Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Westward Ho With a Fresh Air Bump

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis (Norton/Liveright; OverDrive Sample) is moving up the Amazon charts, currently at #62 from #9,956, thanks to a feature on NPR’s Fresh Air.

The struggling Donner Party is known for restoring to cannibalism to survive, but Wallis says “there’s so much more. That’s why I wanted to tell the back story.”

Wallis details the hardships of the journey and how they broke the members of the party down, both physically and psychologically. Sadly, many of their problems came from their own errors, such as packing too much, taking the wrong route, misjudging the weather, and assuming too much while knowing too little.

On what can be learned from their story, Wallis says “I think it tells us not only about the American West but really about the whole nation … Those of us who do not learn our history are doomed to repeat it … The words that ring out to me continually are two words that combined can be very fatal, then as now, and those words are: ignorance and arrogance.”

True West reviews the book in an illustrated account, writing it “will be considered for many years the primary volume for students and scholars seeking a detailed and well-annotated history of the tragic tale of emigration on the Overland Trail to California.”

PW stars it, writing Wallis “reclaims the horrific story of the infamously ill-fated wagon train from the annals of sensationalism.”

Loving v. Virginia

Friday, June 16th, 2017

As part of their Race Matters series, PBS Newshour interviewed Sheryll Cashin, author of Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy (Beacon Press; OverDrive Sample).

Her book explores the 50 year-old case of Loving v. Virginia and the Supreme Court decision that allowed interracial marriage. It also considers the ways integration and diversity have and will change the political and cultural landscape of America.

In addition to the PBS interview Cashin also talked to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air and published an article about on the case and its consequences in the NYT. Salon also has a feature.

A film based on the actual case came out last November:

Order Alert: HUE 1968

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Check your holds and orders for Mark Bowden’s new book Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (Atlantic Monthly Press; OverDrive Sample). Some libraries we checked are showing holds as high as 8:1. Other have not yet ordered it because it was dropped in fairly late and prepub reviews are just appearing (Kirkus, June 1 and Booklist, June 6, both stars).

Bestseller Bowden was on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, giving the book, which has already jumped on Amazon’s sales rankings, another strong push to #28.

Calling it “a remarkable book” host Dave Davies has Bowden lead listeners through the run up to the battles of Hue and some of the bloody experience of the fight. He also talks about the strategy and individual stories that unfolded during the conflict, as well as its disastrous outcome for both sides.

The interview runs nearly 45 minutes and in conclusion he says:

“What investigating this taught me was that, in fact, I think it was right to oppose this war. It was a mistake. It reflected a triumph of ideology over reality in Washington, this anti-communist ideology which completely ignored the realities of Southeast Asia and Vietnam’s history and what actually was happening there. And I think this is kind of a periodic thing that happens in American life, where, you know, these concepts of the world and America’s role in the world lead us into conflicts that – and then we collide with reality.”

As we have previously posted, the book is getting strong reviews and screen rights have already been sold.

Sea Stories

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

As part of NPR’s “The History of Our Time” series, retired Admiral James Stavridis talks about his new book, Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans (PRH/Penguin; RH Large Print; Penguin Audio & BOT; OverDrive Sample).

It has leaped up the Amazon rankings as a result, now well within the Top 50 at #33, up from its still respectable #193.

The series, says host Steve Inskeep, investigates the big trends “driving our history” and Stavridis says the seas are an crucial to our future. “The nation that profits the most from a peaceful global commons, from oceans upon which 50,000 ships can sail in a given day moving cargo, is the United States.”

While Syria and the South China Sea are tactical hotspots now, he says the next will be the Arctic, “the ice is melting rapidly. It will open up shipping lanes. It will fuel territorial disputes.”

Mark Bowden Returns To Battle

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Soaring up the Amazon sales charts prior to its release on Tuesday is Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (Atlantic Monthly Press; OverDrive Sample), hailed by a strong review in the Wall Street Journal, which says it makes “brilliant use of contemporary records and of previously untapped archives.”

Bowden’s first battle book since the 1999 award-winning Black Hawk Down details the bloodiest engagement of the Vietnam War, one that lasted nearly a month and which was the centerpiece of the Tet Offensive.

