Sunken Ships and Unbuilt Walls – History Picks for September

This month’s picks take a close look at Britain with the two histories by Simon Jenkins and David Edgerton, covering the entire timeline of England in the former and closely examining the 20th century of the wider British project in the latter. Elsewhere the recent non-coup in Zimbabwe is covered in Panashe Chigumadzi’s These Bones Will Rise Again and post-Soviet Russia society is looked at in The Future Is History by Masha Gessen. Finally, inspired by the American campaign promise, still unbuilt and overshadowed by looming midterms and a special counsel, David Frye gives us the history of Walls.

Syndetics book coverA Short History of England: The Complete Story of Our Nation in a Single Volume
“From the invaders of the dark ages to the aftermath of the coalition, one of Britain’s most respected journalists, Simon Jenkins, weaves together a strong narrative with all the most important and interesting dates in a book that characteristically is as stylish as it is authoritative. A Short History of England sheds light on all the key individuals and events, bringing them together in an enlightening and engaging account of the country’s birth, rise to global prominence and then partial eclipse. Now updated to take in the rapid progress of recent events and beautifully illustrated, this magisterial history will be the standard work for years to come.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe future is history : how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia / Masha Gessen.
“Gessen, the esteemed Russian-American journalist, takes an intimate look at Russia in the post-Soviet period, when the public’s hopes for democracy devolved within a restricted society characterized by “a constant state of low-level dread.” Throughout, Gessen expounds on Russia’s development into a “mafia state” with elements of totalitarianism – a state fueled by a revanchist nationalism wherein each member of society must become “an enforcer of the existing order.” She presents the somber peculiarities of modern Russia in a well-crafted, inventive narrative.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWalls : a history of civilization in blood and brick / David Frye.
“In Walls historian David Frye tells the epic story of history’s greatest manmade barriers, from ancient times to the present. It is a haunting and frequently eye-opening saga–one that reveals a startling link between what we build and how we live. With Frye as our raconteur-guide, we journey back to a time before barriers of brick and stone even existed–to an era in which nomadic tribes vied for scarce resources, and each man was bred to a life of struggle. Ultimately, those same men would create edifices of mud, brick, and stone, and with them effectively divide humanity: on one side were those the walls protected; on the other, those the walls kept out.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThese bones will rise again / Panashe Chigumadzi.
“In November 2017 the people of Zimbabwe took to the streets in an unprecedented alliance with the military. Their goal, to restore the legacy of Chimurenga, the liberation struggle, and wrest their country back from over thirty years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. In an essay that combines bold reportage, memoir and critical analysis, Zimbabwean-born novelist and journalist Panashe Chigumadzi reflects on the ‘coup that was not a coup’, the telling of history and manipulation of time, and the ancestral spirits of two women – her own grandmother and Mbuya Nehanda, the grandmother of the nation.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTrading in war : London’s maritime world in the age of Cook and Nelson / Margarette Lincoln.
“In the half-century before the Battle of Trafalgar the port of London became the commercial nexus of a global empire and launch pad of Britain’s military campaigns in North America and Napoleonic Europe. The unruly riverside parishes east of the Tower seethed with life, a crowded, cosmopolitan, and incendiary mix of sailors, soldiers, traders, and the network of ordinary citizens that served them. Lincoln’s gripping narrative highlights the pervasive impact of war, which brought violence, smuggling, pilfering from ships on the river, and a susceptibility to subversive political ideas.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIndianapolis : the true story of the worst sea disaster in US naval history and the fifty-year fight to exonerate an innocent man / Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.
“For 70 years, the story of the USS Indianapolis has been told as a sinking story, or a shark story, or a story of military justice gone awry. The Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine, with nearly 900 men lost. The captain, Charles B. McVay III, was wrongly court-martialled for negligence over the sinking. Decades after these events, the survivors of the Indianapolis, as well as the Japanese submarine commander who sank it, joined together to finally exonerate McVay.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNorthland : a 4,000-mile journey along America’s forgotten border / Porter Fox.
“America’s northern border is the world’s longest international boundary, yet it remains obscure even to Americans. The northern border was America’s primary border for centuries, and to the tens of millions who live and work near the line, the region even has its own name: the northland. Travel writer Porter Fox spent three years exploring 4,000 miles of the border between Maine and Washington, traveling by canoe, freighter, car, and foot. In Northland, he blends a deeply reported and beautifully written story of the region’s history with a riveting account of his travels.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe rise and fall of the British nation : a twentieth-century history / David Edgerton.
“David Edgerton’s major new history breaks out of the confines of traditional British national history to redefine what it was to British, and to reveal an unfamiliar place, subject to huge disruptions. Until the 1940s the United Kingdom was, Edgerton argues, an exceptional place: liberal, capitalist and anti-nationalist, at the heart of a European and global web of trade and influence. Then, as its global position collapsed, it became, for the first time and only briefly, a real, successful nation, with shared goals, horizons and industry, before reinventing itself again in the 1970s as part of the European Union and as the host for international capital, no longer capable of being a nation. (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSecret nation : the hidden Armenians of Turkey / Avedis Hadjian.
“Avedis Hadjian has travelled to the towns and villages once densely populated by Armenians, recording stories of survival and discovery from those who remain in a region that is deemed unsafe for the people who once lived there. This book takes the reader to the heart of these hidden communities for the first time, unearthing their unique heritage and identity. Revealing the lives of a peoples that have been trapped in a history of denial for more than a century, Secret Nation is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide in the very places where the events occurred.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

The Waikato, War, and the Winter Queen: Recent History picks

This month’s history picks see a strong North Island focus with Scott Hamilton’s Ghost South Road and Paul Moon’s The Waikato exploring both the geological and social history of the upper North Island. Heading to the other side of the world, we cover European anti-Semitism with Rebecca Erbelding’s Rescue Board and Steven Zipperstein’s Pogrom.

