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Genres Archives: History

Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist

Churchill and Empire
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Churchill and Empire

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An illuminating and often surprising new biography of Churchill, focusing on his contradictory relationship with the British Empire.

One of our finest narrative historians, Lawrence James has written a genuinely new biography of Winston Churchill, one focusing solely on his relationship with the British Empire. As a young army officer in the late nineteenth century serving in conflicts in India, South Africa, and the Sudan, his attitude toward the Empire was the Victorian paternalistic approach—at once responsible and superior.

Conscious even then of his political career ahead, Churchill found himself reluctantly supporting British atrocities and held what many would regard today as prejudiced views, in that he felt that some nationalities were superior to others, his (some might say obsequious) relationship with America reflected that view.

This outmoded attitude was one of the reasons the British voters rejected him after a Second World War in which he had led the country brilliantly. His attitude remained decidedly old-fashioned in a world that was shaping up very differently. This ground-breaking volume reveals the many facets of Churchill’s personality: a visionary leader with a truly Victorian attitude toward the British Empire.

Hell Before Breakfast: America’s First War Correspondents Making History and Headlines, from the Battlefields of the Civil War to the Far Reaches of the Ottoman Empire

Hell Before Breakfast
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Hell Before Breakfast

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The first “war correspondent,” William H. Russell of The Times of London, described himself and his profession as “the miserable parent of a luckless tribe.” Others saw it differently: the war correspondent became the stuff of dreams and an urgent romantic calling.

Now, Robert H. Patton, acclaimed historian, author of The Pattons (“Exceptional”—The Washington Post; “Truly remarkable”—John S. Eisenhower) and Patriot Pirates (“Soul-stirring—as good as reading a Patrick O’Brian novel, except that every word is true”—Michael Korda), rediscovers and celebrates, in Hell Before Breakfast, America’s first war correspondents, forgotten today but legends in their time. Here are the men who, between 1850 and 1914, and particularly during America’s Civil War and the Spanish-American War, led the most romantic and thrilling of lives on the edgiest frontiers of time and space, where empires fell and dynasties flourished; they were correspondents who saw the world, broke the story, were making the news during the years when newspapers made available the most foreign of landscapes and their circulation wars were revolutionizing contemporary life, shaping global events, and creating history.

Patton writes of the decades of lightning progress and high adventure, when America was emerging as a great power and the monarchies of Europe battled for dominance through a series of brief, bloody imperial wars; when the newly discovered electric telegraph enabled these extraordinary first-person dispatches to be splashed across the daily newspapers then proliferating on both sides of the Atlantic.

Through the eyes (and minds) of American adventurers, soldiers, and artists-turned-correspondents—Mark Twain and the painter John Millet among them—we see what they saw and what they brought to life: the Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish War. Patton writes about New York Herald reporter Henry Stanley, who led a caravan from the Tanzanian coast into the uncharted “cannibal country” and, after a 236-day trek, discovered the long lost and presumed dead Dr. David Livingstone . . . about Archibald Forbes of the London Daily News bringing to life in his dispatches the frantic assembly of barricades along Paris streets as royalists and Communists fought with bayonets following the Prussian invasion.

Here are the fearless young correspondents, among them Henry Villard of Bavaria, a journalist who covered the Civil War and ended up a financial titan, head of the Northern Pacific Railway and an early investor in the company that would ultimately become General Electric; and George Smalley, chief war correspondent of the New York Tribune, who watched for twenty-four hours as the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia fought in the cornfields and woodlands around Antietam Creek.

These correspondents were at center stage and, through their on-the-spot reporting, became legends in their time. Their intrepid spirit and sense of adventure inspired generations of storytellers, explorers, artists, writers, statesmen and politicians, and even moviemakers—from Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill to Theodore Roosevelt, D. W. Griffith, and Cecil B. DeMille—men whose adolescence was shaped during this spectacular age of war correspondence.

Crimea: The Great Crimean War 1854 - 1856

Crimea
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Crimea

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The Crimean War, one of history’s most compelling subjects, encompassed human suffering, woeful leadership and misadministration on a grand scale. It created a heroic myth out of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade and, in Florence Nightingale, it produced one of history’s great heroes. The war was a watershed in world history and pointed the way to what mass warfare would be like in the twentieth century.

New weapons were introduced; trench combat became a fact of daily warfare outside Sebastopol; medical innovation saved countless soldiers’ lives that would otherwise have been lost. Ultimately, by failing to solve the Eastern Question, the war paved the way for the greater conflagration which broke out in 1914 and greatly prefigured the current situation in Eastern Europe.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

The Monuments Men
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The Monuments Men

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At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

The Pope and Mussolini
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The Pope and Mussolini

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From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.

In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.

The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’s personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature—literally and figuratively—to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come.

With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.

Named One of the Top 10 History Books of the Season by Publishers Weekly • A USA Today New and Noteworthy Pick

“A sophisticated blockbuster…David Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy.” – Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War

The Last of the Doughboys
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The Last of the Doughboys

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In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. But then, he found another. And another. Eventually he managed to find dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now.

