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A History Lover’s Summer Reading List: 2011

A History Lover’s Summer Reading List: 2011

Ah, the joys of compiling a summer reading list. . . . The Milestone editors suggest five vastly different 2011 releases for readers seeking a warm-weather book fix of historic proportions. The following titles (in no particular order) made it onto our first annual Summer Reading List:

1) In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, by Erik Larson. New York: Crown, 2011. It reads like fiction, but it's not. In early 1930s Berlin, Adolf Hitler was just beginning his frightening ascent to power. Erik Larson chronicles the story of the naïve U.S. ambassador William E. Dodd and his dangerously flirtatious daughter, Martha, as they become embroiled in Germany's spiraling descent into Nazi rule.

2) The Civil War: A Concise History, by Louis P. Masur. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Louis Masur gives new meaning to brevity in this fast-paced, bare-bones overview of the American Civil War, published to coincide with the war's sesquicentennial commemoration. The chronological account begins with a look at the causes of the conflict, sweeps readers through four blood-soaked years of fighting, and wraps up with a discussion of the postwar Reconstruction era. At 136 pages, Masur's easily digestible book is likely to spark a lasting interest in Civil War history among readers.

3) To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, by Adam Hochschild. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. World War I—thought to be “the war to end all wars”—left more than 37 million people dead or wounded. Author Adam Hochschild focuses on the moral uncertainty that pervaded the era of the First World War, pitting pacifists and reform-minded critics of the massive global conflict against those who saw it as a righteous and necessary undertaking. From NPR: “A Moral Contest Between Pacifists and Soldiers”

4) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. New York: Crown, 2011. Henrietta Lacks, a young African American mother of five who was raised on a Virginia tobacco farm, was just 31 years old when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Although she was buried in an unmarked grave, Lacks achieved inadvertent immortality when her biopsied cells (known as HeLa cells), which were reproduced without her family's consent, became the basis of nearly every life-saving breakthrough in modern medicine. Skloot blends elements of social history, individual rights, medical ethics, and scientific research into a biographical work that leaves readers wondering how much of a role poverty and race in 1950s America played in the fate of Henrietta's cells. Video interviews with the author are available at Colbert Nation and at CBS Sunday Morning.

5) Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything, by David Sirota. New York: Random House, 2011. Syndicated newspaper columnist and radio host David Sirota took the title of his 2011 book from the 1985 blockbuster time-travel film Back to the Future. Sirota draws parallels between the big-haired, “Just Do It,” ghostbusting decade of the 1980s and the economic, cultural, and political atmosphere of early twenty-first century America. For an interview with the author, see his website.

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