Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

None of this is true, what we were told in history class if you’re my age,  but the story goes like this… When Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor met Conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1519, he thought the Spaniard was the god Quetzalcoatl returned to fulfill a prophecy ending the empire.  Though he had just  a few soldiers with him, Cortez was able to use superior armor and guns … Continue reading Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

A Brief History of Paper Moons

At the end of nearly every school year, someone cleans out a classroom closet and leaves a box of books on the table in the faculty room. Take whatever you want. Typically, they are pretty slim picking. There’s really no use, beyond collage, for old textbooks anymore.  But this year I found a copy of Hal Morgan and Andreas Brown’s book on early real photo post … Continue reading A Brief History of Paper Moons

Becoming Charlemagne by Jeff Sypeck

The farther you go into history, the more interesting things become. I’ve been teaching Medieval world history to seventh graders for nearly two decades now.  So I know a bit about it, but I’m very far from an expert.  Which is one reason why I like to read a book of history now and then. That, and I generally enjoy them anyway. The story of … Continue reading Becoming Charlemagne by Jeff Sypeck

Nothing to Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea by Babara Demick

While I enjoyed Babara Demick’s book, and found the stories in it compelling and enlightening, a picture she features on page one tells so much that it remains the single starkest image I take from reading Nothing to Envy.  I’ve included it towards the bottom of this review.  You might want to scroll down and take a look before reading further. Reading Nothing to Envy … Continue reading Nothing to Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea by Babara Demick

HHhH by Laurent Binet

Is it insulting to turn a real person into a character in a book? The nature of historical fiction and the inherent trustworthiness of it is foregrounded in HHhH by Laurent Binet.  Mr. Binet wants to tell the story of two men, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík,  who carried out an assassination attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, second in command of the Nazi SS … Continue reading HHhH by Laurent Binet

My New Favorite Book: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I confess–I thought this books was going to be about Lincoln in France or in a French hotel or neighborhood, maybe in New Orleans. So I wasn’t all that anxious to read it.  Plus, it’s historical fiction which I’m frankly a bit biased against. But it looked like a quick read and since I needed something I could finish before Monday when I planned on … Continue reading My New Favorite Book: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My New Favorite Book: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

The story opens with a corpse. A soldier’s body being prepared for burial in the then frontier state of Missouri circa 1855. So I should not have been surprised by how violent the rest of the book was. But I had never really considered just how much violence was involved in the beginning years of the United States.  Not systematically. And I had just finished … Continue reading My New Favorite Book: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horowitz

In the radio interviews Tony Horwitz did last year for his latest book, Midnight Rising, he made the claim that the raid on Hapers Ferry, Virginia led by John Brown could be seen as the first battle in America’s Civil War.  An interesting proposition, I thought. While his book is a very good read, it’s much more of a straightforward account of John Brown’s later … Continue reading Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horowitz

The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by Jon Margolis

It’s an odd thing for an author to disavow his chosen title in the introduction, but that’s just what Jon Margolis does in his account of America in 1964, The Last Innocent Year.  A nation like America cannot seriously consider itself to have ever been innocent, according to Mr. Margolis.  After all, America began as a slave society determined to exterminate the people who got … Continue reading The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by Jon Margolis

The Ides of March by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Have you ever known the ending from page one and still been unable to put the book down? Since Italian novelists Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s novel The Ides of March is about the last few days of Julius Ceasar’s life, we all know how the book is going to end, at least we all know how Julius Ceasar is going to end.  The challenge for the … Continue reading The Ides of March by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

The Shipwrecked Man by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

In 1527, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca served as treasurer on an ill-fated expedition to the Florida Peninsula.  Early on, the expedition was shipwrecked near what is now Tampa Bay.  Cabeza de Vaca tried to convince the expedition’s leadership that they should remain on the shore until rescue arrived, but the thirst for gold and the mistaken belief that there were Spanish settlements nearby resulted … Continue reading The Shipwrecked Man by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca