From the port of Hong Kong to the red light district of New Orleans, from a coal mine in Copiapó, Chile, to a concentration camp north of Berlin, this season’s top history books take us around the world, but the real trend to emerge this fall is accounts of war told from the perspective of those in the line of command—both high and low.
Arizona Sen. John McCain’s book Thirteen Soldiers offers a fresh take on military history by exploring each major American military conflict through the experiences of one soldier. McCain and his longtime coauthor Mark Salter evoke the lives of 13 soldiers in all, each personifying a different aspect of the military ethos, as McCain sees it.
Last season saw the release of a major biography on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; this fall the attention shifts to his comrade, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. S.C. Gwynne carves out an especially strong story arc in his biography Rebel Yell by focusing on Jackson’s transformation from highly eccentric college physics professor into one of the most famous military figures in the Western world.
The buzz around George Marshall, the other major military biography this season, comes entirely from its authors: Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Irwin Unger, former journalist Debi Unger, and the late historian Stanley Hirshson, author of two other biographies on American generals.
Sarah Helm’s Ravensbrück examines a Nazi concentration camp that has been left out of most mainstream histories of WWII. All the prisoners at the camp were female, and only 10% were Jewish.
James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, and The Imperial Cruise, returns with The China Mirage, which combines the contentious history of U.S.-China relations from the 19th century to the rise of Mao, into one sweeping narrative. Among the players we encounter in Bradley’s narrative is seafarer Warren Delano, and his grandson Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is one of the central figures in another title this fall. The Roosevelts by Geoffrey C. Ward and filmmaker Ken Burns is akin to a family album. Rich in detail, yet accessible for the casual reader, the narrative explores the lives of Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin, following them through tragedy and triumph.
Ruth Goodman’s book, How to Be Victorian, is the oddball of the bunch. The author dives into the lives of ordinary people from Victorian times by re-creating their living conditions from morning to night. Gary Krist takes readers deep into the cultural roots of New Orleans circa the late 1890s with Empire of Sin, which paints a luminous portrait of a city on the brink of urban decay.
The most recent story to make it into history books this season is from August 2010: Deep Down Dark relates what happened when 33 miners were trapped for 69 days in a collapsed mine in Copiapó, Chile. Who better to collect and convey the retrospective journeys of all 33 men than novelist and Pulitzer-Prize–winning journalist Héctor Tobar?
Amid the many depictions of war this fall, one book thankfully focuses on the peace process. Following 2013’s Going Clear, a PW best book of the year, Lawrence Wright returns with Thirteen Days in September, offering a day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference where President Carter made the persistent push for the first Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
PW’s Top 10: History & Military History
The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia. James Bradley. Little, Brown, Oct. 21
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free. Héctor Tobar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Oct. 7
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Gary Krist. Crown, Oct. 28
George Marshall: A Biography. Debi Unger, Irwin Unger, and Stanley Hirshson. Harper, Oct. 21
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. Ruth Goodman. Norton/Liveright, Oct. 6
Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Sarah Helm. Doubleday/Talese, Nov. 18
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. S.C. Gwynne. Scribner, Sept. 30
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. Knopf, Sept. 9
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David. Lawrence Wright. Knopf, Sept. 16
Thirteen Soldiers. John McCain and Mark Salter. Simon & Schuster, Nov. 11
History & Military History Listings
Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson (Nov. 4, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-8021-2614-6). British-American historian Gibson traces the story of the Caribbean, from European discovery through colonialism to today, offering a panoramic view of this complex region and its rich history.
Leningrad: Siege and Symphony: The Story of the Great City Terrorized by Stalin, Starved by Hitler, Immortalized by Shostakovich by Brian Moynahan (Oct. 7, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-8021-2316-9) offers a mix of military, political, and cultural history surrounding the composition and performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, amid the tragic canvas of the siege of Leningrad.
The Lost Tribe of Coney: Island Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century by Claire Prentice (Oct. 14, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-544-26228-7) presents a tale of sex, greed, and the American dream: a huckster imports a tribe of Filipinos to Coney Island’s Luna Park, and two cultures collide.
Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune by John Merriman (Dec. 9, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-465-02017-1). Even though the Paris Commune lasted for only 64 days in 1871, it gave rise to some of the grandest political dreams of the 19th century and shook the very foundations of Europe.
Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Brookhiser (Oct. 14, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-465-03294-5). Brookhiser’s new biography of Abraham Lincoln highlights the 16th president’s lifelong struggle to carry on the work of the founding fathers.
The Radical King by Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Cornel West (Jan. 13, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-8070-1282-6). Arranged thematically in four parts, this revealing collection combines 21 writings from Dr. King, selected and introduced by Cornel West.
The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love, and Betrayal by Robert Sackville-West (Jan. 6, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-63286-043-9) exposes the dark side of English history, as ancient wealth mixes with modern manners in this family drama set in the 19th century.
Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home by Robert M. Poole (Oct. 21, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-62040-293-1). Using Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery as a window into the latest wars, Poole recounts stories of courage and sacrifice by fallen soldiers.
