Revisions and Revisitations – Recent History picks for June

This month’s selections contain a few updated histories, including Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain now covering the Brexit vote and aftermath, and a new version of Jeff Evans’ Polynesian Navigation and the Discovery of New Zealand. Old and new conflicts also go under the microscope, with World War II revisited from several perspectives, while Michael Zacchea’s The Ragged Edge looks at the rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces and the insurgency that would later develop into ISIS.

Syndetics book coverAgent 110 / Scott Miller.
“In November 1942, American spymaster Allen Dulles slipped into Switzerland. His mission: to report on the inner workings of the Third Reich. Code-named Agent 110 by the OSS, he discovered a network of Germans conspiring to overthrow Hitler. Aided by his mistress, an American journalist, Dulles built a network of secret agents and became convinced that Moscow aimed to dominate postwar Europe. He desperately sought Washington’s support in Operation Valkyrie, and worked with a ruthless Nazi SS general to secure the surrender of all German forces in Italy. Dulles himself would eventually lead the CIA during the Cold War, driven by his wartime distrust of the Soviets.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPolynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand / Jeff Evans ; foreword by Francis Cowan.
Polynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand offers a straightforward account of how and why Polynesian seafarers made their journey south to New Zealand shores. The first part discusses the origins of the voyages, legends of the homeland and the explorer Kupe, traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, and the preservation of seafaring knowledge by Māori. The second part presents a gripping account of the canoe Hawaiki-nui retracing the route from Tahiti to New Zealand in 1985 using traditional voyaging methods.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe Nazis : the hidden history, the catastrophic impact of the Third Reich / Jonathan J. Moore.
“Historian and writer Jonathan J. Moore examines the horrific nature of the Nazi regime in all its gruesome detail. He draws on the latest research to answer many of the unanswered questions about the Nazi state and provides many fascinating and original insights into the period.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverShoot like a girl : one woman’s dramatic fight in Afghanistan and on the home front / Mary Jennings Hegar.
“In 2009, Air National Guard major Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar was shot down in Afghanistan. Despite being wounded, she fought the enemy and saved the lives of her crew and their patients. But it was on American soil that Hegar would embark on her greatest challenge – to eliminate the military’s Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, which kept female armed service members from officially serving in combat roles. MJ takes the reader on a dramatic journey through her military career: a true story of a brave, high-spirited, and unforgettable woman who has spent much of her life ready to sacrifice everything for her country, her fellow man, and her sense of justice.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ragged edge : a US Marine’s account of leading the Iraqi Army Fifth Battalion / Michael Zacchea and Ted Kemp.
“Deployed to Iraq in March 2004 after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, US Marine Michael Zacchea thought he had landed a plum assignment. His team’s mission was to build, train, and lead in combat the first Iraqi Army battalion trained by the US military. He had little time to transform his troops into a cohesive rifle battalion that would fight a new insurgency erupting across Iraq. In order to stand up a fighting battalion, he would have to understand his men. Unlike other Marines in Iraq, he immersed himself in Iraq’s culture: learning its languages, eating its foods, observing its traditions, even being inducted into one of its Sunni tribes. The Ragged Edge is Zacchea’s deeply personal and powerful account of hopeful determination, of brotherhood and betrayal, and of cultural ignorance and misunderstanding.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe war beat, Europe : the American media at war against Nazi Germany / Steven Casey.
“From the North African desert to the bloody stalemate in Italy, from the London blitz to the D-Day beaches, a group of highly courageous and extremely talented American journalists reported the war against Nazi Germany for a grateful audience. Based on a wealth of previously untapped primary sources, War Beat, Europe provides the first comprehensive account of what these reporters witnessed, what they were allowed to publish, and how their reports shaped the home front’s perception of some of the most pivotal battles in American history.” (Abridged from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverA history of modern Britain / Andrew Marr.
“This engaging volume tells the story of how the great political visions and idealisms of Victorian Britain came to be defeated by a culture of consumerism, celebrity, and self-gratification. It explains how in each decade, political leaders found themselves confounded by the British people, who always turned out to be harder to herd than predicted. Historically Britain has been a country on the edge—first of invasion, then of bankruptcy, then on the vulnerable front line of the Cold War, and later in the forefront of the great opening up of capital and migration.” (Abridged from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverThe history of the future : American essays / Edward McPherson.
“In The History of the Future, McPherson reexamines American places and the space between history, experience, and myth. Private streets, racism, and the St. Louis World’s Fair; fracking for oil and digging for dinosaurs in North Dakota boomtowns-Americana slides into apocalypse in these essays, revealing us to ourselves.” (Syndetics summary)

Recent History Picks for January

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book coverNotes from the blockade, and, A story of pity and cruelty / Lydia Ginzburg
“From her experience as a survivor of the 900-day siege of Leningrad, Lidiya Ginzburg has created a remarkable hero in whom she distils the experience of life under siege. Though she depicts the harrowing conditions, the reader takes away an impression of the dignity, vitality, and intellectual resilience of the thinking mind as it makes sense of extreme experience. This classic work of documentary fiction will be the first introduction of a major 20th-century Russian writer to many English-language readers.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIndigenous London : native travellers at the heart of empire / Coll Thrush.
“Historian Coll Thrush offers an imaginative vision of the city’s past crafted from an almost entirely new perspective: that of Indigenous children, women, and men who travelled there, willingly or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, beginning in the sixteenth century. Thrush illustrates how London learned to be a global, imperial city and how Indigenous people were central to that process.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAnd the monkey learned nothing : dispatches from a life in transit / Tom Lutz.
“Without an itinerary and without a goal, Tom Lutz is on a mission to visit every country on earth, describing personal encounters in rarely visited spots and anecdotes from way off the beaten path. With an eye out for both the sublime and the ridiculous, Lutz falls, regularly, into the instant intimacy of the road with random strangers.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNative American almanac : more than 50,000 years of the cultures and histories of indigenous peoples / Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder and Shannon Rothenberger Flynn.
“A primer on the Native American experience, presenting the rich history and continuing legacy of the indigenous and tribal nations. Fascinating biographies, insightful quotes, detailed data and absorbing narratives bring the stories of indigenous people to life, bringing unique insight into the American nation.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnder the shadow : rage and revolution in modern Turkey / Kaya Genç.
“Turkey stands at the crossroads of the Middle East―caught between the West and ISIS, Syria and Russia, and governed by an increasingly forceful leader. Acclaimed writer Kaya Genç; has been covering his country for the past decade. In Under the Shadow he meets activists from both sides of Turkey’s political divide, getting to the heart of the compelling conflicts between history and modernity in the Middle East.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again.  Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy brother’s keeper : Christians who risked all to protect Jewish targets of the Nazi Holocaust / Rod Gragg.
My Brother’s Keeper unfolds powerful stories of Christians from across denominations who gave everything they had to save the Jewish people from the evils of the Holocaust. In one gripping profile after another, these extraordinary historical accounts offer stories of steadfast believers who together helped thousands of Jewish individuals and families to safety. Many of these everyday heroes perished alongside the very people they were trying to protect.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fifth beginning : what six million years of human history can tell us about our future / Robert L. Kelly.
“From four key pivot points in the six-million-year history of human development, Kelly looks ahead, giving us evidence for what he calls a fifth beginning, one that started about AD 1500 that some would call “globalization.” Kelly predicts that this will include the end of war as a viable way to resolve disputes, the end of capitalism as we know it, the widespread shift toward world citizenship, and the rise of forms of cooperation that will end the near-sacred status of nation-states. However, the author is cautiously optimistic: he dwells not on the coming chaos, but on humanity’s great potential.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe illustrated story of England / Christopher Hibbert ; illustrated by John Broadley ; new chapter by Dr Seán Lang.
“This concise and fast-paced introduction to English history keeps the reader enthralled through the entire course of the country’s political, economic, and cultural landscape, covering the whole sweep of English history from the Stone Age to the present. In this newly illustrated edition, John Broadley’s unique tableaux-like illustrations capture the landscape, costumes, and characters of the history that Hibbert’s text so vividly evokes.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Revolution & War – Recent History Picks for December

This month’s picks are a stark reminder that disruption and change are built into the fabric of daily life and therefore: history. The humanity and sensitivity with which these stories are told are a revolt in themselves to the violence they often contain. Some books, like the one published by the brand new National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian, Dream a World Anew, use this change as a central driver – an inspiring compass through adversity and breakthroughs, rather than struggle alone.

