and America. We also have the story of a man looking for his ancestors. Fascinating!

Syndetics book coverBatavia : betrayal, shipwreck, murder, sexual slavery, courage, a spine-chilling chapter in Australian history / Peter FitzSimons.
“Batavia is the greatest story in Australia’s history. The Shipwreck of the Batavia combines in just the one tale the birth of the world’s first corporation, the brutality of colonisation, the battle of good vs evil, the derring-do of sea-faring adventure, mutiny, ship-wreck, love, lust, blood-lust, petty fascist dictatorship, criminality, a reign of terror, murders most foul, sexual slavery, natural nobility, survival, retribution, rescue, first contact with native peoples and so much more. Described by author Peter FitzSimons as “a true Adults Only version of Lord of the Flies, meeting Nightmare on Elm Street,” the story is set in 1629, when the pride of the Dutch East India Company, the Batavia, is on its maiden voyage en route from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies, laden down with the greatest treasure to leave Holland…” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBritain’s empire : resistance, repression and revolt / Richard Gott.
“This revelatory new history punctures the still widely held belief that the British Empire was an enlightened and civilizing enterprise of great benefit to its subject peoples. Instead, Britain’s Empire reveals a history of systemic repression and almost continual violence, showing how British rule was imposed as a military operation and maintained as a military dictatorship. For colonized peoples, the experience was a horrific one-of slavery, famine, battle and extermination.
Yet, as Richard Gott illustrates, the empire’s oppressed peoples did not go gently into that good night. Wherever Britain tried to plant its flag, there was resistance. From Ireland to India, from the American colonies to Australia, Gott chronicles the backlash. He shows, too, how Britain provided a blueprint for the genocides of twentieth-century Europe, and argues that its past leaders must rank alongside the dictators of the twentieth century as the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale. In tracing this history of resistance, all but lost to modern memory, Richard Gott recovers these forgotten peoples and puts them where they deserve to be: at the heart of the story of Britain’s empire.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPrairie fever : British aristocrats in the American West, 1830-1890 / Peter Pagnamenta.
“From the 1830s onward, a succession of well-born Britons headed west to the great American wilderness to find adventure and fulfillment. They brought their dogs, sporting guns, valets, and all the attitudes and prejudices of their class. Prairie Fever explores why the West had such a strong romantic appeal for them at a time when their inherited wealth and passion for sport had no American equivalent.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTudor queenship : the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth / edited by Anna Whitelock and Alice Hunt.
“The essays in this volume contribute to a new understanding of the second half of the sixteenth century when England experienced the unprecedented rule of two successive queens regnant. Focusing on a diverse range of issues, from politics and personnel to ceremony and costume, and from a range of perspectives, Tudor Queenship demonstrates that thinking about both queens at the same time can be highly suggestive, and propels us to revise, develop and understand, and to contextualize, traditional interpretations. From what Elizabeth learnt from Mary, assessments of political acumen and the significance of confessional differences this is the first volume to focus on both Mary and Elizabeth, and to consider them as Renaissance monarchs a European stage.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe love-charm of bombs : restless lives in the Second World War / Lara Feigel.
“When the first bombs fell on London in August 1940, the city was transformed overnight into a strange kind of battlefield. For most Londoners, the sirens, guns, planes, and bombs brought sleepless nights, fear and loss. But for a group of writers, the war became an incomparably vivid source of inspiration, the blazing streets scenes of exhilaration in which fear could transmute into love. In this powerful chronicle of literary life under the Blitz, Lara Feigel vividly conjures the lives of five prominent writers: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and the novelist Henry Green. Starting with a sparklingly detailed recreation of a single night of September 1940, the narrative traces the tempestuous experiences of these five figures through five years in London and Ireland, followed by postwar Vienna and Berlin.
Volunteering to drive ambulances, patrol the streets and fight fires, the protagonists all exhibited a unified spirit of a nation under siege, but as individuals their emotions were more volatile. As the sky whistled and the ground shook, nerves were tested, loyalties examined and torrid affairs undertaken. Literary historian and journalist Feigel brilliantly and beautifully interweaves the letters, diaries, journalism and fiction of her writers with official records to chart the history of a burning world, experienced through the eyes of extraordinary individuals.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverReunion : a search for ancestors / [Ryan Littrell].
“Where do I come from? That question sets Ryan Littrell on a fascinating journey that crosses centuries. An anonymous letter reveals the first clues about his family story, and soon those clues lead to country graveyards, long-lost cousins, and a shocking DNA discovery. And as one hint follows the next, he uncovers his place in a tragic struggle–a tale of heartbreak, betrayal, and unfailing strength. A real-life account, Reunion shows how our ancestors are still a part of us, and how our story began long before we were even born”. (Syndetics summary)

History Picks for January

Another mixed bag of history picks this month: Pineaha Murray, Rasputin, JFK and more. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverA seat at the table of my elders / Pineaha Murray.
“Pineaha Murray is an elder of Ngāti Kurī of the Far North and in this personal account he tells of his ancient forebears’ place in the northern tip of NZ – the Three Kings, Tom Bowling Bay and Parengarenga Harbour. Memories, history, myths and legends unfold and provide a rich personal story and a social history of northern communities”–Publisher information.

Syndetics book coverRasputin : the untold story / Joseph T. Fuhrmann.
“Using material from newly opened Soviet archives, particularly the correspondence of Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, Fuhrmann, an emeritus professor of history at Murray State University in Kentucky, extends the range of his Rasputin: A Life (1990). He shows how an obscure Russian Orthodox monk became a close adviser to the czar and czarina, particularly after he predicted the recovery of their son, Alexis, from a possibly fatal illness in 1909. Alexandra turned to him for advice on Russia’s WWI military campaign, and he influenced the appointment of high officials. This outsize influence, and rumors that Rasputin was pro-German, impelled a cabal of members of the nobility to assassinate him in December 1916. Fuhrman provides graphic details of the murder and weighs the evidence that the British Secret Intelligence Service participated in the plot. Fuhrmann draws a complex portrait of a dissolute alcoholic figure who allegedly raped at least one woman, yet he was seen by his many followers as a starets (charismatic holy man). Fuhrmann does not provide a final appraisal of Rasputin’s significance in the immediate prerevolution period. Still, this vivid, briskly written biography brings to life one of the most colorful and sinister figures in modern Russian history. Illus. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverWebs of empire : locating New Zealand’s colonial past / Tony Ballantyne.
“Positions New Zealand within these ‘webs of empire’, connecting Gore and Chicago, Māori and Asia, India and newspapers, whalers and writing. His work breaks open the narrative of colonisation to offer sharp new perspectives on New Zealand history”–Back cover.

Syndetics book coverListening in : the secret White House recordings of John F. Kennedy / John F. Kennedy Library Foundation ; selected and introduced by Ted Widmer ; foreword by Caroline Kennedy.
“Everyone knows Nixon had tape recorders running in the Oval Office, but most Americans aren’t aware that FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower experimented with audio recording and that JFK installed taping systems in 1962 that he could activate to record significant meetings and phone conversations and, occasionally, his own reflections. All 265.5 hours of those tapes (with redactions, however) are now available at the Kennedy Presidential Library. This volume, accompanied by two CDs, gathers several dozen of the most interesting conversations. In addition to obvious subjects Cuba, civil rights, space, and Vietnam the collection also includes many remarks on history, politics, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and other foreign-policy developments. Because the tapes’ quality varies, some transcripts include too many skips and unclears to convey much meaning. Quite helpful, on the other hand, are the book’s illustrations, which range from photographs to contemporaneous documents and handwritten notes. Despite its limitations, Listening In lives up to Widmer’s descriptions, a portrait of a president being president, and the closest to an autobiography we will ever get.–Carroll, Mary Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverFormer people : the final days of the Russian aristocracy / Douglas Smith.
“The wide discrepancy between the Russian peasant class (who made up 80 percent of Russia’s 19th-century population) and the nobility helped precipitate the Russian Revolution and the subsequent methodical elimination of the educated aristocratic class. Independent historian Smith (The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia) has meticulously researched the revolutionary and Soviet eras, focusing on two noble families: the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. Using archival resources and both primary and secondary works, Smith gives us what he calls the first work to detail the nobles’ everyday lives, as well as the consequences to the country of their elimination. By focusing on these two families, Smith brings to life another aspect of Russian and Soviet history in the first half of the 20th century. The profiled families embody what many of the Russian nobles endured, and their choices attest to the resiliency of the human spirit. VERDICT This work will be enjoyed by Russophiles and historians of the tsarist era, as well as those studying this period of Soviet history. Those who enjoy studying the Romanovs will appreciate learning more about the Russian aristocracy as a whole. As such, an important addition to Russian history collections.-Maria C. Bagshaw, Elgin Comm. Coll. Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverYou saved me, too : what a Holocaust survivor taught me about living, dying, fighting, loving, and swearing in Yiddish / Susan Kushner Resnick.
“In well-executed, second-person prose, Resnick speaks directly to the elderly Aron Lieb-a virtually family-less Holocaust survivor whom she befriends-as he lies on his deathbed in a nursing home. Short vignettes skip back and forth through time, covering the history of their relationship: Resnick’s struggle with Jewish identity (”I figured as long as I stayed ambivalent about being Jewish, I might not get killed by the Nazis the next time they came”) and Aron’s own history before, during, and after the war. The writing is sentimental and emotional (culminating in “Who saved whom?”) as much as it is honest and informative; in telling Aron’s story, Resnick unapologetically criticizes both the incompetence of elder-care facilities as well as the failure of Jewish communal organizations to help a person who, after a life of hardship, deserves a break. This painful memoir is not easy to read: Resnick displays her artistic skill as she attempts to make sense of Aron’s life in light of her own (”I own the book of your life, but I can’t read it”). The telling of Aron’s story, a true labor of love, is a reminder of both the individuality of each survivor and the reality that their generation is dying and must be remembered. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

History Picks for December

Our new history books this month have something to interest everyone: Norse exporers, lady spies, retro Sydney, what it was to live when Shakespeare was about, and more. Happy reading!

