This season’s top history books mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution and the American entry into WWI.
The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny
Michael Wallis. Norton/Liveright, Apr. 18
The author of Route 66, Billy the Kid, Pretty Boy, and David Crockett brings his expertise to the infamous saga of the Donner party, providing a cautionary tale of America’s westward expansion.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917—A World on the Edge
Helen Rappaport. St. Martin’s, Feb. 7
The author of The Romanov Sisters relates the outbreak of the Russian revolution through eyewitness accounts left by foreign nationals who saw the drama unfold.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann. Doubleday, Apr. 18
According to PW’s starred review, Grann “burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative,” which revisits a spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s.
Lenin on the Train
Catherine Merridale. Metropolitan, Mar. 28
A celebrated scholar of Russian history offers an account of Lenin’s 1917 rail trip from Zurich to Petrograd, and the underground conspiracy and subterfuge that went into making it happen.
March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution
Will Englund. Norton, Mar. 7
A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist examines the month leading up to the Russian Revolution and America’s entrance into WWI.
October: The Story of the Russian Revolution
China Miéville. Verso, May 9
Acclaimed fantasy author Miéville, who has long been inspired by the ideals of the Russian revolution, chronicles the events leading up to Red October.
The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II
Svetlana Alexievich, trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Random House, July 25
This English translation of Noble Prize-winner Alexievich’s first book collects the experiences of women from across Europe and Russia in WWII.
The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China
Philip Ball. Univ. of Chicago, Mar. 31
The renowned science writer provides a cultural history of China that explores how the ubiquitous relationship of the Chinese people to water has made it an enduring metaphor for philosophical thought and artistic expression.
Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine
Raja Shehadeh. New Press, June 13
The Palestinian lawyer, novelist, and political activist and author of Palestinian Walks infuses memoir with history in this exploration of Palestinian-Israeli relationships.
Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals
Jeremy McCarter. Random House, June 13
A portrait of five young American radicals whose lives intersect in the years leading up to and during World War I, by the coauthor of Hamilton: The Revolution.
Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich (Apr. 4, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-8021-2663-4) shows how four rulers—all born between 1491 and 1500—collectively shaped modern Europe and the Middle East.
Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905–1953 by Simon Ings (Feb. 7, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-8021-2598-9) tells the story of the many scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the revolution through the death of Joseph Stalin, and looks at what happens when science falls prey to politics.
A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism by Carol Berkin (May 2, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-465-06088-7) argues that while the revolution freed the states and the Constitution linked them as never before, it was the Federalists who transformed the states into an enduring nation.
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel (Feb. 21, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-62040-948-0) relates the making of the 1952 American western film High Noon, and how screenwriter Carl Foreman’s concept of the film evolved from idea to first draft to final script, taking on allegorical weight as he was forced to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his former membership in the Communist Party.
Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett (Mar. 7, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-63286-520-5) chronicles the life of Isabella of Castile, whose marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon in 1479 united two kingdoms, setting the stage for Spain’s golden era of global dominance.
The Locomotive of War: Money, Empire, Power, and Guilt by Peter Clarke (July 18, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-62040-660-1) studies the power of war through the trajectories of David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, John Maynard Keynes, Woodrow Wilson, and F.D.R., while examining the interplay between key figures in the context of unprecedented all-out wars (both in 1914 and 1939) and the broader dynamics of history during an extraordinary period.
Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock (May 9, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-8041-3728-7) writes the violence back into the story of the American Revolution, arguing that it was not only a high-minded battle over principles but also a profoundly violent civil war.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Apr. 18, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-385-53424-6) revisits a baffling spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s in which at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Autumn of the Black Snake by William Hogeland (May 16, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-374-10734-5) conjures up the woodland battles and hardball politics that formed the Legion of the United States, the country’s first true standing army, when in 1783 the newly independent United States found itself losing an escalating military conflict on its borderlands.
30 Days a Black Man: The Forgotten Story That Exposed the Jim Crow South by Bill Steigerwald (Apr. 1, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-4930-2618-0) relates of how Ray Sprigle, a white journalist from Pittsburgh, and Wesley Dobbs, Atlanta’s a black civil rights activist from Atlanta, worked together to report on the everyday experiences of African-Americans living in the Jim Crow South.
