Articles in history
Archeological research has uncovered more than ever about the ordinary men and women who lived in Britain during the centuries of Roman occupation. A lively new book assesses what we know
He sailed around Cape Horn and wrote a classic about it, and he fought for the downtrodden in Boston courts for thirty years – he was Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and he’s the subject of a thought-provoking new biography.
“How a Court LOOKS,” remarked a courtier to one of England’s more successful modern-day monarchs, “is at least as important as how a Court WORKS.” A re-issued study from Philip Mansel looks at form and function in the court of Napoleon Bonaparte
“Austria,” quipped Talleyrand, “has the tiresome habit of always being beaten” – but Richard Bassett’s vigorous new history of the Imperial Austrian Army begs to differ!
A French army and a British army stumble upon each other in the wilderness of the New World, and their conflict changes the nature of the world’s biggest war
The epic change in ancient Rome from a Republic to an Empire hinged on one man: Julius Caesar. A new history tells the familiar story.
Veteran historian John Julius Norwich attempts to cram over 800 years of Sicilian history into 300 pages – and because he’s John Julius Norwich, he very nearly succeeds
Military historian Stephen Harding tells the poignant story of the last soldier killed in World War II
Just in time for America’s Independence Day, the Library of America presents its newest production: a two-volume collection of some of the pamphlets that so inflamed the colonial population in the decade leading up to the Revolution
A brutal assassination in 1537 changed the course of Florentine history, and eleven years later, the assassin was himself murdered. Case closed? A fascinating new book thinks not!
For a key interval in 1940, Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany at its peak – and that familiar story of determination and ultimate victory is the subject of Robin Prior’s new book
At the height of the Vietnam War, President Nixon engaged in an incredibly risky game of nuclear brinksmanship – a richly-researched new book tells the story
While America was still technically neutral in Great Britain’s fight against Germany, a handful of American flyers traveled to England and volunteered to fly in the RAF – a fascinating new book tells their story
On a chilly day in late May, 1918, American troops went into battle in the World War I for the first time – a gripping new history tells the story
Now in paperback: a fascinating history of mankind’s interactions with the most famous volcano in the world
The mad debacle of the Dardanelles campaign is now 100 years in the past, and to mark the anniversary, a classic account is reprinted
In the wake of the First World War, unimaginable energies were unleashed upon the societies of the Western world. A fascinating new book attempts to assess the results.
John Ferling, great historian of 18th century America, here tells the story of the American Revolution itself, in typically riveting fashion
A noted Israeli scholar and ‘refusnik’ writes a reserved and thorough history of the occupied territories
The US Constitution – the oldest in the world – gets a comprehensive new biography
Renowned classicist and historian Peter Green has at last produced a translation of the Iliad – and it comes with its own Greek Chorus. Steve Donoghue investigates.
Michael Pye’s new book provides a rich history of the North Sea in human culture – and pokes holes in some crass nationalist myth-making along the way. Matt Ray reviews The Edge of the World.
In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States summarily imprisoned thousands of its Japanese citizens for the duration of the war. Richard Reeves’ passionate new book tells the story
Jenny Uglow’s new book goes into lively detail about how ordinary people in Britain experienced the cataclysmic events of the wars of the Napoleonic era
Author Thom Hatch promises mind-blowing new revelations in his book on the Battle of Little Bighorn. And in other news, Rutherford B. Hayes is rumored to be contemplating a run for president.
An extremely winning new book explores the enormous ways eight particular animal kinds have altered the course of human life on Earth
One hundred years ago, a German U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania, with grievous loss of civilian life. The anniversary is observed by one of our best popular historians
A chatty, vivacious new book tracks the four sons of the Royal House of Windsor during the years of World War Two
In April of 1945, the destroyer USS Laffey was bombarded by wave after wave of kamikaze fighters – and yet survived. A gripping new book tells the story of a ship that refused to die
In time for the hundred-year anniversary of the Ottoman killing of over a million Armenians, a gripping new history tells the whole story of the tragedy
The tense and frantic final months of the American Civil War forms the backdrop for Joseph Wheelan’s lively new book
The sprawling system of concentration camps established by the Nazis gets its first comprehensive history
A fantastic, important new study traces the history of insanity in human history
The military collapse of France in 1940 has been a punch line and byword for decades, but a provocative new book argues that the traditional view is too simple
Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Tudor novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, have made their way to the stage on the expert handling of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Zach Rabiroff had front row center.
In 1936 Nazi Germany poured money and manpower into backing General Franco in the Spanish Civil War; a new history powerfully re-interprets that fraught relationship
A new book tells the story of the War Cabinet Winston Churchill assembled to fight the Second World War
Beyond the battles and trenches of the First World War, a dozen less glamorous but no less vital fights were being waged – in laboratories and darkrooms and publishing offices. A vibrant new book tells the story of the other World War I
800 years ago, King John “Lackland” sealed Magna Carta and unwittingly laid the foundation for some of Western law; a new book takes a fresh look at this much-maligned figure
For more than a thousand years, the sprawling area of the Baltic has played host to history, art, and fitful commerce – a new history tells the story.
Traditional cynicism has always maintained that Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis primarily for her money, but a new book argues that the real picture was a good deal more complex – and interesting – than that.
The 2nd Light Battalion King’s Division played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloo, as a slim new history by Brendan Simms demonstrates. Matt Ray reviews the book in his Open Letters debut.
A fantastic new book tells the story of President Washington and the extraordinary team he assembled to form the new nation’s first administration
In 1939 the Nazis established their only concentration camp specifically for women; a comprehensive new book tells the history of Ravensbruck
From Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson, big public show-trials have fascinated the American people. In his new book, renowned legal historian Lawrence Friedman tries to dissect why that is.
The rebel pharaoh who instituted a radical new monotheism gets a highly-detailed and revisionist investigation
The Ottoman Empire joined the fighting of the First World War deeply misunderstood by both sides; a charismatic new book seeks to clarify the story of that odd meeting of East and West
Under the direction of Oliver Cromwell, dozens of men deliberated to execute the captive King Charles I, and when Charles II came to power a decade later, those men were suddenly in the gravest danger. A fascinating new book tells their stories.
A harrowing new book looks at the many spaces the Vietnam Was has occupied in the American mental landscape
The clashes of the Cold War weren’t just matters of missiles and border guards; they also enlisted honey-voiced broadcasters, drunken novelists, and bookish magazine editors, as a fascinating new book makes clear
In 1944 a contentious group of delegates gathered in New Hampshire in order to lay out a blueprint for the postwar world economy; a great new history tells the story of Bretton Woods
Two years before he gained fame in the most painful way imaginable at the Battle of Little Bighorn, George Armstrong Custer led a large expedition into the Black Hills sacred to the Sioux – in search of gold
In his new book, historian Adam Zamoyski paints a picture of a Europe convulsed with fear of upheavals like the French Revolution and the tyranny of Bonaparte – and willing to do anything to prevent them
A paradigm-shifting new book looks at the turbulent decade of the 1970s in United States politics and the re-shaping of the world
A new reprint line from the New York Review of Books concentrates on literature from – and on – China’s long literary history, and the first three volumes offer the strange, the familiar, and the beautiful.
Claudia Rankine articulates the truths of the black experience so poignantly in her celebrated collection Citizen by putting them, paradoxically, both plainly and artfully.
In his new book City of Rivals, James Grumet takes a gloomy close-up look at America’s deeply dysfunctional Congress and offers some solutions. But are those solutions dysfunctional too?
From the Puritans and their city on a hill to the Mormons to modern-day charlatans, the story of the United States is the story of competing faiths; a lively new book looks at that complicated tapestry
Revolutionary Russian choreographer Leonid Yakobson fought prejudice, rivals, and the omnipresent Soviet censors to pursue his art, as a magnificent new book narrates
For the earliest New England settlers, there were no roads through the wilderness – only the pathways used by suspicious and distrustful natives. And yet, the desire to share news was as strong as ever – a fascinating new book looks at the ways gossip travels in the woods.
A nimble and tremendously engaging history of the Middle Ages finally gets translated into English
Two recent votes on independence remind us that globalization has not put an end to nationalism. A new book on the 1995 Quebec referendum highlights just how complicated a people’s “yes” or “no” votes really are.
Once he’d led the Continental Army to victory, General George Washington retired to his Mount Vernon home – but the newborn country wasn’t done with him yet. A new book looks at First Citizen Washington.
Gertrude van Tijn helped more than 20,000 Jews escape occupied Holland. What does it mean that, in saving their lives, she had to collaborate with Nazis?
What would you do if your artistic survival suddenly depended on the whims of a brutal dictatorship? How far would you compromise? How much would you risk? A new book studies artists in the Third Reich.
Can a book about the Jewish Diaspora add anything useful on the topic if it’s uninterested in Jewish history and slightly dodgy about the Diaspora? Jordan MaGill gives Alan Wolfe’s At Home in Exile a close reading.
The great critic and essayist Irving Howe laid claim to a great many decayed traditions – and then elevated them all to high art. A new collection of his prose presents some of his gems.
Veteran historian Brookhiser takes a look at the formative influences on Abraham Lincoln – not so much his own father as the Founding Fathers.
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”
We think of the Middle East as a place of hopeless deadlocks – but once upon a time, an Egyptian president, an Israeli prime minister, and a U.S. president worked for two weeks to hammer out a plan for peace. Lawrence Wright takes readers to Camp David at a turning point in history.
Can Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda heal Canada’s colonial relationship with its First Nations? Why should we expect literature to succeed where our leaders have failed?
England had been at war with France almost continuously since the Norman Conquest, but in the Hundred Years War, the conflict became especially heightened – and transformative. A new history tells the story as a rattling good yarn.
Uncertain Justice, by Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz, suggests that personality plays a greater role than ideology in today’s Supreme Court. David Culberg assesses the arguments.
A controversial author’s latest and most devastating indictment of Israel’s policies toward its Palestinian citizens and neighbors
What place do deep questions about the meaning of life have in our technological age? Is philosophy more important than ever?
The third voume of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland trilogy is sure to fly off the shelves, but those flying copies will be light to the tune of a few needed footnotes, omissions our managing editor finds, to say the least, troubling.
The collectors of rare 78 rpm records are nearly as singular and remarkable as the vinyl they seek out. A new book travels to flea markets and music fairs to discover the secrets of these American obsessives.
Of all the borders in the world, the Durand line is perhaps the most dangerous. A new book seeks to explain the Taliban, who plague the peoples on both sides of it.
Babe Ruth, Mayor Walker, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker – New York City in the Jazz Age was a bristling landscape of giants, most of them from out of town. A vast and enthralling new history tells the stories of the people who made the Big Apple.
“You can throw out every damn other thing in the Constitution, as long as you don’t touch my guns,” one Southern U.S. Senator famously bellowed, perfectly typifying a certain psychosis. A new book picks fights on history of American gun law.
Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International
On Marx, the latest chip off the block of Alan Ryan’s 2-volume On Politics, focuses on the founder of Marxism – but Ryan’s a man in a hurry, and the devil is in the details.
Ronald Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War at Reykjavik in 1985. And if you believe that, his loyal aid Ken Adelman has a book to sell you.
