The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson by Michael Winship

You likely don’t know, but my personal approach to historical reading is to keep books going in five centuries—17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st. I just completed my latest installment for the first of those centuries, the 17th. Thus we come to Anne Hutchinson, arguably the most well-known female character of 17th century America. I knew the fundamentals going into the book by Winship, nearly … [Read more...]

Jesse James, The Last Rebel of the Civil War by TJ Stiles

A dense book packed with details, The Last Rebel by TJ Stiles is an exhaustive treatment of the life of Jesse James, the most notorious bandit of the post-Civil War era. The memory of Jesse James is one-part folklore, one-part pop culture, and one-part fact. Stiles’ book alters that mix, wiping out the large fractions of myth that have built up around the prototypical Wild West bank and stage … [Read more...]

Class 11, Inside the CIA’s First Pot 9-11 Spy Class by T.J. Waters

T.J. Waters is, to the best of my understanding, an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. He rushed to join the CIA in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Five years later, in 2006, he published a book about his training and education experiences as an aspiring spy, analyst, and staffer at the Agency. He was a rookie, one of many to comprise Class 11, trying to … [Read more...]

When the Mississippi Ran Backwards by Jay Feldman

The ground shook, the big river changed direction, and it affected people. That is the basis of this book by Jay Feldman, who added the subtitle “Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes.” That’s New Madrid, Missouri where the earthquakes referenced occurred in three major episodes from December 1811 to February 1812. Feldman tells three stories. One is how the fault line … [Read more...]

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

One of my friends, a man for whom I have immense respect because of his wisdom and broad reading interests, purchased a copy of Team of Rivals at my suggestion. Off he went, new book in hand. I was eager to hear his verdict. Let me repeat, word for word, his reaction to Team of Rivals. “Outside of the Bible,” he stated in an email, “the Goodwin book may be the best I’ve ever read.” I don’t … [Read more...]

Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds

He was a poet, a journalist, a one-time teacher, a bit of a rogue and a rambler. His was the voice of America in the mid-19th century. All this and more was Walt Whitman. David Reynolds, a professor at the City University of New York, has written a compelling biography of Whitman. Reynolds fixes Whitman in the times of his life. Long sections of the book describe the various influences on … [Read more...]

The Pentagon’s New Map by Thomas P.M. Barnett

Sometimes you sit in a meeting, a group meeting, and you see the impact of a well-chosen phrase. These days, we are more likely to recall the impact of a well-crafted PowerPoint presentation. All of a sudden, lights click on atop everyone’s head and out of the room they rush, eager to spread the words of wisdom they have just received. There is more to Thomas Barnett’s book, The Pentagon’s New … [Read more...]

Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan

You're likely reading this review in the comfort of your home or office, perhaps a cup of warm coffee nearby. It won't enter your mind that while you're reading, thousands of American soldiers serve their nation in small bands of five or ten or thirty men. They serve not in Iraq or Afghanistan but in even more remote outposts around the world. These "imperial grunts" are the subject of Robert … [Read more...]

The Defining Moment – FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter

Franklin D. Roosevelt charted new ground for the American presidency. One of the directions that he pursued which set a precedent for his successors was the practice of the "100 days." American presidents down to the early twenty-first century, and the people who advise them, are conscious of Roosevelt's precedent. For it was the polio-afflicted president from New York who cast the mold of active, … [Read more...]

Love and Hate in Jamestown by David Price

Who in their right minds would choose to read about colonial America? Aside from a handful of professors and graduate students, probably not many would do so. At varying distances of three-plus centuries, our view of America’s colonial period (roughly 1550-1775) is quaint at best. At its worst, it consists solely of stilted imagery about the European rape of a virtuous New World perpetuated in pop … [Read more...]