Epic histories are offered in this month’s round-up, encompassing the revolutions in China and Russia and the turbulent change of the Middle East. The latter two regions inspire a multi-vocal approach that embraces subjectivity and variation in perspective.
The cultural revolution : a people’s history, 1962-1976 / Frank Dikötter.
“Acclaimed by the Daily Mail as ‘definitive and harrowing’ , this is the final volume of ‘The People’s Trilogy’. After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, an ageing Mao launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalist elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Southeast Asia : an introductory history / Milton Osborne.
“While giving due regard to the early history of the region, Osborne concentrates on the changes that have taken place since the 18th century: the impact of colonial rule, economic transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries, the emergence and triumph of the independence movements, the impact of social change, and the pivotal roles played by religion, ethnic minorities, and immigrant groups. He also provides an introduction to the art of the region and a comprehensive guide to literature about Southeast Asia.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Once in a great city : a Detroit story / David Maraniss.
“It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America. [...] Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse, one could see the signs of a city’s ruin. Detroit at its peak was threatened by its own design. It was being abandoned by the new world. Yet so much of what Detroit gave America lasts.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Historically inevitable? : turning points of the Russian Revolution / edited by Tony Brenton.
“Marx held that the progression of society from capitalism to communism was ‘historically inevitable’. In Russia in 1917, it seemed that Marx’s theory was being born out in reality. But was the Russian Revolution really inevitable? This collection of fourteen contributions from the world’s leading Russian scholars attempts to answer the question by looking back at the key turning points of the revolution.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The history book.
“Travel back in time with the latest instalment in the bestselling Big Ideas series. The History Book charts world history from the dawn of civilisation to the modern culture we live in today. From the origins of homo-sapiens to the release of Nelson Mandela, from the French Revolution to the Space Race, The History Book is a stunning exploration of the human timeline up to and including modern Islam, the world wide web, and the global financial crisis.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Defending the motherland : the Soviet women who fought Hitler’s aces / Lyuba Vinogradova ; with an introducation by Antony Beevor ; translated from the Russian by Arch Tait.
“Battling not just fearsome Aces of the Luftwaffe but also patronising prejudice from their own leaders, women such as Lilya Litvyak and Ekaterina Budanova are brought to life by the diaries and recollections of those who knew them, and who watched them live, love, fight and die.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Shifting sands : the unraveling of the old order in the Middle East / edited by Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson.
“Shifting Sands brings together fifteen impassioned and informed voices to talk about a region with unlimited potential, and yet which can feel, as one writer puts it, “as though the world around me is on fire.” This collection has as its framing event the Sykes-Picot agreement, which marks its centenary this year. [...] For all those who are wearied by the debates surrounding the Middle East ‘often at best ill-informed and at worst, defeatist propaganda’ this intelligent, reasoned perspective on life in the Middle East is a breath of fresh air.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Assholes : a theory of Donald Trump / by Aaron James.
“Make America Great Again? Donald Trump is an asshole is a fact widely agreed upon–even by his supporters, who actually like that about him. But his startling political rise makes the question of just what sort of asshole he is, and how his assholedom may help to explain his success, one not just of philosophical interest but of almost existential urgency. [...] You will never think about Donald Trump and his Art of the Deal the same way after reading this book. And, like it or not, think about him we must.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The Modi effect : inside Narendra Modi’s campaign to transform India / Lance Price.
“Political parties in Britain, Australia and North America pride themselves on the sophistication of their election strategies, but Modi’s campaign was a master-class in modern electioneering. His team created an election machine that broke new ground in the use of social media, the Internet, mobile phones and digital technologies. [...] These pioneering techniques brought millions of young people to the ballot box as Modi trounced the governing Congress Party led by the Gandhi dynasty.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Saved to remember : Raoul Wallenberg, Budapest 1944 and after / Frank Vajda.
“Frank Vajda, a major figure in Australian neurology, was a boy in Budapest, Hungary, during the Second World War. He witnessed the attempt by Hitler’s Nazis and a fascist Hungarian militia to murder him, his family and the rest of the Jews of this nation. Frank survived in the care of his courageous and ever-resourceful mother. Vajda vividly and matter-of-factly conveys what life was like for Jews trying to stay alive in a world where the law of the land, backed up by brute soldierly force, suddenly determined that they were to be killed, and how they hid, bluffed, and fought to avoid that fate.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)