The Washingtons: George and Martha by Flora Fraser

Much has been written about George Washington, but Fraser’s examination of the marriage between George and Martha is unique. Their decades-long marriage was punctuated by revolution, the creation of a new country and personal tragedy. Through the years their love and admiration for each other was apparent to all who knew them. Fraser has done a commendable job of revealing how they leaned on each other; whether it was domestic issues or a recalcitrant Continental Congress, George and Martha looked to each other for advice and sustenance. Fraser’s book is a revealing look at both the Mother and Father and the Nation. – Barbara Hoagland

Lady Bird and Lyndon by Betty Caroli

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President By Betty Boyd Caroli Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781439191224
Published: Simon & Schuster - October 27th, 2015

Marriage is a complicated relationship and the marriage between Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson was more complicated than some. While a brief look would indicate Lyndon was the driving force in that relationship, Caroli posits that Lady Bird was the guiding hand that led him to the presidency. A sad and lonely childhood forged a personality of steel and determination that belied her soft Southern manner. She was a shrewd businesswoman and skilled politician who wooed those whose approval she (and Lyndon) needed. That she also managed the oversized personality of her husband is revelatory, as is the information that Lyndon quite likely suffered from bipolar disorder. Her life was complicated and Caroli has done an admirable job of revealing an interesting and compelling 20th century first lady. – Barbara Hoagland

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince By Lisa Hilton Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780544577848
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - November 10th, 2015

While there are a multitude of biographies of Elizabeth, Hilton has delved into the life of this Tudor monarch from a slightly different perspective, giving us a more nuanced portrait as a result. From her birth until her death, Elizabeth’s life was one long invention; she created one of the most successful courts in Europe using her femininity to cover the iron will that allowed her to govern a nation and confound her fellow rulers. Hilton also details Elizabeth’s loves and how she subjugated these loves to the necessity of rule. It’s an unusual and insightful look at an always fascinating woman and time in British history. – Barbara Hoagland

PT 109 by William Doyle

PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy By William Doyle Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062346582
Published: William Morrow - October 6th, 2015

William Doyle, author of numerous works focusing on American militaria, re-tells the story of PT 109 and the impact its saga had on JFK and America. Early in the South Pacific campaign of WWII, the United States is out-gunned and over-matched by the Japanese military. The U.S. has decided to make its stand, in order to protect its ally, Australia, in the Solomon Islands and at Guadalcanal. Intense fighting occurs on land and sea with the two opponents evenly matched, even though the U.S. has very poor aircraft and other equipment when compared to Imperial Japan. Into this mix is flung a Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat force. PT boats are just glorified large speed boats made out of wood and equipped with faulty torpedoes that malfunction about 75% of the time. This is the story of JFK as commander of PT 109.  His father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., has pulled strings to get the sickly JFK a combat command with an eye toward future Kennedy political ambitions, never imagining his son would be tested in a way not many other men of his age could endure. This is a great read for anyone, even those of us who think they know the story of PT 109 and JFK, as it gives a perspective as only 75 years of elapsed time can. – Patrick Fleming

Pacific by Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester delivers this seemingly eclectic narrative of ten incidents occurring in the Pacific which appear to be unrelated – but as he tells the back story on each incident the reader sees how inter-related they are. Winchester, with his sharp British wit, writes in a quick style making a compelling case for the pivot away from the Atlantic and to the Pacific by arguing that the United States (and Canada and Mexico to some degree) are really Pacific Rim nations and that the future interests of the U.S. lie with the Pacific and her people, including the Chinese.  From the birth of surfing and the California beach culture it spawned to the nuclear explosions on remote Pacific atolls to Australia and its emerging role to the potential for confrontation with an increasingly militarizing China, Winchester blends all 10 incidents together, providing some terrific insight into the history and future of the Pacific and why it matters to the United States. – Patrick Fleming

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States By Sarah Vowell Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781594631740
Published: Riverhead Books - October 20th, 2015

I’m not sure how someone who knows so much can be so funny when imparting what she knows, but Sarah Vowell has that knack. Her latest saga, long on history, short on boring, high on humor, begins with a question: How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protestors in the world? Vowell then proceeds to answer that question with an improbably funny saga that manages to give you a vivid, witty picture of not only the brash young Marquis but our founding fathers as well. The young Marquis dashes about on his horse, ignoring wife, child, and king, shuttles nervously back and forth as the French finally arrive, to end regarding America with rosy adoration. Vowell both skewers and admires this view of us, making clear what a fractious, uneasily bound-together lot we Americans are and always have been, and how naïve our hero. Vowell never met a joke she didn’t like, and her weaving of present-day politics, the personal and the past with history lights up that past until it illuminates the present. – Betsy Burton

