We mustn’t let the continuing plethora of books on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, not to mention commemorations of the War of 1812, mask the variety of history and military history books coming out this fall.
Still, wars—both hot and cold—have a strong presence. But authors of the top 10, many with stellar reputations (others with stellar sales), bring us new facts and perspectives and remove the rose (and red) colored lenses through which we have sometimes viewed historical events and figures.
NBCC award-winning historian Henry Wiencek, having closely examined the evolution of George Washington’s views on slavery, now treads on more treacherous ground in Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves—an unflinching, unforgiving portrait of our most eloquent spokesman for freedom as a committed slaveowner and racist.
A fresh contribution to the Civil War–era bookshelf is Walter Stahr’s biography of a member of the “team of rivals.” Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man brings out from Lincoln’s shadow the formidable William Seward, an antislavery governor and accomplished senator and secretary of state.
Sticking with American biography, we have National Book Award–winner Timothy Egan’s life of a man whose celebrated images of the Native American nations are more familiar than the photographer himself: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis rights this historic and artistic wrong.
The Dust Bowl is revisited by Ken Burns, with Dayton Duncan, in The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History. There will be an ccompanying a PBS documentary this fall.
Fox News star Bill O’Reilly will follow up his bestselling Killing Lincoln with Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, written again with coauthor Martin Dugard. Hopefully O’Reilly will pass his history exam this time; he’ll certainly get a perfect score on sales.
There remains much to be revealed about the era of brutal Chinese and Soviet Communist regimes. Pulitzer winner Anne Applebaum looks at the tragedy of Soviet satellite countries in Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956. And Mao: The Real Story by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine, picks apart Mao Zedong’s self-created and state-perpetuated myth to reveal a man with a lethally powerful political will and a weakness for young women.
What did the average Nazi soldier believe? This enduring question is answered in an unusual contribution to WWII history. Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying by Soenke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, translated by Jefferson Chase, presenting transcripts of secretly taped conversations among German POWs for the first time.
Thomas E. Ricks has written about the U.S. military for decades. Now he analyzes what he sees as a decline in the quality of our military leadershipin The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today.
And finally, let’s move to a different time and place: 18th-century France, where the model for Alexandre Dumas’s count of Monte Cristo could be found. A biracial child born in the Caribbean, he went on to swashbuckling feats of heroism in war and ended in Napoleon’s dungeons. Who was he? Alex Dumas—Alexandre’s own father, as Tom Reiss (author of the bestselling The Orientalist) relates in The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.
PW’s Top 10: History & Military History
Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Oct.
Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr. Simon & Schuster, Sept.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct.
The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History by Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan, Chronicle, Oct.
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard, Henry Holt, Oct.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956 by Anne Applebaum, Doubleday, Nov.
Mao: The Real Story by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine. Simon & Schuster, Oct.
Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying by Soenke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, trans. by Jefferson Chase, Knopf, Sept.
The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks, Penguin Press, Oct.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss, Crown, Sept.
Read and sort all our picks from this fall's history & military history titles in the spreadsheet below: