If it’s June, half the year has come and gone—and what an eventful year it’s already been. Putting things into perspective is what reading is for, so we’ve once again picked out the month’s best history and current affairs books to help you do just that.
Siege: Trump Under Fire, by Michael Wolff
Presidential administrations always evolve over the course of a four-year term—people resign, policies shift, and poll numbers lurch in new directions. Wolff, who chronicled the chaotic and volatile early days of the Trump White House in Fire and Fury, returns to detail the next phase of the administration, beginning just as Trump’s sophomore year opens and ending just as the Mueller Report is delivered, concluding the Special Counsel’s investigations. Wolff paints a picture of a White House continuously under a siege mentality, beset by investigations, accusations, and external threats as its inner circle gets smaller and the president himself, per Wolff, grows increasingly unpredictable and erratic. Likely you already know if you’re the audience for this book. Certainly everyone will be talking about it.
Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation, by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
Partnering with Country Music superstar Tim McGraw, Jon Meacham offers up an unexpected variant on his typical Pulitzer Prize-winning work in history work, delivering a book that studies the way America’s unique musical heritage serves to chronicle its past. Moving through the distinct eras that have defined our nation, Meacham and McGraw focus on specific songs (from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “Born in the USA”), considering the lives of their creators and examining the role music played in the lives of some of the most famous historical figures in America’s larger story. Music is so omnipresent in our lives it’s easy to miss what it does to shape us as a culture; a serious look at the way music both reflects and inspires history seems long overdue.
The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America, by Jim Acosta
Jim Acosta is perhaps the best-positioned journalist to examine the Trump administration’s hostility towards the press. Acosta, who has frequently been the focal point of the president’s ire and who was briefly barred from White House press briefings, details the Trump’s evolving relationship with the press from the announcement of his candidacy to the present day, and discusses his own unique part in the story—being threatened by Trump supporters, dealing with the ire of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks, and witnessing from the from lines the effects of the president’s relentless criticism of his friends and colleagues and his profession as an institution.
The Conservative Sensibility, by George F. Will
Will, an articulate old-school conservative, makes an argument for a return to the political philosophy that once defined the conservative movement but which has been supplanted in recent years by a new brand of political rhetoric. Arguing for a back-to-basics approach that starts with the Declaration of Independence, Will discusses his ideal view of American government—one in which individuals are responsible for their own pursuits of happiness—and pinpoints where he thinks everything began to go wrong in the early 20th century, leading to what he considers to be an unsustainable system of entitlements and an overly aggressive foreign policy. Eloquent as always, Will argues against the current embrace of populism, and offers a lot of food for thought for people on both sides of the political divide.
Alone at Dawn: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World’s Deadliest Special Operations Force, by Dan Schilling and Lori Longfritz
Schilling and Longrfitz tell the incredible story of Longfritz’ brother, Medal of Honor winner John Chapman, who saved 23 lives at the battle on Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan. Combining Chapman’s personal history with a broader look at the Special Forces organization, the book concludes with a detailed description of the day John Chapman sacrificed himself, a section that reads like a Hollywood thriller and doesn’t stint on criticism of the officers who planned the operation. Soldiers like Chapman deserve to have their stories told, and this moving and inspiring book does an excellent job of underscoring his heroism and celebrating the incredible efforts of America’s elite soldiers.
Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring
For five decades, the story of Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969 have had a specific through-line: Manson, obviously insane, was obsessed with the idea of a coming race war and engineered the deranged crimes committed by his “family” to serve as the inciting incident of that conflict. O’Neil, who was first assigned to write about the 30th anniversary of the killings two decades ago, found himself journeying down a rabbit hole so deep he’s only just emerged—and with a whole new view, one that will captivate history buffs and true-crime aficionados alike. O’Neil details the inexplicable lack of enforcement by Manson’s parole officers prior to the murders, the possible connection to drug dealers who may have wanted vengeance on Tate and others, and Manson’s possible participation in the CIA’s notorious experiments with LSD and other drugs.
In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, by Nathaniel Philbrick
It’s hardly unpatriotic to say that in 1780, the cause of the American Revolution wasn’t looking so great. With an army in tatters and a government lacking resources and organization, the Americans seemed doomed to defeat. The Battle of Yorktown changed everything, and Philbrick, an award-winning historian specializing in American stories, here lays out the thrilling and unpredictable events that conspired to give American forces the one decisive win that made their ultimate victory inevitable. Coordinating with a naval force not under his direct control—and positioned hundreds of miles away—should never have worked, but somehow George Washington and his allies managed it, birthing a new nation with one decisive battle.