Coming off of Martin Luther King Day, and at the start of a new decade, we should all have history on our minds. To keep that awareness going, here are some of our favorite history books of the month.
And as always, you can see the full list here.
Usually, when we read history, we at least have a cursory knowledge of the subject at hand. Sometimes, however, a book comes along that just surprises. How did we not know about this before? we ask ourselves. Wilmington’s Lie is such a book. After the Civil War, Wilmington, North Carolina prospered. It was the state’s largest city, with a busy port and a mixed race community that featured a burgeoning black middle class. But in 1898, a group of white supremacists decided to do something to turn back the page. David Zucchino’s well-researched book delivers an account of one of the few times a group of people has violently overthrown the government in this country.
In 1942, America's deadliest fighter pilot, or "ace of aces"—the legendary Eddie Rickenbacker—offered a bottle of bourbon to the first U.S. fighter pilot to break his record of twenty-six enemy planes shot down. Seizing on the challenge to motivate his men, General George Kenney promoted what they would come to call the "race of aces" as a way of boosting the spirits of his war-weary command. What developed was a wild three-year sprint for fame and glory, and the chance to be called America's greatest fighter pilot.
999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam
On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Filled with a sense of adventure and national pride, they left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service. Instead, the young women—many of them teenagers—were sent to Auschwitz. The facts of the first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz are little known today. These were not resistance fighters or prisoners of war. There were no men among them. Sent to almost certain death, the young women were powerless and insignificant not only because they were Jewish—but also because they were female. Drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees, Heather Dune Macadam has written an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.
John C. Frémont, one of the United States’s leading explorers of the nineteenth century, was relatively unknown in 1842, when he commanded the first of his expeditions to the uncharted West. But in only a few years, he was one of the most acclaimed people of the age—he was not even 40 years old when Americans began naming mountains and towns after him. He had perfect timing, exploring the West just as it captured the nation’s attention. But the most important factor in his fame may have been the person who made it all possible: his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, daughter of a U.S. Senator and as equally ambitious as John. During a time when women were allowed to make few choices for themselves, Jessie—who herself aspired to roles in exploration and politics—threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband.