History Happy Hour co-host historians Chris Anderson and Rick Beyer have put together a list of books that they and their guests have recommended or mentioned on the show. It’s a good one, so settle into your favorite easy chair and read on!
Week 21 – Tinian and the Bomb
Tinian and the Bomb, by Don Farrell
This is THE book on the history of the bomb’s development, deployment and delivery. Focusing on the role played by the tiny island of Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan
A terrific account of the first atomic mission that reads like a thriller. Lots of great personal stories and insights into the 509th Composite Group’s time on Tinian.
Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945, by Max Hastings. Superlative history of the final year of the War in the Pacific that will inform, challenge and infuriate. Hastings is to be commended for not only covering the American portion of the war so thoroughly but also exploring the history of the British in Burma, Japanese in China, etc. Tremendous book.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes
Week 20 – Washington’s Whiskey
Our guest, Anna Anderson, wrote her masters thesis on Washington’s distillery. It is called A Study of Transition in Plantation Economy: George Washington’s Whiskey Distillery, 1799. You can download it from this link.
Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow. The most recent biography of the first president
written by an accomplished biographer who has shown his American history chops on a
number of biographies of America’s most important historical figures.
Founding Spirits: George Washington and the Beginning of American Whiskey, by Dennis
Pogue. The only history that focuses on Washington’s distillery and his effectiveness as a
businessman and plantation owner.
The Whiskey Rebellion: Georg Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the frontier rebels who
challenged America’s new-found sovereignty, by William Hogeland. Story of the 1794
uprising in Pennsylvania that saw mass protests in opposition to a federal tax on distilled
spirits. The fall out of the rebellion would have a profound impact on the relationships
between the federal and state governments and George Washington’s legacy.
The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, by W.J. Rorabaugh
From 1790 until 1840 Americans consumed more distilled spirits per capita than at any time
during the country’s history. Rorabaugh’s book takes a fascinating look at the profound
importance alcohol and the rituals of alcohol consumption had during the formative years of
the American republic; a time when the produce of Washington’s distillery was most active.
Week 19 – The Election of 1948
Our guest this week is author and journalist AJ Baime, and his book is Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America’s Soul
The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election, by Zachary Karabell came out about 20 years ago. Karabell is not afraid to call out Truman for what he sees as rhetorical excesses
Truman, by David McCullough
Probably the definitive biography of Truman-certainly the most accessible. Some have criticized it as a hagiography but it is a well researched and very compelling book.
Thomas E. Dewey: His Times, by Richard Norton Smith.
Not that there is a lot of competing biographies, but this is a good one. Shows the important part Dewey played in creating the Republican Party as it was for most the remainder of the 20th Century.
1948: Harry Truman’s impossible victory and the year that transformed America, David Pietrusza
Puts the election into the larger context of America just after the end of World War II.
Week 18 – The Last 100 Days of WWI.
Hundred Days: The End of the Great War, by Nick Lloyd Lloyd is currently one of the leading lights of WWI history here in UK. A good account of all the factors that came into play that brought the war to such an unexpected end in 1918.
1918: A Very British Victory, Peter Hart As the name suggests this is focused on British and Commonwealth Forces. It discusses how the British Army evolved, adapted and improved and how this allowed the Allies to win in World War I.
November 1918: Triumph and Tragedy in the Final Days of World War I, by Gordon Brook-Shephard. This book covers all the fronts in the war and gives you the “complete package” on all the fronts in explaining how the war ended. The author wrote quite a bit about Austria-Hungary so he brings this expertise to the book.
American Armies and Battlefields in Europe, by American Battle Monuments Commission. Written after the war for the benefit of Americans visiting the battlefields. It gives incredible amounts of details in maps and text explaining where the battles were fought. Considered sort of an “unofficial” official history of the war. An interesting bit is that Dwight D. Eisenhower contributed a huge amount to the book when he was an aid to Pershing after the war. You can download it for free from the ABMC site.
Winning the War, Losing the War, Matthias Strohn editor. Nice collection of essays on the end of the war commissioned for the 100th Anniversary. Variety of topics. The article on the French Army by David Murphy is quite good.
Nine Divisions in Champagne: The Second Battle of the Marne, by Patrick Takle. A good solid account of the battle that began the 100 Days. He does a good job of telling the story from the British and American perspective and shows how the two armies complemented one another.
