The story of the quest to discover the fates of the 56,000 American servicemen who served in the Pacific theater during World War II and were declared to be missing in action.
New York Times Magazine writer Hylton picked up the story in the wake of scuba diver Pat Scannon's successful efforts to find evidence in the waters around Palau. The diver found the underwater wreckage of three bombers shot down during the battle for Palau, one of the bloodiest in the whole war. One of those shot down was tail gunner Jimmie Doyle, whose family was informed he was missing in 1944 but never had definitive knowledge of his fate. Thanks to Scannon—who sought to “honor the military tradition in his family without abandoning his sense of self”—and the team he established, Jimmie's son, Tommy, and his wife eventually discovered what had happened to the father declared missing many years ago. Scannon's investigations into the submerged wrecks led to the development of his own expertise and the organization of the “BentProp” team of divers, which took on responsibility to help account for the MIAs lost in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Cooperating with the military's Central Identification Laboratory and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command enabled Scannon and his team to successfully track down the story of the sunken B-24s. Hylton draws from a treasure trove of Doyle’s letters, which later provided the impetus for Tommy to seek out Scannon and his investigators. The author skillfully weaves these strands together against a dramatic account of the Pacific theater, particularly the action in the air over Palau and its surroundings.
An absorbing read that is well-structured to pull readers through the narrative. A perfect complement to Bryan Bender’s You Are Not Forgotten (2013).
To create this lively study of the main players of the two Continental Congresses, Beeman (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) draws on his wealth of research from his previous, award-winning works, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (2009) and Patrick Henry (1974).
The author concentrates on the fascinating human contrasts among the delegates, from the fiery Bostonians, including the Adamses, to the loyalist New Yorkers, as they brought with them their provincial biases and sincere and honorable hopes for fair, just government, but mostly a desire for reconciliation with the British crown. Indeed, Beeman’s leitmotif throughout his fluid study of the events of the key 22 months is the frank reluctance on the part of the delegates to make that rupture, as Pennsylvania lawyer John Dickinson would eloquently argue in moving speeches opposing independence up until the decisive vote of July 2, 1776. While Virginia’s “son of thunder” Patrick Henry harangued the delegates on the second day of the first Congress with an appeal to their “American” rather than regional identities, the others were not yet ready to renounce the British constitution, hammering out successive appeals to the king, despite the hardening of British sympathies against them. From voting on the banning of British imports and exports to appointing George Washington as commander of the Continental Army to the selection of little-known Thomas Jefferson to the committee to write a declaration of independence to the publication of Thomas Paine’s incendiary Common Sense, Beeman elegantly moves through the deeply compelling process of how these motley characters fashioned government as an agency for the people.
A welcome addition to a rich, indispensable field of scholarly study.
Prolific popular historian Clarke (The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days that Inspired America, 2008, etc.) argues that the charismatic president, whose achievements are generally low-rated by scholars, in his final months revealed himself as a great statesman.
The book opens on August 7, 1963, when Jackie delivered a premature son whose devastating death brought the couple together. The author spends much time on JFK’s personal life, not avoiding his well-known sexual appetite and often crippling medical problems. On the political front, this period saw the approval of the first nuclear test ban treaty. Kennedy was not so fortunate with his proposals to Congress for a strong civil rights bill and a tax cut to lower the very high rates Americans had been paying since World War II. Both bills stalled: Southern legislators opposed any law advancing civil rights, and Republicans, in those far-off days, considered the tax cut fiscally irresponsible. Their passage required the political skills of JFK’s successor and unhappy vice president, Lyndon Johnson, universally despised by Kennedy aides as “Uncle Cornpone." Clarke emphasizes that JFK yearned to withdraw American advisers from Vietnam, which seems true, but since most aides and ultimately Kennedy himself decided that a noncommunist South Vietnam was vital to American security, intervention was inevitable once it became clear that South Vietnam’s army couldn’t defeat the Vietcong. Clarke certainly demonstrates that three often painful years in office had taught Kennedy valuable lessons. No one can say what would have happened if he had lived, but no one will deny that he was a spectacularly appealing character, and Clarke delivers a thoroughly delightful portrait.
This detailed, mostly worshipful account will not convince everyone, but few will put it down.
Swiftly moving account of a friendship that turned sour, broke a political party in two and involved an insistent, omnipresent press corps. Cantor and Boehner? No: Teddy and Taft.
