Individuals make history through their choices and actions, but together those individual actions add up to forces that change our world. This fall presents a range of stories from the personal to the epic that make history so endlessly fascinating—and one century looks pivotal.
To begin with individuals: just four months after JFK's assassination, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. interviewed Jackie Kennedy in previously sealed sessions. Now her daughter offers Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, with fresh insights into JFK's political life, campaigns, and presidency, and Jackie's views on political figures of the time and more personal matters. Will there be revelations? Look for the ABC Prime Time special.
Race relations are considered the United States' original sin by many, including radical abolitionist John Brown, whose actions Tony Horwitz vividly details in Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War. A hundred years later, race still convulsed the U.S., and in Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, David Margolick takes an emblematic photograph of school desegregation in 1957—a black high school student walks through a gauntlet toward Little Rock High School as a white student screams with hatred at her—and recounts those two women's growing friendship, and its ultimate collapse, to trace how race still plays out in America.
Tom Brokaw focuses on his South Dakota family and other families, over four generations in The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise to highlight changes in the American dream and American values and to question what the future could be in all of our lives. War often interrupts the time of our lives, and Karl Marlantes, the award-winning author of Matterhorn, in trying to make sense of his own wartime experiences, analyzes war's psychological and spiritual toll on soldiers in What It Is Like to Go to War. Even without overt war, nations can go astray, as historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg shows in The Unmaking of Israel, as he carefully explains how Israel's policies have changed over time to undercut democracy and the country's existence as a Jewish state. Individual behavior can even be responsible for what look like natural calamities, as Thomas Keneally shows in Three Famines: Starvation and Politics; he examines the famines in 1840s Ireland, 1943 Bengal, and 1970s and '80s Ethiopia and demonstrates how greed, government incompetence, and ideology played a greater role than blight or crop failure.
Even so broad-ranging a change as the Renaissance may have begun with one man's discovery and translation, in the 15th century, of an ancient manuscript by Lucretius; so says Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. The author of Will in the World describes how this act inspired artists, philosophers, and writers. Niall Ferguson takes the broad view, considering, in Civilization: The West and the Rest, how the West rose to dominate the rest of the world, highlighting the concepts, beginning in the 15th century, that made it happen, including science, the rule of law, consumerism, and competition. The 15th century proved crucial in many ways, and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann shows it's not humans alone that make history. The spread of plants and animals to and from the Americas after Columbus's journeys affected all aspects of culture. Tomatoes, corn, and horses are just a few among that momentous exchange.
PW's Top 10 History & Military History
Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy
Edited by Caroline Kennedy, with annotations by Michael Beschloss. Hyperion, Sept.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz. Henry Holt, Oct.
Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock
David Margolick. Yale Univ. Press, Sept.
The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise
Tom Brokaw. Random House, Nov.
What It Is Like to Go to War
Karl Marlantes. Grove/Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press, Sept.
The Unmaking of Israel
Gershom Gorenberg. HarperCollins, Nov.
Three Famines: Starvation and Politics
Thomas Keneally. PublicAffairs, Aug.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Stephen Greenblatt. W.W. Norton, Sept.
Civilization: The West and the Rest
Niall Ferguson. Penguin Press, Nov.
1493: Uncovering the New World
Charles C. Mann. Knopf, Aug.