Expand Your Mind with Great History & Biography Book Haul Picks

Like Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It’s impossible to fully understand our world without revisiting our history from time to time, and there are some brilliant recent works that allow for just that. Whether it’s for the thrill of knowledge or for the pleasure of diving into our human story, these books open a window on the past—and you can nab them for 50 percent off during Barnes & Noble’s Book Haul Blowout, from February 27 to March 4.

Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
There were two disasters involved in the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The first was the attack on the ship itself; it was fired upon and sunk by a Japanese submarine, ending the lives of many of the crew. The second was in the Navy’s response: a flawed and nearly incompetent recovery operation that saw 600 surviving sailors lost as they drifted, waiting for rescue, for four days. Looking for a scapegoat, the Navy court-martialed the ship’s captain. Though Captain Charles McVay III was eventually exonerated, he’d already taken his own life. This new book finally sets the record straight, telling the whole grim story of the Indianapolis and her crew.

Killing the SS: The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in Historyby Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
No war is ever really over just because the fighting stops, and that’s especially true for World War II, whose horrors reached beyond any armistice. Many of those responsible for genocide fled, some evading capture with the help of sophisticated global networks of supporters who protected them. In the latest installment of the popular Killing series, O’Reilly and Dugard tell the story of the individuals and organizations who dedicated their lives to hunting down some of the most notorious criminals of the twentieth century—and bringing them to justice.

Napoleon: A Life, by Adam Zamoysk
The legendarily (if not actually) short-statured man cast a very long shadow over European history, and over the field of written biography itself: his story has been told many times, from many different points of view. Adam Zamoski’s new book charts a middle path, neither lionizing the great military commander nor demonizing the conqueror. Placing Napoleon in the context of his time, Zamoski opens a window on a very human figure—sometimes brave and brilliant, sometimes cruel and callow.

When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt, by Kara Cooney
The ancient world wasn’t always particularly hospitable to the idea of female leadership (imagine that?), but Egypt had a much better track record than our friends in Greece or Rome. Even if women rulers were still relatively rare, the ones that did hold the powers of pharaoh were among the most successful in the empire’s long history. Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra were especially consequential figures, but they weren’t alone. Cooney explores the dynamics that allowed for these women’s ascendance, and considers the individual qualities that caused them to push through a male power structure to command from the top.

Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidencyby Dan Abrams and David Fisher
Lincoln’s life didn’t begin when he stepped into the White House, though you might be forgiven for thinking so, given that there’s so little discussion in popular culture of his life prior to the presidency. Enter this new work exploring a very consequential period in Honest Abe’s pre-political career. In 1859, a man named “Peachy” Quinn Harrison stabbed Greek Crafton to death following an assault. Using all of his skills, lawyer Lincoln mounted a stirring and legally sound defense of Harrison that lead to an acquittal. To Abrams’ mind, this was the event that provided the final momentum that lead Lincoln to a grand destiny.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, by Max Hastings
British writer Hastings turns an objective outsider’s eye on America’s most divisive war, tracing the events of the conflict in Vietnam from its beginnings in the 1950s to its ignominious end two decades later. Along the way he explodes some persistent myths about the war and offers clear-eyed assessments of both the mistakes that allowed it to drag on, and the men who made them—including president Richard Nixon and his national security advisor (and future secretary of state) Henry Kissinger. Where many studies of the War in Vietnam are necessarily narrow in scope, Hastings looks from a broader perspective, without sacrificing context..

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton, by Tilar J. Mazzeo
We always talk about founding fathers, but it’s important to remember the important behind-the-scenes roles played by Revolutionary-era women, as partners and as individuals. Though their names weren’t on the noteworthy documents of the day, the lives of many women who lived during these turbulent times are just as interesting as those of their more famous husbands. Eliza Hamilton’s name has become widely known thanks to her prominent role in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, but the show doesn’t tell her full story: born into a pioneer family, she became a mother and then a widow before remaking herself as one of the nation’s most prominent early philanthropists.

The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee, by Sam Kashner, Nancy Schoenberger
Decades after her death, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis continues to fascinate, but the story of the Bouvier family as a whole is as interesting as that of the more storied Kennedys. Drawing on new interviews with Jackie’s sister Lee Radziwill, Kashner and Schoenberger chronicle the close, complicated, and sometimes rocky legacy of the glamorous socialite siblings. There’s added poignance to the story, given Radziwill’s recent passing, but it’s wonderful that she was able to tell her version of the Bouvier story before she left us.

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, by Mark Dery
Edward Gorey’s art—works like “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” and “The Doubtful Guest”—has influenced our culture in any number of ways; Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Lemony Snicket have certainly all benefitted from his aesthetic. Yet the creator himself has remained something of a mystery. He produced over a hundred books in his own name, illustrating many more, but was reclusive, preferring the company of his enormous book collection (and several cats). Newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with Gorey’s friends and associates have allowed Very to, for the first time, draw back the curtain on this artistic powerhouse.

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, by Lindsey Fitzharris
In the early 19th century, medicine had advanced in innumerable ways, but a key piece was still missing. Surgeries and treatments of all kinds could solve all manner of ailments and maladies, but patients were still just as likely to die in the aftermath of a successful surgery as they were in a failed one. Here, Fitzharris revisits the grimy and dangerous world of Victorian medicine, and introduces the Quaker surgeon who developed the idea that fighting germs was the true key to saving lives, post-op. This is the story of his battle against remarkable skepticism to spread his strangely revolutionary notion.

Find out more about the B&N Book Haul, now through March 4.

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