Cool, I’m happy to hear that you checked it out! That book, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE), is really interesting, especially for people like me who spend most of their time reading about American history rather than British history (or the history of other foreign leaders). It also made me understand Queen Victoria in a very different light, especially after reading somewhat similar books like Helen Rappaport’s A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE) and Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince (BOOK | KINDLE) — both of which are also excellent.
I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.
I’ve probably read at least six or seven different books about how Osama bin Laden was killed and some of them have been really good, some have been really bad, and some have seemed to be nothing more than the exact same details we learned from news reports put into the form of a book.
No Easy Day:The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) is notable because the author Mark Owen (aka Mark Bissonnette) was involved in the mission that killed bin Laden. That is certainly a unique viewpoint, but to be honest, that’s the only reason I found No Easy Day to be interesting. I can’t say that I’d recommend purchasing the book, but since Wal-Mart always seems to have 6,000 copies, next time you’re in one of their stores, you should drop by the magazine aisle and read the 3 or 4 pages that really focus on the Abbottabad raid.
There are two books that I would recommend for those who might be interested in the reading about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as well as putting the mission in context with either the hunt for bin Laden or bin Laden’s role in becoming leader of al-Qaeda and Public Enemy #1.
First and foremost, I would suggest Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad (BOOK | KINDLE) by Peter Bergen, who is no relation to me, but who is the journalist who actually scored a face-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. It’s extremely interesting and frightening to read Bergen (again, no relation) give his account of that interview and how bin Laden seemed soft-spoken and polite and even had a kindly nature, but when bin Laden’s words were translated he was declaring war on the United States and warning Americans that his organization would make no distinction between civilian and military targets in their jihad against U.S. interests.
The other book that I would suggest is The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) by Mark Bowden. The Finish is less expansive than Manhunt, but the description of the raid in Abbottabad by the Navy SEALs is intense. Bowden is simply always terrific. I haven’t read a Mark Bowden book that I haven’t been mesmerized by. Black Hawk Down is his most famous work, of course, but I think Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam is even better. And you’ll thank me if you also pick up Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (on Pablo Escobar) and Road Work: Among Tyrants, Heroes, Rogues, and Beasts, a collection of some of the best of his narrative non-fiction which features an incredible piece on Saddam Hussein.
He did?! Oh man, that’s a shame, I’m sorry to hear that. I think that Mr. Burns was probably in his 90s, so at least he had a long life, and us history-lovers are fortunate for that because of his prolific output of top-notch work, particularly on leadership and the Presidents/Presidency.
Here are three of my favorite books by James MacGregor Burns:
The last book that I finished reading was Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy (BOOK | KINDLE), which explores Queen Victoria’s lengthy reign in England through the eight unsuccessful assassination attempts against her. Most of the attempts were actually pretty pathetic and can barely be considered attempts at assassinating the Queen, but Murphy uses the attacks as the vehicle for a history of VIctoria’s reign and her relationship with the British people. Victoria became Queen after the unpopular Regency Era and the British monarchy was in a troublesome position at the time following the illnesses and unpredictability of King George III, the extravagance and excesses of King George IV, and King William IV’s unremarkable and relatively brief reign.
Queen Victoria’s early reign seemed to suggest that the troubles might continue and her popularity began to wear off after the excitement of Victoria’s coronation. Victoria had been notoriously sheltered while growing up, so her political understanding and practice of politics were far below par when she began Queen. As she learned her role (and, just as important, what she shouldn’t be doing), Victoria took to her job well. When she married Prince Albert, he became a true partner and did wonders with helping Victoria reign, even though he remained a prince consort rather than a King and assumed no official powers. Prince Albert and a house full of children did help change the perception of the British monarchy from a stuffy, ancient, aristocratic lineage of Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses (which it still was) to a group of human beings. Albert was a public relations wizard and he basically rebranded the British monarchy into the “royal family”, and personalizing the monarchy — giving it faces and hearts and names — did wonders for the popularity of the institution itself, as well as the Queen. The assassination attempts written about in Shooting Victoria didn’t come too close to actually wounding Victoria or endangering the Queen’s life, but they augmented her popularity, especially when the Queen’s subjects saw how she handled the threats. Instead of letting the assassination attempts interrupt her routine or change the way she interacted with the public, the Queen projected a sense of strength and an absence of fear or apprehension; in some cases, Victoria even seemed defiant — an attitude that the British, especially the working-class Londoners, couldn’t help but appreciate.
Eventually, the tragic death of Prince Albert devastated Queen Victoria and changed Victoria’s outlook on life and changed the perception that the British people had of her, but using the assassination attempts as a way to view the ups-and-downs of Victoria’s life and legacy is a very fascinating and original way to tell her story. Plus, the assassination attempts themselves range from ballsy to interesting to just plain laughable, and getting to know a few of the wacky would-be assassins is alone worth the price of Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE).
Wow, I wasn’t planning on turning that into a little book review, but there you go, free of charge!
As for what I am currently reading, I just started Thunder at Twilight: Vienna, 1913-1914 by Frederic Morton (BOOK | KINDLE), which was originally published in 1989 and recently re-released as a 25th anniversary edition by Da Capo Press. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve always heard amazing things about it, so I’m looking forward to getting into it. The story focuses on Vienna (obviously) in the two years leading into World War I. Of course, Austria was a major hot spot for tensions as the world headed to war and this book apparently touches on the incredibly fascinating cast of characters that one would have found in Vienna in 1913 and 1914 — Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Fraz Ferdinand (whose assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914 triggered the outbreak of the war), a young and volatile Austrian artist named Adolf Hitler, a group of Communist agitators who would later be recognizable by the names of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, Marshal Tito, Sigmund Freud, and others. I’ll give a complete account of my thoughts when I’m finished reading Thunder at Twilight, but I’m already captivated by the remarkable thought that all of these people who had such an influence on history were bouncing around Vienna at one point or another right around the same time (1913-1914). I mean, imagine a young Hitler sketching ideas in a VIennese coffee shop while a young Lenin and Stalin debated with each other at the next table! We don’t know if that ever happened (probably not), but it’s crazy to realize that it could have.
I did it! Folks have been asking me to update my “Essential Books” pages for a very long time and I simply couldn’t find the time (or patience) to do it, but I’ve finally updated my lists of Essential Books about Presidents and have included live Amazon links to every single book that I have suggested.
The links below will take you to the pages of books that I would highly recommend if you’re interested in or studying individual Presidents or Presidential history in general. So, if you’re curious about the best books about each President, be sure to browse the Essential Books pages and use the Amazon links provided to buy whatever you’re interested in because it kicks back a little cash to yours truly!
Two good ones about FDR’s battle to overcome American isolationism in the lead-up to World War II are Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson and Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War against Nazi Germany by Steven Casey.
Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and I keep saying that I’ll list a bunch of my recommendations and then promptly forget about it, so I might as well do it now.
I’d really recommend Peter Baker’s Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (Doubleday/Oct. 22nd), which comes out next Tuesday. I was a big fan of Baker’s insider account of President Clinton’s impeachment, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, and Days of Fire is another fantastic, insider account. The Bush/Cheney relationship is incredibly fascinating.
There have also been some really good books released recently about JFK as we approach next month’s 50th anniversary of his assassination. I’ve received a bunch of JFK books over the past few months. These were the ones that really stood out:
•JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw (Palgrave Macmillan/Oct. 15th)
•Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House by Robert Dallek (Harper/Oct. 9th)
•JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke (The Penguin Press/July 16th)
•If Kennedy Had Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History by Jeff Greenfield (Putnam/Oct. 22nd)
•The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis by David G. Coleman (W.W. Norton/Oct. 21st)
•The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy by Larry J. Sabato (Bloomsbury/Oct. 15th)
•We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors Who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963 by Allen Childs, MD (Skyhorse/Nov. 6th)
A few more books that I’ve read and really enjoyed over the past two months or so:
•Wilson by A. Scott Berg (Putnam/Sept. 10th)
•Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown by Chuck McFadden (University of California Press/May 6th)
•The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) by Pope Francis (Ignatius Press/Aug. 31st)
•Birth School Metallica Death: The Biography, Volume 1 by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (Da Capo Press/Nov. 15th)
•Young Mr. Roosevelt: FDR’s Introduction to War, Politics, and Life by Stanley Weintraub (Da Capo Press/Oct. 15th)
•Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912 by Gerard Helferich (Lyons Press/Oct. 8th)
•1808: The Flight of the Emperor: How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World by Laurentino Gomes (Lyons Press/Sept. 3rd)
•The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming (W.W. Norton/July 22nd)
•Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C. by Kenneth J. Winkle (W.W. Norton/Aug. 19th)
•The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War by Stephen Puleo (Westholme/Sept. 19th)
•To Raise Up a Nation: John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and the Making of a Free Country by William S. King (Westholme/Oct. 18th)
•David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown/Oct. 1st)
•Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation by John Ferling (Bloomsbury/Oct. 10th)
•Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal by Keel Hunt (Vanderbilt University Press/Aug. 2nd)
•Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy (Pegasus/Nov. 14, 2013)
•The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James Tobin (Simon & Schuster/Nov. 12, 2013)
•Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster/Oct. 1st)
•We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut (Da Capo Press/Oct. 15th)
•Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend: Personal Recollections About the Man Who Became Pope edited by Alejandro Bermúdez (Ignatius Press/Sept. 16th)
•Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés edited by Robert M. S. McDonald (University of Virginia Press/Sept. 24th)
•A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of An Eccentric In An Age of Change by John Glassie (Riverhead Trade/Nov. 5, 2013)
•Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta (Knopf/Oct. 29, 2013)
Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently.
While I am here, I want to share with you two really great books that I think you would enjoy as I did. I hope to find some time to grind out the full-length reviews that these titles deserve, but here are two quick recommendations.
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence (BOOK•KINDLE)
By Joseph J. Ellis (Available on June 4, 2013)
There are a handful of American authors in the 21st Century who can take some of the most familiar events and figures in our nation’s history and make them feel new and exciting and present. Joseph J. Ellis is one of them. He has already written classic, award-winning books such as Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (BOOK•KINDLE), American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (BOOK•KINDLE), His Excellency: George Washington (BOOK•KINDLE), and First Family: Abigail and John Adams (BOOK•KINDLE), among others. In Revolutionary Summer, Ellis tells the story of the dramatic summer of 1776 and it should be on your reading list for the summer of 2013.
A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (BOOK•KINDLE)
By Thomas Fleming (Available on May 15, 2013)
Historian Thomas Fleming is so prolific that there isn’t a page in A Disease in the Public Mind listing all of his books — he’s written more than fifty of them. Like Ellis, many of Fleming’s books focus on the American Revolution era, including his best and best-known work, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America (BOOK•KINDLE), which remains high on the list of my all-time favorites. A Disease in the Public Mind investigates not the cause, but the causes of the Civil War, in both the North and South, with Fleming’s gift for writing serious history at the pace of a novel.
I raced through both of these titles and highly recommend picking them up when they are released. And while there is never a shortage of good books out there to read, right now seems to be a particularly fortunate time for our history buffs as we’ve had some fantastic new releases in 2013 so far and some great titles on the horizon for the remainder of the years.