New Zealand at War, home and abroad – History Picks for July

This month’s history picks reach the regular quota of World War Two content, with Smoky the Brave also scoring highly on the animals-with-jobs meter and Ake ake kia kaha e! : Forever Brave! looking at the iwi who contributed to the Maori Battalion, both abroad and at home. Elsewhere we go back in Aotearoa’s history with Vincent O’Malley’s The New Zealand Wars providing a detailed look at an oft-neglected topic in our past.

The promise : love and loss in modern China / Xinran
“Xinran begins with the magic and tragedy of one young couples wedding night in 1950, and goes on to tell personal experiences of loss, grief and hardship through China’s extraordinary century. In doing so she tells a bigger story – how traditional Chinese values have been slowly eroded by the tide of modernity and how their outlooks on love, and the choices they’ve made in life, have been all been affected by the great upheavals of Chinese history. A spell-binding and magical narrative, this is the story of modern China through the people who lived through it, and the story of their love and loss.” (Catalogue)

Smoky the brave / Lewis, Damien
“In February 1944, as Japanese advances threatened to engulf Australasia, a four-pound Yorkshire terrier was discovered hiding in a Japanese shell scrape amidst the thick jungles of Papua New Guinea. A mystery, she was adopted by Corporal William ‘Bill’ Wynne. Living in his tent, sleeping on felt salvaged from a card table, and sharing his rations, Smoky became the de facto mascot of the regiment. She went on to fly numerous missions, cocooned in a pack hanging next to the machine-guns used to repel marauding Japanese fighters.” (Catalogue)

North Korea in 100 facts / Monti, Ruth Ann
“Ruth Ann Monti teases out the truth about North Korea to provide an illuminating insight into a society that might just as well be in outer space for most in the West. Did you know, for instance, that high school students are required to complete an 81-hour course on current leader Kim Jong-un? Or that everyone must wear a Kim badge at all times? How about the fact that Kim Jong-il, kidnapped two of South Korea’s film industry giants and made seven films with them – including a Socialist version of Godzilla?” (Catalogue)

The New Zealand Wars = Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa / O’Malley, Vincent
“The New Zealand Wars were a series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nations history. The wars are an integral part of the New Zealand story but we have not always cared to remember or acknowledge them. Today, however, interest in the wars is resurgent. Public figures are calling for the wars to be taught in all schools and a national day of commemoration was recently established.” (Catalogue)

The Plimmer legacy : a family story from early Wellington to modern farming in the Rangītikei / Dawson, Bee
“From Wellington’s Plimmer Steps to the green hills of Motukawa. This is the story of a family – several generations of influential people – starting with ‘the father of Wellington’, John Plimmer, whose statue stands at the bottom of Plimmer Steps on Lambton Quay. Stories of Victorian and Edwardian life in the capital city lead on to the diverging paths of later generations, with an ongoing involvement in commerce, politics and farming.” (Catalogue)

Armageddon and paranoia : the nuclear confrontation / Braithwaite, Rodric
“In 1945, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and warfare was never the same again. There are few villains in this story: on both sides of the Iron Curtain, dedicated scientists cracked the secrets of nature, dutiful military men planned out possible manoeuvres and politicians wrestled with potentially intolerable decisions. None of them wanted to start a nuclear war, but all of them were paranoid about what the other side might do.” (Catalogue)

American cipher : Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. tragedy in Afghanistan / Farwell, Matt
“Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl left his platoon’s base in eastern Afghanistan in the early hours of June 30, 2009. Since that day, easy answers to the many questions surrounding his case–why did he leave his post? What kinds of efforts were made to recover him from the Taliban? And why, facing a court martial, did he plead guilty to the serious charges against him?–have proved elusive.” (Catalogue)

Ake ake kia kaha e! : forever brave! : B Company 28 (Maori) Battalion, 1939-1945 / Gardiner, Wira
“A truly unique insight into the impact the Second World War had on the iwi of the central North Island and Bay of Plenty districts (including Te Arawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe, Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Maru and Ngati Paoa) focusing on the region’s war effort not only overseas, but also at home and in government. Through personal recollections, eyewitness accounts, numerous anecdotes and highly illustrated throughout, the book tells the fascinating story of the B Company’s war, capturing the special `spirit’ of the Maori Battalion.” (Catalogue)

Little known stories and vast societal histories

This month’s history picks span many eras and countries — China in the ’30s and ’40s, the French Resistance in World War II, the Scottish clearances and those dispossessed, the story of how factories have changed our society from the Industrial Revolution to the present day, and the history of the United States “outside the United States”. It’s a tapestry of times, places and people — stories on both a grand and a smaller scale. Have a browse and enjoy!