Make the Kaiser Dance, Henry Berry One of Chris’s favorite WWI books. A terrific collection of oral histories that puts lie to the notion that the Americans were not deeply involved in the war and that the few battles they fought were “easy.”
Week 17 – WWII French Resistance
Our guest, Lynne Olson, is the author of The Secret War of Marie Madeline Fourcade, about an amazing hero of the French resistance who is well known in France but not so much in the USA. Lynne is also the author of many other books touching on Britain’s role WWII, including Last Hope Island, Citizens of London, and Those Angry Days.
Marie Madeline Fourcade wrote her autobiography, in the 1970s Noah’s Ark. (That’s the name the Germans used to refer to her network because everyone’s codename was a different animal.) The English translation is a bit stiff, but it is a great primary source document. Not currently in print, libraries are probably the best bet.
For more on the WWII spies and such…
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of Virginia Hall, World War II’s Most Dangerous Spy, By Sonia Purnell.Great bio of a woman who, for a time, was the Gestapo’s most wanted agent. Book has gotten terrific reviews and has been optioned for a movie so I suspect we will hear more about it.
Carve Her Name with Pride, R.J. Minney. Biography of Violette Szabo was one on the first about role of women agents. Done just after the war it made Szabo a hero-she has a blue plaque-and something of a household name. Perhaps a bit dated but still terrific read.
Odette: Secret Agent Prisoner, Survivor, Jerrard Tickell. Another biography. What makes this one interesting is that Odette was a French woman living in the UK when the war broke out and volunteered to go back. All sorts of adventures including surviving torture at Revensbrouck, where Szabo was executed.
They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE Agents in Wartime France, by Maurice Buckmaster. A thorough history of the whole SOE effort in France. Gives you a bit bigger picture than just the biographies.
The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerillas 1939-1945, Max Hastings. Outstanding one-volume history of all the special ops during World War II. Hastings approaches the topic with his customary thorough but critical eye. Highly recommend.
Week 16 – Battle of Saratoga
Our guest, Eric Schnitzer, is the author of Don Troiani’s Campaign to Saratoga- 1777. The book features hundreds of paintings by famed illustrator Don Troiani, each done with painstaking accuracy. Eric focuses on primary accounts and material culture to offer a fresh perspective on the battle.
Richard Ketchum’s book Saratoga: Turning Point of the American Revolution. published in 1997, is probably the best-known book about the battle.
1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, by Dean Snow. A very good, detailed account of the battle.
Focuses on the days of the battle and does not get lost in telling the whole story of campaign.
The other interesting aspect is the author is an archeologist so brings that sensibility to
discussions of terrain, etc.
Leadership Principles: How Their Use by Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne and Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates
Influenced the Engagement at Saratoga 1777, by U.S. Army Command and General Staff
College. As you would expect from a book by soldiers for soldiers, this can be pretty dry. It does,
however, get you into the heads of the decision-makers, which I find interesting.
Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, by Steven
Clay. Great to have in your pocket if you are visiting the battlefields. A very detailed history of the
campaign. Short on narrative deep on facts and accounts.
The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life, by Joyce Lee Malcolm
An interesting-and far more nuanced-biography of a pivotal figure in American history.
Week 15 – Japanese Fighter Pilots
Our guest, Dan King, is author of The Last Zero Fighter. Dan has interviewed more than 100 Japanese pilots from WWII about their experiences.
For more on the Pacific War, here are some suggestions:
Nemesis: The Battle for Japan by Max Hastings
A history of the final, climactic, year of the war in the Pacific. It is hard to argue with Hasting’s thorough research and readability. There are lots of general histories of the War in the Pacific, this is one of the ones we have both enjoyed the most.
Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict by Edwin Hoyt
A very good history of Japan and its war in the Pacific. It covers a greater span of time than Hastings. Good thing about this book is that it is from the Japanese perspective, which is something Westerners only guess at.
Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army by Merion Harris.
Although it is focused on the army, this book has many lessons that apply to the Navy as well. Tells a story of how the military descended from revered institution to criminal organization.
The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War by Mark Stile.
Good collection of essays and details about the IJN. It is a compilation of material published in various Osprey books. If you want one book on the IJN this one is good. The Japanese Navy in WWII: In the Words of Former Naval Officers by David Evans. Japanese accounts of the war are very rare, which makes this book valuable.