Syndetics book coverVikings / Neil Oliver.
“The Vikings famously took no prisoners, relished cruel retribution, and prided themselves on their bloody-thirsty skills as warriors. But their prowess in battle is only a small part of their story, which stretches from their Scandinavian origins to America in the west and as far as Baghdad in the east. As the Vikings did not write their history, we have to discover it for ourselves, and that discovery, as Neil Oliver reveals, tells an extraordinary story of a people who, from the brink of destruction, reached a quarter of the way around the globe and built an empire that lasted nearly two hundred years. Drawing on the latest discoveries that have only recently come to light, Neil Oliver goes on the trail of the real Vikings. Where did they emerge from? How did they really live? And just what drove them to embark on such extraordinary voyages of discovery over 1000 years ago? VIKINGS will explore many of these questions for the first time in an epic story of one of the world’s great empires of conquest.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverChurchill’s angels : how Britain’s women secret agents changed the course of the Second World War / Bernard O’Connor.
“Over 70 female agents were sent out by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. These women – as well as others from clandestine Allied organisations – were flown out and parachuted or landed into occupied Europe on vital and highly dangerous missions: their job was to work with resistance movements both before and after D-Day. Bernard O’Connor relates the experiences of these agents of by drawing on a range of sources, including many of the women’s accounts of their wartime service. There are stories of rigorous training, thrilling undercover operations evading capture by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France, tragic betrayals and extraordinary courage.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverRetro Sydney / Ian Collis.
“Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s…This unique collection of vintage shots from amateur family photographers includes rare and never-before-seen material. It features timeless photographs of the stunning harbour and the creation of the Opera House, classic Royal Easter Show shots, the Queen’s visits and the pastimes the city loves – sport, recreation and fashion”–Back cover.

Syndetics book coverShakespeare’s restless world / Neil MacGregor.
“From Neil MacGregor, the acclaimed creator of A History of the World in 100 Objects and the Director of the British Museum, comes a unique, enthralling exploration of the age of William Shakespeare to accompany a new BBC Radio 4 series.Shakespeare lived through a pivotal period in human history. With the discovery of the New World, the horizons of Old Europe were expanding dramatically – and long-cherished certainties were crumbling. Life was exhilaratingly uncertain. What were Londoners thinking when they went to see Shakespeare’s plays? What was it like living in their world? Here Neil MacGregor looks at twenty objects from Shakespeare’s life and times, and uncovers the fascinating stories behind them. The objects themselves range from the grand (such as the hoard of gold coins that make up the Salcombe treasure) to the very humble, like the battered trunk and worn garments of an unknown pedlar. But in each case, they allow MacGregor to explore issues as diverse as piracy and Islam, Catholicism and disguise. MacGregor weaves the histories of objects into the words of Shakespeare’s plays themselves to suggest to us where his ideas about religion, national identity, the history of England and the world, human nature itself, may have come from. The result is a fresh and thrilling evocation of Shakespeare’s world.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe revenge of history : the battle for the twenty-first century / Seumas Milne.
“From the outset, Seumas Milne’s Guardian essays on the West’s war on terror provoked angry denunciations on both sides of the Atlantic. A decade on, the advocates of violent capitalism have been silenced. From class to religion, Blair to Obama, Palestine to Pakistan, bank bailouts to the Arab uprisings, the rise of China to the wave of change in Latin America, Milne exposes the breakdown of the new world order – and draws out the prospects for the emerging politics of the future. In a media culture dominated by eager apologists, Milne has consistently written against the grain. This book offers a compelling perspective on the convulsions that have brought us to today’s crisis – and a powerful indictment of a global and corporate empire in decline.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverA free man / Aman Sethi.
“Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage. Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to life through their adventures and misfortunes in the Old Delhi Railway Station, the harrowing wards of a tuberculosis hospital, an illegal bar made of cardboard and plywood, and into Beggars Court and back onto the streets. In a time of global economic strain, this is an unforgettable evocation of persistence in the face of poverty in one of the world’s largest cities. Sethi recounts Ashraf’s surprising life story with wit, candor, and verve, and A Free Man becomes a moving story of the many ways a man can be free.” (Global Books In Print)


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