Hard as it might be to imagine, readers of Ben Mezrich’s Once Upon a Time in Russia could find themselves feeling a certain sympathy for Vladimir Putin. Sure, the new Russian president was trying to seize control of the news media in 2000 when he forced television magnate Boris Berezovsky to sell his business. But Berezovsky was, to put it mildly, a handful.
The epic struggle between cultures and strong personalities is at the heart of Steve Inskeep’s fast-paced, extensively researched Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.
Nationhood was never a goal of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence refers to “Free and Independent States.” After the Revolutionary War ended, a majority of the population was opposed or indifferent to a transition from individual states to a federal government. In his brilliant and exciting new book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, historian Joseph J. Ellis tells the story of how a small group of leaders, disregarding popular opinion, took the American story in a new direction
Clearly it’s not just cats that have nine lives. In Robert Weintraub’s exceptionally well researched and engaging No Better Friend, we meet Judy, a purebred English pointer and hero of World War II.
In Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II, Richard Reeves re-tells—with heart-breaking specificity—the story of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast who were incarcerated during World War II strictly because of their ancestry.
It’s reassuring to discover that heroes, both ancient and modern, are not somehow supernaturally endowed after all. Indeed, they may come by their skills quite naturally. In the thoroughly absorbing Natural Born Heroes, which tracks heroism from the times of Zeus and Odysseus to the World War II bravery of a motley crew of fighters, Christopher McDougall makes it clear that incredible acts of strength and endurance are doable. His extensive knowledge of fitness training, nutrition and physiology winds artfully around a tale of superhuman resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Greek island of Crete, Hitler’s designated launching pad for the invasion of Russia.
The end of World War II in Europe brought a wide range of reactions, especially in Germany. From concentration camp prisoners to top Nazi officers, from refugees crowding the roads to soldiers eager to see the war finally over, there was a mixture of heartbreak, relief, chaos and disbelief. For German novelist Walter Kempowski, who died in 2007, researching and compiling those responses, through eyewitness accounts, letters and diaries, became a lifelong mission. The result was 10 volumes and a diary of his project’s progress.
Los Angeles would not exist as the sprawling, highly populated global center it is today were it not for one man. At the turn of the last century, William Mulholland, a civil servant self-educated in the ways of water engineering, all but willed Southern California’s future when he masterminded one of the greatest engineering projects of all time: the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
The tactics may have changed, but the intent remains the same: North Korea is a mysterious, insular country that above all loathes the United States. Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un retains his tight grip on power through imprisonment and purges. His threats against the United States include missile testing and computer hacking. But Kim’s modern-day machinations simply mirror the early actions of his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, who took control of North Korea following World War II and established the Kim family dynasty. Blaine Harden’s new book, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, describes the formation of that dynasty and offers one explanation for why North Korea hates the U.S.
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.