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.
I would suggest that you can begin and end with The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, the recently-completed three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, which is about as definitive as it gets. The first two volumes are by William Manchester and the third volume, released last year, was completed by Paul Reid from Manchester’s notes and research and at Manchester’s request following his death in 2004. It can be quite an investment in time because it is incredibly detailed and exhaustive, but it’s absolutely worth it.
The Manchester/Reid trilogy was released in a boxed set last year as The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965 (BOOK•KINDLE) and that’s probably the best overall deal. But you can also get the three volumes individually if you want to work through them that way:
•The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 by William Manchester (BOOK•KINDLE) — Volume I, originally released in 1983.
•The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester (BOOK•KINDLE) — Volume II, originally released in 1988.
•The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid (BOOK•KINDLE) — Volume III, originally released in 2012.
There are so many other great books about Churchill that you have a wealth of other choices if you don’t want to commit to the lengthy Manchester trilogy. Sir Martin Gilbert is considered Churchill’s “official biographer” and has written or edited something like 20 books about Churchill, so I don’t even know where to begin with him, but I really like a book that Gilbert released last year called Churchill: The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches (BOOK•KINDLE). In this book, Gilbert selected bits and pieces of Churchill’s best and most famous words and uses them chronologically to help tell (along with Gilbert’s introductions) Churchill’s life story. Like Lincoln, it’s damn near impossible to go wrong with a book of Churchill’s writings and speeches.
And, if you’re looking for something just focusing on Churchill’s early life, there’s a new book out by Michael Shelden that tells that story really well — Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill(BOOK•KINDLE).
Winston Churchill is one of those historic figures that I could probably devote an entire blog to simply posting book recommendations about, so I’ll leave you with these ones for now. I’m confident that you’ll be happy with any of them.
Awesome, I’m glad to hear that! I’m fortunate enough to get a ton of great books to review for AND Magazine, so I love being able to share my thoughts and make recommendations for my fellow history fans.
Everyone is welcome to connect with me on Goodreads, as well. Since I don’t always have the time to write a full-scale review on all of the books that I read, I’m going to try to remember to at least use Goodreads to post a short review (or a star rating at the very least!). I’m training myself to go to Goodreads daily so that I am consistent about it, but you’ll have to be patient with me because, as anyone who follows me on Facebook and (especially) Twitter knows, I tend to go through phases.
You made a solid choice with The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (BOOK•KINDLE). I think it was one of the best books of the year, and that’s no surprise since H.W. Brands always delivers. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s the best book written about Grant other than the one that General Grant wrote about himself.
Wow, I don’t really know how many books I have that focus on the Civil War or that era. If I were forced to make a guess, I’d say that I probably have about 90 or 100 books on the Civil War. Most of them focus on specific aspects of the Civil War or the crises that led to the war or the important individuals and events. Few of the books try to tell the complete history of the war and that’s good because it really can’t be done in one volume. So, if you were to dig through my Civil War library, you’d find a lot of biographies of people like William Tecumseh Sherman and Jefferson Davis, as well as books like William J. Cooper’s recent released We Have the War Upon Is: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 (BOOK•KINDLE) which takes a detailed look at the country from Lincoln’s election to the firing on Fort Sumter as President Buchanan’s lame duck administration does nothing while states begin to secede from the Union.
I don’t think they get redundant at all. Sure, you’ll cover some common ground, but each writer tells the stories in a different way, spotlight different people or events, and bring the history to us in their own voice. I actually prefer to read several books on the same subject because it really drives home the history, breaks through any potential biases or inconsistencies of individual authors, and helps complete the story.
I never think of common history that I read from different authors as redundancies. It’s more like a validation of the information. I truly believe that you can always get more out of a story, whether it’s through research that reveals new information, or the perspective of the writer, or just the way that something is written. Just as an example, if an editor asked me to write a different story every day for a week but that I had to detail Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in the story as the centerpiece each day, I could easily do it by shifting the narrative or approaching the details a little differently or with a totally different voice. That’s how I look at multiple books about a common subject.
I thought it was awesome. I’ll be giving it a full review sometime soon in AND Magazine, but you’re right about a lack of biographies on Seward, especially in-depth biographies of the magnitude of Walter Stahr’s Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man (BOOK•KINDLE).