Syndetics book coverThe Soviet century / Moshe Lewin ; edited by Gregory Elliott.
“Although the formal structures of the USSR are defunct, Lewin argues that a ghost of the system still lives as a biographical and institutional reality, especially in Russia. For those interested in the history of the Soviet Union, this study will provide a lavish feast, as it is full of empirical and interpretive detail about its institutions and leaders. Written by one of the old Soviet hands, this work, as a one-volume history of the USSR, will be hard to replace.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.”  (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSisters of the Somme : true stories from a First World War field hospital / Penny Starns.
“With First World War casualties mounting, there was an appeal for volunteers to train as front-line medical staff. Despite their training these young women were ill-prepared for the anguished cries of the wounded and the stench of gangrene and trench foot awaiting them at the Somme. Isolated from friends and family, most discovered an inner strength, forging new and close relationships with each other and establishing a camaraderie that was to last through the war and beyond.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDisunion : a history of the Civil War / edited by Ted Widmer, with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis.
“Between 2011 and 2015, the Opinion section of The New York Times published Disunion, a series marking the long string of anniversaries around the Civil War, the most destructive, and most defining, conflict in American history. The works were startling in their range and direction, some taking on major topics, like the Gettysburg Address and the Battle of Fredericksburg, while others tackled subjects whose seemingly incidental quality yielded unexpected riches and new angles.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPasschendaele : requiem for doomed youth / Paul Ham.
Passchendaele tells the story of ordinary men in the grip of a political and military power struggle that determined their fate and has foreshadowed the destiny of the world for a century. Paul Ham lays down a powerful challenge to the idea of war as an inevitable expression of the human will, and examines the culpability of governments and military commanders in a catastrophe that destroyed the best part of a generation.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCaught in the revolution : Petrograd, 1917 / Helen Rappaport.
Caught in the Revolution is Helen Rappaport’s masterful telling of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution through eye-witness accounts left by foreign nationals who saw the drama unfold. Between the first revolution in February 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in October, Petrograd (the former St. Petersburg) was in turmoil. Rappaport draws upon this rich trove of material, to carry us right up to the action–to see the Revolution as it happened to an assortment of individuals who suddenly felt themselves trapped in a ‘red madhouse'” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDream a world anew : the African American experience and the shaping of America / introduction by Lonnie G. Bunch III ; edited by Kinshasha Holmes Conwill.
“History will be made and embraced when the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a long-in-the-works and crucial addition to the Smithsonian Institution, opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in September 2016. With 275 color illustrations and essays brief and extended by two dozen scholars and curators, this welcoming overview covers a broad spectrum of subjects from slavery to African American artists and athletes.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBeautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics : a sideways look at twentieth-century London / Rob Baker.
“From the return of local hero Charlie Chaplin to the protests that blighted the Miss World competition in 1970, the book covers the events and personalities that reflect the glamorous, scandalous, political and subversive place London was and is today. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, the stories span the twentieth century and cover the width and breadth of the capital, revealing that London is much more than the sum of its parts.” (summary adapted from amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverHopeless but optimistic : journeying through America’s endless war in Afghanistan / Douglas A. Wissing.
“Wissing is everywhere in Afghanistan, sharing an impressionistic view from little white taxis coursing across one of the world’s most mine-ridden places; and compelling inside views from within embattled frontline combat outposts, lumbering armored gun trucks and flitting helicopters, brain trauma clinics, and Kabul’s Oz-like American embassy. He includes the real stuff of life: the austere grandeur of Afghanistan and its remarkable people; warzone dining, defecation, and sex; as well as the remarkable shopping opportunities for men whose job is to kill.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Recent History Picks

Every month is a reminder that history reading lets us travel through multiple dimensions, a space heightened through time, shedding light on both the most exhausted and uncharted grounds.