A fascinating new book tells the remarkable stories of five ‘improbable’ women who defied convention to explore the much mythologised landscape of the Middle East.
Like so many before him, the celebrated Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley had a tangled and complicated history with Italy, equal parts inspiration and frustration. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story
A kaleidoscopic new book explores one of history’s sharpest paradoxes: the Age of Liberty was also the Age of Slavery
Iraqi lawyer and former exile Zaid al-Ali writes a bleak, sobering account of the state of his homeland in the post-“Mission Accomplished” era – but is there any reason for hope?
Putin’s Soviet predecessors were masters of doublespeak. As Ukraine suffers again, it’s clear that their descendents are now in charge.
In her brilliantly scathing new book, Elaine Scarry charges that US Presidents, in maintaining and augmenting an enormous nuclear arsenal, have broken the social contract and become monarchs in all but name.
How could they do it, those young men who, with every reason to live, walked deliberately into machine-gun fire? Joe Sacco gives us a panoramic view of the horror, the labor, and the losses of WWI.
The Russian dissident writers are largely unknown in the West today, but their work was an inspiration at a time when their compatriots were forbidden to dream different dreams.
She was the daughter, the sister, and the wife of kings in one of England’s most turbulent periods, but Alison Weir’s new biography is the first to make us feel we really know Elizabeth of York.
Byron was mad, bad, and dangerous to know — and eventually his amorous, adventurous spirit led him to Italy.
Every correspondent in Moscow wanted to be the first to find Solzhenitsyn after he won the Nobel Prize in 1970. Michael Johson had that honor – but the great Russian writer wasn’t altogether pleased so see him.
He was the greatest Italian poet since Dante, but he was tormented by a strict upbringing, ruinous health, and moods of black pessmism. He was Giacomo Leopardi, and this is his story.
Ryszard Kapuściński has courted controversy for the poetic licenses in his groundbreaking works of history. But it’s those leaps of imagination and sympathy that make his 2001 book on Africa, The Shadow of the Sun, a lasting work of art.
The age of Roosevelt and Taft was also the age of Progressive reform – spearheaded by an amazing team of ‘muckraking’ writers the like of which the United States had never seen.
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s expansive novel Americanah centers on a Nigerian woman’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Nigeria. Orem Ochiel explores what her story says about complex, often traumatic experience of being black and African in the West.
From the agora 2,400 years ago to the present day, the schools of Plato and Aristotle have been locked in combat; a new book sees the struggle in disarmingly simple terms.
Before he became one of America’s most famous presidents, John Kennedy was a hot-shot senator and a photogenic winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But did the Senate years help to form the Oval Office years?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s ambitious new novel imagines the life of a 19th-century woman botanist, as insightful as Darwin but lost to history. It’s an interesting project, and a worthy one, but does the novel live up to its premise?
Two thousand years ago, a bustling seaside town on the Naples coast was engulfed in a sudden, unthinkable catastrophe: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii in hot ash and froze it in death for two millennia. Can any museum exhibit capture the irresistible fascination of such a stark human drama?
A girl, a widow, a matriarch, a mother, a businesswoman, and a minister’s slave: a new history traces the Salem Witch Trials through the lives of six women who paid dearly for their proximity to one of the most mysterious incidents in American history
The USSR’s Book of Tasty and Healthy Food created an impression of bounty and gourmet splendor; Anya von Bremzen’s memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking reveals the Soviet kitchen’s homelier truths
King and Woolman’s new book Assassination of the Archduke, boasts new sources, very close to Franz Ferdinand and his wife — too close?
The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.
In Caleb Crain’s debut novel, a young man puts his ordinary life on hold and goes to post-revolution Prague in search of all the usual things young people go searching for in Prague. But, as reviewer Yulia Greyman observes, “false selves are a part of love.”
It became entangled with the imperial hopes of a nation and inspired the design of one of the most significant buildings of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace: a new book explores the remarkable story of the Amazonian water lily.
Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.
A debut novel of alternate history spins out one of the most tantalizing hypotheticals of the past: what if Anne Boleyn had managed to give King Henry VIII a healthy male heir? Some of the answers – and some of the resulting mysteries – may surprise you.
Bohemian Back Bay was as key to Copley Square as aristocratic Back Bay and black artist models figured not only in Sargent’s work, but in Fred Holland Day’s too.
An incurious and indifferent Jew journeys to Auschwitz to confront the kitsch and the manicured ruins, looking for a sense of connection – and finding it in the most unlikely places
“The Gods of Copley Square”s spirited multi-part examination of Boston’s Trinity Church (and its indomitable bishop-saint) comes to its conclusion right where it should: at the heart of worship
The typical image of Winston Churchill comes from the dark days of World War II: a fat, old, bald Prime Minister eloquently defying Hitler’s Germany. But before there was a monument there was a man, as an engaging new biography brings to light.
Elie Wiesel once claimed “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka.” How does Steve Sem-Sandberg grapple with representing the unrepresentable in his sweeping chronicle of the Łódź ghetto, The Emperor of Lies? A review from our archives.
He may not have anything new to tell us today, but as Spencer Lenfield demonstrates, Gilbert Highet’s friendly, engaging pedagogy is still rare enough to keep him relevant.
After his first visit to Italy, Mark Twain pronounced her “one vast museum of magnificence and misery,” and yet he returned again and again. Luciano Magniafaco chronicles his journeys.
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.
Lost to history, here re-discovered, Trinity Chancel –“a daring enterprise in its day, as original an expression and as unique as was the genius of the American people.”
