More “Notable” History Books of 2012

Looking for ideas for the history buff and/or book lover on your Santa list? To our earlier collection of history books making the cut for some early “Best of 2012” lists, let’s add the following, just a few of the histories, biographies, and historical novels either named to the 10 Best and 100 Notable lists of the New York Times Book Review or described by members of the staff at The Atlantic as being “The Best Book I Read This Year” (not necessarily written this year).

Cover of Binet, HHhHLaurent Binet, HHhH (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

“This gripping novel examines both the killing of an SS general in Prague in 1942 and Binet’s experience in writing about it.” (NYT 100 Notable)

Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf)

“The fourth volume of Caro’s prodigious masterwork… explores, with the author’s signature combination of sweeping drama, psychological insight and painstaking research, Johnson’s humiliating years as vice president, when he was excluded from the inner circle of the Kennedy White House and stripped of power.” (NYT 10 Best)

Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin)

“Collingham argues that food needs contributed to the war’s origins, strategy, outcome and aftermath.” (NYT 100 Notable)

E.L. Doctorow, The Waterworks (Random House)

“Doctorow takes us on a quest through a dark, dreary, haunted post–Civil War New York where a young writer, Martin Pemberton, has become convinced that his dead father has risen from the grave…. Don’t skip this one. It is an underrated work in the collection of one of our greatest authors.” (Ta-Nehesi Coates, Atlantic)

Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (Metropolitan/Holt)

“Foreign meddling, the lack of a democratic tradition, a humiliating American occupation and cold-war support of a brutal dictator all figure in a scholar’s well-written analysis.” (NYT 100 Notable)

Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening

“Goodheart takes his readers through the divisions inside the James Buchanan Cabinet as well as a Congress that housed both those who would defend the Union and those who wanted Southern secession to succeed…. When Lincoln was elected, his brand represented rugged independence and freedom, but some time passed before he began to live up to that reputation. Goodheart’s book reveals a leader who met the challenge of a deeply divided country—with obvious potential parallel to today’s America.” (Steve Clemons, The Atlantic)

Rudolph Herzog, Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler’s Germany (Melville House)

“…a people’s history of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, told through the prism of the illegal political humor of the era…. Compiled chronologically, these anecdotes and recollections amount to what Herzog calls a ‘missing chapter of World War II history’: the progression of the German populace’s attitudes toward the mercurial Nazi regime from amusement to awe, from awe to suspicion, from suspicion to horror.” (Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic)

Ivor Noël Hume, Belzoni: The Giant Archeologists Love to Hate (Univ. of Virginia Press)

“The fascinating tale of the 19th-century Italian monk, a ‘notorious tomb robber,’ who gathered archaeological treasures in Egypt while crunching bones underfoot.” (NYT 100 Notable)

Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat (Random House)

“…recounts the British effort during World War II to divert Germany’s attention from the Allies’ plan to invade Sicily with a fake plan to invade Greece and Sardinia. The decoy papers manifest in the briefcase of William Martin, a drowned courier who washes up in tattletale Spain. Martin, a fictitious personality, is the result of months of work by a motley, dedicated crew.” (Cotton Codinha, The Atlantic)

Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (Random House)

“This readable and well-researched life celebrates Jefferson’s skills as a practical politician, unafraid to wield power even when it conflicted with his small-government views.” (NYT 100 Notable)

Paul Thomas Murphy, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (Pegasus)

“An uninhibited and learned account of the attempts on the life of Queen Victoria, which only increased her popularity.” (NYT 100 Notable)

David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (Penguin)

“…sprawling, arresting account of a banker-cum-speculator-cum-moviemaker-cum-ambassador-cum-dynastic founder.” (NYT 10 Best)

Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown)

“The first Alexandre Dumas, a mixed-race general of the French Revolution, is the subject of this imaginative biography.” (NYT 100 Notable)

William Souder, On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (Crown)

“An absorbing biography of the pioneering environmental writer on the 50th anniversary of ‘Silent Spring.'” (NYT 100 Notable)

Rebecca Stott, Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution (Spiegel & Grau)

“Stott’s lively, original history of evolutionary ideas flows easily across continents and centuries.” (NYT 100 Notable)

See the complete list of history-related Times “notables” at Prof. Chris Gehrz’s blog.


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