History Buzz September 2010: Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars”

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor/Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University. Her blog is History Musings



  • Bob Woodward Potrayal of Obama Pleases White House: The new Bob Woodward book portrays President Obama as hard-nosed and demanding in the process of drafting a new U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan last year. And senior White House officials seem pleased by the portrait.
    “I think the book portrays a thoughtful, vigorous policy process that led us to a strategy to get us the best chance of achieving our objectives and goals in Afghanistan,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
    In an exchange with reporters on Air Force One as Mr. Obama flew to New York for two-and-a-half days of diplomacy at the United Nations, Gibbs said he hopes people read the book for themselves, as he said he did last night.
    Gibbs said Mr. Obama came into office facing an Afghanistan policy that was “neglected for seven years and badly under- resourced.” Gibbs said the president tried to shepherd a process “that was thoughtful and deliberative.”… – CBS News, 9-22-10
  • White House doesn’t dispute Woodward book’s portrayal of Obama: Bob Woodward book details Obama’s Afghan war exit plan “Obama’s Wars,” to be released Sept. 27, 2010, recounts how the president crafted his own strategy for a way out of Afghanistan.
    With juicy nuggets of the new Bob Woodward book on President Obama starting to emerge, the official White House reaction so far is: It’s just fine.
    Many of Obama’s senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, “Obama’s Wars,” and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
    “The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decisionmaking process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role,” the official said in an e-mail…. – WaPo, 9-22-10
  • Washington Post scooped by New York Times on Bob Woodward story Great rival runs story on legendary Watergate reporter’s new book that spoils Post’s exclusive from its own journalist:
    The heavyweight bout between the New York Times and the Washington Post for the title of America’s leading newspaper has just seen the Post take another punch in the kidneys.
    To the Post’s immense embarrassment, it has been scooped by its great rival over a book written by one of its own journalists. And not just any journalist, either, but Bob Woodward, half of the famous Woodward and Bernstein team that broke the Watergate scandal.
    On Tuesday evening the New York Times website ran a news story by political correspondent Peter Baker reporting the juicy revelations in Woodward’s latest book, Obama’s War, detailing tensions within the White House over the direction of the conflict in Afghanistan.
    The book is not published until next week and the Washington Post had planned to run exclusive extracts. But Baker’s scoop forced it to scramble together a version of its own.
    The humiliation of being scooped under its own nose is the latest in a long line for the Post. In recent years it has lost a string of talented journalists to the NYT – including Baker, who left the Post in 2008 – while steep declines in circulation and advertising revenue have seen the Post shed staff and resources…. – Guardian, UK, 9-22-10


  • Son of Dead Sea Scrolls Expert Is Convicted: The son of a prominent professor at the University of Chicago was convicted on Thursday of impersonating a New York University professor and other scholars who disagreed with his father’s theories on the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jurors took half a day to find the son, Raphael Haim Golb, a 50-year-old real estate lawyer, guilty on 30 of 31 counts, including identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment…. – NYT (10-1-10)
  • Brought to book with Orlando Figes: Next month sees the publication of Orlando Figes’s history of The Crimean war, Crimea: The Last Crusade. According to the blurb for his new book, Figes “re-imagines the extraordinary war, in which the stakes could not have been higher and which was fought with a terrible mixture of ferocity and incompetence”. It is ferocity and incompetence that have characterised Figes’s own extraordinary war with academics, and dominated the headlines earlier this year. The stakes could not have been higher…. – London Evening Standard (9-27-10)
  • Historians lobby for state signage to recognize Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Woodhull: Exactly 234 years ago this month, a Revolutionary War general died from wounds incurred during a defiant showdown with the British – a gripping tale of patriotism that began in Queens. But the spot where Nathaniel Woodhull was mortally wounded in 1776 does not bear tribute to the first high-ranking colonial officer to become a prisoner of war and die in enemy captivity…. – NY Daily News (9-28-10)