The Notorious Reno Gang: The Wild Story of the West’s First Brotherhood of Thieves, Assassins, and Train Robbers by Rachel Dickinson (May 1, hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-4930-2639-5) tells the story of the Reno brothers and their gang of counterfeiters, robbers, burglars, and safecrackers who held the town of Seymour, Ind., hostage, and the robbery that caught the attention of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency.
On This Date: Discovering America One Day at a Time by Carl Cannon (July 18, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-4555-4230-7) tells stories behind specific dates in U.S. history, for example, how Eisenhower spent the night before D-Day, why Lincoln lost the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and how Baby Ruth candy bars got their name. 35,000-copy announced first printing.
Man’s Better Angels: Romantic Reformers and the Coming of the Civil War by Philip F. Gura (Apr. 10, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-65954-4) highlights an intellectual moment overshadowed by the Civil War through the reform efforts of seven individuals—George Ripley, Horace Greeley, William B. Greene, Orson Squire Fowler, Mary Gove Nichols, Henry David Thoreau, and John Brown—following the Panic of 1837.
Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger (May 16, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-62779-832-7) tells of the 1968 race—over the course of just 16 weeks—to prepare an untested rocket to launch humankind’s first flight to the moon.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, trans. by Shaun Whiteside (May 16, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-328-66379-5), reveals Nazi Germany’s all-consuming reliance on drugs. Troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth, and even Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs—including a form of heroin—administered by his personal doctor. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton (May 30, hardcover, $29, ISBN 978-0-544-36996-2) looks at the rise and fall the open range cattle era following the Civil War and its legacy, taking readers from dust-choked cattle drives to boomtowns like Abilene, Kans., and Cheyenne, Wyo., and featuring a range of players—from expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president, Teddy Roosevelt. 25,000-copy announced first printing.
When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph, and Its Aftermath by Stuart Isacoff (Apr. 18, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-385-35218-5) narrates the 1958 international piano competition in Moscow, where, at the height of Cold War tensions, an American musician showed the potential of art to change the world.
Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (May 16, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-37089-9) explores the bond between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his pet starling, along with a natural history of the bird. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception by Annie Jacobsen (Mar. 28, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-316-34936-9) reveals the 40-year history of U.S. government-funded classified programs that study the role of mental telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP) as a means of intelligence collection.
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale (Mar. 28, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-62779-301-8) recounts Lenin’s 1917 rail journey from Zurich to Petrograd, where he delivered an explosive address to a crowd of Bolshevik supporters. She argues that the train ride served as the genesis for a system of tyranny and faith that transformed the international political climate.
Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin by Paul Hockenos (May 23, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-62097-195-6) tours the subcultures, occupied squats, and late-night scenes in the anarchic first few years of Berlin after the fall of the wall and shows how the artistic fervor of the early 1990s shaped the new Berlin and still pulses through the city today.
Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine by Raja Shehadeh (June 13, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-62097-291-5). The author of Palestinian Walks chronicles the various crossings that he undertook into Israel over a period of 40 years to visit friends and family, to enjoy the sea, to argue before the Israeli courts, and to negotiate failed peace agreements.
City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker (Mar. 21, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-393-23978-2). This true crime narrative follows Nicolas de la Reynie, who was assigned by Louis XIV to bring order to the city of Paris, in the late 17th century as he discovers a tightly knit network of witches, poisoners, and priests whose reach extends all the way to Versailles.
March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution by Will Englund (Mar. 7, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-393-29208-4) draws on contemporary diaries, memoirs, and newspaper accounts to detail the month before America entered World War I.
The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis (Apr. 18, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-87140-769-6) demythologizes the saga of how an unlikely band of nearly 90 pioneers—stratified in age, wealth, education, and ethnicity—headed west in pursuit of the American Dream and what went wrong along the way.
Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson by Christina Snyder (Mar. 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-939906-2) reinterprets the history of Jacksonian America by examining an experimental community in central Kentucky called Great Crossings, home to the first federal Indian school and a famous interracial family.
