Book List, Indie Next

Holiday Gift Giving: True Crime & History

It’s time for our annual holiday gift giving recommendations! Check out all of the picks on display in the front corner of the store across from the wine bar!

True Crime & History

The Demonologist by Gerald Brittle

The Demonologist is a collection of some of the most spine-chilling, “true” cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the couple at the center of the Conjuring franchise. Read about the real-life Annabelle (a much less intimidating Raggedy Ann doll) and the Enfield poltergeist, along with some of the Warren’s lesser-known cases. Whether or not you’re a believer, this book is a fun and fascinating look at the ultimate paranormal power couple.

Carly

Ed and Lorraine Warren are considered America’s foremost experts on demonology and exorcism. With thousands of investigations to their credit, they reveal what actually breaks the peace in haunted houses and how it can happen to you. Don’t miss the Warrens in the blockbuster film The Conjuring. In The Demonologist the Warrens discuss many of their cases including Annabelle and the Enfield Poltergeist — those case files are the basis for the upcoming films Annabelle and The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist. If you think ghosts are only responsible for hauntings, think again. Used as a text in seminaries and classrooms, this is one book you can’t put down. Now includes exclusive photographic documentation of phenomena in progress.

Priceless by Robert K. Wittman & john Shiffman

Art history! Criminal justice! Local references! You could not have designed a book more specific to my interests. Priceless is essentially the Mindhunter of the art world. It follows Robert K. Wittman, founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Unit, through some of the most fascinating cases of his twenty-year career. All I need now is companion book telling me how to get this job!

Carly

The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Times dubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.”
 
In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.   
 
Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.
 
In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments.
 
The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.
 
By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities. He says the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what is worth more –a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried into battle? They’re both priceless. 
 
The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners.  The smuggler who brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat.  The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man.  The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington’s hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he’d filched.
 
In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

My favorite genre of true crime has always been unsolved mysteries. There’s always that teeny tiny chance that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got some piece of information that solves the puzzle, or a theory that connects the dots. In ZODIAC, Robert Graysmith tells the story of one of America’s most baffling cases with an enigmatic killer who taunts law enforcement and the media with unsolvable riddles. Can you crack the code?

Carly

Robert Graysmith’s New York Times bestselling account of the desperate hunt for a serial killer and his own investigation of California’s unsolved Zodiac murders.

A sexual sadist, the Zodiac killer took pleasure in torture and murder. His first victims were a teenage couple, stalked and shot dead in a lovers’ lane. After another slaying, he sent his first mocking note to authorities, promising he would kill more. The official tally of his victims was six. He claimed thirty-seven dead. The real toll may have reached fifty.

Robert Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when Zodiac first struck, triggering in the resolute reporter an unrelenting obsession with seeing the hooded killer brought to justice. In this gripping account of Zodiac’s eleven-month reign of terror, Graysmith reveals hundreds of facts previously unreleased, including the complete text of the killer’s letters.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugloiosi & Curt Gentry

If you haven’t read this true crime classic, you’re missing out; if you haven’t read it in many years, consider picking it up again. Helter Skelter is way more than a kill count. It’s a work of American history that describes the crimes that marked the transition from the fancy-free (white) America of the ’60s to the terror-stricken ’70s: the Manson family murders. Written by the prosecutor on the case, this hefty book is surprisingly readable, and it’s an excellent companion piece to the 2019 Tarantino masterpiece Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood.

Hadley

In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his “family” of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the proportions of myth. The murders marked the end of the sixties and became an immediate symbol of the dark underside of that era.

Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case from what a defense attorney dismissed as only “two fingerprints and Vince Bugliosi.” The meticulous detective work with which the story begins, the prosecutor’s view of a complex murder trial, the reconstruction of the philosophy Manson inculcated in his fervent followers…these elements make for a true crime classic. Helter Skelter is not merely a spellbinding murder case and courtroom drama but also, in the words of The New Republic, a “social document of rare importance.”

Norco ’80 by Peter Houlahan

Norco ’80 is a wild ride! The action plays out like a heist film, but the author also shows immense empathy for the wide range of characters–from the robbers to the first responders to the passersby. If you want to have a ton of fun while learning about an event that shaped the way our country responds to crime.