Syndetics book coverOrigin story : a big history of everything / David Christian.
“How did we get from the Big Bang to today’s staggering complexity, in which seven billion humans are connected into networks powerful enough to transform the planet? And why, in comparison, are our closest primate relatives reduced to near-extinction? Big History creator David Christian gives the answers in a mind-expanding cosmological detective story told on the grandest possible scale. Origin Story reveals what we learn about human existence when we consider it from a universal scale.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGhost South Road / Scott Hamilton ; photographs by Ian Powell and Paul Janman.
“The Great South Road was built in 1862 to carry a British army into the Waikato Kingdom. When the British invaded the Waikato in 1863, soldiers shared the road with Maori refugees from Auckland. On their journeys up and down the Great South Road, Hamilton, Janman, and Powell have learned how the route’s tragic past affects its present, and discovered the ways in which the road connects as well as divides the communities that live alongside it.”
(Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Waikato : a history of New Zealand’s greatest river / Paul Moon.
“Starting from a desolate, icy volcanic plateau, historian Paul Moon traces the Waikato’s path through dense native forest, undulating pastureland, dams, several towns, a city, and a swampy delta, until it exits into the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato. Along the way he uncovers settlements that have disappeared, sites scarred by wars, some of the world’s most convulsive geological events, great tragedies, and the remarkable stories that have taken place along the river.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDaughters of the Winter Queen : four remarkable sisters, the crown of Bohemia, and the enduring legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots / Nancy Goldstone.
“The captivating story of four unforgettable sisters and their glamorous mother, Elizabeth Stuart, granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. Brilliantly researched and captivatingly written, Nancy Goldstone shows how these spirited, passionate women faced danger, tragic loss, and betrayal, and by refusing to surrender to adversity, changed the course of history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRescue board : the untold story of America’s efforts to save the Jews of Europe / Rebecca Erbelding.
“America has long been criticized for refusing to give harbor to the Jews of Europe as Hitler and the Nazis closed in. Now a lauded Holocaust historian tells the extraordinary story of the War Refugee Board, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s little-known effort late in the war to save the Jews who remained. For Rescue Board, Rebecca Erbelding undertook a decade of research and uncovered new archival materials to tell the dramatic unknown story of America’s last-ditch effort to save the Jews of Europe.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPogrom : Kishinev and the tilt of history / Steven J. Zipperstein.
“So shattering were the aftereffects of Kishinev, the rampage that broke out in late-Tsarist Russia in April 1903, that one historian remarked that it was ‘nothing less than a prototype for the Holocaust itself.’ In three days of violence, 49 Jews were killed and 600 raped or wounded, while more than 1,000 Jewish-owned houses and stores were ransacked and destroyed. Using new evidence culled from Russia, Israel, and Europe, distinguished historian Steven J. Zipperstein’s wide-ranging book brings historical insight and clarity to a much-misunderstood event that would do so much to transform twentieth-century Jewish life and beyond.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKnow Thyself : Western identity from classical Greece to the Renaissance / by Ingrid Rossellini
“In this book the independent scholar Ingrid Rossellini surveys the major ideas that, from Greek and Roman antiquity through the Christian medieval era up to the dawn of modernity in the Renaissance, have guided the Western project of self-knowledge. Addressing the curious lay reader with an interdisciplinary approach that includes numerous references to the visual arts, Know Thyself will reintroduce readers to the most profound and enduring ways our civilization has framed the issues of self and society.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverInside Iran : the real history and politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran / Medea Benjamin.
“U.S. relations with Iran have been fraught for decades, but under the Trump Administration tensions are rising to startling levels. Medea Benjamin, one of the best-known 21st century activists, offers the incredible history of how a probable alliance became a bitter antagonism in this accessible and fascinating story. Tackling common misconceptions about Iran’s system of government, its religiosity, and its citizens’ way of life, Benjamin makes short work of the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding U.S.-Iranian relations, and presents a realistic and hopeful case for the two nations’ future.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Secret histories: New History books

France book cover

This month’s picks have a focus on World War II. In Never Remember, Masha Gessen and Misha Friedman travel across Russia to investigate both the physical history and memory of Stalin’s gulags. Fast-forwarding a few years, Gregg Carlstrom examines the internal political conflicts of modern Israeli society in How Long Will Israel Survive.

Syndetics book coverThe Last Battle: Endgame on the Western Front, 1918 [hardback]
“By August 1918, the outcome of the Great War was not in doubt: the Allies would win. But what was unclear was how this defeat would play out – would the Germans hold on, prolonging the fighting deep into 1919, with the loss of hundreds of thousands more young lives, or could the war be won in 1918? Drawing on the experience of both generals and ordinary soldiers, and dwelling with equal weight on strategy, tactics and individual experience, this is a powerful and detailed account of history’s greatest endgame.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe London cage : the secret history of Britain’s World War II interrogation centre / Helen Fry.
“Behind the locked doors of three mansions in London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens neighborhood, the British Secret Service established a highly secret prison in 1940: the London Cage. Here recalcitrant German prisoners of war were subjected to ‘special intelligence treatment.’ Bringing dark secrets to light, this groundbreaking book at last provides an objective and complete history of the London Cage.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow long will Israel survive? : the threat from within / Gregg Carlstrom.
“There was once a national consensus in Israeli society: despite a left-right political split, its people were broadly secular and liberal. Over the past decade, the country has fractured into tribes with little shared understanding of what it means to be a Zionist–let alone an Israeli–and contesting the very notion of a ‘Jewish and democratic’ state. Gregg Carlstrom maps this conflict, from cosmopolitan Tel Aviv to the hilltops of the West Bank, and asks a pressing question: will the Middle East’s strongest power survive its own internal contradictions?” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFrance : a history : from Gaul to de Gaulle / John Julius Norwich.
“John Julius Norwich (at 88) has finally written the book he always wanted to write, the extremely colourful story of the country he loves best. From frowning Roman generals and belligerent Gallic chieftains, to Charlemagne (hated by generations of French children taught that he invented schools) through Marie Antoinette and the storming of the Bastille to Vichy, the Resistance and beyond, France is packed with heroes and villains, adventures and battles, romance and revolution. Full of memorable stories and racy anecdotes, this is the perfect introduction to the country that has inspired the rest of the world to live, dress, eat — and love better.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last fighting Tommy : the life of Harry Patch, last veteran of the trenches, 1898-2009 / Harry Patch with Richard van Emden.
“Harry Patch, the last British soldier alive to have fought in the trenches of the First World War, is now 108 years old and one of very few people who can directly recall the horror of that conflict. Harry vividly remembers his childhood in the Somerset countryside of Edwardian England. He left school in 1913 to become an apprentice plumber but three years later was conscripted, serving as a machine gunner in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The Last Fighting Tommy is the story of an ordinary man’s extraordinary life.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe work I did : a memoir of the secretary to Goebbels / Brunhilde Pomsel, Thore D. Hansen ; translated by Shaun Whiteside.
“Brunhilde Pomsel described herself as an ‘apolitical girl’ and a ‘figure on the margins’. How are we to reconcile this description with her chosen profession? Employed as a typist during the Second World War, she worked closely with one of the worst criminals in world history: Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. She was one of the oldest surviving eyewitnesses to the internal workings of the Nazi power apparatus until her death in 2017. Compelling and unnerving, The Work I Did gives us intimate insight into political complexity at society’s highest levels – at one of history’s darkest moments.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNever remember : searching for Stalin’s Gulags in Putin’s Russia / by Masha Gessen and Misha Friedman ; essay by Masha Gessen ; photographs by Misha Friedman.
“Writer Masha Gessen and photographer Misha Friedman set out across Russia in search of the memory of the Gulag. They journey from Moscow to Sandarmokh, a forested site of mass executions during Stalin’s Great Terror; to the only Gulag camp turned into a museum; and to Kolyma, where prisoners worked in deadly mines in the remote reaches of the Far East. They find that in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Stalin is remembered as a great leader, Soviet terror has not been forgotten: it was never remembered in the first place.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Merchant of Syria : A History of Survival
“Barely literate, and supporting his mother and sisters from the age of ten, Abu Chaker built up a business empire. Diana Darke follows his tumultuous journey, from instability in Syria and civil war in Lebanon, to his arrival in England in the 1970s, where he rescued a failing Yorkshire textile mill, Hield Bros, and transformed it into a global brand. The Merchant of Syria tells two parallel stories: the life of a cloth merchant and his resilience, and the rich history of a nation built on trade. Over millennia Syria has seen great conflict and turmoil, but like the remarkable story of Abu Chaker, it continues to survive.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Kiwi letters and policy: History picks