The BBC writes that Bowden not only follows the military units, but “gives voice to dozens, including … President Lyndon Johnson and General William Westmoreland … and reporters David Halberstam, Michael Herr, Gene Roberts, Walter Cronkite and others who changed the way Americans perceived the war.”

Screen rights have already been sold for an 8-10 hour miniseries to be produced by Michael Mann (Heat; The Last of the Mohicans) reports Deadline Hollywood. Mann, who recently established his own imprint with HarperCollins, calls the book:

“a masterpiece of intensely dramatic non-fiction. Bowden’s achievement is in making “them” into us … There are no background people; people abstracted into statistics, body counts. There is the sense that everybody is somebody, as each is in the actuality of their own lives. The brilliance of Bowden’s narrative, the achievement of interviewing hundreds of people on all sides and making their human stories his foundation, is why Huế 1968 rises to the emotional power and universality of For Whom The Bell Tolls and All Quiet On The Western Front.”

Booklist and Kirkus star it, with Kirkus writing “One of the best books on a single action in Vietnam, written by a tough, seasoned journalist who brings the events of a half-century past into sharp relief.” It is excerpted in Vanity Fair.

Ghosts of Leaders Past

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks (PRH/Penguin; Penguin Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) is featured in this week’s NYTInside the List” column, as the book debuts at #10 on the Hardcover Nonfiction list, driven by both the author’s reputation and media attention.

The NYT reviews, calling it “highly enjoyable” and a “page turner written with great brio.” The Los Angeles Times reviews as well, writing that the book “finds the iron core of both men.”

Terry Gross interviews the author on Fresh Air, saying “The theme that unites [the two leaders] is standing up against totalitarianism, Hitler and fascism, Stalin and communism. Ricks says their writings have a lot of resonance today.”

Of that resonance, the NYT points out that “Critics have been generally shy about linking Ricks’s subject to today’s political climate.” Not so for the author. Pulitzer Prize-winning Ricks (who is now the NYT Book Review ‘s military history columnist) makes no bones about how the two men would view our current president. He details some of that in the Gross interview, but, as the NYT points out, he was far more blunt in his twopart podcast with Foreign Policy magazine.

Holds are topping 3:1 in several libraries we checked.

Off Life Support: KILLING, the TV series

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Just two days after the announcement of the next title in Bill O’Reilly’s book series, Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence (Macmillan/Holt; Sept. 2017), comes the opposite news about the next in the National Geographic channel’s adaptations of the series. The network just announced that a planned four-hour series based on Killing Patton, has been scrapped.

The press release made no reference to O’Reilly’s recent firing from Fox, reports Deadline, citing instead production difficulties.

It’s not clear what is happening with the Fox News series, Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Civil War. A companion book is scheduled for release next week, but we were unable to find a date for the debut of the TV series.

O’Reilly’s March title, Old School: Life in the Sane Lane (Macmillan/Holt; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample) has been sliding down best seller lists since the cancellation of his show. It is #112 on the most recent USA Today list, after debuting at #2.

Bill Gates, Bookseller

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Bill Gates took to Twitter on Monday and sent Steven Pinker’s 2010 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (PRH/Penguin; RH Audio; OverDrive Sample), soaring to the top of the Amazon sales charts, where it is currently the best selling book across the site.

In a series of tweets offering advice to graduates, Gates says “If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this — the most inspiring book I’ve ever read.” The story has caught the attention of the new media. Both the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly covered it. It’s also a favorite of fellow tech billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg who gave it a bump in early 2015, when he picked it for his Facebook book club.

In the book Pinker insists that, despite what many think, the world is actually becoming a better place.

The impact on holds is mixed. Some libraries have copies on the shelf while others are seeing holds topping 10:1.


Monday, May 8th, 2017

9781492649359_ebafaKate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks; HighBridge Audio; OverDrive Sample) is catching on.

Holds are topping 7:1 ratios and spiking as high as 34:1. Bases on that, and Amazon’s sales rankings, it is headed for bestseller lists.

Already a hit with librarians, it is a LibraryReads selection for May and a GalleyChat title. Booksellers are on board as well, making it an Indie Next pick.

Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, CT provided the LibraryReads annotation:

This is the story of hundreds of young, vibrant women who were sentenced to death by their employers. The so-called “Radium Girls” painted luminescent faces on clock and watch dials using a paint mixture that contained radium. Instructed to “lip-point” their brushes as they painted, they absorbed high doses of radium into their bodies. When the effects of the radium led to horrific disfigurement and pain, the company refused to take responsibility. This heartrending book was one I could not put down.”

