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Though it looms large in history, information on the Norman invasion of England is sparse, the primary source being the Bayeux Tapestry, itself likely commissioned by William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Norris has attempted to recreate the events leading up to and immediately following the Conquest, using sources as close to the events as possible. With an absorbing narrative, he manages to use these oh-so-brief glimpses into a world almost ten centuries past to recreate memorable characters and complex events. Part narrative history, part historiography, and part investigative journalism, his fascinating tale sheds new light on the tangled early history of the English nation. ~ Tim
Clearly inspired by the cultural and diplomatic intricacies of the Eastern Roman Empire, this immersive space opera dwells less on set-piece battles than it does on political intrigue and imperial finery. Thoughtful and at times overwhelming in its detail, the saga's themes of identity, language, and politics make for an immensely satisfying tale
An enthusiastic, wandering memoir built around falling in love with a language. Norris's enthusiasm for all things Greek is palpable and infectious, be it the finer points of the Greek language or the visceral pleasures of the seaside towns dotting the Aegean. The stories of her exploits, from shoddy ferries to New York theater to being caught naked on the beach, all bloom from the dual love of the language and the land it inhabits.
Hastings blends personal experience and a knack for military history to craft an incredible history of all that's gone wrong for a country across 30 years.
Few historians are as well-positioned to elucidate the timeless qualities of our greatest presidents than Goodwin, and she does so here with aplomb. In an era when politics is reduced to tribal posturing and a disturbing willingness to cut off the nose to spite the face, this book is a much-needed reminder of how great leaders transcend party dictates and populist whims. An erudite, engrossing portrait of leaders able to meld ambition and moral purpose to better the lives of those they serve.
Even for a nation with a history as comparatively short as our own, it is difficult to effectively survey its story in a single volume. That Lepore manages to do so is impressive in its own right, but the manner in which she accomplishes it is doubly so. Avoiding tired tropes and unafraid to directly deal with thorny issues like slavery, Lepore still manages to convey the singular audacity and ambition of the American experiment. A timely reminder that, when we remember the titular truths espoused by the nation's (flawed) founders, America is capable of more than its worst instincts.
Occupying a middle ground between memoir and history, Alone chronicles the events of 1940 from the perspective of a young boy in England. Korda eloquently conveys the dire mood of that perilous time, and how the seemingly bleak fiasco of Dunkirk would ultimately stiffen Britain's resolve to stand against the Axis powers, even when it looked as though none would stand with them.
Retellings of Greek epics seem to be in vogue, but this lament of the Trojan women is perhaps the most potent.
A fascinating fantasy world, filled with great characters and intriguing plots.
Most fantasy follows in the footsteps of Tolkien, drawing liberally from European mythology. It's refreshing when a story originates from a different well, and doubly so when the story and characters are so well-written that you simply can't get enough. With Ottoman Cairo as its launch point, City of Brass jumps, sneaks, and flies across a world grounded in the familiar, but delightfully fantastic in its construction. Magic, history, politics, romance, and action all collide in a thoroughly engrossing tale.
In this grim and absorbing epic drawn from Scandinavian history, Hartsuyker captures a violent, turbulent world with vivid prose and memorable characters. Having enough adventure, intrigue, and skullduggery to satisfy Game of Thrones' fans, this tale is brutal and uncompromising, yet beautiful in its own way.
The political and social upheaval in America is not unique, and Snyder deftly puts it in the context of trends in Europe and Russia. Beginning with the death of the Polish president in 2010, he traces the rise of populist sentiment, fear-mongering in politics, and the emergence of "post-truth" news media with the nuanced, unsparing eye of an investigative journalist. History, philosophy, and journalism combine for a fascinating, if upsetting, analysis.
In an America ravaged by another civil war and climate change, a young refugee begins a journey to become a resistance leader. El Akkad's experiences in the Middle East lend weight and realism to the descriptions of modern military occupation, from unmanned drone attacks to IEDs, jarringly set in the American South. Often grim, but always engrossing, it is a timely exploration of the reality of modern war, the people that suffer its consequences, and the reasons for resistance.