Hadley

5 young men. 32 destroyed police vehicles. 1 spectacular bank robbery. This “cinematic” true crime story transports readers to the scene of one of the most shocking bank heists in U.S. history—a crime that’s almost too wild to be real (The New York Times Book Review).

Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born–again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, this Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime transports the reader back to the Southern California of the 1970s, an era of predatory evangelical gurus, doomsday predictions, megachurches, and soaring crime rates, with the threat of nuclear obliteration looming over it all.

In this riveting true story, a group of landscapers transforms into a murderous gang of bank robbers armed to the teeth with military–grade weapons. Their desperate getaway turns the surrounding towns into war zones. And when it’s over, three are dead and close to twenty wounded; a police helicopter has been forced down from the sky, and thirty–two police vehicles have been completely demolished by thousands of rounds of ammo. The resulting trial shakes the community to the core, raising many issues that continue to plague society today: from the epidemic of post–traumatic stress disorder within law enforcement to religious extremism and the militarization of local police forces.

The King of Confidence by Miles Harvey

I wouldn’t have thought I would laugh so much while reading this book, but the idea of how much James Strang was able to convince people of, the absurdity, was a bit mind boggling. Especially as I watch the news these days, nothing seems beyond the realm of possibility anymore. I enjoyed the writing and was completely enthralled by the story!

Sarah

In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect’s leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.

From this stronghold he controlled a fourth of the state of Michigan, establishing a pirate colony where he practiced plural marriage and perpetrated thefts, corruption, and frauds of all kinds. Eventually, having run afoul of powerful enemies, including the American president, Strang was assassinated, an event that was frontpage news across the country.

The King of Confidence tells this fascinating but largely forgotten story. Centering his narrative on this charlatan’s turbulent twelve years in power, Miles Harvey gets to the root of a timeless American original: the Confidence Man. Full of adventure, bad behavior, and insight into a crucial period of antebellum history, The King of Confidence brings us a compulsively readable account of one of the country’s boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

This jaw-dropping book is FINALLY in paperback, which is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to check it out. Bad Blood, a shocking investigative account of a blood testing startup based in lies and falsehoods, has everything: scams and cons, magical thinking and cult-like loyalty, scientific and medical untruths, billions of dollars, thuggish lawyers, and regular people just trying to make things right. But most importantly, it’s a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when we put too much faith in Silicon Valley. Oh, and the trial of Elizabeth Holmes–the primary con artist of this story–is set to begin this fall, so now is the perfect time to get caught up! Once you’ve read the book, follow it up with the podcast The Dropout.

Hadley

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device, which performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.5 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. Erroneous results put patients in danger, leading to misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. All the while, Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, worked to silence anyone who voiced misgivings—from journalists to their own employees.

Furious Hours by Casey Cep

A series of suspicious deaths in Alabama in the 1970s was so intriguing and sensational that Harper Lee set out to write the book about it. She didn’t. Now, Casey Cep has nested three books into one in order to tell the story Lee never did and why she didn’t. This informative and penetrating book will have tremendously wide appeal.

Keith Mosman, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR

This “superbly written true-crime story” (Michael Lewis, The New York Times Book Review) masterfully brings together the tales of a serial killer in 1970s Alabama and of Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who tried to write his story.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members, but with the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative assassinated him at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted—thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the reverend himself. Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who spent a year in town reporting on the Maxwell case and many more trying to finish the book she called The Reverend.

Cep brings this remarkable story to life, from the horrifying murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South, while offering a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers.

History

American Nations by Colin Woodard

Perfect for a history lover, poli-sci junkie or anyone wiht a fascination for different parts of the country, American Nations is an exploration of the idea that North America isn’t three countires, it’s eleven. Eleven different nation states all with their own history, foundation myth, and definition of the American dream.

Drew

Particularly relevant in understanding who voted for who in this presidential election year, this is an endlessly fascinating look at American regionalism and the eleven “nations” that continue to shape North America

According to award-winning journalist and historian Colin Woodard, North America is made up of eleven distinct nations, each with its own unique historical roots. In American Nations he takes readers on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, offering a revolutionary and revelatory take on American identity, and how the conflicts between them have shaped our past and continue to mold our future. From the Deep South to the Far West, to Yankeedom to El Norte, Woodard (author of American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good) reveals how each region continues to uphold its distinguishing ideals and identities today, with results that can be seen in the composition of the U.S. Congress or on the county-by-county election maps of any hotly contested election in our history.

Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans

I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw Martha Gellhorn’s name in the beginning pages. I love a great work of nautical stories and even more so when they are decidedly feminist in nature. I lost myself completely in this book and did not want it to come to an end.

Sarah

In an engaging and anecdotal social history, Siân Evans’s Maiden Voyages explores how women’s lives were transformed by the Golden Age of ocean liner travel between Europe and North America.

During the early twentieth century, transatlantic travel was the province of the great ocean liners. It was an extraordinary undertaking made by many women, whose lives were changed forever by their journeys between the Old World and the New. Some traveled for leisure, some for work; others to reinvent themselves or find new opportunities. They were celebrities, migrants and millionaires, refugees, aristocrats and crew members whose stories have mostly remained untold—until now.

Maiden Voyages is a fascinating portrait of the era, the ships themselves, and these women as they crossed the Atlantic. The ocean liner was a microcosm of contemporary society, divided by class: from the luxury of the upper deck, playground for the rich and famous, to the cramped conditions of steerage or third class travel. In first class you’ll meet A-listers like Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson, and Josephine Baker; the second class carried a new generation of professional and independent women, like pioneering interior designer Sibyl Colefax. Down in steerage, you’ll follow the journey of émigré Maria Riffelmacher as she escapes poverty in Europe. Bustling between decks is a crew of female workers, including Violet “The Unsinkable Stewardess” Jessop, who survived the Titanic disaster.

Entertaining and informative, Maiden Voyages captures the golden age of ocean liners through the stories of the women whose transatlantic journeys changed the shape of society on both sides of the globe.

The Good War by Studs Terkel

The Good War is the definitive verbal history of the Second World War. Made up of accounts from people all over the world and woven into an incredible narrative this book puts a human and real face on a war that all too often is too focused on the big picture. This is a great book for anyone who is interested in WW2 but want’s to hear the stories of the people who were there, not just read the battle reports.

Drew

“The Good War”, for which Studs Terkel won the Pulitzer Prize, is a testament not only to the experience of war but to the extraordinary skill of Terkel as interviewer. As always, his subjects are open and unrelenting in their analyses of themselves and their experiences, producing what People magazine has called “a splendid epic history of World War II.” With this volume Terkel expanded his scope to the global and the historical, and the result is a masterpiece of oral history.

Travels with George by Nathaniel Philbrick

As someone whose college degree centered on the Revolution, I wasn’t sure there would be many new things for me to learn about George Washington but I was thrilled to be proven wrong. I have enjoyed many of Philbrick’s works in the past but this combination of history and travelogue is probably my new favorite!

Sarah

Does George Washington still matter? Bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick argues for Washington’s unique contribution to the forging of America by retracing his journey as a new president through all thirteen former colonies, which were now an unsure nation. Travels with George marks a new first-person voice for Philbrick, weaving history and personal reflection into a single narrative.

When George Washington became president in 1789, the United States of America was still a loose and quarrelsome confederation and a tentative political experiment. Washington undertook a tour of the ex-colonies to talk to ordinary citizens about his new government, and to imbue in them the idea of being one thing—Americans.

In the fall of 2018, Nathaniel Philbrick embarked on his own journey into what Washington called “the infant woody country” to see for himself what America had become in the 229 years since. Writing in a thoughtful first person about his own adventures with his wife, Melissa, and their dog, Dora, Philbrick follows Washington’s presidential excursions: from Mount Vernon to the new capital in New York; a monthlong tour of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island; a venture onto Long Island and eventually across Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The narrative moves smoothly between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries as we see the country through both Washington’s and Philbrick’s eyes.

Written at a moment when America’s founding figures are under increasing scrutiny, Travels with George grapples bluntly and honestly with Washington’s legacy as a man of the people, a reluctant president, and a plantation owner who held people in slavery. At historic houses and landmarks, Philbrick reports on the reinterpretations at work as he meets reenactors, tour guides, and other keepers of history’s flame. He paints a picture of eighteenth-century America as divided and fraught as it is today, and he comes to understand how Washington compelled, enticed, stood up to, and listened to the many different people he met along the way—and how his all-consuming belief in the union helped to forge a nation.

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin is the perfect gift for the history obsessed loved on in your life. Focusing primarily on the struggle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union award winning historian Timothy Snyder argues that the fate of these people set up the 20th century in a way few other places did. Filled with information and eminently readable this book is a must

Drew

From the bestselling author of On Tyranny comes the definitive history of Hitler’s and Stalin’s wars against the civilians of Europe in World War II.