For GalleyChat, library director Nicole Steeves, Fox River Grove (IL), said the elements are perfect for readers’ advisory (readable non-fiction, women’s stories, and science writing) and would also recommend it to teens. She added, “It is also is a timely example of good research and careful attribution, relevant to librarians’ concerns about news literacy.”

Coverage is wide ranging. The Spectator introduces the book with the creepy headline, “The Radium Girls — still glowing in their coffins.” BuzzFeed runs an illustrated feature written by Moore, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday has an interview, as do the NYT and Jezebel. Bustle, The Atlantic, the NY Post, and Nature offer stories, with Nature calling the book “harrowing.”


Friday, May 5th, 2017

9780609608449_5e627The great-great grandchildren of Henry H. Holmes, the serial killer featured in the best seller, The Devil in the White City, have received permission to exhume his body to confirm whether he was indeed hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.

The investigation aims to determine the truth of the legend that he faked his own death, reports the Chicago Tribune, by bribing “jail guards to hang a cadaver in his place.”

Meanwhile, the film version of Eric Larson’s true crime title, The Devil in the White City (RH/Crown, 2003), has been in the works ever since it was published. As recently as last month, Deadline Hollywood wrote that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are still developing the project.

Scorsese told the Toronto Sun in December, “Right now, there is a script being worked on … One of the things that I had to stop for the past six months [to complete Silence] was my meetings on that script. They want me to start again in January and see if we can find a way because it’s an extraordinary story.”

Finding a way has proved difficult thus far. Tom Cruise acquired the rights in 2003 but the project stalled. We wrote about the last wave of hopes for it in April 2016. Even earlier, in 2015, we posted about the film’s long gestation period. DiCaprio has owned the rights since 2010.

Inside The Ruins of Camelot

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

9781501158940_b4279A forthcoming book by Jackie Kennedy’s longtime assistant is getting wide media coverage, Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family by Kathy McKeon (S&S/Gallery; S&S Audio; out May 9). The book’s title is how Rose Kennedy referred to her. The book arrives next week.

McKeon lived in Kennedy’s Fifth Avenue apartment from 1964 to 1977 and had a front row seat to history, caring for both children and helping Mrs. Kennedy. People says “McKeon’s position gave her a close-up view of the real lives behind the headlines — from Jackie’s romance with Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis and their controversial marriage, to the shattering news of RFK’s assassination in 1968.”

She was interviewed on the Today Show yesterday:

The family clearly loved her. Refinery29 says “McKeon, an Irish immigrant, began working for Kennedy at the young age of 19 … [when she left] to get married and start her own family, Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., attended the wedding. McKeon and her children were invited to Kennedy’s summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, every year.”

People ran an excerpt and the news media is doing their best to mine it for unknown details. The most “salacious” is that John John once had a play date with “Robert Chambers, who went on to become the infamous ‘Preppy Killer.'” Others have to do with fashion: Jackie wore a quarter-inch lift in one of her shoes to make up for a slight difference in leg length and liked her closet arranged by color. Other insider details reveal that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was terrified of the paparazzi and John F. Kennedy Jr. “was a ‘scrawny kid’ who shied away from ‘rough-and-tumble sports.’”

The book is selling well, and holds are high, on generally cautious ordering.


Thursday, April 27th, 2017

9780385534246_0b8dcKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (PRH/Doubleday; RH Large Print; RH Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) debuts on the USA Today Bestseller list at #7, a ranking that far outdistances Grann’s first book, The Lost City of Z, which hit a high of #68.

There is more good news for the journalist turned author. Deadline Hollywood reports that a dream team might join forces for the film version, consisting of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro. The trio, who have never worked together on one film, are said to be seriously considering the project.

Flower Moon is a rich story for them to dig their teeth into, a true crime tale of high murder counts, conspiracies, the FBI’s young director, J. Edgar Hoover, and a former Texas Ranger named Tom White. The Independent speculates on who will play which historical figure, “DiCaprio [who previously played Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s 2011 film J. Edgar] may take up the role again, with De Niro probably the pick to play Tom White.”