A decade-long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their Great War led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, and battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German aeroplane; an 18-year-old Bronx girl “drafted” to work for the War Department; a machine-gunner from Montana; a Marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the 16-year-old who became America’s last WWI veteran; and many, many more.

They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment, so that they, and the World War they won – the trauma that created our modern world – might at last be remembered. You will never forget them. The Last of the Doughboys is more than simply a war story: It is a moving meditation on character, grace, aging, and memory.

Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising

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Warsaw 1944

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The full untold story of how one of history’s bravest revolts ended in one of its greatest crimes.

In 1943, the Nazis liquidated Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. A year later, they threatened to complete the city’s destruction by deporting its remaining residents. A sophisticated and cosmopolitan community a thousand years old was facing its final days—and then opportunity struck. As Soviet soldiers turned back the Nazi invasion of Russia and began pressing west, the underground Polish Home Army decided to act. Taking advantage of German disarray and seeking to forestall the absorption of their country into the Soviet empire, they chose to liberate the city of Warsaw for themselves.

Warsaw 1944 tells the story of this brave, and errant, calculation. For more than sixty days, the Polish fighters took over large parts of the city and held off the SS’s most brutal forces. But in the end, their efforts were doomed. Scorned by Stalin and unable to win significant support from the Western Allies, the Polish Home Army was left to face the full fury of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. The crackdown that followed was among the most brutal episodes of history’s most brutal war, and the celebrated historian Alexandra Richie depicts this tragedy in riveting detail. Using a rich trove of primary sources, Richie relates the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Her clear-eyed narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II’s most unsung heroes.

Buried Glory: Portraits of Soviet Scientists

Buried Glory
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Buried Glory

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Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery is the final resting place of some of Russia’s most celebrated figures, from Khrushchev and Yeltsin to Anton Chekhov, Sergei Eisenstein, Nikolai Gogol, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Using this famed cemetery as symbolic starting point, Buried Glory profiles a dozen eminent Soviet scientists-nine of whom are buried at Novodevichy-men who illustrate both the glorious heights of Soviet research as well as the eclipse of science since the collapse of the USSR.

Drawing on extensive archival research and his own personal memories, renowned chemist Istvan Hargittai bring these figures back to life, placing their remarkable scientific achievements against the tense political backdrop of the Cold War. Among the eminent scientists profiled here are Petr L. Kapitza, one of the most brilliant representatives of the great generation of Soviet physicists, a Nobel-Prize winner who risked his career-and his life-standing up for fellow scientists against Stalin. Yulii B. Khariton, who ran the highly secretive Soviet nuclear weapons laboratory, Arzamas-16, despite being Jewish and despite the fact that his father Boris had been sent to the labor camps. And Andrei D. Sakharov, the “father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb” and a brilliant fighter for human rights, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Along the way, Hargittai shines a light on the harrowing conditions under which these brilliant researchers excelled. Indeed, in the post-war period, Stalin’s anti-Semitism and ongoing anti-science measures devastated biology, damaged chemistry, and nearly destroyed physics. The latter was saved only because Stalin realized that without physics and physicists there could be no nuclear weapons.

The extraordinary scientific talent nurtured by the Soviet regime belongs almost entirely to the past. Buried Glory is both a fitting tribute to these great scientists and a fascinating account of scientific work behind the Iron Curtain.

The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

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The magnificent conclusion to Rick Atkinson’s acclaimed Liberation Trilogy about the Allied triumph in Europe during World War II.

It is the twentieth century’s unrivaled epic: at a staggering price, the United States and its allies liberated Europe and vanquished Hitler. In the first two volumes of his bestselling Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson recounted how the American-led coalition fought through North Africa and Italy to the threshold of victory. Now, in The Guns at Last Light, he tells the most dramatic story of all—the titanic battle for Western Europe.

D-Day marked the commencement of the final campaign of the European war, and Atkinson’s riveting account of that bold gamble sets the pace for the masterly narrative that follows. The brutal fight in Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the disaster that was Operation Market Garden, the horrific Battle of the Bulge, and finally the thrust to the heart of the Third Reich—all these historic events and more come alive with a wealth of new material and a mesmerizing cast of characters. Atkinson tells the tale from the perspective of participants at every level, from presidents and generals to war-weary lieutenants and terrified teenage riflemen. When Germany at last surrenders, we understand anew both the devastating cost of this global conflagration and the enormous effort required to win the Allied victory.

With the stirring final volume of this monumental trilogy, Atkinson’s accomplishment is manifest. He has produced the definitive chronicle of the war that unshackled a continent and preserved freedom in the West.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

The War That Ended Peace
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The War That Ended Peace

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From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.

The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.

The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.

There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.

Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.

Five Days in November

Five Days in November
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Five Days in November

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On November 22 , 1963, three shots were fired in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the world stopped for four days. For an entire generation, it was the end of an age of innocence.