  • Plans for John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in Tulsa Go Forward in U.S. House: Plans to designate the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in Tulsa as part of the National Park System received a boost last Thursday when Oklahoma Republican John Sullivan introduced a bill to conduct a feasibility study on incorporating the park into the NPS. The park commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and is named for Tulsa native John Hope Franklin, the late Duke historian and Presidential Medal of Honor winner. Dignitaries will assemble on October 27 to dedicate the park in his honor…. – HNN Staff (9-28-10)
  • A Trial on Identity Theft, With Scholarly Discourse: …Raphael Haim Golb, a 50-year-old real estate lawyer, seemed at times to take on the role of everything but criminal defendant as he testified in his own defense on Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Mr. Golb faces charges that he stole the identity of and impersonated a New York University professor and others who disagreed with his father’s theories about the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls in an effort to discredit them…. – NYT (9-27-10)
  • Historian, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka calls Nigeria a failure: NOBEL Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has lamented the failure of Nigeria to manifest traits of a succeeding nation 50 years into independence. Speaking as guest speaker at the 50th Independence anniversary of Nigeria, organised by the Rivers State government in Port Harcourt on Monday, Professor Soyinka noted that the Nigerian nation had not been able to find the link between potential and fulfilment…. – Nigerian Tribune (9-28-10)
  • Polish group begins legal action against David Irving: A Polish organization began legal action this week to convict British Holocaust denier David Irving for “minimizing” the scale of Nazi atrocities, as the revisionist historian begins his controversial tours of the Nazi death camps in the country…. – Jerusalem Post (9-24-10)
  • Auschwitz museum rejects tour by Holocaust-denying historian: British historian and Holocaust-denier David Irving will not be permitted to give tours at Poland’s Auschwitz- Birkenau State Museum, museum officials said Tuesday after the controversial historian arrived in Poland to lead a tour of Nazi sites. “Proper actions” will be taken if Irving made statements that denied or played down the Holocaust while visiting Auschwitz, a museum spokesman told the Polish Press Agency PAP. “We cannot allow statements that harm the memory of the victims,” spokesman Bartosz Bartyzel told PAP…. – Guardian (UK) (9-21-10)
  • HNN article cited in historians’ petition to release Nixon transcript: Maarja Krusten’s HNN article “Why Aren’t All the Nixon Tapes Now Available,” originally published in February 2009, has been cited in a legal petition for the National Archives and Records Administration to unseal former president Richard Nixon’s 1975 testimony to a grand jury. The petition was spearheaded by Stanley Kutler, another regular contributor to HNN and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin. Mr. Kutler has been involved in legal cases to release Nixon administration records since the early 1990s…. – HNN Staff (9-16-10)
  • Reports of baby Tsar remains ‘hoax’ – historian: The Russian historian Professor Andrei Sakharov has dismissed as a hoax reports from Kholmogory near the White Sea about the discovery of the remains of the Russian Emperor Ivan VI, who was killed on 1764 at 24 nearly 23 years after being deposed…. – Voice of Russia (9-13-10)
  • Historians Want Court To Unseal Nixon Testimony Unseal: A group of historians is asking the Washington federal district court to exercise its “inherent supervisory authority” to unseal the 1975 grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon.
    Historian Stanley Kutler, the American Historical Association, American Society for Legal History, Organization of American Historians, and Society of American Archivists filed a petition yesterday seeking the transcript of Nixon’s testimony on June 23 and June 25, 1975, and related documents of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. The records are at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Md…. – LegalTimes (9-14-10)
  • Secret Corps of Filmmakers Documented Nuclear Bomb Tests: …While many of the scientists who made atom bombs during the cold war became famous, the men who filmed what happened when those bombs were detonated made up a secret corps….
    The images are getting “seared into people’s imaginations,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb” and an atomic historian. They bear witness, he added, “to extraordinary and terrifying power.”… NYT (9-14-10)
  • Controversial historian David Irving outrages Poles with death camp tour: David Irving, the controversial historian, has outraged war veterans and survivors’ groups with a tour of sites related to the Nazi occupation of Poland.
