Oscar Wilde onced quipped that “any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.” Visit any bookstore, especially a college bookstore, and you will see row upon row of historians battling it out with one another to claim the title of genius. Each year, significant historical events, places, and people are mined by curious and enthusiastic historians to unearth new facts and new perspectives in order to piece together fascinating new stories for the modern reader. Here are some of the notable fall releases:
Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth Davis, Hyperion (2012)
For decades, Davis has been educating readers about all the things they don’t know about (Don’t Know Much About History, Geography, the Bible, Mythology, the Civil War, to name just a few) and in the process amusing us with wonderful little-known tales and trivia. After you read a book by Davis, you wish he was your professor in college for just about every course — making every subject interesting and engaging. Once you own one book in the series you will want to own all of them.
Washington: The Indispensable Man: The Illustrated Edition by James Flexner, Sterling (2012).
Each year, Sterling publishes absolutely beautiful books that remind you why printed books endure, easily trumping e-books. Flexner originally published his four-volume biography of Washington from 1965 to 1972. The new Sterling book is based on Flexner’s abridged one-volume work that was published in 1974. Like other books in the Sterling “Illustrated Edition” series, the book is beautifully designed with high-quality reproductions of photographs, manuscripts, facsimiles, and maps from Washington’s entire life. This book is a must for any student of the venerated first president.
The Travels of Marco Polo: The Illustrated Edition by Marco Polo, by Morris Rossabi, Sterling (2012)
Another Sterling masterpiece, this time focusing on Marco Polo’s fascinating exporation of China and Central Asia. Like the previous book, it features stunning reproductions that any student of history will appreciate. The book is written by Rossabi, an expert on Mongolian and East Asian history. Having organized several major exhibits on the history of China, Rossabi was able to draw on a wide range of historical artifacts and rare manuscripts for the book.
Modern History in Pictures: A Visual Guide to the Events that Shaped Our World edited by Daniel Mills, DK (2012)
No one know history like Dorling Kindersley. This book, completed with assistance from the Smithsonian, focuses on modern historical events beginning with the Anglo-Baer War in 1900s and ending with the Global Economic Crisis and Arab Spring in the 2000s. A lavishly illustrated, visual overview of important historical events. This is just another great addition to the ever-growing DK history library that includes such exceptional volumes as: History: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day; Timeline of History, History of Britain & Ireland, The Civil War: A Visual History; World War I (and II): The Definitive Visual History. DK books inspire a sort of literary hegemony — history buffs will want to dominate their bookshelves with the entire DK history canon.
Military History: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Objects of Warfare edited by Gareth Jones, DK (2012)
Once again, DK partners with the Smithsonian to provide a visual history of weasponry from primitive stone and bone weapons to the sophisticated weapons of the nuclear age. Flipping through this book is like walking through the most amazingly comprehensive museum of weaponry in the world. This book is a great companion to other great DK books on weaponry and battle: Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor; Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man; Battle; Battle at Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare; War: The Definitive Visual Guide; and Commanders.
Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News by Todd Anrik, Sourcebooks (2012)
The Revolutionary War has been explored from just about every angle; however, now comes a book written by a Revolutionary War newspaper archivist and a panel of historians that tell the story through primary sources: newspaper articles of that time. Since much of history is written in hindsight, it is immensely helpful to witness history through articles written by people, whether they were Loyalists or Patriots, who were caught in the middle of a tumultuous period in the country’s history.
1001 Days That Shaped the World by Peter Furtado, Barron’s Educational Series (2012)
Written by a team of historians and researchers, led by Peter Furtado, former editor of the British magazine, History Today, this 960-page tome focuses on 1001 pivotal historical events. This book is part of Barron’s extremely 1001 series, that is sure to educate readers and initiate conversations about what was and wasn’t included. Like all the books in the series it is beautifully designed and presented in a very engaging format with high-quality reproductions.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham, Random House (2012)
As editor of Newsweek, one wonders when Meacham has time to write an 800-page book; but once again, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author delivers another carefully researched and in-depth look at one of the most successful, not to mention intellectual, presidents that this country has ever had. The book certainly deserves to sit right next to Water Isaacson’s (a former managing editor of Time magazine) biography of Benjamin Franklin published a few years back.
Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle, Henry Holt (2012)
Published to coincide with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (which is actually based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals), the biography focuses on Lincoln’s most critical year, 1862, leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation. Beautifully written, exceptionally researched and nuanced, leading to fascinating new insights into one of the most venerated presidents of American history.