You do not travel in China at the full moon : Agnes Moncrieff’s letters from China, 1930-1945 / Moncrieff, Agnes M.
“In April 1938 Agnes Moncrieff, in her role as the YWCA of New Zealand’s foreign secretary to the YWCA of China, wrote to her mother ‘You do not travel in China at the full moon if you can help. There are always air raids.’ These fascinating excerpts drawn from hundreds of her typed and handwritten letters tell of a remarkable woman, her experiences living and working in China, her observations of Chinese and Japanese military strategies, and her horror at what was taking place around her.” (Catalogue)

How to hide an empire : a history of the greater United States / Immerwahr, Daniel
“We are familiar with maps that outline all fifty states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an “empire,” exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories–the islands, atolls, and archipelagos–this country has governed and inhabited? In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light.” (Catalogue)

The Scottish clearances : a history of the dispossessed, 1600-1900 / Devine, T. M.
“Eighteenth-century Scotland is famed for generating many of the enlightened ideas which helped to shape the modern world. But there was in the same period another side to the history of the nation. Many of Scotland’s people were subjected to coercive and sometimes violent change, as traditional ways of life were overturned by the ‘rational’ exploitation of land use. The Scottish Clearances is a superb and highly original account of this sometimes terrible process, which changed the Lowland countryside forever, as it also did, more infamously, the old society of the Highlands. ” (Catalogue)

Overdrive cover Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, Lynne Olson (Audiobook)
“The little-known true story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the woman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France during World War II, from the bestselling author of Citizens of London and Last Hope Island. In 1941 a thirty-one-year-old Frenchwoman, a young mother born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamour, became the leader of a vast intelligence organization — the only woman to serve as a chef de résistance during the war. Strong-willed, independent, and a lifelong rebel against her country’s conservative, patriarchal society, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was temperamentally made for the job. […] No other French spy network lasted as long or supplied as much crucial intelligence — including providing American and British military commanders with a 55-foot-long map of the beaches and roads on which the Allies would land on D-Day–as Alliance.” (Catalogue)

Overdrive cover Behemoth, Joshua B. Freeman (ebook)
“In an accessible and timely work of scholarship, celebrated historian Joshua B. Freeman tells the story of the factory and examines how it has reflected both our dreams and our nightmares of industrialization and social change. He whisks readers from the early textile mills that powered the Industrial Revolution to the factory towns of New England to today’s behemoths making sneakers, toys, and cellphones in China and Vietnam. Behemoth offers a piercing perspective on how factories have shaped our societies and the challenges we face now.” (Overdrive description)

Raids and Revolutions – History Picks for February

A Rope in the Sky book cover

This month’s history picks feature only ONE book about the United States, to make up for last month. We’re going everywhere else, to Chinese and Cuban revolutions in Making China Modern and Cuba Libre!, Viking-era England in Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Viking England, South Sudan in A Rope From The Sky, and finally we have Afghanistan: A History from 1260 to the Present.

Syndetics book coverChicago : From Vision to Metropolis
“Chicago has been called the “most American of cities” and the “great American city.” Not the biggest or the most powerful, nor the richest, prettiest, or best, but the most American. How did it become that? And what does it even mean? At its heart, Chicago is America’s great hub. Chicago magazine editor Whet Moser draws on Chicago’s social, urban, cultural, and often scandalous history to reveal how the city of stinky onions grew into the great American metropolis it is today. An affectionate, beautifully illustrated urban portrait, his book takes us from the very beginnings of Chicago as an idea to the global city it has become.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMaking China modern : from the Great Qing to Xi Jinping / Klaus Muhlhahn.
“A panoramic survey of China’s rise and resilience through war and rebellion, disease and famine, that rewrites China’s history for a new generation. It is tempting to attribute China’s recent ascendance to changes in political leadership and economic policy. Making China Modern teaches otherwise. Moving beyond the standard framework of Cold War competition and national resurgence, Klaus Mühlhahn situates twenty-first-century China in the nation’s long history of creative adaptation.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCuba libre! : Che, Fidel, and the improbable revolution that changed world history / Tony Perrottet.
“In this wildly entertaining and meticulously researched account, Tony Perrottet unravels the human drama behind history’s most improbable revolution: a scruffy handful of self-taught revolutionaries – many of them kids just out of college, literature majors, art students and young lawyers, and including a number of women – defeated 40,000 professional soldiers to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Cuba Libre is an entertaining look back at a liberation movement that captured the imagination of the world with its spectacular drama – and that set the stage for a build-up of Cold War tension that became a pivotal moment in history.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDragon Lords : The History and Legends of Viking England
“Why did the Vikings sail to England? Were they indiscriminate raiders, motivated solely by bloodlust and plunder? One narrative, the stereotypical one, might have it so. But locked away in the buried history of the British Isles are other, far richer and more nuanced, stories; and these hidden tales paint a picture very different from the ferocious pillagers of popular repute. Eleanor Parker here unlocks secrets that point to more complex motivations within the marauding army that in the late ninth century voyaged to the shores of eastern England in its sleek, dragon-prowed longships.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAfghanistan : A History from 1260 to the Present
“Located at the intersection of Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan has been strategically important for thousands of years. Its ancient routes and strategic position between India, Inner Asia, China, Persia, and beyond has meant the region has been subject to frequent invasions, both peaceful and military. In this magisterial illustrated history, Jonathan L. Lee tells the story of how a small tribal confederacy in a politically and culturally significant but volatile region became a modern nation state.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCode Name: Lise : the true story of World War II’s most highly decorated woman / Larry Loftis.
“The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill. In Code Name: Lise, Larry Loftis paints a portrait of true courage, patriotism, and love – of two incredibly heroic people who endured unimaginable horrors and degradations. ” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA Rope from the Sky : The Making and Unmaking of the World’s Newest State
“South Sudan’s historic independence was celebrated around the world–a triumph for global justice and an end to one of the world’s most devastating wars. But the party would not last long; South Sudan’s freedom fighters soon plunged their new nation into chaos, shattering the promise of liberation and exposing the hubris of their foreign backers. Chronicling extraordinary stories of hope, identity, and survival, A Rope from the Sky journeys inside an epic tale of paradise won and then lost.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpitfire: Pilots’ Stories
“The Spitfire was perhaps the most successful fighter design of all time. It remained at the forefront of its genre from the biplane era until well into the jet age, a period including the Second World War, which saw a faster rate of technological advance than in any comparable period in history. Yet the Spitfire was more than just a superb flying machine. During the war it carved a unique place in the psyche of the British people, and many believe it played a major part in saving the nation from defeat during the grim days of 1940.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

The United States of History Picks for January 2019

The Great War book cover

American cultural hegemony kicks off the New Year with books about everyone’s favourite superpower. Americans in World War 1 (twice!), World War 2, Reagan, the American Revolution, it’s all here. Fortunately we have some Kiwi content to balance it out with a collection of poetry and images about Te Waikoropupū Springs, and a collection of historical perspectives suitably titled New Zealand and the Sea.

Syndetics book coverThe Great War in America : World War I and its aftermath / Garrett Peck.
“The Great War is often overlooked, especially compared to World War II, which is considered the “last good war.” The United States was disillusioned with what it achieved in the earlier war and withdrew into itself. Americans have tried to forget about it ever since. The Great War in America presents an opportunity to reexamine the country’s role on the global stage and the tremendous political and social changes that overtook the nation because of the war.” (Abridged Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRonald Reagan : an intellectual biography / David T. Byrne.
“Byrne’s account of the fortieth president augments previous work on Reagan with a new model for understanding him. Byrne shows how Reagan took conservatism and the Republican Party in a new direction, departing from the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. His desire to spread a “Kingdom of Freedom” both at home and abroad changed America’s political landscape forever and inspired a new conservatism that persists to this day.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover1918: The Final Year of the Great War to Armistice: The Final Year of the Great War to Armistice
“Revisiting the winning formula of diaries and memoirs, and above all original photographs taken on illegally-held cameras by the soldiers themselves, Richard van Emden tells the story of 1918, of both the ferocious spring offensive that so nearly brought victory for the Germans in the West, and the tenacious British rearguard fight that thwarted them. The book also tells the vivid story of the Allied breakthrough and the return to open warfare that was to bring victory in November 1918.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAirborne in 1943 : the daring Allied air campaign over the North Sea / Kevin Wilson.
“The year 1943 saw the beginning of an unprecedented bombing campaign against Germany. Over the next twelve months, tens of thousands of aircrews flew across the North Sea to drop bombs on German cities. They were opposed not only by the full force of the Luftwaffe, but by a nightmare of flak, treacherously icy conditions, and constant mechanical malfunction. Most of these crews were either shot down and killed or taken prisoner by an increasingly hostile enemy. This is the story of the everyday heroism of these crews in the days when it was widely believed that the Allies could win the Second World War by air alone. ” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWater protectors : the story of the campaign to save Te Waikoropupū Springs in poetry and images / Kevin Moran.
“Te Waikoropupū Springs in Golden Bay New Zealand is a national treasure, where crystal clear waters surge to the surface to form a bubbling fount. Over 90,000 people flock to visit each year, yet Te Waikoropupū is under deadly threat. Nitrate leaching from intensive dairy farms is the culprit – it threatens the ecosystem of tiny creatures that clean the waters of the Arthur Marble Aquifer which feeds the Springs. An environmental battle has broken out between those who want to protect Te Waikoropupū and the Tasman District Council who wants to allocate more water to intensive dairy farmers.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNew Zealand and the sea : historical perspectives / edited by Frances Steel.
“As a group of islands in the far south-west Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s history is steeped in the sea. Its people have encountered the sea in many different ways: along the coast, in port, on ships, beneath the waves, behind a camera, and in the realm of the imagination. A multi-disciplinary work encompassing history, marine science, archaeology and visual culture, New Zealand and the Sea explores New Zealand’s varied relationship with the sea, challenging the conventional view that history unfolds on land.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe American Revolution : a world war / edited by David K. Allison & Larrie D. Ferreiro ; essays by José María Blanco Núñez [and fifteen others].
“The American Revolutionary War stands as a monument to freedom and democracy the world over. The American Revolution: A World War provides a fuller story of a war that involved international interest and conflict. From acts of resistance like the Boston Tea Party to the “shot heard ’round the world,” the struggle for liberty and independence still resonates; this book offers new insight into the involvement of other nations and the colonists’ desire for a country that symbolized their values and the pursuit of the American way of life.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRussia without Putin : money, power and the myths of the new Cold War / Tony Wood.
“In this timely and provocative analysis, Tony Wood looks beyond Putin to explore the profound changes Russia has undergone since 1991. In the process, he challenges many of the common assumptions made about contemporary Russia. Though commonly viewed as an ominous return to Soviet authoritarianism, Putin’s rule should instead be seen as a direct continuation of Yeltsin’s in the 1990s. And though many of Russia’s problems today are blamed on legacies of the Soviet past, Wood argues that the core features of Putinism are integral to the system set in place after the fall of Communism..” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Presidents Past and Present: History Picks for December

How To Behave Badly in Elizabethan England book cover

This month’s history picks have a healthy collection of U.S Presidents, starting early with Joseph Ellis’s American Dialogue: The Founders and Us taking a look at the founding fathers of the country. Skipping ahead to the present day, we’ve got the last two Commanders in Chief with Jeanne Marie Laskas’s To Obama, and Greg Miller’s The Apprentice. If you need something a little more lowbrow than the high office of President, maybe try Ruth Goodman’s How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England, or take a left turn into a different kind of society and have a look at Our Woman in Havana by Sarah Rainsford, covering life in modern Cuba.