Ben Jonson said that the once wealthy and acclaimed Edmund Spenser died “for want of bread”; a new biography tries to disentangle myth from fact, and to make the case for the great poet’s relevance today
A rumor of Narnia at Trinity Church prompts two questions. Can a building have a spiritual life? Can a work of art not? Phillips Brooks and the idea of ecstasy
Give Anthony Burgess a check and he’d write anything, even a Time-Life picture book. Which doesn’t mean that his 1976 guide to New York is anything less than fascinating.
“Truth is Catholic, but the search for it is Protestant,” quoth W.H. Auden, and this month Phillips Brooks is at Lourdes, of all places, his liking for which can only be explained by his experiences at Benares.
As Americans go to the polls this month to elect a president, some recent biographies examine the lives of five very different men who once held the office.
“Perhaps a little drunk might answer” was Phillips Brooks’s idea of how to view Pre-Raphaelite art, several masterpieces of which he commissioned for Trinity Church. “Centerpiece” continues.
In this tensely-charged election year, all eyes fix on the blogosphere – of 1787. Jeffrey Eaton signs us in to Library of America’s 2-volume Debate on the Constitution and fills the comments field.
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Henry Adams on the road to Chartres, Phillips Brooks on the Madonna of the prairie, and John La Farge on why he worried Trinity Church had “no heart” — The Gods of Copley Square continues
It’s a bridge, a barrier, and a burden; it’s used in the bedroom, the kitchen, and the outhouse. Leah Price helps us think again about what we can, should, or want to do with that most fetishized of objects: the book.
Lord Castlereagh lives in infamy as the target of the Romantic Poets’ most vicious insults, but one biography tries to salvage his reputation. Was the statesman a scourge of liberalism or pragmatist of Enlightenment ideals?
Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos on toilet paper while prisoner in an open-air metal cage during WWII, and he spent many of the following years in mental hospitals. “I can get along with crazy people,” he quipped. “It’s only the fools I can’t stand.”
Was General Zhukov the greatest general to order mass executions of his own soldiers? Was he the single most decisive factor in beating Hitler? A new biography opens more questions than it answers.
This summer’s London Olympics take us back to 1981’s Chariots of Fire, the 1924 Olympics, and the poetry of William Blake. The connection? All remind us of the fragility of glory and our endless wish to make the past present.
Lyndon Johnson rained destruction on Vietnam and championed civil rights, amassed a secret fortune and fought for the needy. His paradoxical life continues in the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography.
A contentious Supreme Court in the headlines is hardly a new thing – nor is the Court being used for partisan politics and the brinksmanship of history, as Noah Feldman’s Scorpions makes clear
“He calls you a swine,” Walter Lippmann once wrote of H.L. Mencken, “and he increases your will to live.” A reissue of Mencken’s 1926 rabble-rouser Notes on Democracy shows the journalist at his insulting, rejuvenating best.
She’s occupied the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth for 60 years, and in June Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. Three new biographies try to understand the woman wearing the crown.
Steve Donoghue takes the emperor’s box to thumbs-up or thumbs-down an array of Roman historical novels, as “A Year with the Romans” continues.
Ian Manfred St. Cyr settles in with Maureen Waller’s Sovereign Ladies, a biography of “the six reigning queens of England” and suggests that the author’s headcount may be a little low.
He survived years of dangerous exile, won his crown on the battlefield, and founded one of the most famous dynasties in human history – and yet we still haven’t embraced Henry VII. A spirited new biography seeks to change that.
No form of literature seems as thoroughly doomed in the 21st century as the printed encyclopedia, but even dinosaurs can have rich and rewarding life-stories. Where did we go, before we all went to the Internet?
The clash between Brahmin liberalism and the legacy of slave-trading focuses on a monument to the men who redeemed a city and ransomed a nation. “American Aristocracy” continues.
A new book takes readers back to a time when, according to historian Ira Shapiro, politics could sometimes be noble and senators could sometimes be giants.
The work of the Roman poet Catullus has always challenged the received idioms of poetry and society, and a daring new translation both underscores and undermines that iconoclastic Catullan stance.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
One hundred years ago this month, the luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, with the loss of over 1500 lives. The centenary has released a flood of books, including some gems not to be missed.
Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.
For two terms, first as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was the most – often the only – likeable face of the George W. Bush administration. But does this quintessential team player break ranks in her new memoir?
He fought a world war with France, survived the Black Death, and gave England a real Parliament. Froissart and Chaucer loved him, Shakespeare (almost) wrote about him, and the Victorians disparaged him. He was Edward III, and he has a king-sized new biography from Yale University Press.
Maligned as nothing but handsome breeding stock, this German import did more to redefine the role of the monarchy than any subsequent royal, consort or king.
Boston without Brahmins, like Vienna without Jews, frames shifting capitoline visions, visions much more in the spirit than most realize of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who actually wrote: ‘It dwarfs the mind to feed it on any localism.’
James Madison was more cautious and purposeful than the temperamental Hamilton or the effusive Jefferson. Indeed, to paraphrase Brookhiser, Hamilton was a rocket, Jefferson was a kite, Madison was a ballast.
A rich, beautiful, but sadly neglected historical masterpiece: Hilda Prescott’s The Man on a Donkey is the War and Peace of the English Reformation
He lost his famous mother when he was a boy, became a teen idol, had a storybook wedding, and he’s second in line to be King of England. The monarchy Prince William inherits will be like nothing his predecessors have experienced – if it exists at all. “A Year with the Windsors” concludes.
John Nance Garner famously referred to the vice presidency as being not worth a bucket of warm, er, spit – and yet, during the two terms of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney used that office to wield unprecedented power. The former vice president writes an unapologetic memoir.
Boston, so often reproved for living in its memories, may well be poised to lead the future, not in spite of its history but because of it.
