Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access the backissue database. PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital edition via our app or online. For more information on PW's new integrated subscription plan, click here. If you are currently a PW subscriber, click "Login" for full access to the site (if you have not done so already, you will need to set up your account for the new system by going here), or click the "Subscribe" button to become a PW subscriber. Email service@publishersweekly.com with questions.

Login or
Charlemagne

Johannes Fried, trans. from the German by Peter Lewis. Harvard Univ., $39.95 (662p) ISBN 978-0-674-73739-6

In this splendid biography, Fried (The Middle Ages), retired professor of medieval history at the University of Frankfurt, shows that Charlemagne remains a figured to be reckoned with even 12 centuries after his death. The book, excellently translated by Lewis, is arranged by topic, rather than chronology. This format helps to clearly present a broad picture. The importance of religion is stressed throughout the book, and Fried makes clear that from childhood Charlemagne understood that “the principal task of any ruler was to wage war.” The combination of his Christianity and his martial nature resulted in a 30-year war with the Saxons (772–804). Fried also elucidates the role the Franks played in Spain, both in the battle against the Basques at Roncevalles (778) and in later dealings with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. Charlemagne’s coronation in Rome as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 is examined from political and military viewpoints; Fried believes that Charlemagne, rather than Pope Leo III, was in control of the situation and had initiated the coronation. Other chapters cover court life, the revival of classical education, and Charlemagne’s determination to establish law and order in his domains. Fried stresses eschatological beliefs a bit more than necessary, perhaps because he’s studied them so extensively. This is a magisterial study of the life and times of the Frankish king who became the first Holy Roman Emperor. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Caliphate: The History of an Idea

Hugh Kennedy. Basic, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-09438-7

Kennedy (The Great Arab Conquests), a medieval historian and professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London, follows the threads of the centuries-long debate within the wider Islamic community over how to establish a secular system of governance capable of enforcing divine law. With no blueprint in the Qur’an and little thought given during the Prophet Muhammad’s life as to what would come after, early Muslims struggled to decide how rulers should be chosen, what their roles should be, and how laws should be adjudicated and applied. The various caliphates were no more nefarious or violent than any other type of government, and Kennedy’s engrossing and entertaining introduction highlights their impressive diversity. Many caliphs were great patrons of the arts and intellectual pursuits. For example, Abbasid Baghdad was “the first society in the history of the world in which a man or a woman could make a living as an author.” Fatimid caliph Haˉkim, on the other hand, “made decrees and new laws entirely on his own initiative, neither taking advice nor supporting them with traditions and precedents.” The Ottoman title of caliph “was never more than a vague honorific,” and its final abolition in 1924 changed little in the Muslim world, but Kennedy clearly shows the continuing power of this idea to incite controversy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts

J.W. Ocker. Countryman, $18.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-58157-339-8

This lively chronicle—part travel guide, part history lesson—charts the peculiar relationship between Haunted Happenings, the month-long Halloween celebration held annually in Salem, Mass., and the town’s historic legacy as the site where 20 people were executed during the infamous witch trials of 1692. As depicted by Ocker (Poe-Land), Salem’s embrace of what was once its stigma is a case of civics tempered by commercialism. Plaques and monuments around town call attention to the events of the early 1690s, but many historic sites have been built over—the site of the executions, for example, is now behind a Walgreens—and visitors are instead directed to self-styled museums that offer tours, wax dioramas, and historical reenactments. In the book’s most fascinating chapter, Ocker notes with irony that the Peabody Essex Museum, which possesses the only true artifacts from the trials, is endowed as an art museum and distances itself from the city’s branding for its October festivities. Ocker moves easily among the archivists, historians, and performers he interviews, and he describes the carnival atmosphere that descends upon “Witch City” with enthusiasm and vividness. 25 b&w photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness

Craig Nelson. Scribner, $32 (608p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6049-4