Syndetics book coverAmerican dialogue : the founders and us / Joseph J. Ellis.
“What would the founders think? We live in a divided America that is currently incapable of sustained argument and is feeling unsure of its destiny. Joseph J. Ellis explores anew four of our most prominent founders, in each instance searching for patterns and principles that bring the lamp of experience to our contemporary dilemmas. Ellis reminds us that the founders’ greatest legacy lies not in providing political answers but in helping us find a better way to frame the question.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTo Obama : with love, joy, anger, and hope / Jeanne Marie Laskas.
“Every evening for eight years, at his request, President Obama was given ten handpicked letters written by ordinary American citizens from his Office of Presidential Correspondence. He was the first president to interact daily with constituent mail and to archive it in its entirety. In To Obama, Jeanne Marie Laskas interviews Obama, the letter writers themselves, and the White House staff who sifted through the powerful, moving, and incredibly intimate narrative of America during the Obama years.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe origins of the Anglo-Saxons : decoding the ancestry of the English / Jean Manco.
“What do we really know of English ancestry? Combining results from cutting-edge DNA technology with new research from archaeology and linguistics, The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons reveals the adventurous journey undertaken by some of our ancestors long before a word of English was spoken. Starting with the deeper origins of the Germani and how they fit into the greater family of Indo-European speakers and ending with the language of Shakespeare, taken to the first British colony in America, this chronicle takes a wider scope than previous histories.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to behave badly in Elizabethan England : a guide for knaves, fools, harlots, cuckolds, drunkards, liars, thieves, and braggarts / Ruth Goodman.
“Every age and social strata has its bad eggs, rule-breakers, and nose-thumbers. As acclaimed popular historian Ruth Goodman shows in her madcap chronicle, Elizabethan England was particularly rank with troublemakers, from snooty needlers who took aim with a cutting “thee,” to lowbrow drunkards with revolting table manners. Goodman draws on advice manuals, court cases, and sermons to offer this colorfully crude portrait of offenses most foul.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe allies : Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and the unlikely alliance that won World War II / Winston Groom.
“By the end of World War II, 59 nations were arrayed against the axis powers, but three great Allied leaders–Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin–had emerged to control the war in Europe and the Pacific. Vastly different in upbringing and political beliefs, they were not always in agreement or on good terms. But in the end, these three men presided over a new world order. Best-selling historian Winston Groom returns to tell one of the biggest stories of the 20th century.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Oxford Illustrated history of the Holy Land / edited by Robert G. Hoyland, H.G.M. Williamson.
The Oxford Illustrated History of the Holy Land covers the 3,000 years which saw the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and relates the familiar stories of the sacred texts with the fruits of modern scholarship. Beginning with the origins of the people who became the Israel of the Bible, it follows the course of the ensuing millennia down to the time when the Ottoman Empire succumbed to British and French rule at the end of the First World War.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOur woman in Havana : reporting Castro’s Cuba / Sarah Rainsford.
“From inside this tightly controlled one-party state, Sarah Rainsford, the BBC’s ‘woman in Havana’ for three years, reports on lives shaped by Fidel Castro’s giant social experiment and how the nation feels as the six-decade rule of the Castros comes to an end. Seeking a window into pre-revolutionary Cuba, she searches for the ghosts of Graham Greene’s Havana and the paths walked by other visiting writers (chiefly Ruby Hart Phillips, who covered Cuba from 1937-1961 for the New York Times).” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCarrington : an honourable man / Christopher Lee.
“Lord Carrington was Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary when the Argentinians invaded the Falklands in 1982. Absent in Israel on the eve of the invasion, he promptly resigned since it was, he said, a point of honour. The descendant of a famous banking family, Carrington served as a minister in every Conservative government from Churchill to Thatcher. In this full biography, authorised but not read by the subject, author of This Sceptred Isle Christopher Lee offers a fascinating portrait of a Tory icon whose career is a window into post-war British politics and life as a politician and diplomat.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe apprentice : Trump, Russia and the subversion of American democracy / Greg Miller.
“From two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post national security reporter Greg Miller, the truth about Vladimir Putin’s covert attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump win the presidency, its possible connections to the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller’s ensuing investigation of the president and those close to him, and the mystery of Trump’s steadfast allegiance to Putin.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Tweet-worthy Tomes – History Picks for November

This month’s history picks contain one book that made some serious headlines earlier this year upon release. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, jump on the reserve queue for Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House. Further down the chain of command, we’ve also got The Shadow President about Vice President Mike Pence and his political background. In an effort to make this section a bit less modern-US-focused, we’ve also got some (less tweeted about) books covering Paris, the Zulu nation, Ancient Greece, and British/Indian relations.