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Goodwin (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, 2005, etc.) may focus on the great men (and occasionally women) of history, but she is the foremost exponent of a historiographic school that focuses on the armies of aides and enactors that stand behind them. In this instance, one of the principal great men would revel in the title: Theodore Roosevelt wanted nothing more than to be world-renowned, change the world and occasionally shoot a mountain lion. His handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, was something else entirely: He wished to fade into legal scholarship and was very happy in later life to be named to the Supreme Court. The two began as friends of what Taft called “close and sweet intimacy,” and the friendship ended—Goodwin evokes this exquisitely well in her closing pages—with a guarded chance encounter in a hotel that slowly thawed but too late. A considerable contributor to the split was TR’s progressivism, his trust-busting and efforts to improve the lot of America’s working people, which Taft was disinclined to emulate. Moreover, Taft did not warm to TR’s great talent, which was to enlist journalists to his cause; problems of objectivity aside, they provided him with the “bully pulpit” of Goodwin’s title. She populates her pages with sometimes-forgotten heroes of investigative reporting—Ida Tarbell, Ray Blake, Lincoln Steffens—just as much as Roosevelt and Taft and their aides. The result is an affecting portrait of how networks based on genuine liking contribute to the effective functioning of government without requiring reporters to be sycophants or politicians to give up too many secrets.
It’s no small achievement to have something new to say on Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, but Goodwin succeeds admirably. A notable, psychologically charged study in leadership.
Insightful meditation on the world’s emergence from the wreckage of World War II.
Buruma (Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism/Bard Coll.; Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents, 2010, etc.) offers a vivid portrayal of the first steps toward normalcy in human affairs amid the ruins of Europe and Asia. The end of hostilities left landscapes of rubble and eerie silence and an economic collapse that gave rise to countless black markets. There was widespread hunger and misery. Millions were displaced, including Buruma’s grandfather, who was seized by the Nazis, forced to work as a laborer in Berlin and finally reunited with his family after the war. Many of the displaced were afraid to go home, fearful that their homes were gone or that they would be regarded as strangers. Buruma re-creates the emotions of the time: the joy that lipstick brought to emaciated women in Bergen-Belsen; the wild abandon and eroticism of the liberation; and the desire for vengeance, sometimes officially encouraged, as in Russian road signs that said, “Soldier, you are in Germany. Take revenge on the Hitlerites.” By the end of 1945, after years of danger and chaos, most people yearned for a more traditional order to life. They “hungered for the trappings of the New World, however crude, because the Old World had collapsed in such disgrace, not just physically, but culturally, intellectually, spiritually.” Recounting the occupations of Germany and Japan and life in the Allied nations, Buruma finds that the war was a great leveler, eliminating inequalities in Great Britain and rooting out feudal customs and habits in Japan. Despite much longing for a new world under global government, postwar life was shaped not by moral ideals but by the politics of the Cold War.
A welcome new evaluation of a significant American artist honed by the Wild West spirit and hucksterism of the age.
Biographer of Byron, Chopin, George Sand and others (Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand, 2007, etc.), Eisler now turns her considerable research talents to fleshing out the life and work of Pennsylvania-born artist George Catlin (1796–1892), whose sympathetic portraits of the Native Americans he sought out and lived among render an incalculable record of (and tribute to) a vanished people. Trained as a lawyer, Catlin fled the tediousness and drudgery of the profession by immersing himself in drawing, specifically miniatures. Largely self-taught, he nonetheless had some formal training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in the early 1820s, under Thomas Sully and Charles Willson Peale, and he made his way as a journeyman artist. His portraits of Gov. DeWitt Clinton garnered some attention, but he was always in need of official patronage. Perhaps inspired by Charles Bird King’s portraits of tribal leaders in Washington, Catlin struck out West and attached himself to Gen. William Clark, governor of the Missouri Territory. Portraying the Indians of the Southwestern plains became Catlin’s passion, and during the 1830s, over numerous visits embedded among the tribes, he painted hundreds of careful portraits; he often bought the Indians’ garments and artifacts to display later with the work as proof of his eyewitness. Much of the rest of his restless life was spent roving among London, Paris and Brussels, displaying his traveling Indian Gallery (and making a living from it), toeing that precarious line between artist and impresario. The author thoughtfully explores the complicated bleeding of empathy into exploitation.
Eisler’s fine, thorough work begs for a fresh reappraisal of this pioneering artist.
A philatelic journey through Old Blighty, suitably geeky at moments, though not without a robust nostalgia for empire and better days.
Cambridgeshire-based writer West (Perfect Written English, 2008, etc.) uses postage stamps—a British invention, dating to the “penny black” of 1840—as a lens to view the larger picture of British history. Sometimes the connections are loose but meaningful: It’s really just by happenstance that the “three halfpence red” of 1870 was issued in the year that Charles Dickens died, but nonetheless, that allows West an entrée into the sprawling life of London (with its several-times-daily mail delivery) well along in the Victorian era, a time that, coincidentally, opens with that penny black. It’s no accident that West closes the book with a stamp bearing the profile of another monarch, the mildly gazing Elizabeth II as depicted on a first-class stamp of 2012; if there’s a difference, it’s that the Victorian era was a forward-looking, optimistic one, while ours is a time when Britons might wonder whether “these little islands off the coast of Europe [are] really still First Class.” As West notes by way of answer, Britain has survived innumerable crises, so there’s no reason to suppose that the answer has to be no. The author ventures a few words in favor of Margaret Thatcher, who “understood something that most politicians since the war have forgotten, that without sound currency and a vibrant entrepreneurial Wealth Machine there is little for the state to spend, even on the wisest projects.” Otherwise, apart from a few favorable but not jingoistic notes on the empire, West keeps the politics low and the history high, serving up lightly worn and often entertaining tales of the past.