A strange, fascinating book about time traveling immortals attempting to create Plato's ideal society. A tale that veers from Iron Age Greece to a distant planet in the 26th century, featuring a memorable cast of mortals and gods. Philosophy, politics, religion, science thread throughout, making for a thought-provoking saga.
What happens when war leaks outside of the clear bounds we pretend exist? What does this do to democracy? And, more importantly, what does it do to us? Fine reportage from this era of perpetual low-level war, ever-present but far removed from our day-to-day lives.
In the over-saturated field of World War II studies, this one really captured my attention. A gripping tale of the race to sabotage the Nazi atomic weapons program, it reads almost more like a thriller than a history tome. Bascomb focuses more on the characters involved than fine details of covert operations or atomic weapons, aiding readability without sacrificing information. A little-known, but engrossing story.
This is not your typical WWII novel. Yes, the background is the destruction wrought on Europe by combatants on both sides, but the story is one that transcends that crude dimorphism. The main characters are unique and memorable, and while their stories do not cross until fairly late, you cannot help but want to turn the page. Doerr’s writing is sleek, exquisite, and deft. Intricate, realistic, brightly colored, hopeful, desperate, lyrical… this is truly a beautiful work.
"I am angry. And I do pose a threat." A powerful and necessary polemic against the crass commercialism that has infected and co-opted so much of modern, mainstream feminism. Pithy and unapologetic, Crispin pulls no punches, calling out feel-good "feminist" acts that are simply covers for capitalist, exploitative, and patriarchal systems.
Whatever one might think of the degenerate dinosaurs that keep us company at sunrise with their mating and sundry calls, this unique book has something to offer. Yes, there’s plenty of information about owls, ranging from their unique living habits to their gustatory predilections. Beyond that, however, we get Angell’s touching illustrations that do more to capture the owls’ personality than any words might, along with stories that illustrate their character and their interactions with us as a species. A beautiful, economical, and illuminating text
Surveys of antiquity tend to be rather narrow, and the vast majority in English retain a myopic focus on the Mediterranean and adjacent river valleys. Scott pulls the camera back to take a broader look at global society, from Rome to the Central Asian steppe, from China to Mesopotamia. We see how each of these societies experimented with governments, grappled with new religious ideas, fought wars, and approached competing civilizations. Similar pressures affected them all, and their diverse responses helped shape the world as we know it. An interesting syncretic approach to an era usually studied piecemeal.
Histories of post-Roman Europe almost always focus on the Mediterranean, particularly as the Renaissance approaches. While the Mediterranean world was a hotbed of trade, conflict, and development, the northern reaches of Europe are often neglected by mainstream scholars. Here Pye exposes the vitality of North Sea trade during the Dark Ages, and the technological and social advances that trade drove. Diverse and detailed without losing itself in the verge, Pye’s book shines a light on an influential portion of history. ~ Tim
It’s virtually impossible to do Rome in one book, let alone make it informative and interesting, but the ever-impressive Beard manages it with aplomb.
Few have written about Russia’s transition away from monarchy in such an engaging, insightful manner. Benefiting from Lieven’s existing expertise on Russia, as well as newly available archival material, the book provides many new insights on Russia’s political turmoil and the descent into World War I. A tragic, engrossing tale with repercussions to this day.
Evison’s inimitable voice is back, this time to chronicle Harriet’s end-of-life adventures on an Alaskan cruise. Accompanied by the ghost of her dead husband and the very real presence of her estranged daughter, hilarity and poignant moments arrive in equal abundance. Light-footed but cutting, it’s a difficult novel to categorize, save that it displays Evison’s signature quirky characters and visceral grasp of emotion as potently as ever
Creative, engrossing speculative fiction at its best.
Hitler awakens in Berlin in 2011, with no memory of his death. What could possibly go wrong? Told from Hitler’s point of view (with remarkable verisimilitude), the novel chronicles poor Adolf’s struggles to comprehend modern Germany while he strives to carve a place for himself in this brave new world. At once a comic look at Hitler’s psychology and a satire of modern consumption-obsessed culture, it’s a quirky novel full of laugh-out-loud moments and copious social commentary.