    Irving will be shadowed by the Polish secret service as he takes a week-long guided trip round various sites related to the German occupation of Poland, including a trip to the notorious SS-run camp Treblinka, where more than 800,000 Jews died between 1942 and 1943. Telegraph (UK) (9-9-10)
  • Canadian historian doubts Franklin artifact came from that expedition: An old wooden box excavated from beneath an Arctic cairn is being flown unopened today to Ottawa from the Nunavut hamlet of Gjoa Haven. The Nunavut government launched the excavation after an Inuit family relayed oral history suggesting that the cairn contained records from the ill-fated 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage…. – Montreal Gazette (9-6-10)
  • Harvard history department still lacks Latin American professors: After two unsuccessful searches to replace Harvard’s two endowed professorships in Latin American history, the history department will, for the second consecutive year, rely on visiting faculty to fill the two positions.
    While the history department awaits clearance from the University to launch another search in the spring, undergraduates hoping to write Latin American history theses and graduate students in the field continue to find creative ways to pursue their course of study…. – Harvard Crimson (9-7-10)
  • Brooklyn College Furor Is More Heated Online: Reading about it online, you would think that the controversy over this year’s assigned reading for students new to Brooklyn College would have led to fevered student and faculty protests by now, making the campus the latest to be roiled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    But so far at least, the furor over the book — “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America,” by Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate English professor at Brooklyn College – is unfolding a bit like the debate over the planned Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan: much of the intensity seems far afield, while the response in the neighborhood itself is more muted…. – NYT (9-1-10)


  • Deborah Kaplan: The Afterlife of My Husband Roy Rosenzweig’s Archive: Deborah Kaplan is an associate professor of English and cultural studies at George Mason University. She prepared a collection of Roy Rosenzweig’s essays, Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age, to be published by Columbia University Press this winter…. – CHE (9-26-10)
  • William Pfaff: Are Obama’s Hands Tied by Forces Beyond His Control?: A splendid and courageous new book, “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War,” by Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University (and for many years previously, the U.S. Army), describes with lucidity the degree to which the power of the American presidency over war and peace has been weakened in our day, and, in important respects, superseded…. – Truthdig (9-28-10)
  • Roger Cohen: Listen to Tony Judt: Democracy Still Matters: It’s important to stanch the anti-democratic tide. Thugs and oppression ride on it. If anyone needs reminding of that, read the remarkable Tony Judt, the historian who brought the same unstinting lucidity to his death last month from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as he did to the sweep of 20th-century European history. Judt was a British intellectual transposed to New York whose rigorous spirit of inquiry epitomized Anglo-American liberal civilization. Nobody knew better the repressive systems that create captive minds. Nobody wrote more persuasively about the struggle against them for pluralism, liberty and justice…. – NYT (9-20-10)
  • Michael Hirsh: Our Best Minds Are Failing Us: …Recently, the National Science Foundation sent out a query asking economists and social scientists to draw up “grand challenge questions that are both foundational and transformative”—a request that one recipient, Andrew Lo, a highly regarded financial economist at MIT, says is a first in his experience. But one problem is that the economics profession “has gotten much more intolerant of divergence from orthodoxy,” says Philip Mirowski, an economic historian at Notre Dame. “The range in which dissent happens is so narrow. In a sense they still cannot imagine the system can operate to undermine itself. That is not a position that is allowed anywhere in the economics profession. The field got rid of methodological self-criticism. This Great Moderation stuff was just arrogance, hubris.” Indeed, the joke on economists, says one of them, Rob Johnson, is that they create simplistic models that depend on people behaving as rational actors motivated by self-interest, yet “they have a blind spot regarding themselves.” The way they squabble mulishly to defend now-indefensible positions is itself evidence of how flawed those rational-actor models are…. – Newsweek (9-16-10)
  • Jed Perl: Scholarly Hipsters?: Perspective—our perspective on world history—is the subject of [Daniel] Rosenberg and [Anthony] Grafton’s easygoing, brainy Cartographies of Time, a book that bears comparison with two of my favorite illustrated volumes of all time: Mario Praz’s Illustrated History of Furnishing (1964) and A. Hyatt Mayor’s Prints and People: A Social History of Printed Pictures (1971). What Rosenberg and Grafton have in common with Mayor and Praz is a feeling for the poetic powers of material culture, for the way that stylistic evolutions express changing worldviews. By looking at timelines and how their shape and form have morphed over the years, Rosenberg and Grafton manage to describe the evolving physiognomy of the historical imagination. This book does for timelines what Grafton’s glorious The Footnote: A Curious History did for footnotes. It takes intellectual confidence to compose a text that partners with pictures without overwhelming them—that allows the images to dance and sing. Mayor and Praz had that confidence. So do Rosenberg and Grafton…. – The New Republic (9-15-10)
  • Michel Martin: Professor Walters Taught Us All A Love For Country: …I was thinking about all that because I was thinking about Ronald Walters, a pre-eminent professor of political science and African-American studies, who died Sept. 10 of cancer. He was 72.