Lodestar or mirror? Passé or ne plus ultra? Elizabeth II has presided with consistency over an inconsistent age. And what have we learned of her?
Courtier and cleric, adventurer and ascetic, man of faith and man of the world — John Donne was many things in his life, and a sprawling new Companion does its best to assess them all.
When his brother the king abdicated, shy Prince Bertie suddenly became king – and he was just settling in when the World War II threw his kingdom into chaos. ‘A Year with the Windsors’ continues.
A new biography explores the life of the erratic and headstrong ‘forgotten’ Founding Father who bankrolled a revolution and guided a new republic.
When the tottering Roman Empire abandoned its far-flung outpost of Britain, the natives were forced to fend for themselves. The results were one part “Lord of the Flies” and one part “Camelot.”
A pivotal part of the Second World War was fought not on land or sea but under the waves – and a new history attributes heroism to both sides.
If you’re hoping for a heartfelt mea culpa from an architect of two disastrous wars, this isn’t it. Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir is shallow at best, cynically self-serving at worst.
When the heir presumptive, Prince Eddy, died suddenly, the nation and empire was convulsed with mourning – and a century of speculation began! Had the lost prince been a simpleton, a saint, a catamite – even Jack the Ripper?
She was an orange-seller, an actress, a whore, and the most popular of Charles II’s many mistresses: Nell Gwynn stars in two new novels.
Books have been with us for thousands of years, and books about books for very nearly that long. The world of books teems with themes, and in the latest massive Oxford Companion, that world receives a bestiary with hopes of being definitive.
Her reign was epic in length and social impact, but it very nearly didn’t happen at all. She ruled through two generations of her people, and she left the British monarchy very different from how she found it. She is Queen Victoria, and our Year with the Windsors starts as it must: with her.
The United States’ first Civil War, Alan Taylor claims, was fought in 1812. Ivan Lett assesses the revisionist argument.
Nixon’s crimes are known to us all. A new book reveals that his biggest tormentor in the media committed a few of them himself.
In 1941 Hitler had everything: all of Europe had fallen to his stormtroopers, and he could dispose of lone, defiant England at his leisure. Then he made a Napoleonic gamble: he invaded his one-time ally, Russia. Three new books deal with the Napoleonic results of that gamble.
Ever since Cain and Abel, literature has reserved a prominent place for sterling heroes — and the flawed, grasping, and entirely more interesting brothers who live in their shadow.
No American president in a generation has so polarized the country as George W. Bush, and his new book will almost certainly polarize its readers. Is it defiant agitprop or heartfelt memoir?
For two centuries, he’s been the founding myth of his nation: first in war, first in peace, Washington the paragon. Ron Chernow’s new biography does nothing to tarnish that image — but should it?
Of the charismatic Yale lecturer one adoring student wrote, “Charles Hill is God,” and in his new book, Hill moves in mysterious ways. He claims that statecraft and the Western canon are inextricably linked — but there are doubters in the temple.
The Battle of the Somme has become a watch-word for useless slaughter over worthless ground, but a new book contends that the Somme was actually a victory for the good guys–a ghastly, horrifying victory, but a victory just the same.
Winston Churchill has become such an icon of wartime tenacity that many people tend to forget he had a postwar political career. Barbara Leaming’s 2010 biography examines the last act of a famous man’s career.
She’s one of the most famous names in history, and the only figure in antiquity to rival Julius Caesar’s renown–but what do we really know about Cleopatra? Stacy Schiff’s new biography takes us behind the legend.
In books such as “Live Alone and Like It” Marjorie Hillis preached independence and practical style to “live-aloner” working women of the 1930s and beyond
Some of the greatest works of English literature grapple with the dark, knotted roots of anti-Semitism, and the audience is always complicit. A new book studies the tangle of art and atrocity in writers Chaucer to Marlowe to Shakespeare
He has become synonymous with amoral, cold-hearted political machination, but there was more to Machiavelli than that. A new biography attempts to look at the whole man.
Adam Nicolson chronicles his work bringing Sissinghurst castle and its grounds up to date–the delusions of a “hippie-squire” or the worthy restoration of a storied estate?
He toadied to a succession of emperors and trembled at the mere thought of being mugged — on the surface, it looks odd to cast Pliny the Younger as a detective. A new mystery novel takes that chance.
More than any other figure in American history (including his hated rival Andrew Jackson), Henry Clay towered over the political landscape in the decades before the Civil War; two new books look at his legacy.
In addition to their gods and goddesses, the ancient Greeks worshiped youth and athletic prowess, and their foremost bard was Pindar.
Was Eleanor of Aquitaine a power in medieval politics or a glittering figurehead? This wife of two kings and mother of four stars in a new novel by Alison Weir – but will the real Eleanor please stand up?
The sunlit aesthetics of the Edwardian era have been given a new look in this essay collection, and the consensus leans decidedly toward the darker meanings belying those lovely surfaces
What we know about Edward II came from the brilliant mind of Christopher Marlowe. A new biography seeks to separate the real man from the dramatist’s fertile imagination.
Emmanuel Carrere’s memoir is an uneasy blend of sexual fantasy and archival records, of a future with a beautiful young woman and a past haunted by a possible Nazi collaborator
As Mark Twain pointed out a century ago, there’s no evidence the man from Stratford ever read a book, much less owned one, and so the number of books alleging and ‘proving’ evidence of his grand fraud grows and grows …
At her trial, Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery, witchcraft, and incest – charges long mocked by historians. But a new book asks: is it possible Anne was actually guilty?
When colonial tensions were at a boiling point, the British garrisoned troops on Boston Common and put the city under military occupation – until a certain Massacre, that is.