That evening, a photo ran on the front pages of newspapers across the world, showing a Secret Service agent jumping on the back of the presidential limousine in a desperate attempt to protect the President and Mrs. Kennedy. That agent was Clint Hill.

Now Secret Service Agent Clint Hill commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy with this stunning book containing more than 150 photos, each accompanied by Hill’s incomparable insider account of those terrible days. With poignant narration accompanying rarely seen images, we witness three-year-old John Kennedy Jr.’s pleas to come to Texas with his parents and the rapturous crowds of mixed ages and races that greeted the Kennedys at every stop in Texas. We stand beside a shaken Lyndon Johnson as he is hurriedly sworn in as the new president. We experience the first lady’s steely courage when she insists on walking through the streets of Washington, D.C., in her husband’s funeral procession.

A story that has taken Clint Hill fifty years to tell, this is a work of personal and historical scope. Besides the unbearable grief of a nation and the monumental consequences of the event, the death of JFK was a personal blow to a man sworn to protect the first family, and who knew, from the moment the shots rang out in Dallas, that nothing would ever be the same.

Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power

Lincoln in the World
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Lincoln in the World

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A captivating look at how Abraham Lincoln evolved into one of our seminal foreign-policy presidents—and helped point the way to America’s rise to world power. This is the story of one of the most breathtaking feats in the annals of American foreign policy—performed by one of the most unlikely figures. Abraham Lincoln is not often remembered as a great foreign-policy president. He had never traveled overseas and spoke no foreign languages. And yet, during the Civil War, Lincoln and his team skillfully managed to stare down the Continent’s great powers—deftly avoiding European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. In the process, the United States emerged as a world power in its own right.

Engaging, insightful, and highly original, Lincoln in the World is a tale set at the intersection of personal character and national power. The narrative focuses tightly on five distinct, intensely human conflicts that helped define Lincoln’s approach to foreign affairs—from his debate, as a young congressman, with his law partner over the conduct of the Mexican War, to his deadlock with Napoleon III over the French occupation of Mexico. Bursting with colorful characters like Lincoln’s bowie-knife-wielding minister to Russia, Cassius Marcellus Clay; the cunning French empress, Eugénie; and the hapless Mexican monarch Maximilian—Lincoln in the World draws a finely wrought portrait of a president and his team at the dawn of American power.

In the Age of Lincoln, we see shadows of our own world. The international arena in the 1860s could be a merciless moral vacuum. Lincoln’s times demanded the cold, realistic pursuit of national interest, and, in important ways, resembled our own increasingly multipolar world. And yet, like ours, Lincoln’s era was also an information age, a period of rapid globalization. Steamships, telegraph wires, and proliferating new media were transforming the world. Global influence required the use of “soft power” as well as hard.

Anchored by meticulous research into overlooked archives, Lincoln in the World reveals the sixteenth president to be one of America’s indispensable diplomats—and a key architect of America’s emergence as a global superpower. Much has been written about how Lincoln saved the Union, but Lincoln in the World highlights the lesser-known—yet equally vital—role he played on the world stage during those tumultuous years of war and division.

The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

The Internal Enemy
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This searing story of slavery and freedom in the Chesapeake by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war.

Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.” In 1813 those angels appeared in the bay as British warships coming to punish the Americans for declaring war on the empire. Over many nights, hundreds of slaves paddled out to the warships seeking protection for their families from the ravages of slavery. The runaways pressured the British admirals into becoming liberators. As guides, pilots, sailors, and marines, the former slaves used their intimate knowledge of the countryside to transform the war. They enabled the British to escalate their onshore attacks and to capture and burn Washington, D.C. Tidewater masters had long dreaded their slaves as “an internal enemy.” By mobilizing that enemy, the war ignited the deepest fears of Chesapeake slaveholders. It also alienated Virginians from a national government that had neglected their defense. Instead they turned south, their interests aligning more and more with their section. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson observed of sectionalism: “Like a firebell in the night [it] awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the knell of the union.”

The notes of alarm in Jefferson’s comment speak of the fear aroused by the recent crisis over slavery in his home state. His vision of a cataclysm to come proved prescient. Jefferson’s startling observation registered a turn in the nation’s course, a pivot from the national purpose of the founding toward the threat of disunion. Drawn from new sources, Alan Taylor’s riveting narrative re-creates the events that inspired black Virginians, haunted slaveholders, and set the nation on a new and dangerous course.

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Hitler's Furies
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Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the Führer, pales in comparison to Lower’s incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.

Hitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post–World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement—a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women—nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses—saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

Hitler’s Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women’s business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Postwar
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Postwar

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Almost a decade in the making , this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world’s most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers all of Europe, both east and west, drawing on research in six languages to sweep readers through thirty-four nations and sixty years of political and cultural change-all in one integrated, enthralling narrative.

Both intellectually ambitious and compelling to read, thrilling in its scope and delightful in its small details, Postwar is a rare joy.