America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation by John Bicknell (Nov. 1, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-61373-010-2) details the numerous interwoven events of the year 1844 that profoundly affected the U.S. as a nation.
In Search of the Movement: The Struggle for Civil Rights Then and Now by Benjamin Hedin (Jan. 6, paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-87286-647-8). A definitive account of the legacy of the civil rights movement, and the work that continues to be done today. Combining history with journalism and travelogue, Hedin offers a meditation on patterns of history and the meaning and limits of American freedom.
(dist. by PGW)
River of Ink by Thomas Christensen (Dec. 16, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-61902-426-7). The essays in this illustrated collection travel across time and culture offering what amounts to a magisterial history of literacy.
Behind San Quentin’s Walls: The History of California’s Legendary Prison and Its Inmates, 1851–1900 by William B. Secrest (Nov. 1, paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-61035-221-5) reveals the exciting true story of the beginnings and early years of California’s oldest prison, from its origins as a real estate scam to its pioneer role in taming a lawless new territory—a rip-roaring Wild West tale of escapes, gunfights, brawls, and frontier justice.
The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War by Yochi Dreazen (Oct. 7, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-385-34783-9). Journalist Dreazen presents the story of an Army family who lost two sons—one to suicide and one in combat—as a way of understanding the risk of suicide, substance abuse, and PTSD on and off the battlefield.
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist (Oct. 28, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-7704-3706-0). From the author of the bestselling City of Scoundrels, the story of New Orleans’s 30-year war against itself, pitting the city’s elite “better half” against its long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime.
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney (Oct. 14, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-307-95676-7). Leading Egyptologist Cooney recounts the story of Hatshepsut, the longest-reigning female pharaoh in ancient Egypt and her audacious rise to power in a man’s world. .
How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman (Sept. 2, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-306-82355-8) portrays a true tale of greed, lust, deceit, theft, charlatanry, kidnapping, and assassination in the final years of Marie Antoinette’s court.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (Aug. 5, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-385-53537-3). Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age.
Doubleday/Nan A. Talese
Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm (Nov. 18, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-385-52059-1). A account of Ravensbrück: the largest female-only concentration camp, where more than 100,000 women of more than 20 nationalities were imprisoned.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar (Oct. 7, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-374-28060-4) offers the exclusive, official story of the survival, faith, and family of the 33 men trapped in a collapsed mine outside of Copiapó, Chile, in August 2010.
Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad by Brian A. Catlos (Aug. 26, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-8090-5837-2). An in-depth portrait of the Mediterranean world during the Crusades, and a new understanding of the forces that shaped it.
The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land: A True Detective Story by Patrick Bishop (Dec. 2, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-226782-5).
A renowned British military historian revisits the controversial murder of Zionist leader Avraham Stern, head of Israel’s notorious Stern Gang, in Tel Aviv during WWII.
George Marshall: A Biography by Debi Unger, Irwin Unger, and Stanley Hirshson (Oct. 21, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-06-057719-3) is a major historical biography of George C. Marshall—the general who ran the U.S. campaign during WWII, the secretary of state who oversaw the successful rebuilding of postwar Europe, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution by Richard Whittle (Sept. 16, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-8050-9964-5) relates the story of the birth of the Predator drone, a wonder weapon that has transformed the American military, reshaped modern warfare, and sparked a revolution in aviation.
Hill and Wang
After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan by Ted Rall (Sept. 2, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-8090-2340-0) is one determined journalist’s effort to bring the realities of life in 21st-century Afghanistan to the world using a mix of travelogue, photography, and award-winning comics.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex by Shane Harris (Nov. 11, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-544-25179-3) investigates the next generation of war: how the Pentagon, NSA, and other government agencies are uniting with corporations to fight in cyberspace.
The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington by Gregg Herken (Oct. 28, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-307-27118-1) examines post-WWII Washington and the close-knit group of journalists, spies, and government officials who waged the Cold War over cocktails and dinner.
Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth, trans. by Ruth Martin (Sept. 2, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-307-95967-6). Winner of the 2011 German NDR book award for best nonfiction, this book offers a total reassessment of the life of Adolf Eichmann that reveals his activities and notoriety among a global network of National Socialists following the collapse of the Third Reich.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright (Sept. 16, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-385-35203-1). A dramatic, illuminating day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to sign a peace treaty—the first treaty in the modern Middle East, and one which endures to this day.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Sept. 9, hardcover, $60, ISBN 978-0-307-70023-0). This revelatory book is an intimate history of three extraordinary individuals from the same extraordinary family—Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia by James Bradley (Oct. 21, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-316-19667-3). From the bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, and The Imperial Cruise comes a history of turbulent U.S.-China relations from the 19th century to WWII and Mao’s ascent.
The Rush: America’s Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848–1853 by Edward Dolnick (Aug. 12, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-316-17568-5). Offering a new portrait of the Gold Rush, Dolnick takes us to the frenzied gold fields and the rowdy cities that sprang from nothing to jam-packed chaos.
Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz (Sept. 9, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-33276-7). The award-winning broadcaster recounts the final 365 days of King’s life, revealing the minister’s trials and tribulations.
Navy Seals: The Untold Story by Dick Couch and William Doyle (Nov. 11, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-233660-6) provides a history of the U.S. Navy SEALs, from their roots in WWII to their celebrated efforts against terrorism, written with full cooperation of Naval Special Warfare and timed to tie in with an upcoming PBS series.
The Return of George Washington: How the United States Was Reborn by Edward Larson (Oct. 21, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224867-1). The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals how Washington saved the United States by coming out of retirement to lead the Constitutional Convention and serve as president.
(dist. by Random)
The First Lady of Radio: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Historic Broadcasts, edited by Stephen Drury Smith (Nov. 4, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-62097-042-3). Published to coincide with an American Radioworks documentary, this is the first compilation of Eleanor Roosevelt’s historic radio appearances, culled from the archives and set into context by radio producer Smith.
Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War by Jamie Malanowski (Oct. 20, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-393-24089-4). The lead writer of the New York Times’s “Disunion” series introduces William Barker Cushing, the Civil War’s most celebrated naval hero.
Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King (Sept. 15, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-393-08914-1) brings to life a vibrant era in Turkish history, on the brink of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, when a storied city stumbled into the modern world and reshaped the meaning of cosmopolitanism.
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (Oct. 6, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-87140-485-5). Drawing on her own adventures living in re-created Victorian conditions, Goodman serves as our bustling guide to 19th-century life.
Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson (Nov. 17, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-87140-454-1) explores in a serious and seriously entertaining manner the dark and varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.
A History of War in 100 Battles by Richard Overy (Nov. 3, hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-0-19-939071-7). A military historian plumbs more than 3,000 years of history, from the fall of Troy in 1200 B.C.E. to the fall of Baghdad in 2003, to locate the 100 battles that he believes are the most momentous.
Gaza: A History by Jean-Pierre Filiu (Sept. 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-020189-0) offers the first complete history of Gaza, beginning with the Hyksos in 18th century B.C.E., up to modern times and the ongoing disputes of the region.
Knife Fights: An Education in Modern War by John A. Nagl (Oct. 16, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-498-2). A memoir from the foremost expert in counterinsurgency recounting the revolution in warfare he helped lead, in combat and in Washington.
Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson (Oct. 7, hardcover, $32.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-497-5). The dean of Civil War historians and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom provides a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy.
Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 by Stephen Kotkin (Nov. 6, hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-1-59420-379-4). The first volume in Kotkin’s biography on the Soviet dictator proves that there is still much to learn about Stalin’s monstrous power and of Russian power in the world.
One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War by Bing West (Sept. 9, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-4000-6874-6). The Marine combat veteran and former assistant secretary of defense offers an account of one Marine platoon attempting to control the most violent district in Afghanistan, and the policy makers who failed them.
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne (Sept. 30, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-4516-7328-9). From the author of Empire of the Summer Moon comes the story of how Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson became a great and tragic American hero.
Simon & Schuster
Thirteen Soldiers by John McCain and Mark Salter (Nov. 11, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-4767-5965-4) tells the history of Americans at war, through the stories of 13 remarkable American soldiers who fought in the nation’s major military conflicts.
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein (Aug. 5, hardcover, $37.50, ISBN 978-1-4767-8241-6). The bestselling author of Nixonland portrays America on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the tumultuous political and economic times of the 1970s.
The West Point History of the Civil War by Timothy Strabbing with the United States Military Academy (Oct. 21, hardcover, $45, ISBN 978-1-4767-8262-1). The first volume in a new series of military histories authorized by West Point combines the expertise of preeminent historians, hundreds of maps uniquely created by cartographers, and numerous images selected from the archives.
Nixon’s Secrets: The Truth About Watergate and the Pardon by Roger Stone with Mike Colapietro (Sept. 2, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-62914-603-4) examines the bungled Watergate break-in to determine what exactly Nixon’s agents were looking for and how the CIA infiltrated the burglar team and sabotaged the break-in.
Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries by Rory MacLean (Oct. 21, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05186-8) tells the city’s volatile history over five centuries through a series of intimate portraits of two dozen key residents.
Univ. of California
The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union: A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest by Stephen Tuck (Nov. 20, hardcover, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-520-27933-9). Weeks before his assassination, Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford Union, the prestigious student debating organization in the United Kingdom. This book brings to life the dramatic events surrounding the visit.
The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931 by Adam Tooze (Nov. 13, hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-0-670-02492-6). A century after the outbreak of WWI, Tooze revisits this seismic moment in history, challenging the existing narrative of the war, its peace, and its after-effects.
Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries by Lorri Glover (Sept. 30, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-300-17860-9). As the bold fathers of the American Revolution left behind their private lives to become public nation-builders, this book relates what happened to their families.