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New history books (March 2012 edition)

Posted in American, Books by Alex L. on April 21, 2012

History off the Book header

Below is a survey of books that were published in the past month or so and look to me like interesting reads (note: I have not actually read these books yet, and these are previews not reviews).

Soldiers’ stories

Book coverGreat books temporarily lend the reader a new set of senses to experience a different reality. Sometimes as readers we recognize the types of books that propel us into a world that we have learned to enjoy, and we crave this release. Often I want to read military memoirs and observe how courageous individuals dealt with extreme adversity in moments of intense pressure. Of course I am witnessing their stories from a comfortable distance (often from a comfortable couch too) but then again I wouldn’t want to actually go through what those soldiers did firsthand. I just finished reading Tom Johnson’s excellent memoir, To the Limit, about his service as a Huey helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. It gave me — a fixed-wing aviation buff — a newfound appreciation for the skill and warrior spirit of military helicopter pilots.

In February, Vietnam veteran Philip Keith published a book about a unit of tank troops in Vietnam — part of the Blackhorse Regiment — that responded to a distress call from an encircled company of American infantry. This group of men who fought through the enemy-held jungle to rescue their countrymen was not publicly recognized for their courageous deeds until 2009 when President Obama awarded their outfit the Presidential Unit Citation. Accounts of tank combat are inexplicably rare and Keith’s seems like an engrossing one. (more…)

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New history books (February 2012 edition)

Posted in Asian, Books, Russian by Alex L. on April 6, 2012

History Off the Book header

Below is a survey of books that were published in the past month or so and look to me like interesting reads (note: I have not actually read these books yet, and these are previews not reviews).

Russia

Book coverNo one in the world was surprised that Vladimir Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation yet again this year.  News about Russian opposition movements — none too threatening to Putin’s grip on Russia — has been featured on the front pages of the Western press for the past couple of months. As that nation seems to be tragically slinking back into old habits of autocracy, historians have been looking to Russia’s past to find success stories when moderating forces opposed corrupt centralization of power. The primary question these historians seem to be asking is this: is autocracy inevitable in Russia?

A classic work of this type is Victor Leontovitsch’s The History of Liberalism in Russia, which was published in English for the first time this January (it was written in German and first released in 1957). In May of last year, Julia Berest published a biographical account of one of Russia’s early liberals during the Napoleonic era: Alexander Kunitsyn. A more recent contribution to the debate will be published in June of this year by the university press of my alma mater: the University of Wisconsin. Anton A. Fedyashin’s Liberals under Autocracy: Modernization and Civil Society in Russia, 1866-1904 utilizes the history of Russia’s primary liberal journal before the 1917 revolution, The Herald of Europe (Vestnik Evropy) as a lens into what he sees as a uniquely Russian brand of liberalism. (more…)