Summer Reading Faculty Recommendations
Timothy Snyder, The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (Basic Books, 2008). A Yale historian, Snyder is a wonderful storyteller and has turned the story of one archduke into a much larger story about Eastern Europe, intrigue, and identity. From Publisher's Weekly: “an interesting biography of a man whose colorful life embodied many of the tensions that plagued Europe in the early 20th century.”
With the presidential election season upon us, I recommend two excellent books that survey the major political shifts that have shaped the course of American politics over the last 50 years: Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001); and Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008).
Lauro Martines, April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici (Oxford, 2003). A gripping account of the Pazzi conspiracy, the attempt to murder Lorenzo the Magnificent of the powerful Medici family and his younger brother Guiliano. A fascinating tale of political intrigue and the bloody revenge with which the Medici responded.
James J. Sheehan, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008). As endorsed by historian Fritz Stern: “Only a very great historian could in such brief compass brilliantly and cogently sketch the travails of the old Europe that reached its nadir in 1945 and was succeeded by a Europe committed to peace and to the building of a prosperous civilian state…A triumph of humane historical portrayal, a treasure for citizens and students alike.”
Edith H. Beer and Susan Dworkin, The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust (Harper Perennial, 2000). Despite its sensational title, this is a fascinating account about an Austrian Jewish woman (about to get her doctorate in Law) in the late 1930s. When the Germans annexed Austria under the Anschluss, she, like other Jews, was subject to persecution. This book chronicles her work as a slave laborer in war-time Germany and her eventual marriage to a Nazi officer. The book follows her through the war and into post-war East Germany, when she lived under Soviet rule there. This book is very interesting for any history student but particularly for those who have taken, or will take, History 102, 206 or 309.
Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). It's a riveting narrative, concealing a most clever analysis of gender in early nineteenth-century England.
Two recommendations: Joseph Plumb Martin, Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, edited by James Kirby Martin (Blackwell Publishing, 2008). This is a new edition of the most famous war diary of the Revolutionary War. What makes it special is that Joseph Plumb Martin was an ordinary private in the Continental Army. There are no discussions of grand strategy in this "grunt" perspective, only the tale of daily sacrifice. I recommend it as 4th of July reading; and David McCullough, John Adams (Simon and Schuster, 2001). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, it served as the basis for the HBO multi-part series. A new paperback edition has recently become a bestseller. Gordon S. Wood called it "the best biography of Adams ever written." The heart of the story is the lifelong love affair between John and Abigail. Historical biography does not get any better than this.
Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford UP, 2007). Howe's book was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter (Back Bay Books, 2006). This is a true story of Teresa Urrea, the author's great aunt and a modern-day "saint" for many in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. The novel is set in the era immediately preceding the Mexican Revolution and expertly combines clear journalistic writing with the magical realism style of Latin America. The author's award-winning book on the experience of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Southwest, The Devil's Highway, is also enthusiastically recommended.
Miriam Raub Vivian:
Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (New York: Harper Collins, 1998; now a Harper Perennial paperback, 2005). Presenting a fascinating story of the origins and development of the OED, with major contributions from an unlikely character, this engaging book takes readers to both sides of the Atlantic.