Syndetics book coverVietnam : An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975
“Vietnam became the Western world’s most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the United States in 1975. Max Hastings has spent the past three years interviewing scores of participants on both sides, as well as researching a multitude of American and Vietnamese documents and memoirs, to create an epic narrative of an epic struggle. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCity of light : the reinvention of Paris / Rupert Christiansen.
“In 1853 the French emperor Louis Napoleon inaugurated a vast and ambitious programme of public works, directed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect of the Seine. Haussmann’s renovation of Paris would transform the old medieval city of squalid slums and disease-ridden alleyways. City of Light charts a fifteen-year project of urban renewal which – despite the interruptions of war, revolution, corruption and bankruptcy – would set a template for nineteenth and early twentieth-century urban planning and create the enduring and globally familiar layout of modern Paris.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRoad to disaster : a new history of America’s descent into Vietnam / Brian VanDemark.
Road to Disaster is the first history of the Vietnam War to look at the cataclysmic decisions of those in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations through the prism of recent research in cognitive science, psychology, and organizational theory to explain why the “Best and the Brightest” became trapped in situations that suffocated creative thinking and willingness to dissent, why they found change so hard, and why they were so blind to their own errors.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFear : Trump in the White House / Bob Woodward.
“With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence. Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPrimary sources for ancient history / by Gary Forsythe.
Primary Sources for Ancient History, Volume I: The Ancient Near East and Greece is a comprehensive selection of ancient writings to supplement a narrative history. Beginning with the Old Babylonian Kingdom of nearly four millennia ago and moving chronologically and geographically to the Egyptian Pharaohs, the dispossessed Jewish nations, the fractured city-kingdoms of Ancient Greece, to end with Alexander’s domination of the known world, this book is comprehensive in scope. Every major period and people has at least one reading.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Washing of the Spears : A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879
“Filled with colorful characters, dramatic battles like Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift, and an inexorable narrative momentum, this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world’s mightiest African empire–from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka (1787-1828), through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution under Cetshwayo in the Zulu War of 1879.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe British in India: The Lives and Experiences
“David Gilmour has spent decades researching in archives, studying the papers of many people who have never been written about before, to create a magnificent tapestry of British life in India. It is exceptional work of scholarly recovery portrays individuals with understanding and humour, and makes an original and engaging contribution to a long and important period of British and Indian history.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe shadow president : the truth about Mike Pence / Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner.
“In this landmark biography, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael D’Antonio and Emmy-nominated journalist Peter Eisner follow the path Pence followed from Catholic Democrat to conservative evangelical Republican. They reveal how he used his time as rightwing radio star to build connections with powerful donors; how he was a lackluster lawmaker in Congress but a prodigious fundraiser from the GOP’s billionaire benefactors; and how, once he locked in his views on the issues–anti-gay, pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro big-business–he became laser-focused on his own pursuit of power.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Great escapes and pop culture politics: History picks for October

The Escape Artists book cover

This month’s history picks contain a variety of subterfuges, rescues and escapes throughout the last century, covering both World Wars with The Escape Artists and Deposition, and the present day in Sinjar. Elsewhere Peter Biskind looks at how pop culture has influenced our political climate in The Sky is Falling, and Kate Thompson looks at the role of women in London’s East End during the World Wars in The Stepney Doorstep Society.

