New Releases in Books on History
Non Fiction (Essay, Biography and Monograph)
Frankopan, Peter (2023). The Earth Transformed: An Untold History. Knopf.
Global warming is one of the greatest dangers mankind faces today. Even as temperatures increase, sea levels rise, and natural disasters escalate, our current environmental crisis feels difficult to predict and understand. But climate change and its effects on us are not new. In a bold narrative that spans centuries and continents, Peter Frankopan argues that nature has always played a fundamental role in the writing of history. From the fall of the Moche civilization in South America that came about because of the cyclical pressures of El Niño to volcanic eruptions in Iceland that affected Egypt and helped bring the Ottoman empire to its knees, climate change and its influences have always been with us. Frankopan explains how the Vikings emerged thanks to catastrophic crop failure, why the roots of regime change in eleventh-century Baghdad lay in the collapse of cotton prices resulting from unusual climate patterns, and why the western expansion of the frontiers in North America was directly affected by solar flare activity in the eighteenth century.
Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2023). The World: A Family History of Humanity. Knopf.
In this epic, ever-surprising book, Montefiore chronicles the world’s great dynasties across human history through palace intrigues, love affairs, and family lives, linking grand themes of war, migration, plague, religion, and technology to the people at the heart of the human drama. It features a cast of extraordinary diversity: in addition to rulers and conquerors, there are priests, charlatans, artists, scientists, tycoons, gangsters, lovers, husbands, wives, and children.
These powerful families represent the breadth of human endeavor, with bloody succession battles, treacherous conspiracies, and shocking megalomania alongside flourishing culture, moving romances, and enlightened benevolence.
Malik, Kenan (2023). Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics. Hurst.
Is white privilege real? Does American history begin in 1619 or 1776? Why has left-wing antisemitism grown? How racist is the working class? Who benefits most, when anti-racists speak in racial terms?
These very different questions have all emerged from today’s heated debates around race, identity and culture. The “culture wars” have generated ferocious argument, but little clarity. Not So Black and White offers that clarity by taking the long view, explaining the real origins of ‘race’ in Western thought, and tracing its path from those beginnings to today’s fractious world. In doing so, the book upends many accepted views about race, identity, whiteness and privilege.
Branigan, Tania (2023). Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution. W. W. Norton & Company.
“It is impossible to understand China today without understanding the Cultural Revolution,” Tania Branigan writes. During this decade of Maoist fanaticism between 1966 and 1976, children turned on parents, students condemned teachers, and as many as two million people died for their supposed political sins, while tens of millions were hounded, ostracized, and imprisoned. Yet in China this brutal and turbulent period exists, for the most part, as an absence; official suppression and personal trauma have conspired in national amnesia.
Red Memory uncovers forty years of silence through the stories of individuals who lived through the madness. Deftly exploring how this era defined a generation and continues to impact China today.
Wilson, Peter H. (2023). Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500. Belknap Press.
German military history is typically viewed as an inexorable march to the rise of Prussia and the two world wars, the road paved by militarism and the result a specifically German way of war. Peter Wilson challenges this narrative. Looking beyond Prussia to German-speaking Europe across the last five centuries, Wilson finds little unique or preordained in German militarism or warfighting.
It took two world wars to expose the fallacy of German military genius. Yet even today, Wilson argues, Germany’s strategic position is misunderstood. The country now seen as a bastion of peace spends heavily on defense in comparison to its peers and is deeply invested in less kinetic contemporary forms of coercive power.
Freedland, Jonathan (2022). The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World. Harper.
In April 1944, Rudolf Vrba became one of the very first Jews to escape from Auschwitz and make his way to freedom—among only a tiny handful who ever pulled off that near-impossible feat. He did it to reveal the truth of the death camp to the world—and to warn the last Jews of Europe what fate awaited them. Against all odds, Vrba and his fellow escapee, Fred Wetzler, climbed mountains, crossed rivers, and narrowly missed German bullets until they had smuggled out the first full account of Auschwitz the world had ever seen—a forensically detailed report that eventually reached Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the Pope. And yet too few heeded the warning that Vrba had risked everything to deliver. Though Vrba helped save two hundred thousand Jewish lives, he never stopped believing it could have been so many more.