This month’s picks see a decent amount of Kiwi content, with Peter Wells’s Dear Oliver looking at the Pākehā past with a collection of family letters, and a collection of academics assembled to discuss our government’s approach to welfare with Social Investment: A New Zealand Policy Experiment. On the topic of World War II we have tomes regarding the defense of Britain against invasion and the man regarded as responsible for it (and his subsequent legacy issues). We also look to recent Middle Eastern conflicts with a book on the international geopolitical influence on the Syrian conflict and a more personal story of two sisters who traveled to the Islamic State as jihadists.

Syndetics book coverPaths to the past : encounters with Britain’s hidden landscapes / Francis Pryor.
“Landscapes reflect and shape our behaviour. They make us who we are and bear witness to the shifting patterns of human life over generations. Formed by a series of natural and human processes, they rarely yield their secrets readily. Bringing to bear a lifetime’s digging, Francis Pryor delves into England’s hidden urban and rural landscapes.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDefending island Britain in the Second World War : documentary sources / David Rogers.
“Britain’s close proximity to Europe – and the unfolding scale of conflict – also brought challenges of their own (especially following the fall of France and Norway). Airfields once in Allied hands were quickly manned with Axis aircraft and personnel – making it possible for them to attack a far greater area of the United Kingdom’s countryside and towns. In amongst these challenges, the civilian and armed forces determined a path forward (some of the plans for which have never been documented). The following just scratches the surface of the ingenuity and bravery of many people and children.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTwo sisters : a father, his daughters, and their journey into the Syrian jihad / Åsne Seierstad ; translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella.
“The riveting story of two sisters’ journey to the Islamic State and the father who tries to bring them home. Asne Seierstad puts the problem of radicalization into painfully human terms, using instant messages and other primary sources to reconstruct a family’s crisis from the inside. Eventually, she takes us into the hellscape of the Syrian civil war, as Sadiq risks his life in pursuit of his daughters, refusing to let them disappear into the maelstrom.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDear Oliver : uncovering a Pākehā history / Peter Wells.
“When writer and historian Peter Wells found a cache of family letters amongst his elderly mother’s effects, he realised that he had the means of retracing the history of a not-untypical family swept out to New Zealand during the great nineteenth-century human diaspora from Britain. His family experienced the war against Te Kooti, the Boer War, the Napier earthquake of 1931 and the Depression. In digging deep into their stories, examining letters from the past and writing a letter to the future, Peter Wells constructs a novel and striking way to view the history of Pākehā New Zealanders.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWinston Churchill, myth and reality : what he actually did and said / Richard M. Langworth.
“Winston Churchill, indispensable when liberty was in peril, died in 1965. Yet he is still accused of numerous sins, from alcoholism and racism to misogyny and warmongering. On the Internet, he simmers in a stew of imagined misdeeds–using poison gas, firebombing Dresden, causing the Bengal famine, and so on. Drawing on the author’s fifty years of research and writing on Churchill, this book uncovers scores of myths surrounding him–the popular and the obscure–to reveal what he really said and did about many issues.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe history of Havana / Dick Cluster and Rafael Hernández.
“From its colonial roots to its communist revolution, authors Dick Cluster and Rafael Hernández examine not only the ruptures in Havana’s life, but its continuities as well. The traditions that make the city unique, like its idiosyncratic combination of territorialism and hospitality or its proclivity for protest, are as much a drive for change as an integral element of its character. Drawing on oral histories and cultural artifacts alike, this history acknowledges the rich and artfully selected stories of the citizens, from their fascinating exploits to their grand successes, making it a superbly well-rounded account of the most alluring city in the Caribbean.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMiracle at Midway / Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon.
“Six months after Pearl Harbor, the seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Navy prepared a decisive blow against the United States. After sweeping through Asia and the South Pacific, Japan’s military targeted the tiny atoll of Midway, an ideal launching pad for the invasion of Hawaii and beyond. The United States Navy would be waiting for them. Thanks to cutting-edge code-breaking technology, tactical daring, and a huge stroke of luck, the Americans under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz dealt the Japanese navy its first major defeat of the war. Three years of hard fighting remained, but it was at Midway that the tide turned.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSocial investment : a New Zealand policy experiment / edited by Jonathan Boston and Derek Gill.
“As ideas about social investment evolve, this book brings together leading academics, commentators and policy analysts from the public and private sectors to answer three big questions: How should social investment be defined and conceptualized? How should it be put into practice? In what policy domains can it be most productively applied? As governments in New Zealand and abroad continue to explore how best to tackle major social problems, this book is essential for people seeking to understand social policy in the twenty-first century.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe battle for Syria : international rivalry in the new Middle East / Christopher Phillips.
“Most accounts of Syria’s brutal, long-lasting civil war focus on a domestic contest that began in 2011 and only later drew foreign nations into the escalating violence. Christopher Phillips argues instead that Syria’s war was, from the very start, profoundly influenced by regional factors. Without absolving the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime, the author untangles the key external factors which explain the acceleration and endurance of the conflict, including the West’s strategy against ISIS.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Leaving it in the past: Recent History picks

Image from Syndetics

This month’s new history books include the children of high-ranking Nazis coming to terms with the legacies of their fathers, the history of conflict between Christian and Muslim societies, and Colombian mafia murders. Slightly less violent reading can be found in Being Together in Place, which examines the co-existence of native and non-native peoples in the modern world around contested sites and differing interests.

Syndetics book coverBeing together in place : indigenous coexistence in a more than human world / Soren C. Larsen and Jay T. Johnson ; foreword by Daniel R. Wildcat.
Being Together in Place explores the landscapes that convene Native and non-Native people into sustained and difficult negotiations over their radically different interests and concerns. Grounded in three sites – the Cheslatta-Carrier traditional territory in British Columbia; the Wakarusa Wetlands in northeastern Kansas; and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Aotearoa/New Zealand – this book highlights the challenging, tentative, and provisional work of coexistence around such contested spaces as wetlands, treaty grounds, fishing spots, recreation areas, cemeteries, heritage trails, and traditional village sites.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEngland in the age of chivalry… and awful diseases : the Hundred Years War and Black Death / Ed West.
“Covering the violent and disease-ridden period between 1272 to 1399, England in the Age of Chivalry. . . And Awful Diseases covers the events, personages and ideas most commonly known as “medieval”. This includes Geoffrey Chaucer, the Peasants revolt, the Scottish wars of independence, the Great Famine of 1315, the Black Death and the 100 Years War. Central to this time is King Edward III, who started the 100 Years War and defined the concept of chivalry, including England’s order of the garter. His legacy continues to shape our view of England’s history and is crucial in understanding the development of Europe.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDunkirk / by A.D. Divine D.S.M.
“This is the story of Dunkirk and of the men who planned it (insofar as it was planned) and of the men who carried it out, and of their ships. Mr Divine, who was himself with the small boats, writes with the authority of direct knowledge. He had the assistance of the men who were intimately concerned with planning and organising the operation.
This is the true story of Dunkirk from its almost nebulous beginnings to the astonishing triumph of its end.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThere are no dead here : a story of murder and denial in Colombia / Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno.
There Are No Dead Here is the harrowing story of three ordinary Colombians who risked everything to reveal the collusion between the new mafia and much of the country’s military and political establishment: Jesús María Valle, a human rights activist who was murdered for exposing a dark secret; Iván Velásquez, a quiet prosecutor who took up Valle’s cause and became an unlikely hero; and Ricardo Calderón, a dogged journalist who is still being targeted for his revelations. Their groundbreaking investigations landed a third of the country’s Congress in prison and fed new demands for justice and peace that Colombia’s leaders could not ignore.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUkraine over the edge : Russia, the West and the “new Cold War” / Gordon M. Hahn.
“The Ukrainian crisis that dominated headlines in fall 2013 was decades in the making. This study focuses on the historical background and complex causality of the crisis, from the rise of mass demonstrations on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) to the making of the post-revolt regime. In the context of a “new cold war,” the author sheds light on the role of radical Ukrainian nationalists and neofascists in the February 2014 snipers’ massacre, the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, and Russia’s seizure of Crimea and involvement in the civil war in the eastern region of Donbass.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe children of Nazis : the sons and daughter of Himmler, Gö̈ring, Höss, Mengele, and others — living with a father’s monstrous legacy / Tania Crasnianski ; translated by Molly Grogan.
“In 1940, the German sons and daughters of great Nazi dignitaries were children of privilege at four, five, or ten years old, surrounded by affectionate, all-powerful parents. Although innocent and unaware of what was happening at the time, they eventually discovered the extent of their father’s occupations. In this enlightening book, Tania Crasnianski examines the responsibility of eight descendants of Nazi notables, caught somewhere between stigmatization, worship, and amnesia.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCrusade and Jihad : The thousand-year war between the Muslim world and the global north / William R. Polk.
Crusade and Jihad is the first book to encompass, in one volume, the entire history of the catastrophic encounter between the Global North–China, Russia, Europe, Britain, and America–and Muslim societies from Central Asia to West Africa. A sobering, scrupulous, and frank account of imperialism, colonialism, insurgency, and terrorism, Crusade and Jihad is history for anyone who wishes to understand the civilizational conflicts of today’s world.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn broad daylight : the secret procedures behind the Holocaust by bullets / Father Patrick Desbois ; with an historical introduction by Andrej Umansky ; translated from the French by Hilary Reyl and Calvert Barksdale.
In Broad Daylight documents mass killings in seven countries formerly part of the Soviet Union that were invaded by Nazi Germany. Narrating in lucid, powerful prose that has the immediacy of a crime report, Father Desbois assembles a chilling account of how, concretely, these events took place in village after village, from the selection of the date to the twenty-four-hour period in which the mass murders unfolded.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhen Montezuma met Cortés : the true story of the meeting that changed history / Matthew Restall.
“Drawing on rare primary sources and overlooked accounts by conquistadors and Aztecs alike, Restall explores Cortés’s and Montezuma’s posthumous reputations, their achievements and failures, and the worlds in which they lived–leading, step by step, to a dramatic inversion of the old story. As Restall takes us through this sweeping, revisionist account of a pivotal moment in modern civilization, he calls into question our view of the history of the Americas, and, indeed, of history itself.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Written by the winners: Recent history picks

This month’s picks deal with more than a few losses. Whether it’s the ruins of Aude de Tocqueville’s Atlas of Lost Cities, the Italian army brought to heel by an Ethiopian army to slow European colonialism in The Battle of Adwa, or the collapse of France in World War 2 in Case Red, you’re sure to find someone or something not coming out on top.

