In an interview some years ago, Erik Larson, author of such bestsellers as The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts, called himself “an animator of history” rather than a historian. Indeed, he has always shown a brilliant ability to unearth the telling details of a story and has the narrative chops to bring a historical moment vividly alive. But in his new book, Larson simply outdoes himself.
If you’re an author with a family ghost, it would seem almost obligatory to write about it. Hannah Nordhaus’ “paternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother,” Julia -Staab, haunts La Posada hotel in Santa Fe (or so lots of people believe). In American Ghost, Nordhaus offers a fascinating and nuanced account of her ancestral ghost story and her complicated clan.
The most notable assassination in history, of probably the single most influential man in European history, occurred in 44 B.C. The event changed the world, but not as the assassins had planned. Why and how did it happen? In The Death of Caesar, history and classics professor Barry Strauss offers both excellent historical detective work and riveting prose.
There it is, right at the beginning of the rules pamphlet included with our family’s well-worn Monopoly game. “In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, presented a game called Monopoly to the executives of Parker Brothers.” Sounds simple enough. But as Mary Pilon shows in The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, the road to fame for Monopoly was circuitous.
The Spanish Civil War, fought between 1936 and 1939, was the first struggle against fascism in Europe as the powers of Germany and Italy, for their own purposes, joined with General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist (rebel) forces to oust the elected government. Although the Western democracies adopted a policy of nonintervention, volunteers came from many countries to assist the Republican government in the hope that fascism could be stopped. Unfortunately, five months after the Spanish war ended, World War II began in Europe. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun) shows in his fast-paced, often moving and revealing new book Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made, the earlier war served in numerous ways as a laboratory for the larger war.
The civil rights laws and social programs initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s transformed U.S. society. Although they were highly controversial at the time, laws establishing Medicare and Medicaid, public broadcasting, help to those in poverty, consumer and environmental protection, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and many other programs remain in place today. Though President John F. Kennedy introduced civil rights legislation shortly before his death, it was his successor, Johnson, who was able to get the legislation passed and move on to other aspects of what became known as the Great Society.
When “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father, eulogized George Washington, he memorialized the late president’s effort to forge a unified nation that would bring happiness forever to the people of America. On the eve of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, married to the daughter of Washington’s adopted son, appeared poised to preserve the Union that Washington had fought so hard to establish.
“I could’ve been a judge, but I never ’ad the Latin. . . . And so I become a miner instead.” So starts the bitterly funny “Miner’s Sketch” from the 1960s revue Beyond the Fringe, which gave Americans a sense of the long, brutal class war in Britain between coal miners and the ruling class. Neither emerged intact.
Thomas Cromwell and the Tudor Court have had something of a resurgence in popular culture. While Showtime’s melodramatic “The Tudors” focused on Henry VIII and his six wives, Hilary Mantel’s Booker-Prize winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies dramatized the political rise of Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Tracy Borman’s vivid new biography, Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, is a timely addition to histories of the era.
What we usually remember about George III is that he was mad, but there was far more to this complex royal figure. As we learn in debut author Janice Hadlow’s fascinating account, A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III, he had much to keep him busy during his long reign, including a very large family. This biography was originally published in the U.K. as The Strangest Family. It’s an apt title. Hadlow takes as her canvas not simply the private life of one monarch, but the entire House of Hanover, a dysfunctional dynasty if there ever was one.