The title is no exaggeration, either. Seward was an extremely important figure in American history in the 19th century because Lincoln truly did count on his counsel and rely on his diplomatic skills to keep foreign countries from undermining the war effort by recognizing the Confederate government. Without Seward in the State Department and Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War, Lincoln would have had a far more difficult time with the non-military affairs of his day-to-day government. Stahr also tells Seward’s story prior to the Civil War. Because of his role in Lincoln’s Cabinet, Seward’s earlier life and career tend to be overshadowed, but Seward had played a big role in American life for three decades prior to the war and had come very close to winning the Republican nomination for President in 1856 and 1860.
I actually finished two books today — (1.) Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman —From World War to Cold War (BOOK•KINDLE) by Michael Dobbs and (2.) Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man (BOOK•KINDLE) by Walter Stahr.
Now I’m wavering back-and-forth about which book I want to read next. My plan was to read Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (BOOK•KINDLE) by Ian W. Toll. However, on Friday, Simon & Schuster sent me Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story (BOOK•KINDLE) by my former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. As good as Pacific Crucible looks and promises to be, I’m leaning towards reading Governor Schwarzenegger’s autobiography first because it looks pretty fascinating and entertaining.
No, I’ve been slacking on my writing. I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to actually writing my reviews.
The reading is going just fine. Last night, I finished H.W. Brands’ new book The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (BOOK•KINDLE), which will be released on October 2nd. Today, I started Burton I. Kaufman’s The Post-Presidency from Washington to Clinton, which hits stores on November 11th. The Brands book is a must-read, especially if you’re a fan of the Civil War-era or General Grant. I’m enjoying the Kaufman book so far, as I suspected I would, considering its from the University Press of Kansas — one of the best (and most prolific) publishers of books about Presidents and all aspects Presidential history from people, politics, and elections to focused studies of specific Presidential policies and/or Administrations.
It’s all good. That’s why I allow anonymous questions — because many of my readers (most of them, in fact, according to the analytics) don’t have Tumblrs, so that gives that section of the audience an opportunity to participate and ask questions. You don’t have to stalk me on Facebook, though. I accept friend requests from readers because it gives me yet another platform where I can plug my articles! Ideally, I would get my Facebook fan page running nicely and update it consistently, but in my world “ideally” is a synonym for “unlikely”.
Anyway, I have received some great new books this week. Usually, I get a couple of books that intrigue me and a couple of books that aren’t quite as interesting, but most of the books this week have left me excited to get started. I won’t list all of the books, but here are the books that I really look forward to reading over the next few days:
•This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (BOOK•KINDLE) — This book actually came out in 2009 and is one of those books that I’ve always wanted to read but would forget about every single time I went to the bookstore. I’m reading this one tonight.
•Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Ministerby Andro Linklater (BOOK•KINDLE) - This is a story that I’ve always wanted to know more about, the only assassination of a British Prime Minister in history.
•Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin (BOOK•KINDLE) - Not only was Clint Hill a Secret Service agent, but he is the Secret Service agent who ran and jumped on to the back of JFK’s limo in Dallas in the seconds after the assassination. This book is the first time he’s told his amazing story.
•Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (BOOK•KINDLE) - I’m a big fan of Horwtiz’s books Confederates In The Attic and Blue Latitudes, so his look at the always-fascinating John Brown story should be compelling.
•A New Literary History of America edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors (BOOK) - Over 1,000 pages of essays about 500 years of American Literature pretty much guarantees that you’ll find something that you enjoy.
•Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From the Street Corner to the Corner Officeby Zack O’Malley Greenburg (BOOK•KINDLE) - Another one of my favorite rappers. Hova’s story is inspirational and Greenburg, a writer for Forbes, should be able to spotlight a different side of Hov by focusing on his success as a businessman and brand.
•The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr by H.W. Brands (BOOK•KINDLE) - Brands is always good and Aaron Burr is always interesting. This is a uncharacteristically short book for Brands (only 176 pages) and looks at the touching and tragic relationship between Burr and his daughter, Theodosia.
•The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842 by Diana Preston (BOOK•KINDLE) - I’m really looking forward to reading this because it’s another historical event that I’m pretty much in the dark about, but it continues to have direct ramifications today. Another example of a great power going to war in Afghanistan and finding out why the country is nicknamed the “graveyard of empires”.
•Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld (BOOK•KINDLE) - I’ve been anxious to get my hands on this book, which was released in hardcover in the Spring of 2011. Gandhi is another one of those figures who I know a little something about but have always wanted to dig deeper. What is really appealing about Lelyveld’s book — other than the fact that Lelyveld is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and damn good writer — is the focus on the lessons that a younger Gandhi experienced during the two decades he spent in South Africa.
As always, keep your eyes open for reviews. I believe all of these books are available right now, so if you end up ordering any of them or have already read any of them, I’d love to hear your feedback, too.