Americans call the Second World War “The Good War.”But before it even began, America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens–and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.

Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

Bloodlands won twelve awards including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. It has been translated into more than thirty languages, was named to twelve book-of-the-year lists, and was a bestseller in six countries.

Men on Horseback by David A. Bell

In this day and age of of Populist politics it behooves us to ask how we view that most important characteristic of leadership, charisma. Is this trait a good one for a leader to have? What is the difference between charisma and egotism? Why are we so drawn to it? This is absolutely a must read in the lead up to the 2020 election!

Drew

An immersive examination of why the age of democratic revolutions was also a time of hero worship and strongmen

In Men on Horseback, the Princeton University historian David A. Bell offers a dramatic new interpretation of modern politics, arguing that the history of democracy is inextricable from the history of charisma, its shadow self.

Bell begins with Corsica’s Pasquale Paoli, an icon of republican virtue whose exploits were once renowned throughout the Atlantic World. Paoli would become a signal influence in both George Washington’s America and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. In turn, Bonaparte would exalt Washington even as he fashioned an entirely different form of leadership. In the same period, Toussaint Louverture sought to make French Revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality a reality for the formerly enslaved people of what would become Haiti, only to be betrayed by Napoleon himself. Simon Bolivar witnessed the coronation of Napoleon and later sought refuge in newly independent Haiti as he fought to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule. Tracing these stories and their interconnections, Bell weaves a spellbinding tale of power and its ability to mesmerize.

Ultimately, Bell tells the crucial and neglected story of how political leadership was reinvented for a revolutionary world that wanted to do without kings and queens. If leaders no longer rule by divine right, what underlies their authority? Military valor? The consent of the people? Their own Godlike qualities? Bell’s subjects all struggled with this question, learning from each other’s example as they did so. They were men on horseback who sought to be men of the people—as Bell shows, modern democracy, militarism, and the cult of the strongman all emerged together.

Today, with democracy’s appeal and durability under threat around the world, Bell’s account of its dark twin is timely and revelatory. For all its dangers, charisma cannot be dispensed with; in the end, Bell offers a stirring injunction to reimagine it as an animating force for good in the politics of our time.

The Howe Dynasty by Julie Flavell

For someone who’s history degree focuses on the American Revolution and who is also obsessed with the British aristocracy, I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea who the Howes were before beginning this book. I absolutely loved it – particularly the fact that the focus is on the women!

Sarah

Finally revealing the family’s indefatigable women among its legendary military figures, The Howe Dynasty recasts the British side of the American Revolution.

In December 1774, Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe, the sister of British General Sir William Howe and Richard Admiral Lord Howe, in a London drawing room for “half a dozen Games of Chess.” But as historian Julie Flavell reveals, these meetings were about much more than board games: they were cover for a last-ditch attempt to forestall the outbreak of the American War of Independence.

Aware that the distinguished Howe family, both the men and the women, have been known solely for the military exploits of the brothers, Flavell investigated the letters of Caroline Howe, which have been blatantly overlooked since the nineteenth century. Using revelatory documents and this correspondence, The Howe Dynasty provides a groundbreaking reinterpretation of one of England’s most famous military families across four wars.

Contemporaries considered the Howes impenetrable and intensely private—or, as Horace Walpole called them, “brave and silent.” Flavell traces their roots to modest beginnings at Langar Hall in rural Nottinghamshire and highlights the Georgian phenomenon of the politically involved aristocratic woman. In fact, the early careers of the brothers—George, Richard, and William—can be credited not to the maneuverings of their father, Scrope Lord Howe, but to those of their aunt, the savvy Mary Herbert Countess Pembroke. When eldest sister Caroline came of age during the reign of King George III, she too used her intimacy with the royal inner circle to promote her brothers, moving smoothly between a straitlaced court and an increasingly scandalous London high life.

With genuine suspense, Flavell skillfully recounts the most notable episodes of the brothers’ military campaigns: how Richard, commanding the HMS Dunkirk in 1755, fired the first shot signaling the beginning of the Seven Years’ War at sea; how George won the devotion of the American fighters he commanded at Fort Ticonderoga just three years later; and how youngest brother General William Howe, his sympathies torn, nonetheless commanded his troops to a bitter Pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Bunker Hill, only to be vilified for his failure as British commander-in-chief to subdue Washington’s Continental Army.