Syndetics book coverThe sky is falling : how vampires, zombies, androids, and superheroes made America great for extremism / Peter Biskind.
“Almost everything has been invoked to account for Trump’s victory and the rise of the alt-right, from job loss to racism to demography–everything, that is, except popular culture. In The Sky Is Falling bestselling cultural journalist Peter Biskind dives headlong into two decades of popular culture–from superhero franchises such as the Dark Knight, X-Men, and the Avengers and series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to thrillers like Homeland and 24–and emerges to argue that these shows are saturated with the values that are currently animating our extreme politics.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSinjar : 14 days that saved the Yazidis from Islamic State / Susan Shand.
“In Sinjar, author Susan Shand relates the tragic events of August 2014 that compelled United States President Barack Obama to redeploy the US military to Iraq. Confronted with the potential collapse of the country as well as the unfolding genocide of the Yazidi people, the United States military undertook operations to rout the Islamic State. Simultaneously, it commenced a humanitarian operation – US Army helicopters flew daily aid missions, dropping pallets of water and dehydrated food for the Yazidis who were dying in the devastating heat.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Stepney Doorstep Society / Kate Thompson.
“The unsung and remarkable stories of the women who held London’s East End together during not one, but two world wars. While the men were away at war it was strong women like Joan, Marie, Babs, Beattie and Minksy who ruled the streets of the East End. Kate Thompson tells the real stories of the war experienced by these matriarchs, a tribe of working-class women in the stinking streets, teeming tenements and sweatshops of East London. Forget church halls and jam making, these powerfully authentic stories will have you questioning what you thought you knew about wartime women.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDeposition, 1940-1944 : a secret diary of life in Vichy France / Léon Werth ; edited and translated by David Ball.
“Historians agree: the diary of Léon Werth is one of the most precious–and readable–pieces of testimony ever written about life in Nazi-occupied France. Werth was a free-spirited, unclassifiable writer, the author of eleven novels, art and dance criticism, acerbic political reporting, and memorable personal essays. He was Jewish, and left Paris in June 1940 to hide out in his wife’s country house in Saint-Amour, a small village in the Jura Mountains. Deposition tells of daily life in the village, on nearby farms and towns, and finally back in Paris, where he draws the portrait of a Resistance network in his apartment and writes an eyewitness report of the insurrection that freed the city in August, 1944.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAwatere : portrait of a Marlborough valley / Harry Broad ; photography by Jim Tannock, Rob Suisted, Dave Hansford.
“The Awatere is the Marlborough river and valley south of Blenheim. It runs from Molesworth Station in the high country all the way to the sea below the township of Seddon, overlooked by Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest peak in the Inland Kaikoura Range. This is a fascinating and extensive collection of stories that document the multi-facetted, changing face of rural New Zealand, and which explores both the people and the landscape of this area.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe shoemaker and his daughter : one ordinary family’s remarkable journey from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Putin’s Russia / Conor O’Clery.
The Shoemaker and His Daughter takes in more than eighty years of Soviet and Russian history through the prism of one family. It paints a vivid picture of a complex part of the world at a seismic moment in its history: of erratic war and uneasy peace; of blind power and its frequent abuse; of misguided ideologies and stifling bureaucracy; of the slow demise of Communism and the chaotic embrace of capitalism. Both intimate and sweeping in scale, this is a story of ordinary lives battered and shaped by extraordinary times.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAfter the conquest. The divided realm, 1066-1135 / Teresa Cole.
“On his deathbed William the Conqueror divided his property between his three sons, Robert, William and Henry. One of them got England, one got Normandy and one £5,000 of silver. None of them was satisfied with what he received. It took much violence, treachery, sudden death and twenty years before one of them reigned supreme over all the Conqueror’s lands. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his ‘Prophecies of Merlin’, depicted them as two dragons and a lion with a mighty roar, but which would end up the winner, and what was the fate of the losers? After the Conquest tells the story of the turbulent lives of the sons of the Conqueror.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe escape artists : a band of daredevil pilots and the greatest escape of the Great War / Neal Bascomb.
“When captured Royal Flying Corps pilots Captain David Gray, Captain Caspar Kennard and 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Blain had arrived at Holzminden – or ‘Hellminden’ as its occupants called it – the Germans’ highest-security prison complex had seemed impregnable. With an improvised oxygen piping system, stolen disguises and astonishing courage, this handful of the Kaiser’s 2.3 million prisoners would succeed in making their way to neutral Holland and eventually back to Britain – for a private audience at Windsor Palace. The most unlikely escape of the Great War, their derring-do became military legend and the inspiration for the subsequent great escapes of the Second World War.” (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)