Revisiting 'Stalingrad'

Categories: history
Antony Beevor's classic 'Stalingrad' is more than just a landmark in scholarship. It's also a stunning achievement in readability. What can be the densest and most impenetrable type of history book—the account of great armies doing great battle over years—is rendered almost universally accessible by his limpid prose. Anyone can jump in and understand one of the most profound turning points of the 20th century. Read more...
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Havana Nocturne

Categories: history
Stories of Mafia control of Cuba in the 1950s have long been depicted in popular culture. Author T.J. English debunks glossy movie-mob myths with a real story of one man's ambition to create a state wholly cooperative with organized crime and the famous revolutionary who came to thwart those plans. Read more...
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A new biography from New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick provides fascinating profiles of Obama's family, concise and moving histories of civil rights struggles and community politics in Chicago, and sketches of dozens of politicians, activists, jurists and friends who helped to shape Barack Obama's thinking—and complete the bridge from Selma, Alabama to the White House. Read more...
When Jessica Mitford emigrated to the United States, she was startled to find funerals that cost a small fortune. Later, when she looked into the industry, she was outraged to see caskets marked up by an order of magnitude and slick (often false) sales pitches designed to take every last dollar of the bereaved. This was 1960. Thirty-five years later, she went back to find almost nothing had changed. Read more...
What could make a sincere and accurate account of early enlightenment science, philosophy, government, economics and European diplomacy so much fun to read? Apparently an insane English hobo-thief, a sex-slave turned spy and master of the stock market, and a seemingly ineffectual Puritan who apparently has the ability to bring down whole governments. Read more...

Virtual History

Categories: history
When Niall Ferguson's Virtual History came out, I remember a collective "ooooh" went up from young history wonks. For the more intellectually adventuresome, this was hot stuff. Ferguson's The Pity of War had just come out, and it was must-read if you liked WWI history. Suddenly he was also presenting an edition of history essays, by leading Oxbridge dons, all about stuff that never happened. Read more...

The Monster of Florence

Categories: history
In one of the world's most sublimely beautiful historical cities, not only were over a dozen people murdered over the course of decades, but the investigation into their deaths has now taken over a generation. In that time, it's propelled careers, consumed the innocent and embroidered speculation to the point of unrecognizable folly. In its way, it's helped "modernize" a timeless city for foreign observers while exposing a deeply flawed criminal justice system whose excesses may be every bit as monstrous as the mystery its attempted to solve. Read more...

The Arcanum

Categories: history
The story opens at the dawn of the 18th century, with Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, spendthrift sybarite and womanizer, desperately strapped for cash. Augustus decides alchemy is his ticket to an unencumbered good life and in seeking to fill his coffers with instant gold, turns to a man unfortunately gifted at magic. Johann Bottger is talented enough at sleight of hand to convince audiences that he's turned silver into gold, but the immediate downside to this ability comes in the form of Augustus, who kidnaps Bottger and —short of luring him with amontillado and walling him up in a catacomb — says, "You'll get out when you start cranking out the ingots." Read more...
The historiography of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust has always been fraught with strong opinions and frankly a lot of anger. What Taylor did, essentially, was play around with it. If his work were written today, a generation of historians raised on the internet might dub him the first historical "troll." Read more...

Death Has No Escalation

Categories: history
Into this strode Robert Strange McNamara, a man who had overseen efficiency improvements and applications of statistical analysis to both Pacific bombing campaigns in WWII and later to the Ford Motor Company. Accustomed to the implacability of analysis and logic to see him through, he was almost uniquely incapable of understanding an enemy that fought on an idea that defied it. Unaccustomed as he was to failure, he was also uniquely incapable of realizing its inevitability. Read more...
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