During the American Revolution, colonists ran blockades, fought sea-battles and … sent in an attack-submarine? No, it’s not time travel – it’s the amazing story of the Turtle.
World War I is known for its inching attrition, but both sides tried their hand at massive, all-or-nothing ‘pushes’ – including two of the worst, the Marne and the Somme.
In his new memoir, Christopher Hitchens regales his readers with one good story after another. But as John Rodwan shows, we’ve heard most of them before – lots of times.
We often let Napoleon’s failure to conquer Russia obscure the fact that Napoleon was then conquered by Russia. A new book restores the balance of power.
A minor daughter of Scottish nobility was raised to the royalty of England at the turn of the 20th century and lived until she was 102. Her official biography chronicles an age.
The Pacific Theater WWII battle against Japan – it will forever be ‘the other war’ – here takes center stage as the boredom and carnage are seen by five individual soldiers.
The Anarchist movement in America was the first to embrace some form of gay rights, but it was more a marriage of convenience than love at first sight.
In 2007-2008, the world’s financial markets experienced ample “creative destruction.” Now in paperback is this rich (no pun intended) life of the man who coined the term.
When John Ruskin, the foremost architectural critic of the Victorian era, discovered Venice, he fell in love. An elaborate new work paints the picture in great detail.
“Mad Bomber” Sam Melville protested the Vietnam War by blowing up buildings, and he died unrepentant in the Attica riots – but what, if anything, was his legacy?
President Polk isn’t exactly a household name, and a new book seeks to change that. Will the facilitator of genocide and the originator of civil war get a fair shake? Read on!
The warrior tribes who chipped away at Rome’s Western empire were pretty rough on each other, too. A new book examines the fight for fledgling Europe.
The glory that was Rome lived on – in a strange new form – for a thousand years in the East, despite being beset by enemies on all sides. A new study illuminates how they managed it.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was peaceful, orderly, and above all sensible, or so says towering Victorian historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. Two new books look at the man and the Revolution he so indelibly described.
Is it possible to defend a group of people who gleefully made rape and torture a part of their lives? Freydis Skaar reviews a new history of the Vikings and finds its author, Robert Ferguson, doing something very close to that.
It’s often forgotten, or ignored, that China has a four-thousand-year-old history as rich and varied as any Western civilization. Hugh Seames hopes that John Keay’s immense new book will change some misperceptions about the Middle Kingdom
As Laura Kolbe shows, A New Literary History of America throws every word of its own title into question—and that’s not the most exciting part of Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’ immense anthology
When he was banished for life from Rome, Ovid was trying to alter his artistic forms with his Metamorphoses. Trace the transformations in Steve Donoghue’s final “Year with the Romans”
In 1938 Neville Chamberlain faced the ultimate ‘what if’ scenario, negotiating peace with Hitler; A.C. Childers weighs in on David Faber’s new account of the results.
Ned Sublette pens a loving portrait of New Orleans before Katrina struck. Ingrid Norton reviews The Year Before the Flood.
He was everybody’s friend, and his poetry breathes with life even today. He was Horace, and “A Year with the Romans” makes his acquaintance.
In a new work of Egyptology, bestselling author James Patterson claims he’s cracked the oldest murder case this side of Cain and Abel, but is Ascanio Tedeschi convinced?
Steve Donoghue’s “A Year with the Romans” continues with a look at the obscure Roman poet Persius – and the great new book about him.
Statesmen, philosophers, and serial killers turn to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, but what was the emperor himself like? Frank McLynn’s Marcus Aurelius tells, and in this month’s “A Year with the Romans,” Steve Donoghue assesses.
The only surviving full-length biography of Alexander the Great was written by a Roman. Steve Donoghue looks at Quintus Curtius Rufus as “A Year with the Romans” continues.
Sure, he banged his shoe on a podium, but there was more than that to the fun-loving, infuriating Khrushchev – lots more, as Kristen Borg finds out in Peter Carlson’s K Blows Top
Church and State collided in Henry VIII’s England, and Durham Cathedral was caught in the middle. Steve Donoghue returns to his Tudor beat to review Geoffrey Moorhouse’s The Last Divine Office.
Larry Tye has written a book about the greatest, longest baseball career to date; Brad Jones benches the Babe and tallies up Satchel.
Carl Van Doren called her “the princess who takes off her pants,” but who was Gypsy Rose Lee, really? Kindly let Michael Adams entertain you in looking at two recent biographies.
That famous vein of gold (well, mostly silver) made American millionaires, awful tragedies, and Mark Twain. Eli Wanamaker’s literary quarry is Dennis Drabelle’s Mile-High Fever.
No one had ever written about love – in its infinite and profane variety – the way the Roman poet Catullus did; its explication by a scholarly schoolmistress might seem paradoxical – but Edith Hamilton knew something about love herself.
Richard Beeman, in his Plain, Honest Men, reminds us that the Founding Fathers weren’t demigods. Thomas J. Daly measures their feet of clay.
Sarah Ruden, the latest and greatest translator of Vergil’s Aeneid, offers a funny and fascinating glimpse inside the classicist’s world in this Open Letters interview.
Steve Donoghue’s “Year with the Romans” turns its eye upon Titus Livius, who either wrote poetical history or historical poetry, depending on who you ask.
The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, was compiled in the early 19th century from a much older oral tradition—can it possibly have anything to teach the modern reader? Sean Hughes has some surprising answers.
Just as we approach the time when there will be no more living witnesses to the Second World War, Richard Evans concludes his monumental three-volume Nazi history with The Third Reich at War. Steve Donoghue makes record of the results.
Novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers have begun weaving the Columbine shootings into their fiction. Reviewing Dave Cullen’s Columbine, Brad Jones concentrates on the sad facts alone.
That persistent bugaboo of publishers (and recently, the reading public): writers passing off others’ work as their own. Paul Maliszewski’s Fakers looks at some notorious cases, and John G. Rodwan Jr. weighs in.
Virgil’s Aeneid has been attracting translators for centuries, and Sarah Ruden’s rendering is notable in more ways than one. (She calls him Vergil, for one thing, but that’s just the start.) Steve Donoghue regards her efforts in the latest “A Year with the Romans.”
Almost twenty-five years ago, thieves entered Boston’s venerable Gardner Museum by night and stole several priceless works of art; the crime remains unsolved, and the artwork has never re-surfaced. Theories, of course, abound.
Peter Ackroyd’s Thames: the Biography is a rambling, list-laden account of the much-storied river. Our London correspondent Bryn Haworth tests the waters.
In 1979, the mighty Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan – and quickly got bogged down in a quagmire from which victory seemed impossible. In The Great Gamble, Gregory Feifer examines what happened; muscular Zac Marconi tries to tie it all together.
Thomas DiLorenzo, in Hamilton’s Curse, lays all the present-day woes of the United States at the feet of that most problematic of Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Did Aaron Burr do us all a favor? Thomas Daly weighs the prosecution’s case.
And you thought text-messaging was bad! In the 1920s, the gin-soaked youth movement of the Bright Young People swept through London, making headlines and raising eyebrows. Honoria St. Cyr takes a whirl through D. J. Taylor’s book on the subject and asks: “WTF?”
They were wealthy, influential, and for two centuries in England they wielded power to rival the king’s … but who were the Earls of Pembroke (and their equally formidable wives)? In Quarrel with the King, Adam Nicolson takes us beyond the pomp, and here Steve Donoghue looks at the politics of family.
Would the inventor of “sprung rhythm” have lived a more carefree existence in a world that allowed him to live and love the way he wanted? What poetry would he write in such a world? Steve Donoghue takes a brisk dip into Paul Mariani’s Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life.
Mary Borden’s long-forgotten 1929 memoir of World War I, The Forbidden Zone, takes its readers into the harrowing world of a front-line trauma nurse. Joanna Scutts joins her in the trenches and assesses the damage.
John Demos, author of The Unredeemed Captive, has produced The Enemy Within, a new comprehensive history of witch-hunting, a mania that has gripped mankind for centuries. From Salem to the McCarthy hearings and beyond, Rita Consalvos surveys this new survey.
Everybody’s heard of Hannibal, who crossed the Alps and out-fought the Romans in battle after battle. Far fewer people have heard of Scipio, the young general who finally defeated him. And nobody’s heard of the hero Ascanio Tedeschi uncovers in his examination of two books on ancient Rome’s great and near-great.
The kings and counts of Tudor England wouldn’t have known the name of minor Cheshire landowner Humphrey Newton, but in reviewing Deborah Youngs’ book on the man, Steve Donoghue illustrates just how much Newton can teach us about the era. “A Year with the Tudors” concludes here.
Before the pestiferous little Corsican conquered Europe, he tried his hand at Egypt – Steve Donoghue exposes how the general disposes in his review of Paul Strathern’s Napoleon in Egypt.
Euripides’ Medea has been explained, performed, and debated for the last 2000 years. Panagiotis Polichronakis looks at Robin Robertson’s new translation and ponders whether it’s fit for scholars, dramaturgs, or the all-elusive common reader.
Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson achieved immortal fame in his Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862. Peter Cozzens re-examines the man behind the legend, and Steve Donoghue adjudges the results.
“It assaults me, and I adore it!” exclaimed Isabella Stewart Gardner of the legendary city of Venice, and legions of visitors have felt likewise. Venetian writer Tiziano Scarpa writes a love-letter to his spellbinding native city. Professor Hugh Seames has the oar.
William Shakespeare lived under the Tudors for most of his life, but he only wrote about them once, in his play The History of the Life of King Henry VIII – or did he? In our latest One Encounter, and also the new installment in his “Year with the Tudors,” Steve Donoghue takes a look at that play and the fractious theories attendant.
Mary Tudor’s fierce Catholic faith and merciless persecution of Protestants gave her the immortal nickname of “Bloody Mary.” In our ongoing feature A Year with the Tudors, Steve Donoghue reviews Linda Porter’s The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary.”
An in-depth addition to our Year with the Tudors: Open Letters chats with a writer equally hip-deep in the subject, Linda Porter, author of The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary.” Our first Q & A!
There’s something going on in the latest trend of Tudor book-covers, and we’re not sure what it is, although a pair (shall we say?) of aspects is quite obvious. What are these publishers thinking? Take a look for yourself! and a second look! and a third!
Even would-be world-beater Napoleon was never able to subjugate his critics. In reviewing Philip Dwyer’s new book Napoleon: The Path to Power, Thomas J. Daly finds at least one such critic still bashing away at the diminutive Corsican.
Overlooked by many historians is the fact that Columbus didn’t just sail west to reach the East, he also sailed south, and he (and the rest of the world) had some specific ideas of what that meant. Bartolomeo Piccolomini shows how Nicolas Wey Gomez’s new book brings the full sphere of The Discoverer’s navigation to life, showing you a Columbus you never knew.
At the peak of his career, Naval Secretary (and posthumously famous diarist) Samuel Pepys found himself out of a job, in jail, and facing execution for his alleged plot against the government. Father and son writing team of James and Ben Long take the reader through all the twists and turns of the case; father and son reviewers Thurlow and Zach Truman report back.
Though the American Civil War produced more and better books and writers than any single event in our country’s history, Bruce Catton is the greatest of its 20th century tellers. In this regular feature, Steve Donoghue tours the breathtaking work of an unfairly set-aside annalist.