Syndetics book coverThe Balfour declaration : empire, the mandate and resistance in Palestine / Bernard Regan.
“On November 2, 1917, the British government, represented by Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour, declared that they were in favor of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” A hundred years after its signing, Bernard Regan recasts the history of the Balfour Declaration as one of the major events in the story of the Middle East. Offering new insights into the imperial rivalries between Britain, Germany and the Ottomans, Regan exposes British policy in the region as part of a larger geopolitical game.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDirectorate S : the C.I.A. and America’s secret wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan / Steve Coll.
“Resuming the narrative of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars, bestselling author Steve Coll tells for the first time the epic and enthralling story of America’s intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCase red : the collapse of France, 1940 / Robert Forczyk.
“The drama of the final three weeks of military operations in France in June 1940 has never effectively been captured on paper, but this is a story that needs to be told since it had great impact on the course of World War II and inter-Allied relations. This book will also address the initial German exploitation of France and how the windfall of captured military equipment, fuel and industrial resources enhanced the Third Reich’s ability to attack its next foe–the Soviet Union.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover1947 : where now begins / Elisabeth Åsbrink ; translated from the Swedish by Fiona Graham.
“The year 1947 marks a turning point in the twentieth century. Peace with Germany becomes a tool to fortify the West against the threats of the Cold War. The CIA is created, Israel is about to be born, Simone de Beauvoir experiences the love of her life, an ill George Orwell is writing his last book, and Christian Dior creates the hyper-feminine New Look as women are forced out of jobs and back into the home. In the midst of it all, a ten-year-old Hungarian-Jewish boy resides in a refugee camp for children of parents murdered by the Nazis. This year he has to make the decision of a lifetime, one that will determine his own fate and that of his daughter yet to be born, Elisabeth.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA dictionary of family history : the genealogists’ ABC / Jonathan Scott.
“Part encyclopedia, part dictionary, part almanac – Jonathan Scott’s Dictionary of Family History doesn’t claim to be exhaustive, but it is practical, easy to use, entertaining and genuinely informative. It is the kind of book you can dip into or use as a starting point for deeper study, and it is the essential companion for experienced family historians and for anyone who is approaching this fascinating subject for the first time. This concise, clear and wide-ranging compendium of helpful, sometimes surprising information is a valuable reference tool for everyone in the field.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAtlas of lost cities : a travel guide to abandoned and forsaken destinations / Aude de Tocqueville ; illustrations, Karin Doering-Froger.
“Like humans, cities are mortal. They are born, they thrive, and they eventually die. In Atlas of Lost Cities, Aude de Tocqueville tells the compelling narrative of the rise and fall of such notable places as Pompeii, Teotihuacán, and Angkor. Beautiful, original artwork shows the location of the lost cities and depicts how they looked when they thrived.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Battle of Adwa : African Victory in the Age of Empire
“In 1896, a well-disciplined and massive Ethiopian army did the unthinkable-it routed an invading Italian force and brought Italy’s war of conquest in Africa to an end. In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia had successfully defended its independence and cast doubt on the assumption that all Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA river in darkness : one man’s escape from North Korea / Masaji Ishikawa ; translated by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown.
“Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSS-Major Horst Kopkow : from the Gestapo to British intelligence / Stephen Tyas.
“On 27 May 1942, SS General Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated by British-trained Czech agents who had parachuted into Czechoslovakia. He died of his wounds on 4 June 1942. Two days later, Gestapo Captain Horst Kopkow’s department was given fresh directions. From 6 June 1942 until the end of the war, Kopkow was responsible for the fight against Soviet and British parachute agents dropped anywhere in German territories. By 1944 almost 150 British agents had been caught, deported, and almost all had been murdered without trial by December. Kopkow was directly involved in these murders. Arrested by British forces after the war, Kopkow was extensively interrogated, but for the next 20 years, Kopkow was a consultant for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

New year, old history: New history books

Image from Syndetics

Another year done and dusted, ready to have more history books written about it and featured in this series eventually! To start the year off, we’ve got modern China, the Goths, Hitler, the USSR, and last but not least, a re-examination of everyone’s favourite king, Richard III.

Syndetics book coverChasing the Chinese dream : stories from modern China / Nick Holdstock.
“China is undergoing the biggest and fastest societal and economic change in human history. Driving this dizzying transformation is the idea of the “Chinese Dream,” the promise that in the new China, anyone can make it. Chasing the Chinese Dream follows a cast of extraordinary characters: the people getting rich; running factories and buying luxury cars and Louis Vuitton bags. But it also provides insight into those left behind, trapped by a system defined by long hours and no prospects.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverParadise in chains: the Bounty Mutiny and the founding of Australia / Diana Preston.
“The story of the mutiny of the Bounty and William Bligh and his men’s survival on the open ocean has become the stuff of legend. But few realize that Bligh’s escape was not the only open-boat journey in that era. Indeed, 9 convicts from the Australian penal colony, led by Mary Bryant, also traveled to the same port Bligh had reached only months before. Acclaimed historian Diana Preston provides the background and context to explain the thrilling open-boat voyages each party survived on their journey to safety.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Third Reich in 100 objects : a material history of Nazi Germany / Roger Moorhouse ; foreword by Richard Overy.
“This is a compelling, frequently shocking and revelatory guide to the Third Reich that has been collated and presented by two of the world’s leading World War II historians.The photographs gathered include Pervitin, Hitler’s Mercedes, Wehrmach toilet paper, Hitler’s grooming kit, the Nuremberg courtroom, the Tiger Tank, fragments of flak, the Iron Cross and, of course, the Swastika and Mein Kampf.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJack’s journey : a soldier’s experience of the First World War / Jack Pryce ; edited by Trish McCormack and Andrew Gibson.
“When Jack Pryce sailed to war in 1915 with the Otago Infantry Battalion he was restless, wanting to “make good” of his life. Experiencing the carnage of Gallipoli and Passchendaele and other epic battles on the Western Front, he rose through the ranks to gain his commission.” (Syndetics summary)

 

