Tightly paced and furiously entertaining, The Witch of Lime Street tells the fascinating story of the rise of spiritualism in the years after World War One. With an entire generation lost to the trenches and the Spanish flu, charlatans and hucksters emerged in force to put grieving families in touch with their beloved dead. This was the era of séances, table rapping, ectoplasm and “spirit photography”—done with a camera that supposedly captured an image of you posing with your dearly departed’s ghost.
An imposing book by virtue of size alone, the 640-page Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives is also decidedly ambitious. The dual biography explores the profoundly different paths taken by two iconic and influential German artists in the years before and after Hitler’s rise to power.
James Holland’s The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941, the first of a planned three-volume series called The War in the West, is a great example of how a re-examination of historical accounts leads to new insights that urge us to reconsider the common wisdom about one of the most well-documented wars in history.
The stupendously wealthy 5th Duke of Portland had a very weird obsession: building underground. At his order, tunnels, a ballroom, a church and a vast network of chambers were constructed underneath his estate at Welbeck Abbey in England. It might also be said he lived an underground life, avoiding human contact whenever possible. He communicated with his servants by written message and traveled mostly at night, with a lantern attached to his belt.
There is nothing so compelling as history well told, whether in print or on film. And viewers who were engrossed by Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on the Roosevelts will find Jay Winik’s new book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History, especially appealing. Winik, who has written about America’s founding (The Great Upheaval) and the Civil War (April 1865), brings his considerable gifts as a storyteller and a talented historian to this new work exploring the pivotal year of Roosevelt’s presidency and of World War II.
M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) presents a thrilling history of music and the terrible events of World War II. Extensively researched and passionately told, Symphony for the City of the Dead exposes the strengths and weaknesses of humanity through an engrossing tale of war, art and undying creativity.
Like so many Americans, writer Rita Gabis has mixed ancestry. Her late father was Jewish and her mother is a Lithuanian Catholic, whose family emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. Gabis knew her maternal grandfather—“Senelis” in Lithuanian—as a fond elderly man who bought her treats and took her fishing. But she had one disturbing memory: the time he told her, “No be like your father . . . Jews no good.”
David Maraniss didn’t set out to write a ghost story, but Once in a Great City, his glimmering portrait of Detroit, has a lingering, melancholy quality that will leave the reader thoroughly haunted.
In Paradise of the Pacific, Susanna Moore sees the history of the Hawaiian Islands as “a story of arrivals,” one that encompasses not only flora and fauna blown by the winds but early Polynesian travelers, explorers, missionaries and whalers.
No one writes about history like Judith Flanders. Reading her work (The Victorian City, Inside the Victorian Home) is like going back in time with an expert guide at your side. In her new book, The Making of Home, Flanders ventures beyond one city or time period to explore the political, religious, economic and social factors that led to the notions of home that still influence us today.