The Best History Books of February

Chris Schluep on February 28, 2018

There was a lot of variety in February's Best History Books of the Month. There was also a lot of quality. Below are four books on the list; but there's more variety and quality on the full list, which you can see here.

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Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll - The author Steve Coll wrote a book that I really enjoyed way back in 2012, called Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, which among other things was my first introduction to Rex Tillerson. Coll also wrote the book Ghost Wars, about "The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001" (that's the subtitle of the book). Ghost Wars won the 2005 Pulitzer and serves as a sort of prequel to Directorate S. I can assure you that you can enjoy and understand this new book without having read Ghost Wars, because I haven't read Ghost Wars and I loved Directorate S. Now Ghost Wars is on my list.

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The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers -Another book I enjoyed this month is Dave Eggers' The Monk of Mokha, which we selected as a Top 10 Best of the Month. Here's what I wrote in my review: The Monk of Mokha is an unblinking, open account of a San Francisco-based Yemeni American’s success story. The sincerity and subject matter will make some cynics uneasy, and cynics would do well to avoid this book, or be less cynical. Following in the path of What is the What and Zeitoun, Eggers delivers us the real-life tale of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Muslim in his early twenties who appears to be on his way to a relatively undistinguished life. But when he discovers the historic Yemeni connection to coffee production, he embarks on a quest that will change his path and provide direction. The adventure itself is riveting, but when you add in the history of coffee, the story becomes even more elevated. Mokhtar is an inspirational character, and Dave Eggers has written an entertaining, inspirational, and informative book.

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Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet by Yasha Levine - In Surveillance Valley, investigative reporter Yasha Levine uncovers the secret origins of the internet, tracing it back to a Pentagon counterinsurgency surveillance project. A visionary intelligence officer, William Godel, realized that the key to winning the war in Vietnam was not outgunning the enemy, but using new information technology to understand their motives and anticipate their movements. This idea--using computers to spy on people and groups perceived as a threat, both at home and abroad--drove ARPA to develop the internet in the 1960s. Fast forward to today, and people are concerned about companies doing now what the military set out to do back then.

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Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes -This book is a little unexpected and different, but very good. It is set during the sixteen days of the 1936 Olympiad, and follows a large cast of characters to paint a wide-ranging but detailed picture of the world, and especially Berlin, during that time. You read the stories of Nazi leaders and foreign diplomats, sportsmen and journalists, writers and socialites, nightclub owners and jazz musicians--altogether creating a panoramic-yet-focused view of life during a time when a dark storm was gathering on the horizon.

You can see the full list of the Best History Book of February here.

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