Syndetics book coverThe Goths / David M. Gwynn.
“In this engaging history, David M. Gwynn brings together the interwoven stories of the original Goths and the diverse Gothic heritage, a heritage that continues to shape our modern world. From the ancient migrations to contemporary Goth culture, through debates over democratic freedom and European nationalism, and drawing on writers from Shakespeare to Bram Stoker, Gwynn explores the ever-widening gulf between the Goths of history and the popular imagination.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRed flag unfurled : history, historians, and the Russian Revolution / Ronald Grigor Suny.
“Reflecting on the fate of the Russian Revolution one hundred years after October, Ronald Grigor Suny explores the historiographical controversies over 1917, Stalinism, and the end of “Communism” and provides an assessment of the achievements, costs, losses and legacies of the choices made by Soviet leaders. Suny reevaluates the promises, missed opportunities, achievements, and colossal costs of trying to build a kind of “socialism” in the inhospitable environment of peasant Russia.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover Escaping Hitler : stories of courage and endurance on the freedom trails / Monty Halls.
“Some of the great untold stories of the Second World War concern the freedom trails, the highly dangerous escape routes out of Nazi Occupied Europe. Over 5,000 British, Commonwealth and American servicemen made the journey over the Pyrenees, the Slovenian mountains and the Italian alps. Mixing in depth research, interviews with survivors and his own experience of walking the trails, broadcaster and former Royal Marine Monty Halls brings the past to life in this dramatic and gripping slice of military history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRichard III : brother, protector, king / Chris Skidmore.
“The last Plantagenet king remains one of England’s most famous and controversial monarchs. There are few parallels in English history that can match the drama of Richard III’s reign, witnessed in its full bloody intensity. By stripping back the legends that surround Richard’s life and reign, and returning to original manuscript evidence, Chris Skidmore rediscovers the man as contemporaries saw him. His compelling study presents every facet of Richard’s personality as it deserves to be seen: as one of the most significant figures in medieval history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

History for the holidays: New books

This month’s history picks are largely about the negative and grim, just in time for the holiday season. Pleasant subjects like the Ukrainian famine, mistreated POWs in Britain during World War 2, and failures of military in the Middle East during the post-9/11 operations are all visited. Fortunately we have something a bit more positive to bring the mood back up with an examination of how Chaucer’s works reflected fourteenth century society, and closer to home we have a history of the Hawke’s Bay area.

Syndetics book coverRed famine : Stalin’s war on Ukraine / Anne Applebaum.
“From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain , a revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes–the consequences of which still resonate today. In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization–in effect a second Russian revolution–which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRichard Nixon : the life / John A. Farrell.
“At the end of WWII, navy lieutenant “Nick” Nixon returned from the Pacific and set his cap at Congress, an idealistic dreamer seeking to build a better world. Yet amid the turns of that now-legendary 1946 campaign, Nixon’s finer attributes gave way to unapologetic ruthlessness. The story of that transformation is the stunning overture to John A. Farrell’s magisterial biography of the president who came to embody postwar American resentment and division. Richard Nixon is a gripping and unsparing portrayal of our darkest president. Meticulously researched, brilliantly crafted, and offering fresh revelations, it will be hailed as a master work.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDestructive creation : American business and the winning of World War II / Mark R. Wilson.
“During World War II, the United States helped vanquish the Axis powers by converting its enormous economic capacities into military might. Crucial in this effort were business leaders. Some of these captains of industry went to Washington to coordinate the mobilization, while others led their companies to churn out weapons. Offering a groundbreaking account of the inner workings of the “arsenal of democracy,” Destructive Creation also suggests how the struggle to define its heroes and villains has continued to shape economic and political development to the present day.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe London cage : the secret history of Britain’s World War II interrogation centre / Helen Fry.
“Behind the locked doors of three mansions in London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens neighborhood, the British Secret Service established a highly secret prison in 1940: the London Cage. This riveting book reveals the full details of operations at the London Cage and subsequent efforts to hide them. Helen Fry’s extraordinary original research uncovers the grim picture of prisoners’ daily lives and of systemic Soviet-style mistreatment.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLosing small wars : British military failure in the 9/11 wars / Frank Ledwidge.
“This new edition of Frank Ledwidge’s eye-opening analysis of British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan unpicks the causes and enormous costs of military failure. Updated throughout, and with fresh chapters assessing and enumerating the overall military performance since 2011–including Libya, ISIS, and the Chilcot findings–Ledwidge shows how lessons continue to go unlearned.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fall : the evidence for a golden age, 6,000 years of insanity, and the dawning of a new era / Steve Taylor.
“It is not “natural” for human beings to kill each other, for men to oppress women, for individuals to accumulate massive wealth and power, or to abuse nature. The roots of our current malaise lie in an “ego explosion” which occurred several thousand years ago. “Primitive,” pre-civilization men and women were largely free of our social ills and had a more unified and harmonious state of being than us. This intensively-researched, highly praised book explains the origins of our problems and suggests what we can do to return to a state of harmony.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe history of Hawke’s Bay / Matthew Wright.
“Hawke’s Bay has a remarkable history, brief by world standards, yet filled with colour, pace and life. This illustrated history covers the broadest sweep of Hawke’s Bay’s past, telling the wider tale of people and their ideals. It extends from the Maori history of the district to Hawke’s Bay’s rumbustious settler era, the highs and lows of the twentieth century with its wars, depressions and booms; and the remarkable social transformations of the early twenty-first.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe expanding blaze : how the American Revolution ignited the world, 1775-1848 / Jonathan Israel.
The Expanding Blaze is a sweeping history of how the American Revolution inspired revolutions throughout Europe and the Atlantic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jonathan Israel, one of the world’s leading historians of the Enlightenment, shows how the radical ideas of American founders such as Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe set the pattern for democratic revolutions, movements, and constitutions in France, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Canada, Haiti, Brazil, and Spanish America.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverChaucer’s people : everyday lives in medieval England / Liza Picard.
“The Middle Ages were turbulent times. In the fourteenth century alone, England was ravaged by war, plague, revolt and the overthrow of a king. Among the surviving records, the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer is the most vivid. But what does it tell us about the everyday lives of medieval men and women? What did people eat, wear, read and think? Drawing on contemporary experiences of a vast range of subjects including trade, religion, toe-curling remedies and hair-raising recipes, Chaucer’s People recreates the medieval world in all its glorious detail.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Heists, commandos and interrogations feature in our new History picks

This month’s history picks see plenty of visits to the mid-20th Century, with Cold War heists, Italian WWII commandos, and post-war leaders rebuilding in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere, we go to the slightly more recent capture and subsequent interrogation of Saddam Hussein, and a controversial book from an Indian doctor regarding the influence of Britain in the creation of the systems that make up modern India.

