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)

Get The London Times that was printed on your birthday! (or your Mum’s!)

The Central Library is offering to library members its hard-copy vintage collection of The Times, dating from 1946 through to the start of 1976.  Each issue is for sale at $5 per copy but there is only one copy of each date. Please note that this collection excludes the Sunday Times which was, and remains, a separate newspaper editorially

This is an ideal quirky gift for anyone born between 1946 and 1976; please pre-order your copy by visiting or phoning the 2nd floor reference desk at the Central Library on 04 801 4114.

Major historical and cultural events covered during this period include:

The moon landing in July 1969
The resignation of President Nixon in August 1974
Muhammad Ali defeats George Foreman at ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire, October 1974

You can still access and read this entire date-range of The Times for free via the Times Digital Archive on My Gateway.

Just in time for Christmas, come in, grab a copy and delve into the past.

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)

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)