Voyage of Mercy by: Stephen Puleo- The American impulse to do humanitarian good dates back almost two centuries to the 1847 sailing of the USS Jamestown. Congress ordered this warship’s guns removed, transferred the three-masted vessel into private hands, loaded it with food and clothing, and sent it from Boston to Cork, Ireland, for relief from the devastations of the Irish Potato Famine. In Ireland, Theobald Mathew, a Catholic priest, had warned the British government of the dire situation, but London’s political intransigence forbade substantive economic help. Mathew’s correspondence vividly pictures Irish society’s total collapse in the grim winter without food or heat. So the American proposal to send relief was the only promising path forward, and prominent politicians such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster urged an act of American charity. Businessman and experienced seaman Robert Bennet Forbes was chosen to captain the Jamestown. His ship was just the first of a fleet that ultimately ferried tons of food and clothing to Ireland, most of it donated by American citizens from all religions and backgrounds.
Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War: July 1937-May 1942 by: Richard B. Frank- Military historian Frank (Downfall) taps a massive, multicontinent array of sources to deliver the definitive account of the first phase of WWII in the Pacific. Frank begins more than four years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with the July 1937 skirmish between Japanese and Chinese Nationalist forces that sparked full-scale combat in the region. He documents the Battle of Shanghai, where fierce Chinese resistance enraged Japanese attackers, leading to the Imperial Army’s “carnival of violation” at Nanking, and reveals that Chiang Kai-shek’s attempt to save the wartime capital of Wuhan by breaching dykes along the Yellow River cost roughly half a million civilian lives. Frank traces the intricacies of Japanese, British, and American war plans as the theater of combat expanded to Hong Kong, the Malaya Peninsula, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines, and details intelligence and communication failures that led the U.S. Pacific Fleet to be caught by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Interweaving high-level strategic analysis with vivid eyewitness reports, Frank documents the chaotic fall of Singapore, when Japanese soldiers “wreaked slaughter” on thousands fleeing the city-state in “every imaginable craft… with the faintest prospect of seaworthiness.”
Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich by: Peter Fritzche- Amid the ravages of economic depression, Germans in the early 1930s were pulled to political extremes both left and right. Then, in the spring of 1933, Germany turned itself inside out, from a deeply divided republic into a one-party dictatorship. In Hitler’s First Hundred Days, award-winning historian Peter Fritzsche offers a probing account of the pivotal moments when the majority of Germans seemed, all at once, to join the Nazis to construct the Third Reich. Fritzsche examines the events of the period — the elections and mass arrests, the bonfires and gunfire, the patriotic rallies and anti-Jewish boycotts — to understand both the terrifying power the National Socialists exerted over ordinary Germans and the powerful appeal of the new era they promised.
American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution by: Nina Sankovitch- In the mid-eighteenth century, three Braintree, Massachusetts, families began setting the stage for what was to become the American Revolution. The Hancocks were one of the colonies’ richest families, having profited from government contracts during the French and Indian War. The Quincys had large landholdings in Massachusetts. The Adams family were early settlers in Braintree. They all appeared prosperous burghers, but they learned early on to respect others and to cherish both this equality and its companion, liberty. These families intermarried, their children attended the same schools in Braintree and Boston, and they all socialized leisurely on the town common. So as relations with Britain over the imposition of duties and taxes began to strain, leaders from each of these families took up the banner of revolt against their overseas government. Sankovitch (The Lowells of Massachusetts, 2017) lays out the evolution of eighteenth-century political thought and shows how it arose within these families and their interconnections.
Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln by: Edward Achorn- Among those attending Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865, were Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, an embarrassingly drunken Andrew Johnson (about to become vice president), and John Wilkes Booth. Achorn combines this collective biography with a suspense tale involving Booth, who was there to kill Lincoln. Although we know Booth was unsuccessful at that point, Achorn re-creates the scene in a way that generates considerable tension. Mixed in is much Civil War history, including stomach-turning descriptions of the treatment of prisoners, civilians, and soldiers. The mud- and waste-filled city of Washington is described accurately, if also nauseatingly. Also delineated is the sad presence in a nearby hospital of many wounded soldiers, including unionist Selden Connor. Hovering over all is the melancholy presence of Lincoln himself, of whom Achorn provides a rich, heavily psychological portrait. The inauguration speech itself, reprinted in the appendix, is oddly religious (for the freethinking Lincoln) and conciliatory, though that feeling, as Achorn makes clear, was not shared by everyone. A moving chronicle of the country on the eve of assassination.