New Releases in Books on History
Non Fiction (Essay, Biography and Monograph)
Ferguson, Niall (2021). Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. Allen Lane.
Disasters are by their very nature hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all. Yet the responses of a number of devloped countries to a new pathogen from China were badly bungled. Why?
Niall Ferguson describes the pathologies that have done us so much damage: from imperial hubris to bureaucratic sclerosis and online schism. COVID-19 was a test failed by countries who must learn some serious lessons from history if they are to avoid the doom of irreversible decline.
Colley, Linda (2021). The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World. Liveright.
This work traces the global history of written constitutions from the 1750s to the twentieth century, modifying accepted narratives and uncovering the close connections between the making of constitutions and the making of war. In the process, Linda Colley both reappraises famous constitutions and recovers those that have been marginalized but were central to the rise of a modern world.
Written constitutions are usually examined in relation to individual states, but Colley focuses on how they crossed boundaries, spreading into six continents by 1918 and aiding the rise of empires as well as nations. She also illumines their place not simply in law and politics but also in wider cultural histories, and their intimate connections with print, literary creativity, and the rise of the novel.
Rasmussen, Dennis C. (2021). Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders. Princeton University Press.
Americans seldom deify their Founding Fathers any longer, but they do still tend to venerate the Constitution and the republican government that the founders created. Strikingly, the founders themselves were far less confident in what they had wrought, particularly by the end of their lives. In fact, most of them―including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson―came to deem America’s constitutional experiment an utter failure that was unlikely to last beyond their own generation. Fears of a Setting Sun is the first book to tell the fascinating and too-little-known story of the founders’ disillusionment. As much as Americans today may worry about their country’s future, Rasmussen reveals, the founders faced even graver problems and harbored even deeper misgivings.
Drakulic, Slavenka (2021). Café Europa Revisited: How to Survive Post-Communism. Penguin.
An immigrant with a parrot in Stockholm, a photo of a girl in Lviv, a sculpture of Alexander the Great in Skopje, a memorial ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Soviet led army invasion of Prague: these are a few glimpses of life in Eastern Europe today.
Totalitarianism did not die overnight and democracy did not completely transform Eastern European societies. Looking closely at artefacts and day to day life, from the health insurance cards to national monuments, and popular films to cultural habits, alongside pieces of growing nationalism and Brexit, these pieces of political reportage dive into the reality of a Europe still deeply divided.
Fiction (Historical Novel)
Haynes, Natalie (2021). A Thousand Ships. Harper.
In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over. Troy has fallen.
From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.
A woman’s epic, powerfully imbued with new life, A Thousand Ships puts the women, girls and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s great tale ever told.
Rutherfurd, Edward (2021). China: The Novel. Doubleday.
The story begins in 1839, at the dawn of the First Opium War, and follows Chinese history through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and up to the present day. Rutherfurd chronicles the rising and falling fortunes of members of Chinese, British, and American families, as they negotiate the tides of history. Along the way, in his signature style, he provides a deeply researched portrait of Chinese history and society, its ancient traditions and great upheavals, and China’s emergence as a rising global power. As always, we are treated to romance and adventure, heroines and scoundrels, grinding struggle and incredible fortunes. From Shanghai to Nanking to the Great Wall, Rutherfurd chronicles the turbulent rise and fall of empires as the colonial West meets the opulent and complex East in a dramatic struggle between cultures and people.
Extraordinarily researched and majestically told, the book paints a thrilling portrait of one of the most singular and remarkable countries in the world.
Hannah, Kristin (2021). The Four Winds. St. Martin’s Press.
Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.
By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive. In this uncertain time, Elsa must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life.
Callahan, Patti (2021). Surviving Savannah. Berkley.
When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she’s shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can’t resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.
Everly’s research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah’s society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.
Que Mai, Nguyen Phan (2021). The Mountains Sing. Algonquin Books.
With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family.
Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, this novel brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.