    At the time of his death, he was a professor at the University of Maryland, where he chaired the African American Leadership Institute. He had also taught at Brandeis and Syracuse universities but perhaps most notably at Howard University…. – NPR (9-13-10)
  • Plans made for 1968 Olympics in East and West Berlin, historian says: A plan existed to bring the 1968 Olympic Games to Berlin, which was divided by then East and West Germany, a sports historian said Saturday. But the Allies, along with the West German government, would not allow it. Christopher Young, who also heads German studies at the University of Cambridge, told the online edition of daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that the idea was the brainchild of eventual Chancellor Willy Brandt…. – Deutsche Welle (8-28-10)
  • Steven J. Zipperstein: The Two Tony Judts: Tony Judt, who died last month at the age of 62 after suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, was an unlikely celebrity academic. He was soft-spoken, dressed much like a graduate student, rarely appeared on television or radio, and derided postmodernism and ethnic studies. The finest of his many books, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press), published in 2005, is a prodigiously original, rather straightforward, dense (832 pages without footnotes in paperback) political history. His last book, Ill Fares the Land: a Treatise on Our Present Discontents (Penguin Press, 2010), was dictated over the course of a couple months as his illness progressed; it is a call to social austerity, to self-effacing, moderate, social-democratic principles—in short, a document of the conservative left…. – the CHE (9-5-10)


  • Bill Bryson: If Walls Could Talk: AT HOME A Short History of Private Life Many adults have a fantasy that if they could go back to college — now that the desire to party, drink and sleep around has faded to a burnished memory — they’d get so much more out of it. The publishing industry often reflects this wish. Every season brings offerings that are right at home on anyone’s continuing-ed syllabus: innovative, original ways to study world history through lenses trained on the minutiae of salt or cod, earthworms or spices, tea or telephones. Now, finally, for those of us who wrestled with Rocks for Jocks, pined amid Physics for Poets and schlepped through college on 101s of any and every subject — the beloved survey courses — here’s that most popular professor, Bill Bryson, with a fascinating new book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” NYT, 10-8-10
  • When the City Defined Who’s Who: ETHAN MORDDEN mulled titling his latest social and cultural history “From Mrs. Astor to Truman Capote, or the Rise of New Yorkism in American Life.” Instead, he settled on a more generic (and inviting) title with a more specific subtitle: “The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication — From the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote’s Ball” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99)…. – NYT, 10-8-10
  • Tony Blair: The Convert: A JOURNEY My Political Life The years since the end of the cold war divide into two very different ages. The first, the 1990s, was dominated by the rise of free markets and free trade across the globe. The second, since 9/11, has been defined by terrorism, counterterrorism, war and Islamic radicalism. Bill Clinton is the symbol of the first decade and George W. Bush of the second. Tony Blair is the only major political figure to span both eras, beginning his political life in the corridors of Davos and ending it in the mud flats of Basra. He tells both tales in his engrossing memoir, “A Journey,” but they never fuse into one larger story…. – NYT, 10-8-10
  • In Bob Woodward’s ‘Obama’s Wars,’ Neil Sheehan sees parallels to Vietnam: In another of his superbly reported insider accounts, “Obama’s Wars,” Bob Woodward recounts how a new president may well have embroiled himself in a war that could poison his presidency — just as his predecessor, George W. Bush, destroyed his with a foolhardy war in Iraq and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were ruined by the war in Vietnam. The grim mountains and deserts of Afghanistan are a boneyard of invading foreign armies. The British rulers of colonial India sent an Anglo-Indian army into Afghanistan in 1839 to establish it as a buffer state against the advances of imperial Russia in Central Asia. The enterprise faltered against Afghan resistance, and the main garrison at Kabul — about 4,500 troops and 12,000 family members and camp followers — decided to retreat back to India in January 1842. Afghan tribesmen fell upon them in the snows of the mountain passes and slaughtered them without pity. Only one man, a doctor named William Brydon, reached safety. A few others were spared as prisoners and subsequently rescued…. – WaPo, 10-3-10