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World (Politics of Place #1) By Tim Marshall Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501121463
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: Scribner - October 27th, 2015

Marshall has used his experience as a war correspondent and leading authority on foreign affairs to produce a most marvelous and timely collection of maps of ten critical countries, regions and continents. His description of the natural geologic boundaries of the continents and how they have either safeguarded people or left them unprotected, and how leaders used them in strategic ways is fascinating. This geopolitical landscape helps one to recognize current events and why decisions are made. I can’t leave it alone and keep referring back to it to help explain the news of the day. It will rest on my bookshelf next to Guns, Germs and Steel and Why Nations Fail. – Sue Fleming

Other Books Mentioned in This Piece: 
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies By Jared Diamond Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780393317558
Availability: Out of Print
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 17th, 1999

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty By Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307719225
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: Crown Currency - September 17th, 2013

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

The Witches: Salem, 1692 By Stacy Schiff Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316200608
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: Little, Brown and Company - October 27th, 2015

The Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late 1600s would appear to have been overrun by the Devil, who infiltrated the colony via witchcraft. Founded by the Puritans who fled Europe in order to practice their religion in the way they saw fit, the colony was a rigidly run theocracy. The Devil was as real as night and day, and once the accusations of witchcraft began flying a kind of mass hysteria took hold. Schiff has done a brilliant job of untangling this most incredible story. The reasons are complex and ultimately tragic for the innocents who were put to death. Schiff brings alive a story that to the modern mind beggars comprehension as she draws us into the world of 17th century New England. That world was a frightening place which became even more terrifying with the realization that anyone around you could be a pawn of the Devil. – Barbara Hoagland

The Orpheus Clock by Simon Goodman

For those fascinated with Edsel’s Monuments Men, Simon Goodman presents a dramatic story of his family’s loss of precious art, first to Hitler and then, once it was recovered by Allied Forces, to European governments. Simon grew up in London with only a vague knowledge of his grandparents, who had come from German-Jewish banking dynasties and had perished in concentration camps—or of their fabulous collection of works by Degas, Renoir, Botticelli, Guardi, among others. Nor was he aware of the subsequent efforts to locate the missing art—until receiving some old papers following his father’s death. Over 20 years, Simon, with the help of his family, initiated the first Nazi looting case to be settled in the U.S. They also brought about the first major restitution in the Netherlands since the post-war era. An unforgettable read. – Sue Fleming

Other Books Mentioned in This Piece: 
The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History By Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (With) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781599951508
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: Center Street - September 17th, 2010

Two Books about WW2

The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 (The Pacific War Trilogy #2) By Ian W. Toll Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393080643
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 21st, 2015

Ian Toll and Jay Winik are veteran historians and excellent writers, each with a style that flows easily yet is supported by incredible research. These two books are a part of a new breed of historical scholarship which provides a complete picture of the early part of WWII, a period when the final outcome was far from decided. The Conquering Tide is the second part of a Pacific War trilogy by Toll which may remind readers of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy. Starting with the Guadalcanal Campaign and ending with the Marianas Campaign, Toll describes the incredibly difficult Pacific Theater and highlights the valor and blunders of both sides. This second part of the trilogy gives a clear picture of what the United States and its allies were facing in early 1942 in the South Pacific as they tried to stop the Japanese juggernaut, especially in light of the “Europe First” global strategy to combat the Axis Forces. The grand strategy of the opponents is clearly described by Toll, but he is at his best when narrating the thousands of smaller tactical encounters between the Japanese and American forces. Detailed maps indicate the grand strategy and remind us of the darkest hours of WWII. Jay Winik, on the other hand, uses the one-year format he first employed in April 1865: the Month that Saved America in his latest book, 1944: FDR and the Year that Changed History. The world we live in today was shaped by WWII, and 1944 was the pivotal point of that war. Hitler, Himmler, FDR, Hirohito, Stalin, Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and all of the other supporting characters are brought to life in this narrative which places in context the momentous events of ’44, from the Nazi death camps through D-Day to the atomic bomb. Winik has an approach to historical narrative which is refreshing as he weaves the storyline through the actions of its characters. – Patrick Fleming

Other Books Mentioned in This Piece: 
The Liberation Trilogy Boxed Set: An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, The Guns at Last Light By Rick Atkinson Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781627790598
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - October 22nd, 2013

April 1865: The Month That Saved America By Jay Winik Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060899684
Availability: Not on our shelves currently | available to order
Published: Harper Perennial - August 15th, 2006