What a wide assortment of history books we have this month. There's a search for a famous killer, the recounting of an American legacy, a quest for the good and simple life, a letter a young Muslim, a search for a lost ancient city, and much, much more in our full list of the Best History Books of January.
Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert by Patricia Cornwell - Best-selling author Patricia Cornwell has been on the trail of Jack the Ripper for years. Here she introduces a revised edition of Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed, which supports the assertion that the Victorian painter Walter Sickert was the famous murderer. New chapters, mortuary photos, personal correspondence. Chilling.
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King - This is a love story, a family saga, and the memoir of an extraordinary black woman in twentieth-century America. The wife of a major American figure and a brave leader herself, Coretta Scott King has stood committed, proud, forgiving, nonviolent, and hopeful every day of her life.
The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today's America by Mark Sundeen - The Unsettlers traces the search for the simple life through the stories of new pioneers--some rural, some urban-- exploring what inspired each of them to try to find a better existence. It's a book that dares us to imagine what a sustainable, ethical, authentic future might actually look like.
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash - In a series of personal letters to his son, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Russia offers a short and highly readable manifesto that tackles our current global crisis with the training of an experienced diplomat and the personal responsibility of a father. The burning question, Ghobash argues, is how moderate Muslims can unite to find a voice that is true to Islam while actively and productively engaging in the modern world.
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston - Since Douglas Preston's book was our Spotlight pick for the Best Books of January, I'll include the full review by Amazon's Jon Foro:
In 2012, author Douglas Preston joined a team of explorers searching for Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”), a legendary ruin hidden in the dense jungle of eastern Honduras. To this point the city – also known as “the Lost City of the Monkey God” - was literally a legend; while various hucksters and hoaxers had claimed to have discovered the abandoned metropolis, no credible evidence had ever been presented, and its very existence remained shrouded in doubt. In addition to the objective hazards of tropical disease, wild boars, and the deadly fer-de-lance viper, locals stoked the mystique, describing various curses awaiting would-be discoverers. Don’t pick the flowers, or you’ll die.
But this team had an advantage that previous searchers had lacked: LIDAR, an advanced laser-imaging technology able to penetrate the dense jungle canopy – just enough – and return detailed elevation profiles from which subtle, man-made anomalies could be identified. Almost immediately, two major sites emerged, their scale and architecture indicating a civilization to rival another local, more famous power, the Maya.
The announcement had consequences. The fledgling Honduran government, having gained power through a military coup, sought to use the discovery to bolster its status with the population, while the academic community ripped the expedition with accusations of Indiana Jones-style exploitation and shoddy scientific methods, cries which could be uncharitably interpreted as sour grapes. Encroaching deforestation and the prospect of looters created urgency to conduct a ground survey, and the team ventured into the wilderness and all the hazards that awaited, including an unexpected and insidious danger that cursed the team well beyond their return home.
The author of over 30 books, including number of bestselling thrillers co-written with Lincoln Child, Preston knows pace, and he packs several narratives into a taut 300 pages. Indiana Jones criticism aside, the story of the discovery and exploration of the ruin is solid adventure writing, and he walks a fine line in dealing with the archaeology community’s response, reporting on the bases for their criticism where they chose to provide it. And by invoking Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Preston speculates on the mysterious, sudden demise of the White City and its inhabitants, drawing ominous parallels between their fate and possibly our own. Lost City is a tale that manages to be both fun and harrowing, a vicarious thrill worthy of a place on the shelf next to David Grann’s The Lost City of Z. --Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review
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