Figes, Orlando (2022). The Story of Russia. Metropolitan Books.
No other country has reimagined its own story so often, in a perpetual effort to stay in step with the shifts of ruling ideologies. From the founding of Kievan Rus in the first millennium to Putin’s war against Ukraine, Orlando Figes explores the ideas that have guided Russia’s actions throughout its long and troubled existence. Whether he’s describing the crowning of Ivan the Terrible in a candlelit cathedral or the dramatic upheaval of the peasant revolution, he reveals the impulses, often unappreciated or misunderstood by foreigners, that have driven Russian history: the medieval myth of Mother Russia’s holy mission to the world; the imperial tendency toward autocratic rule; the popular belief in a paternal tsar dispensing truth and justice; the cult of sacrifice rooted in the idea of the “Russian soul”; and always, the nationalist myth of Russia’s unjust treatment by the West.
Plokhy, Serhii (2021). The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. Harper.
As Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, celebrated historian Serhii Plokhy explains that today’s crisis is a case of history repeating itself: the Ukrainian conflict is only the latest in a long history of turmoil over Ukraine’s sovereignty. Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine has been shaped by empires that exploited the nation as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. In The Gates of Europe, Plokhy examines Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of major Ukrainian historical figures, from its heroes to its conquerors.
Fiction (Historical Novel)
O’Brien, Anne (2023). A Marriage of Fortune. Orion.
England. 1469. Margaret Paston, matriarch of the Paston family, knows that a favourable match for one of her unruly daughters is the only way to survive the loss of their recently acquired Caister Castle. But as the War of the Roses rages on, dangerous enemies will threaten even her best laid plans. Margery Paston, her eldest daughter, has always strived to uphold the Paston name and do her mother proud. But when she loses her heart to a man below her station, she must make a terrible choice: will she betray her family and risk everything for a chance at true love? Anne Haute, first cousin to the Queen, is embroiled in a longstanding betrothal to Sir John Paston, the eldest son and heir to the Paston seat. But despite his promises, Anne can’t help but doubt that he will ever keep his word and make her his wife…
In the midst of civil war, each of these women must decide: Head or heart? Love or duty? Reputation or scandal?
Grann, David (2023). The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder. Doubleday.
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.
But then … six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers.
Turney, Simon (2023). Bellatrix (Legion XXII). Aries Book.
Egypt, 25 BC. Titus Cervianus is no ordinary soldier. And the Twenty Second is no ordinary legion. Formed from the personal guard of a conquered king, the Twenty Second’s ways are strange to soldiers of the Empire – yet the legion has proved itself in the blistering heat of the desert.
Cervianus and his comrades march into the unknown as he and the Twenty Second Legion contend with the armies of the Bellatrix: the Warrior Queen of Kush. The Kushites and the Egyptians are united against the Roman presence in their lands – but there are complex political and military forces at work. Deep in the deserts, Cervianus and his comrades must brace themselves for a furious onslaught as they take on the might of the Bellatrix.
O’Farrell, Maggie (2022). The Marriage Portrait. Knopf.
Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.
Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now enter an unfamiliar court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?
Pamuk, Orhan (2022). Nights of Plague. Knopf.
It is April 1900, in the Levant, on the imaginary island of Mingheria—the twenty-ninth state of the Ottoman Empire—located in the eastern Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus. Half the population is Muslim, the other half are Orthodox Greeks, and tension is high between the two. When a plague arrives—brought either by Muslim pilgrims returning from the Mecca or by merchant vessels coming from Alexandria—the island revolts.
To stop the epidemic, the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II sends his most accomplished quarantine expert to the island—an Orthodox Christian. Some of the Muslims, including followers of a popular religious sect and its leader Sheikh Hamdullah, refuse to take precautions or respect the quarantine. And then a murder occurs.
Sepetys, Ruta (2022). I Must Betray You. Philomel Books.
Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.
Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?