To mark the 75th anniversary of the battle that committed the U.S. to WWII and led directly to war with Japan, Nelson (The Age of Radiance) brings his formidable narrative talents to bear on this well-known history as he comprehensively contextualizes and covers the battle. The book opens with a focus on events leading up to the war; readers unfamiliar with the history will find the chaos and violence that characterized Japanese internal politics fascinating. The battle narration seamlessly moves back and forth from the strategic level to the grim fighting and surviving in the harbor. The book is both well researched and well balanced, with Nelson giving equal weight to the Japanese and American perspectives. To differentiate his work from the many previous volumes on this event, Nelson highlights the individual experiences of soldiers at the battle’s front and beyond. He also reconsiders the battle’s place in both Japanese and American culture and history, positing that this event marks the beginning of modern American history (a thesis that may be valid but here remains underdeveloped). Nelson’s well written history of Pearl Harbor will be enjoyed by the general reader and appropriately highlights the battle’s historical significance. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities

Rogers Brubaker. Princeton Univ, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-69117-235-4

Sociologist Brubaker (Grounds for Difference), a sociology professor at UCLA, seeks insight into the contemporary politics of belonging through his analysis of two high-profile cases of individual identity, both of which made headlines in 2015. Expanding on an article published in the academic journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, Brubaker examines the media narratives about Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman, and Rachel Dolezal, who claimed to be black, and suggests (not entirely successfully) that together these cases of publicly contested gender and ethnoracial identities are an “intellectual opportunity.” The author argues that the concept of transness has particular salience today, and that the way people think about transgender experiences could be fruitfully used to think about race as well. The book is organized into two sections: part one describes public perceptions of race and gender identity in reaction to the Jenner and Dolezal narratives, and part two argues for the usefulness of “thinking with trans” with regard to race. Such interdisciplinary efforts are welcome, but the execution in this case is hasty. Brubaker is reasonably well versed on the history and politics of transgender identity, but he nevertheless accepts Time magazine’s declaration of a “transgender tipping point” or a “trans moment” narrative of mainstream acceptance. Meanwhile, shifting notions of ethnoracial identity remain disappointingly underexplored. As a whole, the work leaves much room for further reflection and analysis. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America

David J. Silverman. Belknap, $29.95 (370p) ISBN 978-0-674-73747-1

Silverman, professor of history at George Washington University, ranges across the continent exploring the relationships between indigenous Americans and firearms, “an essential factor in the rise of some Native peoples and the fall of others.” From their earliest interactions with European colonists, indigenous Americans became aware of the advantages firearm possession offered not only in warfare but in hunting, trade, and diplomacy. Silverman structures his study by following the “gun frontier” from the 17th to the 19th century. Access to guns empowered individual groups of indigenous Americans, largely at the expense of tribal communities that lacked such weapons. In the Carolinas and Florida, for instance, indigenous groups with firearms took captives from rivals to sell as slaves to white plantation owners. Plains Indians peoples such as the Blackfeet succeeded in supplying themselves with guns and becoming expert in their use, but their inability to produce their own firearms led them into disastrously unbalanced trading arrangements with white Americans. This situation, in conjunction with disease epidemics, loss of grazing lands, and the ever-increasing spread of white settler colonists, would by the 1880s deprive even the best-armed Native Americans of their lands and sovereignty. Silverman tells this sad and bloody story with verve, making this an essential work for scholars of colonial encounters. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
A Plague on All Our Houses: Medical Intrigue, Hollywood, and the Discovery of AIDS

Bruce J. Hillman. ForeEdge, $29.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-61168-875-7