Stamp collectors and Anglophile history buffs alike will enjoy this book—and for the reader who’s both, it’s a sure bet.
Longtime foreign correspondent Kinzer (International Relations/Boston Univ.; Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, 2010, etc.) portrays the dark side of Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration through the activities of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, the director of the CIA.
The author reveals the pair's responsibility for the wave of assassinations, coups and irregular wars during Eisenhower's administrations as the outcome of three generations of their family's involvement in America’s increasingly active foreign policy, and he documents the way the brothers created the political shape of the Cold War in the 1950s, with John Foster providing the arrogant and pompous public face for the covert operations organized by brother Allen. Kinzer also shows how Eisenhower's knowledge of the costs of open war between states led him to support their covert operations to “strike back…to fight, but in a different way.” The author discusses John Foster's assimilation of the undeclared war against Soviet communism into a Manichaean framework of the eternal struggle of good vs. evil. He also examines how, during the 1930s, he was seen by some as “the chief agent for the banking circles which rescued Hitler from the financial depths.” Later, Allen recruited Nazi leaders to help shape postwar Europe against the Soviets during the war's final stages. For Kinzer, the brothers epitomized the presumption that America has the right to “guide the course of history” because it is “more moral and farther-seeing than other countries.” In addition to providing illuminating biographical information, the author clearly presents the Dulles family's contributions to the development of a legal and political structure for American corporations' international politics.
A well-documented and shocking reappraisal of two of the shapers of the American century.
Historian and editor Cannadine (History/Princeton Univ.; Mellon, 2006, etc.) constructs a stirring critique of history that questions conventional approaches to narrating the human chronicle.
The author rejects the Manichaean simplicities of “us vs. them” and “good vs. evil” embodied in traditional histories’ preoccupation with “difference” as well as the alleged uniformity of antagonistic groups. Cannadine investigates the categories of religion, nation, class, gender, race and “civilization” to reveal the persistence of thinking in adversarial absolutes—the malevolent or hapless “other”—and the incalculable damage this mindset has caused. He insists that we indulge in arbitrary, incomplete group “identities” and ignore at our peril the interactions that go on across supposedly impermeable boundaries. Knighted in 2009 for his distinguished service and Chair of the National Portrait Gallery from 2005-2012, the author is no Pollyanna. In assaying the work of such predecessors as Gibbon, Huntington and Toynbee, as well as contemporaries of the caliber of Fernández-Armesto, he acknowledges the strife that has occurred within these often self-contradictory categories but argues convincingly that such tensions are far outweighed by a history of mutual borrowing and cross-fertilization between peoples. Of particular salience are his observations on religion and perception as expressed in a divergent view of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. That we exaggerate animosities and fail to recognize how cooperation, at least as much as conflict, has marked humanity’s experience, may seem a belaboring of the obvious. Yet Cannadine, an accomplished writer, details it in fresh and provocative terms.
A generally persuasive, impassioned book-length essay. While his conclusions (and language) sometimes grow repetitive, they nonetheless serve to underscore at every turn an incisive argument buttressed by millennia of evidence.
A chilling personal account of the deep-seated terror and ethnic violence underpinning the puppet state of Croatia during World War II.
In a memoir that came to light thanks to the attention of Belgrade-born poet Charles Simic, who offers an elucidating introduction here, Croatian editor and historian Goldstein, born in 1928, not only recounts his intimate grief resulting from the murder of his father by the fascist Ustasha thugs that came to power with Croatia’s “independence” in 1941, but he encapsulates the ongoing anguish of the multiethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia that are still convulsed by sectarian hatred. With the encouragement of Hitler—who suggested to the Ustasha chief that in order for Croatia to become a stable state, “it would have to carry out a policy of ethnic intolerance for fifty years”—the Ustasha regime was bent on “cleansing” the Croatian state of Serbs as well as Jews and Gypsies. Goldstein’s father, a prosperous Jewish bookseller, had communist and intellectual connections, and thus several strikes against him in the views of the fascists, who first imprisoned him in the Danica concentration camp, then the formidable Jadovno death camp, before he was systematically executed. The author was barely 13 years old at the time, but he was shocked into adulthood quickly, especially as he witnessed the betrayal of former friends and colleagues. With his mother imprisoned and the author moved among different homes, Goldstein and the remaining family eventually joined the Croatian partisan fighters camped out in the forests. In this riveting narrative, the author often refers to the recent Croat-Serb ethnic violence in an attempt to explain how “modern Croatia has not been freed from this disease, and it is only in the last few years that it has begun to be treated for it.”
A stunning work that looks frankly at the “roots of evil.”