Week 14 – Lawrence of Arabia
Atop this week’s list is the book by our guest, James Stejskal: Masters of Mayhem. Not so much a study of Lawrence, but a look at the entire British Military Mission and how it influenced unconventional warfare tactics of the last 100 years.
Chris suggests Lawrence in Arabia by Scot Anderson as a recent and very readable biography of Lawrence.
We asked James for a few suggestions, and he didnt hold back!
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1922 Complete Oxford Text
Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia
John E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence
Philip Walker, Behind the Lawrence Legend
COL W.F. Stirling, Safety Last
Alison Jolley, Lawrence of Arabia’s War: Day by Day
Neil Faulkner, Lawrence of Arabia’s War
Bruce Westrate, The Arab Bureau
Michael Korda, Hero
James Schneider, Guerrilla Leader
Polly Mohs, Military Intelligence and the Arab Revolt
Week 13 – Hamilton and Burr
Tops on Rick’s list is his own book: Rivals Unto Death which is a dual biography of Hamilton and Burr. Dual biography – get it? It a short book (Thank God, says Chris) perfect for a quick take on their relationship and events leading up to the duel. Ron Chernoff’s Hamilton is the definitive biography and the book that inspired Lin Manuel Miranda. It is exhaustive–some might say exhausting–but impeccably researched and well written. Nancy Isenberg’s book The Life of Aaron Burr is your best bet if you are looking for the opposing point of view, although she spends a lot of time trying to rebut what others have said about Burr instead of just telling his story. War of Two by John Sedgewick is another take on the two men together. For something different, check out “Founders Online” at the National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/ . You can do all sorts of interesting searches here – for example, you can search for letters from Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr. It is an invaluable resource for researchers.
Week 12 – The Pacific, Saipan, Tinian and the Bomb
From our guest historian: Tinian and the Bomb by Don Farrell. Privately published Don says you can get it on Amazon. It will be published-hopefully-as Atomic Island by Stackpole in 2021. The authoritative history of Tinian, its capture, development and use as a landing strip for the B-29 bombing and atomic missions against Japan. Fantastic text and photos.
Saipan: The Battle that Doomed Japan in World War II by James Hallas. New history that came out in 2019. Very thorough with a good mix of first-person accounts, analysis and detail.
Howlin Mad vs. the Army by Harry A. Gailey-Terrific history of the battle of Saipan with an emphasis on examining the Army vs. USMC controversy. Comes out strongly on the side of the army. (P.S. I think he’s right. Don thinks I’m unfair to the USMC)
Oba: The Last Samurai, by Don Jones-Very detailed account of a Japanese officer who took part in the defense of the island. Good account of the Japanese banzai attack. Oba survived the final banzai attack and then continued to resist until he surrendered his small command on December 1, 1945
Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot, Barrett Tillman. The best one-volume account of the climactic carrier battle off the Marianas that destroyed the remnants of the Japanese navy.
Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts. A terrific account of the first atomic mission that reads like a thriller. Lots of great personal stories and insights into the 509th Composite Group’s time on Tinian.
Week 11 – London 1940 – The Blitz, Battle of Britain, and Dunkirk
German Attack of May 1940
Take a look at The Blitzkrieg Legend by Karl Heinz Friesser. (Chris: “One of my favorite WWII Books) Debunks the myth of the Blitzkrieg and German invincibility in 1940. Written by a German military historian and officer. There’s also To Loose a Battle by Alistair Horne. A bit dated history of the 1940 Campaign but k it holds up pretty well for the general reader.
Hugh Sebag Montefiore’s Dunkirk is of the “standard” works. Good and quite readable. Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson offers, a good soldier’s view of the campaign. Thompson is a professional soldier and historian so brings both experiences to his telling of the battle.
The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner is the newest, and most thorough history of the Blitz
The Myth of the Blitz by Angus is an oldie but a goodie. Shatters some of the myths about the Blitz and plucky London. Alone by Alex Korda is part memoir, part history. Korda was a little boy from a wealthy and influential family in Britain. Tells the story of the start of the war through the summer of 1940. Not intense history but well written and interesting.
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain: Myth and Reality by Richard Overy is a nice short history of the battle that debunks a few myths. The Few by Alex Kerhsaw tells the story from the perspective of the Eagle Squadron. A fun read and our American readers might enjoy the perspective.
And recommended by our guest, Hugh MacDonald-Buchanan
Man Of Valour: Gort VC by John (Jock) Colville.
Excellent insight into the machinations of British high command and politics by Churchill’s parliamentary private secretary (and former Chamberlain man). Plus British view of difficult military decisions in May 1940.
The Bombing War by Richard Overy
Very good section on the Blitz (the first strategic bombing campaign) and Battle of Britain – before going on to describe the problems of strategic bombing all told.
The Final Enemy by Richard Hillary.
This was a huge hit in 1942 by a Battle of Britain Spitfire Pilot who was shot down and badly burned. It describes his life and friends at Oxford then the RAF, his combat experience, and treatment by Macindo. RH was later killed.
London At War by Philip Ziegler
Looks at wartime London as a socio-economic-military ecosystem.
The Maesky Diaries
Fascinating perspective by the Soviet Ambassador to London.
The Shelter Of The Tubes by John Gregg
Well illustrated and not romantic account of tube sheltering in wartime London.
Week 10 – The Role of the Combat Historian
Erik Flint on the methods and procedures of the combat historian and his experiences as a historian during the war in Afghanistan. To learn more about the unique military role of the combat historian and two of the earliest practitioners of the craft see: Pogue’s War: Diaries of a World War II Combat Historian, by Forrest C. Pogue who, after the war, wrote Supreme Command for the Army’s official history of World War II as well as the magisterial multi-volume biography of George C. Marshall.
A critical analysis of another equally famous wartime historian is: SLAM: The Influence of SLA Marshall on the U.S. Army, by F.D.G. Williams.
Week 9 – Custer and the Plains War
John Langellier is a renowned historian of the Plains Wars and the U.S. Army in the West. Among his many works are: Myles Keogh, a definitive biography of the quintessential American cavalryman and The U.S. Army in the West, which is the most complete history of the material culture of the American soldier of the Indian Wars written. In addition to Langellier’s works, you may also enjoy:
Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars, by Don Rickey. A very good social history of the U.S. soldier during the Indian Wars.
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, by Nathanial Philbrick is a solid popular history of the battle and its leading personalities by a prolific author.
The Strategy of Defeat at the Little Big Horn: A Military and Timing Analysis of the Battle, by Frederic C. Wagner III, is a much more academic and analytical history of the battle than Philbrick’s. Warning, this is not beach reading.
Week 8 – Winston Churchill
Andrew Roberts has written the biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill Walking With Destiny, that is certain to become the definitive biography of the man the BBC named as history’s greatest Briton. He has written a great number of highly regarded works of history and biography that are worth reading. Among his other works are, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Allanbrooke won the war in the west and, most recently, Leadership in War: Lessons from those who made history.
Week 7 – Faces of Margraten
Sebastiaan Vonk is a young historian who has made a name for himself as the founder of the Faces of Margraten memorial project. His first book is War is Hell, but Damned Exciting: U.S. Remembrance of World War II in the post veteran era.
Week Six – Revolution Revelations
We mentioned a few books in this discussion. Private Yankee Doodle: Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plum Martin is a soldier’s first person account of his time fighting for American independence. From the other side of the firing line we have John Grave Simcoe’s A Journal of the Operations of the Queen’s Rangers, the story of the loyalist British Army unit he commanded. And finally, Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer’s detailed account of first day of the Revolution and the events leading up to it.
Week 5 – Joe Balkoski, “The Top Living D-Day Historian”
Balkoski’s books on Omaha and Utah beaches are unsurpassed as are the five-volume history of the 29thInfantry Division. There is no finer historian of America’s role in Normandy and any D-Day library of note should contain his books.
- Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944
- Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landings and Airborne Operations on D-Day
- Beyond the Beachhead: The 29thInfantry Division in Normandy
- Beachhead Brittany: The 29thInfantry Division at Brest, August-September 1944
- From Brittany to the Reich: The 29thInfantry Division in Germany September-November 1944
- Our Tortured Souls: The 29thInfantry Division in the Rhineland, November-December 1944
- The Last Roll Call: The 29thInfantry Division Victorious 1945
Week 4 – Ghost Army
Chris: Well, there really are only a couple here. The first, obviously, is Rick’s book (co-authored with Elizabeth Sayles), The Ghost Army of World War II, which, along with Rick’s documentary, is the definitive account of this incredible unit. Also of interest is Jonathan Gawne’s Ghosts of the ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the ETO.
