I wish that those were all of the books that I read this week, but I didn’t even come close to getting that much done!
These are the books that I read this week:
•Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders by Denise A. Spellberg [Vintage Paperback, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•The Rush: America’s Fevered Quest For Fortune, 1848-1853 by Edward Dolnick [Little, Brown, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry by Sid Lowe [Nation Books Paperback, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East by Hugh Wilford [Basic Books, 2013] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents by Ronald Kessler [Crown Forum, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics by Michael Wolraich [Palgrave Macmillan, 2014] (BOOK | KINDLE)
•And I’m currently in the middle of reading His Humble Servant: Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert’s Memoirs of Her Years of Service to Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII by Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert [St. Augustine’s Press, 2014]
No, I haven’t read The Alienist (BOOK | KINDLE). I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but that’s solely because I simply don’t have enough time to read all of the non-fiction books that I want and need to read, so it’s hard to squeeze in a genre that isn’t at the top of my list. The premise of the book sounds interesting, though, set during Theodore Roosevelt’s time as Police Commissioner in New York City.
There is a great non-fiction book on that subject and era, however, that I would highly recommend: Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks (BOOK | KINDLE). Anyone interested on TR’s time as NYC’s Police Commissioner (or those of you who might have read the The Alienist and found the idea to be fascinating) should check out Island of Vice.
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:
Over the past few days, I finished reading these books (all of which are worth checking out):
•The Most Dangerous Man In America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur by Mark Perry (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Soccer In Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano and translated by Mark Fried (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell (BOOK | KINDLE)
As I mentioned, all four of those books are worth your time, but O’Connell’s biography of General Sherman is especially good.
Currently, I’m reading Louis S. Warren’s Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (BOOK | KINDLE) and Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo by Jack Cheevers (BOOK | KINDLE).
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.
Long is incredibly fascinating and that biography by T. Harry Williams is a damn good book. I think it actually won a Pulitzer and it certainly deserved it. Huey Long definitely had his eyes on the Presidency, although I can’t imagine him being able to overcome the fact that he was from the Deep South to get elected.
Besides the Williams book, I’d also recommend Richard D. White, Jr.’s Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long (BOOK | KINDLE), which is also a very balanced look at his life and career. Every Man A King: The Autobiography of Huey Long (BOOK | KINDLE) isn’t balanced and impartial, but I always feel it’s important to read someone’s own words if you can.
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.
-My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (BOOK)
-First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis (BOOK | KINDLE)
-The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt (BOOK | KINDLE)
-No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin (BOOK | KINDLE)
First Ladies in general:
-The First Ladies Factbook: The Childhoods, Courtships, Marriages, Campaigns, Accomplishments, and Legacies of Every First Lady From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Bill Harris and revised by Laura Ross (BOOK)
-Secret Lives of the First Ladies: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Women of the White House by Cormac O’Brien (BOOK | KINDLE)
You can never go wrong with the great Shelby Foote, so check out his trilogy:
-The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville (BOOK | KINDLE)
-The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume Two: Fredericksburg to Meridian (BOOK | KINDLE)
-The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox (BOOK | KINDLE)
Other suggestions of general histories of the Civil War:
-Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen C. Guelzo (BOOK | KINDLE)
-The Civil War (single volume) by Bruce Catton (BOOK)