Why pick up yet another volume that deals with Nazis and their defeat? This is not a narrative in the traditional sense: collected here are journal entries, letters, minutes, transcripts and press releases, presented in chronological order from Hitler’s birthday in 1945 to the fall of Berlin and the end of the war in Europe. In those few days, we are treated to a dazzling and bizarre array of viewpoints and attitudes, each a ground level window into the Third Reich in its last days. Everyone from Nazi draftees captured by Soviets to Hitler himself is given a voice, painting a vivid and cacophonous portrait of a collapsing empire. ~ Tim
A quick, incisive, and engaging look at the decline of “traditional” religions in the face of Christianity.
Beginning with Martin Luther and ending with the Peace of Westphalia, Greengrass weaves an intricate but highly readable account of how Christian Europe fractured. The resulting social, political, religious, and even military upheaval has dramatic historical import that continues to resonate even five centuries later. ~
Histories rarely include much of the 70% or so of the Earth that’s covered in water. There’s good reason for that: no one really lives there, but a great deal happens there. This ambitious book looks at a wide swath of civilization, from early riverine developments five thousand years ago to the great world wars of the last century. Paine manages to include not only individual civilizations, but also the global network slowly built as sailing technology improved—and how that network influenced language, commerce, and culture.
Trained as an historian, I share his distrust of relying on “mere” physical remains to tell a story, but if any book can change like minds, it would be 1177 BC. In this fascinating study of the so-called “First Dark Ages,” Cline takes the remnants of a world largely relegated to myth, ties them together with a keen eye and the help of some of the era’s few written records, and creates something special. In so doing, he paints an eerily familiar portrait of a burgeoning international civilization rapidly undone by war, climate change, famine, and social upheaval. ~ Tim
After Ferguson’s wife dies in an accident while canoeing—the very act for which they both shared a great love—he embarks on a journey to scatter her ashes in five wild locations they both loved. What follows is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the land, and how that influenced his relationship with his wife. Unsurprisingly, he has a keen eye for describing the world as he paddles and hikes through it, but equally poignant are his descriptions of grief, love, and his human relationships. A soulful book, beautifully written.
The world is ending, and you have a front-row seat for it all. Blurring the line between speculative fiction and fantasy, this exceptional novel blends immersive world-building with potent characterization and deft takes on contemporary issues. Be sure to give it time, as initial disorientation soon dissolves in the face of addictive storytelling and an ever-escalating race to conclusion. Easily one of the best-written novels in the genre, it will leave you pondering its many mysteries and characters for weeks after the final pages pass.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. Marketed as “true crime,” it wasn’t something I’d normally pick up. I’m very glad I did. A short, potent, and addictive read, Kirn’s book doesn’t easily fit into any genre. Equal parts memoir, true crime, and mystery novel, it is difficult to put down. While its chief focus is unraveling the mystery surrounding a faux Rockefeller, it also weaves in an impressive and compelling amount of detail about Kirn’s own life and his struggle to understand himself. The account is unsparing, unsettling, and fascinating. By the end you won’t trust the author or his subject.
North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive, totalitarian states. Most tales of life there are driven by speculation and propaganda. Now we have a description of life on the other side from a man who lived there. As part of the government’s propaganda arm, Jang Jin-Sung crafted poetry venerating Kim Jong-Il. He lived a privileged life and even met the “Dear Leader.” A visit to his childhood home begins a riveting tale of escape, evasion, and freedom as he flees his former masters. It reads like a thriller, with insights into life in North Korea, the power of propaganda, and the value of freedom in a world that often takes it for granted
In the English-speaking world, the Habsburg Empire is at best a great unknown, at worst an object of ridicule. And yet, for centuries their influence spread the breadth of Europe, and even touched the New World. Danubia is a new attempt to shed light on this neglected world. Rather than focus on “pure” history, Winder crafts a delightfully personal story of the various Habsburg personalities that sprawled across Europe from the mid-15th to the early 20th centuries. Purposefully uneven, yet thorough and engaging, dryly witty and often humorous, it adds a much-needed human touch to an important part of European history.