Syndetics book coverThe taking of K-129 : how the CIA used Howard Hughes to steal a Russian sub in the most daring covert operation in history / Josh Dean.
“An incredible true tale of espionage and engineering set at the height of the Cold War–a mix between The Hunt for Red October and Argo– about how the CIA, the U.S. Navy, and America’s most eccentric mogul spent six years and nearly a billion dollars to steal the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine K-129 after it had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; all while the Russians were watching.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cold war : a world history / Odd Arne Westad.
“We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDebriefing the president : the interrogation of Saddam Hussein / John Nixon.
Debriefing the President presents an astounding, candid portrait of one of our era’s most notorious strongmen. Nixon, the first man to conduct a prolonged interrogation of Hussein after his capture, offers expert insight into the history and mind of America’s most enigmatic enemy. Unflinching and unprecedented, Debriefing the President exposes a fundamental misreading of one of the modern world’s most central figures and presents a new narrative that boldly counters the received account.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDecima Flottiglia MAS : the best commandos of the Second World War / Walter S. Zapotoczny Jr.
“A group of determined young human torpedoes and assault swimmers fought bravely for Italy in the Second World War, inspiring fear and respect from the British Navy. The actions of these few men severely reduced British naval power in the Mediterranean. Italy’s Decima Flottiglia MAS pre-dates both the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, formed in 1943 and forerunners of the better-known U.S. Navy SEALs; and the British Royal Marines Special Boat Service.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe shortest history of Germany / James Hawes.
“Read in an afternoon. Remember for a lifetime. The West is in full retreat. Populists all over Europe cry out that immigration and globalisation are the work of a nefarious System, run by unseen masters with no national loyalties. From the Kremlin, Tsar Vladimir watches his Great Game line up, while the Baltic and Vizegrad states shiver — and everyone looks to Berlin. But are the Germans really us, or them? This question has haunted Europe ever since Julius Caesar invented the Germani in 58 BC. This fresh, illuminating and concise new history, with more than 100 maps and images, makes sense of Europe’s most admired and feared country.” (Abridged from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverArchaeology of the Solomon Islands / Richard Walter & Peter Sheppard.
Archaeology of the Solomon Islands presents the outcome of 20 years research in the Solomon Islands undertaken jointly by Richard Walter and Peter Sheppard, both leaders in the eld of Pacific archaeology. This fascinating and very readable book is written for an archaeological audience but is also designed to be accessible to all readers interested in Pacific archaeology, anthropology and history. Featuring more than a hundred maps and figures, Archaeology of the Solomon Islands represents a ground-breaking contribution to Pacific archaeology.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCitizen Clem : a biography of Attlee / John Bew.
“Bew’s thorough and keen examination of Attlee, the former leader of the Labour Party, illuminates how his progressive beliefs shaped his influential domestic and international policy. The Man Who Made Modern Britain explores his tenure in the years after the war, as he presided over a radical new government in an age of austerity and imperial decline. Attentive to both the man and the political landscape, this comprehensive biography provides new insight into the soul of a leader who transformed his country and by extension the vast empire over which it once ruled.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAs it was : growing up in Grey Lynn and Ponsonby between the wars / Russell Stone.
“A fascinating look at two of Auckland¿s most popular suburbs as they were in the 1920s and 1930s. When Russell Stone was born in 1923 life was simpler and relatively uncomplicated. But it was also harsher, with much hard physical labour for men and women alike. The memory of the Great War was still raw. And although the attitudes and practices of our colonial past were still to be seen on every hand, Auckland, just like New Zealand as a whole, was already passing over the threshold towards something quite different.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe making of India : the untold story of British enterprise / Kartar Lalvani.
“Dr. Kartar Lalvani controversially argues that Britain made a crucial contribution in providing India with its lasting physical and institutional infrastructure which continues to underpin the world’s largest democracy. The indisputable fact is that India as a nation, as it stands today, was originally put together and created by a small distant island nation. That India has endured as a democracy and a unified nation is thanks to the all important and fully functional infrastructure of an independent civil service and judiciary, a disciplined and apolitical army and a well drilled and efficient police force–all developed by an imperial power.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

100 years of revolution: New History books

This month’s picks feature a few more books on the Soviet Union than usual – released to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. In addition, we have books covering some aspects of World War II from the intelligence side in Allied Intelligence Handbook to the German Army, to a more personal story of survival in Miracles do Happen.

Syndetics book coverAllied intelligence handbook to the German Army 1939-45 / compiled and introduced by Stephen Bull.
“What did the British or American soldier know about the German Army? Was this knowledge accurate–and just how did he know it? There have been several ‘handbooks’ of Second World War armies, but they never tell us exactly what the Allied soldier knew at the time. The book explains the background history of the organizations involved, followed by short chapters based around a series of original documents. This puts the original into context and also discusses whether the document that follows was correct, and what can be deduced about sources and the concerns of the intelligence officers who compiled the material.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMiracles do happen / Fela and Felix Rosenbloom.
“In 1933, a ten-year-old Jewish girl, Fela Perelman, befriended a new family with three children — Rose, Felix, and Maria — that had moved into her street in Lodz, Poland. Five years later, Fela and Felix became sweethearts. When war broke out not long after, the Jews of Lodz found themselves under German occupation, and were soon forced into a ghetto. Fela survived the ghetto, and the last 17 months of Auschwitz’s existence. Felix decided to flee eastward, to Soviet-controlled Polish territory. After the war, miraculously, Fela and Felix found each other. None of Fela’s family had survived. Of Felix’s immediate family, only his two sisters had survived — and they were now in Sweden. The young couple were bereft and alone. This is their story.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHistory of the Russian Revolution / Leon Trotsky ; translated by Max Eastman.
“Regarded by many as among the most powerful works of history ever written, this book offers an unparalleled account of one of the most pivotal and hotly debated events in world history. This book, released to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, reveals, from the perspective of one of its central actors, the revolution’s profoundly democratic, emancipatory character. Originally published in three parts, Trotsky’s masterpiece is collected here in a single volume. It serves as the most vital and inspiring record of the Russian Revolution to date.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLove, madness, and scandal : the life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck / Johanna Luthman.
“The high society of Stuart England found Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1602-1645) an exasperating woman. She lived at a time when women were expected to be obedient, silent, and chaste, but Frances displayed none of these qualities. Her determination to ignore convention contributed in no small measure to a life of high drama. The life of Frances Coke Villiers is also the story of an exceptional woman, whose personal experiences intertwined with the court politics and religious disputes of a tumultuous and crucially formative period in English history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSonglines and Fault Lines : epic walks of the red centre / Glenn Morrison.
“Visitors to the Red Centre come looking for the real Australia. What they find is both beautiful and disturbing- wilderness, desire, an ancient philosophy of home, and the confusing countenance of the Australian frontier, a meeting place of black and white, ancient and modern. Songlines and Fault Lines explores the stories of six epic walks that shaped a nation – retracing the legendary pathways and stories of the Australian centre, Glenn Morrison finds new answers to age-old queries.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA short history of Britain in infographics / Ray Hamilton.
“Take a whistle-stop journey through time to discover the remarkable people, places, artefacts and events that make up the story of Britain through the ages. Discover the stomach-churning scope of Henry VIII’s voluminous diet, learn about the engineering excellence behind the Supermarine Spitfire and brush up on your knowledge of iconic British TV and radio programmes. These and many more fascinating facts are presented in this beautifully designed infographic guide to the best bits of Blighty!” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRasputin : faith, power, and the twilight of the Romanovs / Douglas Smith.
“A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history’s most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity–man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe House of Government : a saga of the Russian Revolution / Yuri Slezkine.
“On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the epic story of an enormous apartment building where Communist true believers lived before their destruction. Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, and featuring hundreds of rare photographs, The House of Government weaves together biography, literary criticism, architectural history, and fascinating new theories of revolutions, millennial prophecies, and reigns of terror. The result is an unforgettable human saga of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house, forever disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