American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution by A. Roger Ekirch (Feb. 21, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-307-37990-0) reports on the mutiny aboard the frigate HMS Hermione in 1797—the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by the Royal Navy—that led to the extradition from America, and the hanging by the British, of the sailor Jonathan Robbins.
Castles: Their History and Evolution in Medieval Britain by Marc Morris (Apr. 4, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-68177-359-9) explores Britain’s most famous castles, as well as some lesser-known examples—who built them, who lived in them, and why—as a way to understand the forces that shaped medieval Britain.
The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich, trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (July 25, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-399-58872-3), is an oral history of women’s experiences in Europe and Russia during WWII, both on the front lines, on the home front, and in occupied territories, brought together by the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, originally published in Russian in 1985 and newly translated.
Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals by Jeremy McCarter (June 13, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-8129-9305-9) is a portrait of five young American radicals whose lives intersect as they struggle to keep their ideals alive leading up to and during World War I, written by the coauthor of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: The Revolution.
The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English (May 2, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-59463-428-4) is an account of how a band of Malians risked their lives to save priceless ancient manuscripts from destruction in al-Qaeda–occupied Timbuktu, interwoven with the 19th-century race to the famed, mythologized city.
Rowman & Littlefield
John Hay, Friend of Giants: The Man and Life Connecting Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Theodore Roosevelt by Philip McFarland (Mar., hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-4422-2281-6) presents the intimate story of Hay’s relationship with four prominent figures of his age as a window into the politics, literature, and diplomacy of an era of American expansion.
The Odyssey of Echo Company: The Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle of Echo Company to Survive the Vietnam War by Doug Stanton (May 9, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-4767-6191-6) is about the 12 young Americans who survived 60 days on the run from North Vietnamese soldiers during the Tet offensive, at the height of the Vietnam War, based on hundreds of hours of interviews, dozens of detailed letters written to and from the soldiers, and a huge trove of Pentagon after-action reports.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917—A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport (Feb. 7, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05664-1) tells of the outbreak of the Russian revolution through eyewitness accounts left by foreign nationals who saw the drama unfold, such as an English nurse who survived the sinking of the Titanic; the black valet of the U.S. Ambassador, far from his native Deep South; and suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who had come to Petrograd to inspect the Women’s Death Battalion, led by Maria Bochkareva.
Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Tom Clavin (Feb. 28, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-250-07148-4) relates the story of two young and largely self-trained lawmen who led the effort that established frontier justice and the rule of law in the American West, specifically the depraved and criminal town of Dodge City, Kans.
Murder in the City: New York, 1910–1920 by Wilfried Kaute (June 13, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-250-12869-0) is a time capsule of crime and murder in New York in the decade of the 1910s, documented through more than 150 photographs, medical and police reports, testimonies, and analysis from the era.
Univ. of Chicago
American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream by Julia L. Mickenberg (Apr. 25, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-226-25612-2) is a forgotten counterpoint to the story of the Lost Generation: beginning in the late 19th century, Russian revolutionary ideology attracted many women, including suffragists, reformers, educators, journalists, and artists, as well as curious travelers, who came to Russia in search of social arrangements that would be more equitable, just, and satisfying.
The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball (Mar. 31, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-226-36920-4). Drawing on stories from travelers and explorers, poets and painters, bureaucrats and activists, Ball explores how the relationship of the Chinese people to water has made it an enduring metaphor for philosophical thought and artistic expression.
October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville (May 9, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-78478-277-1). The renowned fantasy and science fiction writer has long been inspired by the ideals of the Russian revolution and, on the centenary of the revolution, he provides his own distinctive take on Russian history.
The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell, trans. by Henning Koch (Feb. 7, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-7352-2122-2 ), recounts the Nazis’ systematic pillaging of Europe’s libraries, and the heroic efforts of the few librarians now working to return the stolen books to their owners.
Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (Feb. 7, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-670-02590-9) offers a fresh portrait of Lincoln as the beleaguered politician who was not especially popular with the people he needed to govern, and who had to deal with the many critics, naysayers, and dilemmas he faced without always knowing the right answer.
Claretta: Mussolini’s Last Lover by R.J.B. Bosworth (Feb., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-300-22323-1) illuminates the tumultuous relationship of Il Duce and his young lover Claretta, whose intimate diaries only recently have become available.