Britain’s desperate battles to guard its most vaunted colonial possession are here told in tandem with London parlor-room intrigues, where Caroline bravely fought to protect the Howe reputation in a gossipy aristocratic milieu. A riveting narrative and long overdue reassessment of the entire family, The Howe Dynasty forces us to reimagine the Revolutionary War in ways that would have been previously inconceivable.

Black Flags, Blue Waters by Eric Jay Dolin

No year of Jolabokaflod is complete without a pirate book! Black Flags, Blue Waters was a selection of our Nonfiction Book Club this year and it was a massive hit! Focusing specifically on American based pirates, this book highlights the role they played in the early American colonies and their sometimes favorable relationships with the law if they were infusing capital into the colony. There is no lack, though, of high seas adventures and it is perfect for anyone looking for a fun history book that won’t bore their socks off.

Sarah

With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters is “rumbustious enough for the adventure-hungry” (Peter Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle).

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age” – spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s – when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. “Deftly blending scholarship and drama” (Richard Zacks), best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them. Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them the towering Blackbeard, the ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey. Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Black Flags, Blue Waters is a “tour de force history” (Michael Pierce, Midwestern Rewind) of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.

The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown

Feminist Vikings = Perfection. I’ve loved Lagertha and Alfhild of Viking lore and always maintained that the Christians who wrote the stories of Viking women hundreds of years after the fact were definitely participating in some revisionist history. I absolutely loved this book and am truly grateful that Nancy took the time and dedication that she did to dive into this story whole heartedly.

Sarah

In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.

Nancy Marie Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines her life intersecting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as The Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Rather than holding the household keys, Viking women in history, law, saga, poetry, and myth carry weapons. These women brag, “As heroes we were widely known—with keen spears we cut blood from bone.” In this compelling narrative Brown brings the world of those valkyries and shield-maids to vivid life.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

The Woman Who Smashed Codes is an intriguing biography of the top (female) codebreaker for the US during WWI, Prohibition, and WWII. Her involvement in breaking Enigma (along with other codes) has been classified until quite recently and this is the first comprehensive bio of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a woman who is truly an American hero.

Sarah

Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II.

In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the “Adam and Eve” of the NSA, Elizebeth’s story, incredibly, has never been told.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman, who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence. Blending the lively pace and compelling detail that are the hallmarks of Erik Larson’s bestsellers with the atmosphere and intensity of The Imitation Game, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is page-turning popular history at its finest.

The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

A radically feminist, gender non-conforming woman of color rises to the highest power in the greatest kingdom in the world, and it all happened thousands of years ago. This is a beautifully researched biography that revives the story of a woman who was more or less erased from history. The perfect read for those of us who went through an Egyptology phase as a child!

Carly

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power.
 
Hatshepsut—the daughter of a general who usurped Egypt’s throne—was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir, however, paved the way for her improbable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just over twenty, Hatshepsut out-maneuvered the mother of Thutmose III, the infant king, for a seat on the throne, and ascended to the rank of pharaoh.

Shrewdly operating the levers of power to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh, Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays in the veil of piety and sexual reinvention. She successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods.

Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Presidential assassinations may not be your obsession, but we can all identify with the intensity of Sarah Vowell’s fandom. In Assassination Vacation, Vowell takes readers on a wittily entertaining trip across the United States, visiting historic sites and tourist attractions from the lives of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She weaves her story not just from a historical perspective, but a sociological one, investigating how and why we react to national tragedy.

Carly

New York Times bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates and contributor to NPR’s This American Life Sarah Vowell embarks on a road trip to sites of political violence, from Washington DC to Alaska, to better understand our nation’s ever-evolving political system and history.

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other—a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue—it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and—the author’s favorite—historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

Overstated by Colin Quinn

I love books that dissect the differences between the 50 states, as well as within the states. Colin’s Overstated is a fun, enlightening look at how the 50 states have been bludgeoned into staying together, and delves into the fact that it might be time for a divorce of sorts. Equal turns humorous and educational, it’s a great book for those who want to know more about the geopolitics of our country and who appreciate sarcasm.

Sarah

In Colin Quinn’s new book, the popular comedian, social commentator, and star of the shows Red State Blue State and Unconstitutional tackles the condition of our union today.