The film rights were sold in a hot auction for 5 million, roughly a year before the book hit shelves. Variety says it “was one of the highest prices paid for movie rights in recent memory.”

It might prove a sound buy. The Lost City of Z is more than held its own in very limited release. However, it did not perform as well when it expanded to more theaters this past weekend.  Critics are mad for it, with the A.V. Club asking “Is this the best movie of the year so far?

The book was featured on the 4/30 CBS Sunday Morning.


Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

9781476763828_13cfbIn the 1970s over 900 people died because they followed the religious figure turned cult leader, Jim Jones, to the jungles of Guyana where they, voluntarily or not, drank poison in a final act of devotion.

Jeff Guinn, known for his true crime bestsellers, investigates the history of Jones and his doomed followers in The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple (S&S; S&S Audio).

It has been covered by two high-profile outlets. Terry Gross interviews Guinn today on NPR’s Fresh Air and the Today show used the story last week to launch a “series examining some of the biggest crimes and cults of the 20th century.”

Guinn tells Gross that Jones was a “tremendous performer” who displayed “the classic tendencies of the demagogue … [he] would take current events and exaggerate them to create a sense of fear and urgency. He drew his followers to Guyana by convincing them that America was facing imminent threats of martial law, concentration camps and nuclear war … [he] epitomizes the worst that can happen when we let one person dictate what we hear [and] what we believe.”

The aftermath was so horrifying that the Guyanese army, coming to confront Jones, start screaming as they arrive on site, “because there are bodies everywhere, almost more than they can count, and they’re so horrified.”

Today details the event that triggered the final mass suicide, Jones’s order to open fire on a Congressman there to investigate, a trip filmed by NBC news in which three NBC staff were also murdered.

Newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle, the Star-Telegram (Texas), and The Dallas Morning News review it. USA Today names it one of their “New and noteworthy” titles. Salon headlines their coverage with “Jim Jones was who Charlie Manson wanted to be.” Men’s Journal names it one of “The 7 Best Books of April.” Vice offers an interview with Guinn.

Library holds are light at this point, but keep your eye on it.


Thursday, March 30th, 2017

9780143126836_b6312A three-part documentary based on the book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, Mark Harris (PRH/Penguin; OverDrive Sample), premieres on Netflix tomorrow, March 31.

The book portrays how Hollywood fought a propaganda war agains fascism, through
the voluntary efforts of directors John Ford,
George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.

To tell the story in film, Harris has turned to five contemporary directors, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan, to provide context and insight and the entire series is supported with narration by Meryl Streep.

Netfilx will also air 13 of the films discussed in the series, reports Deadline Hollywood, “including Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Wyler’s The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, Huston’s Report from the Aleutians, Capra’s The Battle of Russia, Stevens’ Nazi Concentration Camps, and Stuart Heisler’s The Negro Soldier.”

Harris’s book got rave reviews when it was published. Slate calls it “one of the great works of film history of the decade.” The NYT says it is “a tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism.” The Guardian calls it “excellent” and The Washington Post says it “has all the elements of a good movie: fascinating characters, challenges, conflicts and intense action.”

The film version is also getting strong reviews. Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+, calling it “devastating and profound. And absorbing …well worth a binge.” Time says “The three episodes of Five Came Back run a little over three hours total, but the time goes by like a shot.” The Hollywood Reporter says it is “is intimately in tune with its subjects and the work they did.”

Franklin Fascination

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

9780393249385_b3036Rising on Amazon is a nonfiction account of a fabled sea-faring mystery, Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson (Norton; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), about the sad fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew aboard the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The book not only details the doomed Arctic expedition seeking the Northwest Passage, but also the historic search for the lost ships and the modern discovery of their find. It leaped to #79 on Amazon’s sales rankings after the author appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.

In a brief, but wide ranging conversation, Watson details some of the search, telling NPR that Franklin’s wife, Lady Jane, was “extraordinarily assertive” and forced the Royal Navy to search for her husband and even lured the United States into looking for him.

The book is also getting newspaper coverage.

The Seattle Times calls it eloquent and “more valuable than most of what comes from the cottage industry of Franklin books.”

In an illustrated story, the Dallas News says that Watson “handles the complexity of the search admirably well.”

Watson has a much longer segment on Think, a program on the public radio station KERA in North Texas. Below is the Morning Edition segment: