Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Page 59: Some Non-Fiction

Here are three examples of great non-fiction writing, one published in 1962 and two more recently.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

This was originally published in 1962 and won the Pulitzer.  Since World War I started in 1914 we are currently one-hundred years beyond the horrors of this war, but not war itself.  The great leaders and generals of World War I, on both sides of the conflict, suffered from a similar hubris that infects our leaders today.   This is a classic.

Here is what you will find on Amazon when you search for The Guns of August.

"In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, Tuchman traces each step that led to the inevitable clash. And inevitable it was, with all sides plotting their war for a generation. Dizzyingly comprehensive and spectacularly portrayed with her famous talent for evoking the characters of the war’s key players, Tuchman’s magnum opus is a classic for the ages."

Praise for The Guns of August

“A brilliant piece of military history which proves up to the hilt the force of Winston Churchill’s statement that the first month of World War I was ‘a drama never surpassed.’”Newsweek

“More dramatic than fiction . . . a magnificent narrative—beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced and sustained.”Chicago Tribune

“A fine demonstration that with sufficient art rather specialized history can be raised to the level of literature.”The New York Times

“[The Guns of August] has a vitality that transcends its narrative virtues, which are considerable, and its feel for characterizations, which is excellent.”The Wall Street Journal

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

We all learned in school about the Wright Brothers, and their first successful flights at Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  What we never learned was the full story of their grit and determination to succeed and the amazing mechanical ability they used to build the first successful piloted airplane.  This is an amazing story that fills in the gaps and reveals information that most of us never knew.  Here is what you will find on Amazon when you check on this book.

"Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard. The Age of Flight had begun. How did they do it? And why? David McCullough tells the extraordinary and truly American story of the two brothers who changed the world.

Sons of an itinerant preacher and a mother who died young, Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in a small side street in Dayton, Ohio, in a house that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity but was filled with books and a love of learning. The brothers ran a bicycle shop that allowed them to earn enough money to pursue their mission in life: flight. In the 1890s flying was beginning to advance beyond the glider stage, but there were major technical challenges that the Wrights were determined to solve. They traveled to North Carolina’s remote Outer Banks to test their plane because there they found three indispensable conditions: constant winds, soft surfaces for landings, and privacy.

Flying was exceedingly dangerous; the Wrights risked their lives every time they flew in the years that followed. Orville nearly died in a crash in 1908, before he was nursed back to health by his sister, Katharine, an unsung and important part of the brothers’ success and of McCullough’s book. Despite their achievement, the Wrights could not convince the US government to take an interest in their plane until after they demonstrated its success in France, where the government instantly understood the importance of their achievement. Now, in this revelatory book, master historian David McCullough draws on nearly 1,000 letters of family correspondence—plus diaries, notebooks, and family scrapbooks in the Library of Congress—to tell the full story of the Wright brothers and their heroic

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Much like the story of the Wright Brothers, the sinking of the Lusitania as an historical event is known by most of us, but not the full story.  Erik Larson has written a fascinating account of what happened.  Here is what the Amazon page contains when you check on Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

"From the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. 

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history."

If you haven't read these books, get busy.  They will add to your knowledge of real history.


  1. Tom,

    All of these books sound interesting. I must confess to never having read any of David McCullough's books, though I have seen the HBO miniseries "John Adams," based on his book of the same name. It is excellent, and really gives viewers a gritty and lively look into how the Revolutionary Generation gave us this great country.

    Along these lines, you may enjoy Joseph J. Ellis' books. I have only read two: "Founding Brothers" and "His Excellency, George Washington." Both are very enlightening, and show painstaking research.