Utah: The Church of States
Vermont: The Old Hippie State
Florida: The Hot Mess State
Arizona: The Instagram Model State
Wisconsin: The Diet Starts Tomorrow State

The United States is in a fifty-states-wide couples’ counseling session, thinking about filing for divorce. But is that really what we want? Can a nation composed of states that are so different possibly hang together?

Colin Quinn, comedian, social commentator, and writer and star of Red State Blue State and Unconstitutional, calls us out state-by-state, from Connecticut to Hawaii. He identifies the hypocrisies inherent in what we claim to believe and what we actually do. Within a framework of big-picture thinking about systems of government—after all, how would you put this country together if you started from scratch today?—to dead-on observations about the quirks and vibes of the citizens in each region, Overstated skewers us all: red, blue, and purple. It’s ultimately infused with the same blend of optimism and practicality that sparked the U.S. into being.

A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin

By 1941 general consensus was that the key to victory was control of the Atlantic. In an attempt to predict the moves and understand the tactics of the U-boats the WRENS devised and played a game that informed Allied tactics in the Atlantic throughout the war. A Game Of Birds And Wolves is the true story of these women and the game they played and a must have for any WW2 buff!

Drew

As heard on the New Yorker Radio Hour: The triumphant and “engaging history” (The New Yorker) of the young women who devised a winning strategy that defeated Nazi U-boats and delivered a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

By 1941, Winston Churchill had come to believe that the outcome of World War II rested on the battle for the Atlantic. A grand strategy game was devised by Captain Gilbert Roberts and a group of ten Wrens (members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) assigned to his team in an attempt to reveal the tactics behind the vicious success of the German U-boats. Played on a linoleum floor divided into painted squares, it required model ships to be moved across a make-believe ocean in a manner reminiscent of the childhood game, Battleship. Through play, the designers developed “Operation Raspberry,” a counter-maneuver that helped turn the tide of World War II.

Combining vibrant novelistic storytelling with extensive research, interviews, and previously unpublished accounts, Simon Parkin describes for the first time the role that women played in developing the Allied strategy that, in the words of one admiral, “contributed in no small measure to the final defeat of Germany.” Rich with unforgettable cinematic detail and larger-than-life characters, A Game of Birds and Wolves is a heart-wrenching tale of ingenuity, dedication, perseverance, and love, bringing to life the imagination and sacrifice required to defeat the Nazis at sea.

Agent Sonya by Ben MacIntyre

In 1942, in a quiet village in the leafy English Cotswolds, a thin, elegant woman lived in a small cottage with her three children and her husband, who worked as a machinist nearby. Ursula Burton was friendly but reserved, and spoke English with a slight foreign accent. By all accounts, she seemed to be living a simple, unassuming life. Her neighbors in the village knew little about her.

They didn’t know that she was a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer. They didn’t know that her husband was also a spy, or that she was running powerful agents across Europe. Behind the facade of her picturesque life, Burton was a dedicated Communist, a Soviet colonel, and a veteran agent, gathering the scientific secrets that would enable the Soviet Union to build the bomb.

This true-life spy story is a masterpiece about the woman code-named “Sonya.” Over the course of her career, she was hunted by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Nazis, MI5, MI6, and the FBI—and she evaded them all. Her story reflects the great ideological clash of the twentieth century—between Communism, Fascism, and Western democracy—and casts new light on the spy battles and shifting allegiances of our own times.

With unparalleled access to Sonya’s diaries and correspondence and never-before-seen information on her clandestine activities, Ben Macintyre has conjured a page-turning history of a legendary secret agent, a woman who influenced the course of the Cold War and helped plunge the world into a decades-long standoff between nuclear superpowers.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Erik Larson has done it again! With years of impeccable research into diaries, archives, dossiers, biographies, and official British documents, he has presented an intimate and detailed account of Winston Churchill in his first years as prime minister as he dealt with the London Blitz and his own personal and family issues. This is Churchill as few of us can imagine, in his silky pajamas entertaining major dignitaries at his weekend retreat, all the while continuing to reassure the British people during their darkest days that they have what it takes to withstand the German onslaught. The Splendid and the Vile reads like an engrossing novel, with all the fascinating details and facts that Erik Larson can provide.

Gail Meyer, The Bookstore Plus Music & Art, Lake Placid, NY

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

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