For a year in the mid 1970s George H.W. Bush was the head of the United States Liaison Office in China. Steve Donoghue laments the contrast they make with his incurious son.
Ninety years ago, the author of The Birds of Puerto Rico bludgeoned a small boy to death with the help of then-lover Richard Loeb. Steve Donoghue takes readers through Simon Baatz’s For the Thrill of It—in which Clarence Darrow fights the good fight for a couple of very, very bad boys.
Partisans on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have trouble reconciling the intricacy of events with their national mythology. Greg Waldmann explains how the Benny Morris of 1948 is both the exception and the rule.
Ted Sorensen was the most loyal of JFK’s retainers and the last to finally spill the beans about the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Steve Donoghue walks us through the worthy—if somewhat hedging—memoir of an eloquent and haunted man.
Napoleon came home from Elba to find his wine barrels dry, his floors scuffed, and a host of minor nobodies redistricting his continent. This was the celebrated Congress of Vienna, and Thomas J. Daly takes us through the maneuvers of Vienna 1814 by David King.
More than any other dynasty in history, the Tudors are ready for their close-up. In this installment of his “Year with the Tudors,” Steve Donoghue leads us on a royal progress through film archives to access the heart and stomach of these undying superstars.
What do you do when the courageous trailblazing author who formed your youth is accused of an unspeakable crime? John G. Rodwan, Jr. does what Orwell would have done, weighed the evidence and let the chips fall where they may.
The New Oxford World History:
The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE
Focusing on early humans to the exclusion of non-human biology or world geology, this lean book may have been more accurately titled …
At the age of 64, ex-President John Quincy Adams did an unprecedented thing: he became a congressman. Thomas J. Daly looks back on the autumn of this remarkable man’s life in a review of Joseph Wheelan’s Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade.
And the murderer of the great Roman General Germanicus was…. No, you’ll never guess. Ascanio Tedeschi shows how historian Stephen Dando-Collins exploits a scarcity of known facts to formulate the most ludicrous whodunit in recent memory.
Today the name Mata Hari evokes a villainess in a James Bond movie. Yet, as Joanna Scutts discovers, if you wipe away the makeup from the myth, you uncover a far sadder and more complex tale.
Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey: commander, courtier, poet. In this installment of his “Year with the Tudors,” Steve Donoghue tells the story of how such an extraordinary young man fell foul of Henry VIII.
Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought turns on the 1828 presidential race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, a tawdry epic of mudslinging the likes of which would not be seen until our own era. Steve Donoghue revisits how it all, alas, began.
Steve Donoghue continues his “Year with the Tudors” with this look at Chris Skidmore’s biography of Edward VI, the ill-starred son of Henry VIII who might have been the most formidable Tudor monarch of all.
Books lamenting our fractured political system are as commonplace these days as polling and pundits, but, as Greg Waldmann discovers, the historical rigor of Ronald Brownstein’s The Second Civil War helps elevate it above its pandering peers.
As Steve Donoghue writes, the epitome of what a monarch can be was embodied in the massive form of Henry VIII, and not a year passes without another biographer struggling to tackle the man and his legacy. 2007 was no different….
There was no popular conception of the serial killer in Victorian England in 1888. Jack the Ripper was self-made man, and, as Steve Donoghue writes, no one knows who he was.
For fifteen years a British and a Soviet family built a friendship by slipping letters past KGB censors. Karen Vanuska celebrates From Newbury with Love, a collection of their rich correspondence.
It was a long wait, but, as Panagiotis Polichronakis reports, The Landmark Herodotus is finally here in all its definitive glory.
George Custer knew damn well how many Indians he’d be fighting at Little Bighorn, but the myths of that battle have overcrowded the truth. To sort one from the other, Steve Donoghue charges into a shelf of Custerology.
A good man’s life is rare and pure enough to revisit for its own sake. Steve Donoghue looks back on why Theodore Roosevelt meant so much to so many, and how he earned his spot on that big rock.
In this regular feature, Steve Donoghue celebrates the life and letters of John Jay Chapman, an eloquent American wit now forgotten, whose writings once provoked and delighted an enthusiastic public.
The American Revolution’s neat conclusion at Yorktown is a familiar story from the history books. Thom Daly reads Perils of Peace as Thomas Fleming’s noble if flawed attempt to add more detail to our easy picture of events.
Almost a century ago, the squabbles of one privileged family decimated all of Europe. Steve Donoghue investigates Catrine Clay’s impossibly comprehensive retelling in King, Kaiser, Tsar:
James Fenimore Cooper’s greatness as a novelist has been almost completely lost behind a single, hilarious skewering from Mark Twain. Steve Donoghue reviews a new biography that tries desperately to win back the poor man’s reputation.
Ah, that slave-trading John Hawkins, what a dreamy, dashing man! Steve Donoghue reviews Susan Ronald’s The Pirate Queen, an Elizabethan history a trifle more interested in romance than, um, what actually happened.
Ignazio de Vega conducts a careful exegesis of Pope Benedict XVI’s
Jesus of Nazareth and discovers in it a remarkable quality: a spirit
The only trouble with Sean O’Casey’s brilliant plays is that they overshadow
his magnificent memoirs. In our monthly feature, Steve Donoghue
tries to even the scales.
Alan Axelrod’s Blooding at Great Meadows perpetuates a few too many myths about George Washington. Fortunately, we have Steve Donoghue to set the hagiographers straight.
Bulldog attorney Vincent Bugliosi investigated the JFK assassination and wrote the world’s longest book about it. We re-read it for the sad anniversary of that day in Dallas.