Rick: Who am I to disagree with Chris? I will say that Jon’s book is an excellent operation by operation look at the unit, and Jon was kind enough to offer his expertise in the documentary as well. If you want to read the official history of the unit, the most all-encompassing primary source document, you can find it here:
Week 3 – Five books on a Desert Island
Chris: This was a very tough week for me. It was almost impossible to choose the 5 books I would take with me to a desert island but, after much back and forth, here are my selections:
Campaigns of Napoleon, by David Chandler. Chandler’s military biography of Napoleon is still, in my opinion, the definitive biography of history’s greatest general. Unbeatable in its analysis and scope. The maps are amazing as well. This book showed me what an analytical biography could be and how much there was to know about Napoleon. You could read it a dozen times and still get something new from it.
The First Day on the Somme, by Martin Middlebrook. Although thousands of pages have been written about July 1, 1916, none have matched Middlebrook’s account. Besides being an excellent account of the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, Middlebrook’s book showed me how a soldier’s eye view of a battle should be written.
The Face of Battle, by John Keegan. Keegan’s history of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme literally changed how military history was written and what ‘battle’ means for soldiers throughout the ages.
Berlin Diary by William Shirer. I try to read this book at least once a year and every time I do it still terrifies me. Gripping account of how Germany descended into totalitarianism, murder and insanity. A chilling reminder of why World War II had to be fought and won.
With the Old Breed on Peleliu and Okinawa, by Eugene Sledge. To my mind Sledge’s account of the part he played in the brutal Pacific battles of Peleliu and Okinawa remains the finest first-person account by an ordinary soldier I have ever read.
Rick: I focused on five books that I have read over and over. Chris says I cheated by picking books that are single volumes of two and three-volume sets, and he may be right! But I could be happy on a desert island with just these five
The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian by Shelby Foote. Like a lot of Americans, I discovered Shelby Foote watching Ken Burns Civil War. I have read his trilogy over and over, and this book, with its depiction of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, among other battles is the best.
War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. A follow-up to the Winds of War, this novel follows the Henry family from the day after Pearl Harbor to August 1945. I first read these as a teenager, and they were the foundation of a life long interest in WWII. And the real history in them is impeccably researched and told – especially the Battle of Midway.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester. I am always fascinated by how historical figures rise to greatness. This covers Churchill from 1932 to 1940, when he is desperately trying to warn the country of the coming storm, and his countrymen are slowly waking up. Riveting.
Armageddon by Sir Max Hastings. Covering the last 9 months of the war in Europe from every point of view: American, British, Canadian, German, Russian, Jewish, POW, civilian etc. Eye-opening
Hellhound on his Trail by Hampton Sides. A beautifully researched and written book about the events leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the search for his killer. A murder mystery in which you start out knowing who is murdered and who did it – but that matters not a whit.
Week 2 – Stories from D-Day
Chris: Such a big topic. I’m listing some newish titles that many Americans might not be aware of or have not considered. I won’t list any of Joe Balkoski’s books here as he has a whole show but in addition to Joe’s books, you must try-Bletchley Park and D-Dayby David Kenyon. Jaw-droppingly good book on the vital role that the code breakers at Bletchley played in the D-Day invasion. Best book on D-Day I’ve read in years.
Stout Hearts: The British and Canadians in Normandy in 1944. Ben Kite looks at the other half of the landing forces. Not only is his description of events on the non-American beaches exhaustive, but he does a wonderful job of explaining how a military force evolved during the course of the campaign. Highly recommended.
Last, try Stopping the Panzers: The Untold Story of D-Day,by Arc Milner. Milner provides a thought-provoking reassessment of the role played by the 3rdCanadian Division and the Canadian contribution to the Normandy landings.
Rick: I talked about Second Rangers, Second Lieutenant Ted Lapres and Pointe Du Hoc. Colonel Robert Black’s book The Battalion is a solid telling of that story, and follows the Second Rangers all the way to the Rhine.
Week 1 – Introduction
Rick: This was the first week so the topics were a bit all over the board. We touched on the American Revolution and the violence of its beginning. To read a wonderful new book on that topic I would recommend: Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hock.
For Pearl Harbor, I’d recommend At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange, which is a classic account of the Japanese attack. New, but very, very good is Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions, by Alan D. Zinn. I found it very analytical and full of some amazing revelations and conclusions.