Nuclear technology is a tough topic to tackle, evoking strong passions on all sides. Nelson traces its evolution from Curie to Fukushima, interweaving science with biography and dabs of history to create a compelling and accessible story. He deftly touches on nuclear power’s Janus-like tendency to bless and curse in equal measure: bombs that create peace but waste resources, power plants that destroy regions but deliver power more efficiently than any other. An excellent treatment of a hot-button subject.
An oldie but a goodie. Short, no-nonsense mystery with plenty of lovely atmospheric detail regarding monastic and rural Welsh life in the 12th century. The characters are full, real, and flawed, and their relationships are the backbone of this story.
One need not seek out new worlds to find strange beings, as this book so intriguingly demonstrates. Far more than a bestiary, Henderson’s collection uses the creatures themselves as the starting point for an exploration of how we view the world and our relationship to the beings that share it with us. Science, mythology, literature, and philosophy all play a role in this unique collection.
When stories of the Classical World are told, one civilization looms large, but whose story is left untold. We will never know who the Celts were—their steadfast refusal to commit Druidic knowledge to writing ensured that—but Robb’s book allows a greater understanding of them through how they organized their world, and provides a tantalizing glimpse of a civilization that once spanned most of Europe. Robb sheds some light on their impact on European human geography and history, despite efforts by the Romans and their successors to erase them. Part travelogue, part historiography, Robb’s book is engaging, fascinating, and thought-provoking. ~ Tim
This pithy treatise diagnoses the ills facing American military culture and rippling out into society. Retired US Army colonel Bacevich draws upon his experiences and those of his son, also an Army officer, who died as a result of military policy. Concise and scathing, it is a fusillade against inept military bureaucracy, examining how an allprofessional military succeeded in severing any meaningful link between the American public and its armed forces. The result is a corrupt, inadequate, but hugely profitable military industry, and a citizenry unconcerned with its troops beyond hollow patriotic declarations. Essential reading for any who seek to understand American military policy over the past half-century. ~ Tim
Not an uplifting read, but an important one. Schlosser’s usual journalistic excellence illuminates the world of nuclear weapons. ~ Tim
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, this is an utterly absorbing, heartbreaking, and beautiful novel.
Among the glut of WWI books marking its centenary, this stands out as one of the best. Rather than focus on the war itself, MacMillan examines the lines of thought and culture that led to the war. In a setting of increasing globalism, liberalism, and peace, how did we come to this all-consuming war of disastrous proportions? Politics, culture, and history collide in a fascinating work as much about individuals as it is about historical trends. The lessons resonate even today, a hundred years later. Let us hope we can learn from them.
Gives a comprehensive, highly readable glimpse at the world before the Great War changed everything. Rather than fixate on the impending war, Emmerson strives to provide a glimpse of the world that was. A fast-reading whistle-stop tour of cities around the globe and the societal movements they harbored.
T.E. Lawrence looms large in the mythologies of both World War I and the modern Middle East, immortalized in the film Lawrence of Arabia. This excellent book focuses more on the political landscape of the Middle East in the early 20th century than on the personality of Lawrence. Anderson weaves an engaging story featuring an unlikely cast of characters, all of whom would play surprising roles in how Middle East politics evolved in the wake of the Ottoman dissolution. This is an engaging mix of political history, adventure, and intrigue, the consequences of which are felt to this day.
This fittingly epic close to Atkinson’s World War II trilogy brings to life the closely-fought later European campaign, showing how it was undermined by internal division. The volume is self-contained enough to be accessible to new readers, but thorough and engaging enough to interest those who have read extensively on the war. Atkinson brilliantly narrates the campaign to liberate Europe, eschewing fine military detail in favor of greater characterization and deft overview. Great reading for anyone interested in World War II.