  • Nicholas Phillipson: The Wealth of an Intellect: Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life Against this backdrop, it comes as something of a surprise to discover “Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life” by Nicholas Phillipson (Yale, $32.50). Mr. Phillipson, an honorary fellow in history at the University of Edinburgh, has written an unabashedly intellectual biography in which Smith’s economics thinking is only part — at times, a smallish part — of a larger, inherently philosophical story…. – NYT, 10-2-10
  • Andrew Cayton Reviews Ron Chernow: Learning to Be Washington: WASHINGTON A Life Today, books about Washington continue to appear at such an astonishing rate that the publication of Ron Chernow’s prompts the inevitable question: Why another one? An obvious answer is that Chernow is no ordinary writer. Like his popular biographies of John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton, his “Washington” while long, is vivid and well paced. If Chernow’s sense of historical context is sometimes superficial, his understanding of psychology is acute and his portraits of individuals memorable. Most readers will finish this book feeling as if they have actually spent time with human beings. Given Chernow’s considerable literary talent and the continued hunger of some Americans for a steady diet of tales of Washington and his exploits, what publisher could resist the prospect of adding “Washington: A Life” to its list?…. – NYT, 9-30-10Excerpt
  • Ron Chernow: Dusting Off an Elusive President’s Dull Image: WASHINGTON A Life When George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States, he had only one original tooth left. It was “a lonely lower left bicuspid,” according to Ron Chernow’s vast and tenaciously researched new biography. But Mr. Chernow was not content merely to write about the tooth and its larger implications, which range from questions about Washington’s apparent reticence in later life (did his dental troubles keep him from speaking?) to his harshly pragmatic attitude toward slavery (he purchased slaves’ teeth, perhaps for use in dentures). Mr. Chernow also paid a personal visit to the tooth at the medical library where it is stored…. – NYT, 9-28-10
  • David S. Reynolds Reviews Eric Foner: Learning to Be Lincoln: THE FIERY TRIAL Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery Do we need yet another book on Lincoln, especially in the wake of all the Lincoln volumes that appeared last year in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of his birth? Well, yes, we do — if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia. Foner tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it…. – NYT, 9-30-10
  • Isabel Wilkerson: For blacks, the Great Migration north was a declaration of independence: THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration For African Americans, restriction of movement has long had profound meaning — and never more so than after the end of slavery. The flight of 6 million Southern blacks to the North between 1915 and 1970 was, as Isabel Wilkerson writes in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” “the first mass act of independence by a people who were in bondage in this country for far longer than they have been free.”… Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose own family made the trek north, puts a different face on what is known as the Great Migration. Those who made the momentous decision to leave the “Old Country,” as writer James Baldwin called the South, were as diverse and determined as those who passed through the way stations of Ellis Island…. – WaPo, 9-26-10
  • Three books on the Tea Party, reviewed by Steven Levingston: “Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America,” by Kate Zernike (Times, $25)
    “The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History,” by Jill Lepore (Princeton Univ., $19.95)
    “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System,” by Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen (Harper, $27.99) – WaPo, 9-26-10
  • Samuel Moyn: New Birth of Freedom: THE LAST UTOPIA Human Rights in History Human rights have come to dominate international discourse, but while this fact is often portrayed as the culmination of a centuries-old tradition, Samuel Moyn, a professor of history at Columbia University, takes a different view. The modern concept of human rights, he says in “The Last Utopia,” differs radically from older claims of rights, like those that arose out of the American and French Revolutions. According to Moyn, human rights in their current form — applicable to all and internationally protected — can be traced not to the Enlightenment, nor to the humanitarian impulses of the 19th century nor to the impact of the Holocaust after World War II. Instead, he sees them as dating from the 1970s, exemplified by President Jimmy Carter’s effort to make human rights a pillar of United States foreign policy…. – NYT, 9-24-10
  • Jimmy Carter, Julian E. Zelizer: Engineer of his own defeat: Jimmy Carter’s “White House Diary”: WHITE HOUSE DIARY, JIMMY CARTER Precisely whom we must thank for this sudden outpouring of books by and about Jimmy Carter — in addition to the two here under review, there is also “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: The Georgia Years 1924-1974,” by E. Stanly Godbold Jr. (Oxford Univ., $29.95) — but an outpouring it most certainly is, though how many readers actually will welcome it is uncertain. This is because the principal effect of Carter’s diary of his four White House years and Julian E. Zelizer’s brief assessment of them is to remind us that it was a difficult time for the country and that Carter, for all his strengths, was not the right man for the time…. – WaPo, 9-24-10
  • China’s WWI Effort Draws New Attention: Xu Guoqi is a professor of history at the University of Hong Kong. His book, Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War, will be published this year. He says that sending as Chinese laborers to the front was a brilliant strategy to link China with the West…. – Voice of America (9-23-10)
  • Craig Robertson: Book Review: The Passport in America: The Passport in America:The History of a Document Forced to evacuate our homes with only one portable essential, some of us would grab our passports. Not only do these seemingly magical certificates grant the bearer the right to cross friendly borders at will and to obtain government protection in case of trouble while overseas, they also offer a proof of citizenship in the modern age. “The Passport in America,” Craig Robertson’s provocative, if at times numbingly academic, study of this special document in American history, charts its general acceptance in tandem with the growth of the nation state and the various technologies — chiefly photography — that helped to shape modern notions of individual identity…. – NYT, 9-26-10
  • Jay Jennings: A Town, a Team, a Dream Deferred: CARRY THE ROCK Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City Historical relevance is not a problem in “Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City,” Jay Jennings’s informative but frustrating book, set on the campus of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. History, in fact, is every­where. Central High may be the most recognizable high school name in America; at Central in 1957, the nation witnessed the full fury of the Southern resistance to school desegregation, as images of soldiers escorting black children to their classes became as famous as the students’ nickname: the Little Rock Nine…. – NYT, 9-19-10
  • Rebecca Traister: Sexual Politics: BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY The Election That Changed Everything for American Women Sleeping a few blocks away was the journalist Rebecca Traister, author of “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women,” a passionate, visionary and very personal account of the cultural ferment that accompanied the election of ’08. Traister was covering the convention for Salon. A colleague woke her by saying urgently, “McCain picked Palin.” Traister’s stupefied response, she writes, was “Michael Palin?” (the British comedian). She wasn’t joking. And after she heard Palin speak, she wasn’t laughing…. – NYT, 9-19-10
  • Ilyon Woo: At War With the Shakers: THE GREAT DIVORCE A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times Ilyon Woo has ably pieced together the story of this triangular struggle. She places the Chapmans’ battle in the context of similar contests: theirs was not the only family torn apart by one partner’s decision to join the Shakers. The sect insisted that wives could not join unless husbands also did. Initially, such a rule did not apply when spousal roles were reversed, but the Shakers’ experience with the resolute Eunice Chapman led them to make it ­universal…. – NYT, 9-19-10
