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July 2016

History Books Roundup: Reliving the Past

July 2016

July's roundup of History titles includes three books that focus on the Kennedys (BOBBY KENNEDY: The Making of a Liberal Icon, KICK: The True Story of JFK's Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth and VENDETTA: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa); THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE by Thomas Harding, a groundbreaking and revelatory new history of Germany, told over a tumultuous century through the story of a small wooden house; Bill Yenne's WHEN TIGERS RULED THE SKY, an in-depth account of the legendary World War II combat group, the Flying Tigers; and THE REAL PETER PAN, Piers Dudgeon's examination of the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye - Biography


History remembers Robert F. Kennedy as a racial healer, a tribune for the poor, and the last progressive knight of a bygone era of American politics. But Kennedy’s enshrinement in the liberal pantheon was actually the final stage of a journey that had its beginnings in the conservative 1950s. Larry Tye peels away layers of myth and misconception to paint a complete portrait of this singularly fascinating figure. To capture the full arc of his subject’s life, Tye draws on unpublished memoirs, unreleased government files and 58 boxes of papers that had been under lock and key for the past 40 years.

Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal by Jack Kelly - History


The technological marvel of its age, the Erie Canal grew out of a sudden fit of inspiration. Proponents didn't just dream; they built a 360-mile waterway entirely by hand and largely through wilderness. As excitement crackled down its length, the canal became the scene of the most striking outburst of imagination in American history. It made New York the financial capital of America and brought the modern world crashing into the frontier. Men and women saw God face to face, gained and lost fortunes, and reveled in a period of intense spiritual creativity. HEAVEN’S DITCH illuminates the spiritual and political upheavals along this "psychic highway" from its opening in 1825 through 1844.

The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History by Thomas Harding - History


In 1993, Thomas Harding traveled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a small house by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. It had been her “soul place,” she said --- a holiday home for her and her family, but also a refuge --- until the 1930s, when the Nazis’ rise to power forced them to leave. The trip was his grandmother’s chance to remember her childhood sanctuary as it was. But the house had changed, and when Harding returned nearly 20 years later, it was about to be demolished. Slowly he began to piece together the lives of the five families who had lived there: a wealthy landowner, a prosperous Jewish family, a renowned composer, a widow and her children, and a Stasi informant. All had made the house their home, and all but one had been forced out.

Kick: The True Story of JFK's Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth by Paula Byrne - Biography

Encouraged to be “winners” from a young age, Rose and Joe Kennedy’s children were the embodiment of ambitious, wholesome Americanism. Yet even within this ebullient group of overachievers, the fourth Kennedy child, the irrepressible Kathleen, stood out. Lively, charismatic, extremely clever, and blessed with graceful athleticism and a sunny disposition, the alluring socialite fondly known as Kick was a firecracker who effortlessly made friends and stole hearts. Paula Byrne recounts this remarkable young woman’s life in detail as never before.

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey - History


When Robert Bunch arrived in Charleston to take up the post of British consul in 1853, he was young and full of ambition, but even he couldn’t have imagined the incredible role he would play in the history-making events to unfold. In an age when diplomats often were spies, Bunch’s job included sending intelligence back to the British government in London. Yet as the United States threatened to erupt into Civil War, Bunch found himself plunged into a double life, settling into an amiable routine with his slavery-loving neighbors on the one hand, while working furiously to thwart their plans to achieve a new Confederacy.

Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolution by Caitlin Fitz - History


In the early 19th century, the United States turned its idealistic gaze southward, imagining a legacy of revolution and republicanism it hoped would dominate the American hemisphere. Even as Latin Americans were gradually ending slavery, U.S. observers remained energized by the belief that their founding ideals were triumphing over European tyranny among their “sister republics.” But as slavery became a violently divisive issue at home, goodwill toward antislavery revolutionaries waned. By the nation’s 50th anniversary, republican efforts abroad had become a scaffold upon which many in the United States erected an ideology of white U.S. exceptionalism that would haunt the geopolitical landscape for generations.

The Real Peter Pan: J. M. Barrie and the Boy Who Inspired Him by Piers Dudgeon - Biography


After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London's Kensington Garden, J.M. Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie's most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie's involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael --- the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable --- that stands out.

Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy by John Prados - History


As Allied ships prepared for the invasion of the Philippine island of Leyte, every available warship, submarine and airplane was placed on alert while Japanese admiral Kurita Takeo stalked Admiral William F. Halsey’s unwitting American armada. It was the beginning of the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval battle in history. In STORM OVER LEYTE, acclaimed historian John Prados gives readers an unprecedented look at both sides of this titanic naval clash, demonstrating that, despite the Americans’ overwhelming superiority in firepower and supplies, the Japanese achieved their goal, inflicting grave damage on U.S. forces.

Texas Rising: The Epic True Story of the Lone Star Republic and the Rise of the Texas Rangers, 1836-1846 by Stephen L. Moore - History


Acclaimed Texas historian Stephen L. Moore’s new narrative history --- the official nonfiction companion to the History Channel's dramatic series "Texas Rising" (created by the same team that made the ratings record-breaker "Hatfields & McCoys") --- tells the full, thrilling story of the Texas Revolution from its humble beginnings to its dramatic conclusion, and reveals the contributions of the fabled Texas Rangers --- both during the revolution and in the frontier Indian wars that followed.

Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown by Scott D. Seligman - True Crime/History


TONG WARS is historical true crime set against the perfect landscape: Tammany-era New York City. Representatives of rival tongs (secret societies) corner the various markets of sin using admirably creative strategies. The city government was already corrupt from top to bottom, so once one tong began taxing the gambling dens and paying off the authorities, a rival, jealously eyeing its lucrative franchise, co-opted a local reformist group to help eliminate it. Pretty soon Chinese were slaughtering one another in the streets, inaugurating a succession of wars that raged for the next 30 years.

Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa by James Neff - History/Politics

From 1957 to 1964, Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa channeled nearly all of their considerable powers into destroying each other. Kennedy's battle with Hoffa burst into the public consciousness with the 1957 Senate Rackets Committee hearings and intensified when his brother named him attorney general in 1961. RFK put together a "Get Hoffa" squad within the Justice Department, devoted to destroying one man. But Hoffa, with nearly unlimited Teamster funds, was not about to roll over.

When Tigers Ruled the Sky: The Flying Tigers: American Outlaw Pilots Over China in World War II by Bill Yenne - History


In 1940, Pearl Harbor had not yet happened, and America was not yet at war with Japan. But China had been trying to stave off Japanese aggression for three years --- and was desperate for aircraft and trained combat pilots. General Chiang Kai-shek sent military aviation advisor Claire Chennault to Washington, where President Roosevelt was sympathetic, but knew he could not intervene overtly. Instead, he quietly helped Chennault put together a group of American volunteer pilots. This was how the 1st American Volunteer Group --- more commonly known as the Flying Tigers --- was born.