War and Feeds: Recent History picks

This month we have a collection of history books covering Turkey, Mozambique, Irish transportation and London, balanced out by an examination of the gastronomic habits of Queen Victoria and their context in the development of Western food, and a look back at the areas and cultures surrounding Ancient Greece and Rome.

Syndetics book coverTurkey : a modern history / Erik J. Zürcher.
“This revised edition builds upon and updates its twin themes of Turkey’s continuing incorporation into the capitalist world and the modernization of state and society. Zürcher argues that Turkey’s history between 1908 and 1950 should be seen as a unity, and offers a strongly revisionist interpretation of Turkey’s founding father, Kemal Atatürk. Zürcher focuses on the growth of mass politics; the three military coups; the thorny issue of Turkey’s human right’s record; the alliance with the West and relations with the European Community; Turkey’s ambivalent relations with the Middle East; the increasingly explosive Kurdish question; and the continuing political instability and growth of Islam.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe barbarians / Peter Bogucki.
“We often think of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome as discrete incubators of Western culture, places where ideas about everything from government to art to philosophy were free to develop and then be distributed outward into the wider Mediterranean world. But as Peter Bogucki reminds us in this book, Greece and Rome did not develop in isolation. All around them were rural communities who had remarkably different cultures, ones few of us know anything about. Telling the stories of these nearly forgotten people, he offers a long-overdue enrichment of how we think about classical antiquity.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe new sultan : Erdogan and the crisis of modern Turkey / Soner Cagaptay.
“In a world of rising tensions between Russia and the United States, the Middle East and Europe, Sunnis and Shiites, Islamism and liberalism, Turkey is at the epicentre. And at the heart of Turkey is its right-wing populist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Here, leading Turkish expert Soner Cagaptay will look at Erdoğan’s roots in Turkish history, what he believes in and how he has cemented his rule, as well as what this means for the world. The book will also unpick the ‘threats’ Erdogan has worked to combat – from the liberal Turks to the Gulen movement, from coup plotters to Kurdish nationalists – all of which have culminated in the crisis of modern Turkey.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFloating prisons : Irish convict hulks and voyages to New South Wales 1823-1837 / Anne McMahon ; introduction by Matthew Richardson.
“Most people think of Australia’s convict past as decidedly English. Anne McMahon tells the story of the Irish prisoners roped into the British transportation scheme. Poverty, civil unrest and overcrowded prisons in Ireland from 1823 to 1837 led to thousands of men being sentenced to transportation to Australia. They were confined mainly to hulks moored in Cork Harbour and at Kinstown near Dublin. Violence, illness and meagre rations were the norm. Anne McMahon’s vivid descriptions of what it was really like to endure transportation, squalid living conditions and long sea voyages reveals the Irish convict experience.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA short history of Mozambique / Malyn Newitt.
This comprehensive overview traces the evolution of modern Mozambique, from its early modern origins in the Indian Ocean trading system and the Portuguese maritime empire to the fifteen-year civil war that followed independence and its continued after-effects. Malyn Newitt explores the historical roots of Mozambican disunity and hampered development, beginning with the divisive effects of the slave trade, the drawing of colonial frontiers in the 1890s and the lasting particularities of the north, centre and south, inherited from the compartmentalized approach of concession companies. (Abridged from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverFractured lands : how the Arab world came apart / Scott Anderson.
“In 2011, a series of anti-government uprisings shook the Middle East and North Africa in what would become known as the Arab Spring. Few could predict that these convulsions, initially hailed in the West as a triumph of democracy, would give way to brutal civil war, the terrors of the Islamic State, and a global refugee crisis. But, as New York Times bestselling author Scott Anderson shows, the seeds of catastrophe had been sown long before. In this gripping account, Anderson examines the myriad complex causes of the region’s profound unraveling, tracing the ideological conflicts of the present to their origins in the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 and beyond.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe greedy queen : eating with Victoria / Annie Gray.
“From Dr Annie Gray – What does it mean to eat like a queen? The Greedy Queen celebrates Victoria’s appetite, both for food and, indeed, for life. From intimate breakfasts with the King of France, to romping at tea-parties with her children, and from state balls to her last sip of milk, her life is examined through what she ate, when and with whom. Voracious and adventurous in her tastes, Queen Victoria was head of state during a revolution in how we ate – from the highest tables to the most humble. Bursting with original research, The Greedy Queen considers Britain’s most iconic monarch from a new perspective, telling the story of British food along the way.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBloody history of London : crime, corruption and murder / John D. Wright.
“From plagues and poverty to financial scandals, serial killers to public executions, mad monarchs to barbaric mental asylums, Bloody History of London reaches deeply into the city’s long history and ranges widely across the social, political and cultural life of the metropolis. From political skullduggery among the Tudors to the Cold War Profumo scandal and assassination of Georgy Markov, the book is a lively account across almost 2,000 years of London history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)