  • H.W. Brands’s “American Dreams,” reviewed by Charles Kaiser: AMERICAN DREAMS The United States Since 1945 The story of the United States since 1945 offers a historian the opportunity to mine a rich narrative of steady change and dramatic transformation. With the end of World War II now 65 years behind us — and all of the 1960s at least 40 years old — this ought be a good time to offer new information and fresh insights into the political, social and cultural events that re-invented the country in the postwar period. “American Dreams” appropriately dates the beginning of the modern era to the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in July 1945. Here, H.W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas, does a good job of making the familiar seem fresh: “Many of the observers were struck by the silence that surrounded the detonation. The astonishing display of light and color took place without a soundtrack — until the sonic waves reached the observation posts many seconds after the light waves.” As J. Robert Oppenheimer, the project’s director, wrote: “I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture . . . ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or the other.”… – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • Jonathan Schneer’s “The Balfour Declaration,” reviewed by Eugene Rogan: THE BALFOUR DECLARATION The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict British historian Jonathan Schneer has produced a remarkable book on this complex and divisive subject. His “Balfour Declaration” is engagingly written, adding to our knowledge of this frequently told story without ever taking sides. The novelty of the book lies in the way he tells the story. Schneer sets the Zionist struggle for recognition in the context of Britain’s conflicting promises to Arabs, Jews and its European allies as part of its desperate bid to defeat Germany in World War I. Britain supported these movements more for their utility to its own war effort than out of conviction…. – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • Rebecca Traister: In the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton lost but feminism won: BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY The Election That Changed Everything for American Women In the early pages of “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Salon’s Rebecca Traister seems determined to alienate every female reader over 40. Had I fallen for her false start, I would have missed her considerable contributions to the ongoing feminist narrative described by Gloria Steinem as the “revolution from within.”… – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • Tall tales from history: Are historians best placed to write historical fiction?: Historians turning their hands to fiction are all the rage. Since Alison Weir led the way in 2006, an ever-growing number of established non-fiction writers – Giles Milton, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Harry Sidebottom, Patrick Bishop, Ian Mortimer and myself included – have written historical novels.
    So successful has been the experiment, with many of the books making the bestseller lists, that earlier this year Penguin bought two novels from Kate Williams, one of our finest young historians, for the staggering sum of £1m. Independent (UK) (8-13-10)
  • Review of Richard Overy’s “1939: Countdown to War”: This exceptionally lucid, concise and authoritative book (which publishes at the end of September) tells the story of “the extraordinary ten days of drama that separated the conclusion of the German-Soviet [non-aggression] pact early in the morning of 24 August [1939] and the late afternoon of 3 September when France joined Britain in declaring war on Germany.”… – WaPo, 9-12-10
  • Bob Dylan sings the songs of America [and Sean Wilentz analyzes him]: “No one ever seems to go in or out of that building,” says Sean Wilentz, pointing out Princeton’s Nassau Hall, a campus landmark old enough to have been held by the British during the Revolutionary War.
    It’s appropriate that this eminent American historian (“The Rise of American Democracy,” “The Age of Reagan”) is talking about spirits from the past and mysteries of the present. His new book, ” Bob Dylan in America,” (Doubleday) is about how the strains of American music and American history have come together in one man over the course of a nearly 50-year career. In Wilentz’s view, Dylan has served as a conduit for potent and nearly forgotten strands in American musical, folk and political culture. The Popular Front artists, the Beat writers, the forgotten blues singers discovered by John and Alan Lomax, these are some of the people whose work speaks through Dylan. And so, appropriate for a historian, the book is a vision of how the past becomes part of our living present…. – LA Times (9-5-10)
  • 2010 National Book Festival WaPo


  • The real underground railroad: You are a runaway slave in antebellum America. Your name, age, height, and defining characteristics — whipping scars or redbone skin, jutting tooth or missing toes — have been circulated in a newspaper ad that offers $150 for your return. You’ve crossed the treacherous border states and, so far, eluded slave catchers. But you can feel their breath, and as you cross into New England, you’ve heard tell of a law giving anyone with a badge not just the power but the obligation to arrest you….
