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New history books (January 2012 edition)

Posted in American, Books, Politics, War by Alex L. on February 2, 2012

History Off the Book

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).

War of 1812

Knights-of-the-SeaThis year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Many overlook this conflict, but it inaugurated important changes for America. During the war, America tried unsuccessfully to invade Canada, Washington D.C. was invaded and burned by the British, American Indian unification efforts (which were supported by the British) against the colonists were dealt a punishing blow, and the lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner” were composed. After the war, British and American relations began to improve until eventually the two nations became each other’s closest ally in the 20th Century.

Several new books are being published in commemoration of the anniversary. Three that were released last year—two popular ones by George C. Daughan and Stephen Budiansky and a more scholarly one by Kevin D. McCranie—focus on the naval conflict. But the best new overview of the War of 1812 is by J.C.A. Stagg and is due to come out on March 31 of this year.

The book I’m most excited to read, though, is David Hanna’s Knights of the Sea: The True Story of the Boxer and the Enterprise and the War of 1812. The ships HMS Boxer and USS Enterprise dueled off the coast of Maine on a brisk autumn day. The captains of the opposing vessels were later buried together in a dual funeral on the American shore, inspiring the poem “My Lost Youth” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (more…)

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History off the press (September ’11 edition)

Posted in American, Books, Christianity, Culture, European, Islam, Music by Alex L. on October 21, 2011

New history books, September 2011

Below the fluorescent lights of an auditorium, a professor lectures to students about current historical ideas gleamed from countless of hours of collective research and collegiate debates. A journalist, after decades of reporting on current events in a foreign land, publishes a book about a historical subject she deems particularly important to understanding what is happening there today. A popular film gets released about the past that lights up the public imagination to a certain era of history.

Public recollection of the past happens in many ways. To follow every one of these events, which occur daily, is almost impossible. But patterns emerge from observation, though understanding why they occur is sometimes difficult. In the following previews of new books, I hope to draw attention to trends in the public discourse about history. A more detailed look at the context and causes of these dialogues, though, requires further research.

Fighting to the last

Ever since I first heard the lyrics of Alexander Gorodnitsky’s song “Atlases”, the Siege of Leningrad has become elevated in my mind as an eternal symbol of people’s remarkable ability to endure suffering and emerge victorious. The symbols and metaphors of the song are ingenious. In the famous Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, there are sculptures of Atlas from Greek mythology that act as structural columns for a portico . The Soviet men and women who died to stymie the advance of Nazi warriors before Leningrad are, to Gorodnitsky, like the Atlases of the Hermitage, “up-holding the sky / with arms of stone”. (more…)