Notes on a foreign country: An American abroad in a post-American world by Suzy HansenAfter winning a fellowship to fund a year abroad, journalist Suzy Hansen went to live in Istanbul, Turkey in 2007. Assuming, as she had been taught, that the rest of the world views the U.S. as generous and benevolent, she was shocked to learn otherwise. In Notes on a Foreign Country, Hansen relates her discovery that American self-perceptions are based on ignorance of history and international affairs. She recounts what she's learned about U.S. foreign policy during years spent in the eastern Mediterranean region and starkly illuminates the problems caused by American unawareness of the rest of the world.
Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk by Michael KordaAuthor and former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster Michael Korda was born in England in 1933; his family went to the U.S. in 1941 for the duration of World War II. In Alone, Korda weaves his childhood memories of Britain with a thoroughly researched history of the early months of the war up through the 1940 evacuation from Dunkirk. This detailed history presents an "excellent revisitation" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) of military tactics and international politics, illuminated by Korda's personal recollections.
The best land under heaven: The Donner Party in the age of Manifest Destiny
by Michael Wallis
In the eerily warm spring of 1846, George Donner placed this advertisement in a local newspaper as he and a restless caravan prepared for what they hoped would be the most rewarding journey of a lifetime. But in eagerly pursuing what would a century later become known as the "American dream," this optimistic-yet-motley crew of emigrants was met with a chilling nightmare; in the following months, their jingoistic excitement would be replaced by desperate cries for help that would fall silent in the deadly snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada. We know these early pioneers as the Donner Party, a name that has elicited horror since the late 1840s. Now, historian Michael Wallis continues his life's work of parsing fact from fiction to tell the true story of one of the most embroidered sagas in Western history.
Ghost of the innocent man: A true story of trial and redemption by Benjamin RachlinViewing the history of a wrongful conviction through the lens of the trial, verdict, and imprisonment of Willie James Grimes, author Benjamin Rachlin traces the specifics of this case as well as the beginnings of North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission. While other convictions had been questioned after DNA evidence was introduced, the Grimes case was a key factor in passing a 2006 state law that enables systematic challenges to mishandled prosecutions.
Russia: 100 years since the Revolution
Secondhand time: The last of the Soviets by Svetlana Aleksievich; translated by Bela ShayevichIf you want a closeup view of the end of the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the new Russia, check out this moving oral history collection that provides an eye-opening look at the Soviet and post-Soviet soul. Sharing the stories of a wide variety of people from across the vast country, 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksievich provides a thorough, fascinating look at war, freedom, family, and more, giving voice to those who've seen so much upheaval. For further reading on travels in contemporary Russia, pick up Anne Garrels' Putin Country.
Towards the flame: Empire, war and the end of Tsarist Russia by Dominic LievenThe Russian decision to mobilise in July 1914 may have been the single most catastrophic choice of the modern era. Some articulate, thoughtful figures around the Tsar understood Russia's fragility, and yet they were shouted down by those who were convinced that, despite Germany's patent military superiority, Russian greatness required decisive action. Russia's rulers thought they were acting to secure their future, but in fact after millions of deaths and two revolutions they were consigning their entire class to death or exile and their country to a uniquely terrible generations-long experiment under a very different regime.
The new Tsar: The rise and reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee MyersIn The New Tsar, former New York Times Moscow bureau chief Steven Myers recounts in great detail the career of Vladimir Putin, who emerged on the Russian political scene in the 1990s and succeeded Boris Yeltsin as President in 2000. Myers describes Putin's initial economic reforms, which transformed the Russian economy, but which he soon followed with oppressive authoritarian measures and military actions that created global angst. Offering a personal assessment and political analysis designed to help Westerners understand the Russian leader, Myers presents a "highly effective portrait of a frighteningly powerful autocrat" (Kirkus Reviews).
The invention of Russia: From Gorbachev's freedom to Putin's war by Arkady OstrovskyAward-winning journalist Arkady Ostrovsky, formerly the Moscow bureau chief for the Economist, traces the rise of the new Russia out of the ruins of the Soviet Union in this "troubling and superbly documented" (Booklist) account. After Mikhail Gorbachev liberalized journalistic, economic, and political policies, his successors reversed course and reestablished absolutist governmental control. Relying on the press to create the stories he wants people to hear, current President Vladimir Putin has recreated Russian rule according to the Stalinist model. If you're interested in Russia's role in international affairs or the power of propaganda, you'll find The Invention of Russia gripping and enlightening.
The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag MontefioreFor three centuries, until 1918, the Romanov dynasty ruled a sixth of the world's surface. In this comprehensive and absorbing narrative, author Simon Sebag Montefiore details the unlikely birth of their power in 1613 and traces their rule until their downfall. Utilizing correspondence, diaries, and other primary materials, Montefiore draws compelling portraits of each of the rulers and their spouses, creating a history of Russian imperial leadership and illuminating the autocratic and violent character of their reigns. Current affairs buffs who are intrigued by the authoritarian methods of President Vladimir Putin will find this a thought-provoking examination of Russian political traditions.
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