From “Game of Thrones” to The Pillars of the Earth, popular culture offers up medieval stories where royals grab for power, where crucial alliances are built between church and state, where important people suddenly fall over dead after a sumptuous meal, poisoned by a hidden rival. But this world did, in fact, exist, and the subject of Kirstin Downey’s fascinating new biography, Isabella: The Warrior Queen, maneuvered through it with unlikely and thrilling success.
To imagine what life was like growing up in a French village in the early 15th century, don’t think of A Year in Provence. Think of modern-day Syria.
During the years after World War II, a group of ambitious, idealistic, affluent and well-connected young people settled in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Until at least 1975, their strong influence was felt, for good or ill, in virtually every aspect of government, especially foreign policy decisions, and in shaping public opinion on such issues as the founding of NATO, the military and covert actions of the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis and the war in Vietnam.
A harried reader could get the gist of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by opening it just past dead center and reading through the 16-page comic-book version of the story.
Bryan Stevenson was fresh out of Harvard Law School when he embraced—first in Georgia, then in Alabama—the mission of defending death row inmates and others facing undeserved or disproportionate prison sentences. An African American from a poor family in Delaware, Stevenson accepts as a starting point the maxim, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
In mid-19th-century America, newspapers were the primary sources of information and opinion. Most newspaper publishers and editors were closely aligned with politicians and, with few exceptions, opinions were emphasized more than news and loyalty to political parties more than the public interest. It was a time of significant change for the newspaper industry with technological innovations such as steam-driven printing presses and, most importantly, the telegraph, making delivery of the news much faster.
The baffling 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor gets true-crime treatment in Tinseltown, a compelling interweaving of star power, the machinations of power brokers and the desperation of the wannabes and the washed up. Together they provide the book’s apt subtitle: “Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood."
Cleopatra, Nefertiti: These are the names that come to mind when thinking of the legendary female rulers of ancient Egypt. In her highly engrossing The Woman Who Would Be King, Egyptian scholar Kara Cooney shines a spotlight on Hatshepsut, Egypt’s largely overlooked, longest-ruling female pharaoh, who led her country through a period marked by peace, prosperity and architectural achievement.
While we all know George Washington as our first president and leader of American forces in the Revolutionary War, in The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward J. Larson illuminates another key role he played: leading the Constitutional Convention.
In 2010, the world watched the dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had endured 69 days buried a half-mile underground. The men, who agreed in advance that they would only tell their story collectively, talked to Héctor Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had exclusive access to the miners. They were generous and unsparing as they shared their experiences with him, resulting in a narrative that’s both harrowing and deeply moving.