Most military sci-fi casts the main character in the mold of the classic Hero. Hints of that are here, but it’s refreshing to see something told from a basic enlistee-level grunt, even as it spans from urban slums to the stars. Realistic detail, moral struggle, and suspense make for a delicious read.
Innovative, engrossing, and a great story, this is one of the finest science fiction novels I've read in years.
A fascinating book that sheds light on the many divisions, political and cultural, that exist in the U.S., this is the most convincing analysis of American regionalism I’ve read. Rather than the recent tendency to ascribe regional differences to economic factors, Woodard investigates cultural histories, providing thorough, nuanced explanations. His biases are obvious, but that doesn’t detract from the soundness of his look at American cultural trends. ~ Tim
Astronomy has always been a passion of mine, but I don’t think I’ve come across a book that does a better job of conveying the wonder it inspires. The subject may seem almost mundane to some, but Berman deftly demonstrates the sun’s (literal and figurative) centrality to our existence and the mystery and awe that often surround it. A fascinating, accessible book. ~ Tim
Why do we find certain things arousing? This book may be very NSFW, but it examines a basic and increasingly prominent force in society. In contrast to previous surveys on the topic, the authors trawled the internet, drawing upon a billion searches to capture a unique glimpse of what people look for when they want to be aroused. On the surface the answers may seem to reinforce stereotypes—men are visual, women emotional—but there’s much more to it. If you are at all interested in human sexuality, this is hard to put down. ~ Tim
There is so much information packed into this little book. Although it draws on linguistics, much of its content is historical—it’s a history of English as much as a technical discussion of its structure. If you have the slightest interest in why English is the way it is, read this. It’s short, accessible, and engaging. ~ Tim
Although Iain Banks is best known for his Culture series, this stand-alone is almost more engrossing. Banks’ trademark style is here in full force, dropping you into an unfamiliar world where finding your bearings is half the fun. A (mostly) hard sci-fi space opera of the highest caliber. ~ Tim
A lovely rendering of the latter centuries of the Roman Empire in the West, this book does a good job of debunking Gibbon’s thesis of a society rotting from within and the coup de grâce of barbarian hordes. Heather gives us a more nuanced picture of societies morphing and the withering of the Roman bureaucratic apparatus. Heather can wander at times, but he paints the picture well, avoiding the melodramatic moralizing of Gibbon’s epic tome. An accessible, highly readable survey of modern views on Rome’s “fall.” ~ Tim
Fascism remains an enduring fascination for many, the great Evil of our century. But it did not arise in a vacuum. The Nazi Party in particular had a history intricately intertwined with the events of the early twentieth century. British scholar Evans holds a close light to the evolution of the German nationalist scene, following disparate threads across the culture in the wake of the Great War as they coalesced in the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. While the whole Nazi trilogy is worth reading, this is the essential volume for its in-depth study of the origins of Nazism, replete with eerie parallels for modern culture.
What is fundamentalism? Is it as old as the religions themselves, or a more recent phenomenon? Karen Armstrong, who has proven her mettle when it comes to writing about religion (especially those of Abrahamic origin: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), examines this trend in a compact, informative, and engaging fashion. As myth and cult decline in the face of modernity, the twin specters of literalism and fundamentalism emerge as reactions to the cold realism of the modern world. Her treatment of the phenomenon across all three religions is enlightening and more important than ever.
After starting with de Lint’s most recent stuff, I finally went back to the one that made a name for him in the fantasy genre. It may take a little while to really get going, but the momentum is relentless—by the end, I was flying through the pages. A great starting point for anyone interested in contemporary fantasy and its literary potential. ~ Tim
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One of my favorite fantasy novels, Bradley’s reimagining of the classic King Arthur tale is easily the most absorbing and believable I’ve read. Mists is a complex book that deals with numerous themes and presents many twists and turns along the way. The story is long, but the detail is so fine and the characters so well drawn that it kept me turning the pages. More than being just a good story, it provides ample meat for contemplation on issues from religion to gender to war. ~ Tim