Hillman (The Man Who Stalked Einstein), professor of radiology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, chronicles the frightening early days of America’s AIDS epidemic in this riveting narrative. He relies on interviews with Michael Gottlieb, who was the first to describe the disease in 1981; Gottlieb’s ex-wife Cindy; and associates in the “scantly explored world of university physicians.” Hillman shares how Gottlieb, then an untenured assistant professor at UCLA, went up against bosses and administrators who isolated him; relates the denialism of the Reagan administration, which wouldn’t address the epidemic until 1987; and addresses the politics of research and rewards. Gottlieb rose to fame as a well-spoken medical expert, treating AIDS-stricken actor Rock Hudson and collaborating with Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor in establishing a foundation dedicated to AIDS research. Hillman’s intriguing portrait will deepen readers’ understanding of those who worked tirelessly to solve a medical mystery, nobly yearning to save lives and leave an indelible mark on human history. Hillman argues that the larger story of AIDS can teach “important lessons for the future” on how nations can better deal with emerging epidemics. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall

Nina Willner. Morrow, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-241031-3

Willner’s epic memoir traverses three generations of mothers, recounting the tragedy, estrangement, and overwhelming courage of a family torn apart by the ideological division of Germany during the Cold War. Willner, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, weaves familial legends of escape from farmsteads guarded by roving East German border patrols, with tales of international espionage at the 1958 World’s Fair. Her interrogative and unabashed voice explores the painful intersection of national duty and familial responsibilities, as when she describes the first encounter of her maternal grandfather and her father in 1959: “The two shook hands: the tall East German and onetime soldier in the Third Reich meeting his new son-in-law, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor and now a U.S. Army intelligence officer.” Faced with government-sanctioned propaganda and manipulation, readers follow a family of educators led by their daughters as they attempt to navigate “the fabric of East German society [that] began to fray under the yoke of an Orwellian climate of oppression.” Willner’s depiction of the brutal East German regime and the fight of one family to unite is a thrilling and relevant read for historians and casual readers alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Nobody’s Son: A Memoir

Mark Slouka. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-29230-5

Madness, war, persecution, and suburban anomie warp a family in this sometimes grim, sometimes luminous memoir. Novelist Slouka (Brewster) is the son of Czechs who survived wartime German occupation, then fled the Communist regime to settle in the U.S., where they languished in the cultural wasteland of their Bethlehem, Pa., subdivision. Slouka’s parents’ epically bad marriage was dominated by the deepening mental illness of his mother, Olga, which featured paranoid delusions, shrieking rages over trivialities, and worse. Slouka foregrounds his claustrophobic relationship with Olga as it shifted from sunny warmth to hurricane-strength hatred and then, after decades, to a distance that gives insight into her polarities. (He suggests that she was molested by her father in her youth.) Slouka’s reminiscences of his childhood are vivid and novelistic, but sometimes they become bogged down in ruminations on the fallibility of memory and middle-class American family dysfunctions he witnessed. The book shines when he imagines his parents’ more compelling travails in the 1940s, supplemented by his own travel to Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, where he discovered a hidden romance that’s the key to Olga’s character. In the end, he manages to recover deep personal meaning from tragic history. Photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year

Steve Turner. Ecco, $27.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-247548-0

Fifty years ago, in 1966, the Beatles did something that would forever change the way recording artists approach their work: they decided to quit touring and devote their creative energies to pushing musical and technical boundaries in the studio. In this detailed look at that pivotal year, music journalist Turner (The Beatles: The Stories Behind the Songs, 1962–1966) chronicles the personal and artistic struggles of the Beatles as they transitioned from a pop group playing to throngs of screaming teenage girls to four young men wrestling with their individual artistic impulses and personal growth. The summer tour of 1966 finally pushed the band to quit the road and hit the studio. The band was arguably hitting its creative peak, breaking new—if risky—musical ground. When John Lennon played “Tomorrow Never Knows” for Bob Dylan, Dylan famously replied: “Oh, I get it. You don’t want to be cute any more.” “Paperback Writer,” “Taxman,” and “Strawberry Fields” were a far cry from “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” And after years of being locked up in hotel rooms, the Beatles happily pursued cultural interests and experimenting with drugs. Going month by month, Turner aims to “slow things down”—and at times, the book moves a bit too slowly. Pacing aside, Turner succeeds in creating an illuminating portrait of the Beatles, both as a band and as individual artists. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.