This is part 2 of my annual list of the best books that I read in 2017. As those of you who know me are aware, I love a good history book. I read a lot of good ones this year, so many it was a bit difficult to choose which ones stood head and shoulders above the rest. All my favorite topics are here – a good dose of military history, Canadian history and Arctic exploration, among other topics.
Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo. I read Guelzo’s book on Gettysburg last year and was so impressed I ordered his biography of Lincoln. This is a spiritual biography, which focuses in on his intellectual and religious life. Guelzo makes no claims that Lincoln was an evangelical Christian as we might understand it, but he makes a strong case that Lincoln’s understanding of God developed and flourished and came to affect many of the decision he made as president.
The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth by Peter Cozzens. Cozzens is one of the best American Civil War historians. This book portrays two relatively unknown battles that were pivotal in the Union’s attempt to occupy northern Mississippi. Cozzens moves easily between strategic decisions to the average soldier’s experience and back again, giving the reader a powerful picture of these hard fought battles.
Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J. E. Lendon. The Peloponnesian War was fought in between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century B.C. Analyzing the first 10 years of the war, Lendon gives us a picture of the origins, history and strategy of this violent conflict, a conflict from which we can still learn lessons today.
Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures of Elisha Kent Kane by Ken McGoogan. I love Ken McGoogan’s books. While not as good as Fatal Passage, Race to the Polar Sea is a fascinating account of forgotten American hero Elisha Kent Kane and his will to endure and explore the Canadian Arctic.
The Rise of Germany: 1939-41 by James Holland. The Rise of Germany is part one of a 3 part series on the story of World War 2 in the west. (Part 2 is also out, entitled The Allies Strike Back.) Although I knew much of the history before reading this volume, Holland’s analysis of supply and manufacturing on both sides of the conflict was especially enlightening.
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum. This a chilling book about what happens when a paranoid dictator chooses to exercise unlimited power. Stalin’s policy of collective farming was the direct cause of a massive famine in the Ukraine in which millions died. This book was especially personal because my grandparents were exiled from the Ukraine just before the famine hit.
The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Dario Fernandez-Morera. Just about any modern American history book on the European Middle Ages will argue that Muslim Spain was a bastion of tolerance where Islam, Christianity and Judaism flourished side by side. Fernandez-Morera’s meticulous scholarship exposes the lie to that assumption, clearly showing that Muslim-ruled Spain was a place of intolerance, slavery and brutal treatment of all who did not bow the knee to Allah.
2nd Tier reads – still very good, highly recommended.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard
John A. , The Man who Made Us: The Life and Times of John A. McDonald, vol. 1 by Richard Gwyn
Nationmaker: Sir John A. MacDonald, His Life, Our Times, vol. 2 by Richard Gwyn
Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for the Apocalypse by Jay Rubenstein
Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy by Terry Copp
Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the Remarkable Story of the Hudson’s Bay Company by James Raffan
Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen
To War with Wellington: From the Peninsula to Waterloo by Peter Snow
The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War 2 by Donovan Webster
The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H. W. Brands
Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith
Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda
Frozen in Time: the Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger
Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian
Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks
Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton
Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission by Bret Baier
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Now One Man’s Courage Changed the Course of History by Giles Milton
Pubic Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough
Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945 by James Holland
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings
The Allies Strike Back, 1941-43 by James Holland
Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones
3rd Tier reads – good, but somewhat disappointing.
Napoleon’s Wars: An International History by Charles Esdaile
Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen