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)