A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Three very good recent reads in nonfiction history books.
This small volume covers thousands of years as it traces the influence of Ancient Egypt on various nations beginning with Ancient Greece and Rome through Napoleon’s invasion, Victorian England and Twentieth Century America. It’s less a history book than one charting a fad through time and the fascination with a particular culture. Though there isn’t much speculation on why, perhaps because such introspection might fall into another field, such as psychology or sociology? The author, who has written books and documentaries on Ancient Egypt, is also a collector on the subject and actually begins by talking about collecting, which makes a nice springboard into historic trendiness.Part of that collection is scattered throughout the book, including some unusual items, and adds resonance to the text. The book would work from several angles of interest and it is quite entertaining all around.
Palgrave Macmillan 2013 229 pp. ISBN 978-1-137-27860-9
Starting with an intriguing title, from a line in an Emily Dickinson poem and referring to the original definition of ecstatic meaning “joyful excitement”, covers a period in American history from the mid-1850’s through the 1870’s. Though the U.S. Civil War serves as a centerpiece, the book also looks at other issues of the time, such as womens rights, workplace safety and westward expansion on the continent. The last fourth of the book shows what a mess Reconstruction was, as Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson sought to undo much of the progressive measures imposed after the Confederate defeat. His racist actions reverberated down the centuries as he sought policies to restrict opportunities for freed blacks, preventing them from owning property, businesses and even gaining citizenship. I learned a lot from this book, especially about the murky years after the war. It was also intriguing how many world changing issues were being fought over at the same time, some long before much progress was ever made.
Harper 2013 736 pp. ISBN-13:978-0061234576 available in traditional and ebook formats
Despite it’s romantic title, this is actually a history book examining the official beginning or the American Revolution. It covers most of 1776, when the American colonies firmly resolved to break away from England in word and deed. Focusing on just one year of the war allowed the author to examine the actions and personalities in greater detail. His thesis is that the political and military aspects worked in tandem to create the events, something that seems obvious but is not always discussed as such. We learn about peace overtures by British officers, the discarded contents of the Declaration of Independence, and why slavery was not addressed at the time. The battle for New York City was fought that summer and is recounted with suspense. And the myth of the Minutemen militias is shattered. The author does use certain phrases repeatedly, such as “the flower of the British army”, but that’s a tiny flaw. The narrative has a nice flow and even for one familiar with the period, it has new information. It reminded me of Adam Goodheart’s 1861 , a close-up view of the first year of the American Civil War. I only wish that Ellis’s book was to be part of a series concerning each year of the American Revolution.
Knopf 2013 240 pp. ISBN 978-0307701220 available in traditional and ebook formats