Syndetics book coverSunken cities : Egypt’s lost worlds : the BP exhibition / edited by Franck Goddio and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff.
“This book showcases a spectacular collection of artefacts, coupled with a retelling of the history by world-renowned experts in the subject (including the sites’ long-term excavator), bringing the reader face-to-face with this vibrant ancient society.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFear drive my feet / Peter Ryan.
“At age eighteen, Peter Ryan was an intelligence operative, patrolling isolated regions of New Guinea during World War II. Isolated, with Japanese forces closing in, he endured the hardships of the jungle without adequate supplies, a radio, or even a proper map. Ryan’s gripping account has become a classic memoir of the war in the Pacific, rarely out of print in forty years.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGhost empire / Richard Fidler.
“In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard’s passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire – centred around the legendary Constantinople – we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe art of time travel : historians and their craft / Tom Griffiths.
“No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.’ In this landmark book, eminent historian and award-winning author Tom Griffiths explores the craft of discipline and imagination that is history.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe drone eats with me : a Gaza diary / Atef Abu Saif.
“An unforgettable rendering of everyday civilian life shattered by the realities of twenty-first-century warfare. Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza lasted 51 days, killed 2,145 Palestinians (578 of them children), injured over 11,000 people, and demolished more than 17,000 homes. Atef Abu Saif, a young father and novelist, puts an indelibly human face on these statistics, providing a rare window into the texture of a community and the realities of a conflict that is too often obscured by politics.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEggs or anarchy : the remarkable story of the man tasked with the impossible : to feed a nation at war / William Sitwell.
Eggs or Anarchy is one of the great, British stories of the Second World War yet to be told in full. It reveals the heroic tale of how Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, really fed Britain. A grammar school-educated genius, he was a fish out of water in Churchill’s cabinet and the PM himself doubted Woolton would survive due to the unstinting criticism he faced from colleagues, the press and public.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCan you tolerate this? : personal essays / Ashleigh Young.
“In this spirited and singular book, Young roams freely from preoccupation to preoccupation Hamilton’s 90s music scene, family histories, a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a stone-collecting French postman, a desire for impossible physical transformation ¿ trying to find some measure of clarity amid uncertainty. How to bear each moment of experience: the inconsequential as much as the shattering? Her search takes us through poignant, funny and raw territories.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGeneration revolution : on the front line between tradition and change in the Middle East / Rachel Aspden.
“In 2003, Rachel Aspden arrived in Egypt as a 23-year-old trainee journalist. She found a country on the brink of change. The new generation were stifled; caught between a dictatorship with nothing to offer them and autocratic parents still clinging to tradition and obedience after a lifetime of fear. Following the stories of four young Egyptians, Aspden unravels the complex forces shaping the lives of young people caught between tradition and modernity.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBlack square : adventures in the post-Soviet world / Sophie Pinkham.
Black Square is a multidimensional portrait of a period of tumultuous change, and of a generation that came of age after the fall of the USSR, only to see protestors shot on Kiev’s main square, Crimea annexed by Russia, and a bitter war in eastern Ukraine. We meet a charismatic doctor fighting the AIDS epidemic even as he struggles with his own drug addiction; an iconoclastic artist with a penchant for public nudity; and a Russian-Jewish clarinettist agitating for Ukrainian liberation.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCalifornia comeback : how a “failed state” became a model for the nation / Narda Zacchino, with Christopher Scheer.
“In the most economically important state in the country–and the 7th largest economy in the world–a political revolution of historic importance has occurred which has not been sufficiently covered by the media. In the state where the Reagan Revolution was born, there has recently occurred a remarkable progressive revolution under the leadership of another governor, four-term Democrat Jerry Brown.”  (adapted from Syndetics summary)