    That distorted image, scholars say, arose in large part because whites kept the most records about the effort. In that recorded history, “there’s a tendency to see runaway slaves as childlike, people who need to be taken care of. So you tend to get writings that position the experience in that way,” said Spencer Crew, a professor of history at George Mason University…. – Boston Globe (9-26-10)
  • Descendants of 1st black US doctor mark NYC grave: White descendants of the nation’s first professionally trained African-American doctor gathered in a cemetery on Sunday to dedicate a tombstone at the unmarked grave where he was buried in 1865. “Right now I feel so connected in a new way, to actually be here,” said Antoinette Martignoni, the 91-year-old great- granddaughter of James McCune Smith. “I take a deep breath, and I thank God, I really do. I am so glad to have lived this long.”… – WaPo (9-26-10)
  • Jesper Vaczy Kragh: Mentally handicapped Danes lobotomised until 1983: historian: Many mentally handicapped Danes, including children, were lobotomised between 1947 and 1983, and many died from the operation, a historian behind a soon-to-be-published book on the topic told Danish media Thursday. “Doctors did not count on curing them completely, but wanted to pacify them, perhaps to better their condition,” Jesper Vaczy Kragh told the Christian daily Kristelig Dagbladet. “The results of such operations generally were not good, and some 7.6 percent did not survive,” said the medical historian, behind a book on lobotomies set to be published in October…. – AFP (9-23-10)
  • Why is the city of Montgomery condemning the property of African-Americans along a civil rights trail?: …Over the last decade or so, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of homes in Montgomery have been declared blighted and razed in a similar manner. The owners tend to be disproportionately poor and black, and with little means to fight back. And here’s the kicker: Many of the homes fall along a federally funded civil rights trail in the neighborhood where Rosa Parks lived. Activists say the weird pattern may not be coincidence. “What’s happening in Montgomery is a civil rights crisis,” says David Beito, a history professor at the University of Alabama who, as chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, held hearings on the demolitions in April of last year…. – Slate (9-17-10)
  • Did the Blitz Really Unify Britain?: The defiance of Britain as it endured eight months of German bombing 70 years ago is etched on the collective memory and immortalised in the phrase “Blitz spirit”. But does this image of national unity tell the whole story?…
    Although there was some panic and chaos in those first few nights, says Juliet Gardiner, author of The Blitz: The British Under Attack, the term “Blitz spirit” typifies two qualities that emerged – endurance and defiance…. BBC Magazine (9-13-10)


  • The birth of Latin American identity with two professors Martinez: As he stood beside the ornate tomb in Seville’s massive cathedral in southern Spain, Rubén Martínez didn’t know whether to curse or bless the man whose bones lie there.
    “It’s kind of like that classic mestizo dilemma,” Martínez said, using the traditional term denoting people of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry. “He’s my dad. I’m a bastard kid. I hate him, I love him.”…
    Martínez and filmmaker Carl Byker dig deep into the origins of Latin American identity, and the societies it shaped, in “When Worlds Collide,” a 90-minute documentary that will premiere at 9 p.m. Monday on PBS channels across the country, including KCET in Los Angeles…. – LA Times (9-27-10)
  • A historic moment for N. Korea watchers: …Seoul-based historian Andrei Lankov spent the early 1990s anticipating something that hasn’t happened. In his 30s at the time – “just a beginner,” Lankov recalled – he felt certain that North Korea would collapse after leader Kim Il Sung’s death. He planned his life around it. He craved the firsthand research that North Korea’s collapse would allow. He called it his “top academic ambition” to enter the nation that operated like a vault, turning the imagined into the tactile. He’s still waiting. Lankov speaks with unusual frankness about the limitations of his knowledge, even though he attended college in Pyongyang in the mid-1980s. (He was later blacklisted from reentry for 20 years, having been accused by Pyongyang of operating as a South Korean spy.)… – WaPo (9-27-10)
  • Keith Jeffery: Historian who explored MI6 secrets: Keith Jeffery, author of the first – and possibly only – official history of MI6, said today he had made a “Faustian pact” that had in some cases “overridden the imperatives of historical scholarship”. But he was given an offer he could not refuse – “the holy grail of the British archives”… – Guardian (UK) (9-21-10)
  • Sean Wilentz, Bringing It All Back Home: In Greenwich Village, not far from where Bob Dylan got his start—but in a chic Italian bistro, not a smoky dive like the late, lamented Gaslight Cafe—the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz is choking up, recalling when Dylan’s new recordings began to mean something to him again, after he’d drifted away from Dylan in the 1980s…. – CHE (9-5-10)


  • Historians, writers in favour of Indian president opening Commonwealth Games: NEW DELHI: Should Britain remain the pre-eminent nation in the Commonwealth when the world order has been turned upside down from the days when the “sun never set on the British Empire”? With controversy raging over who will declare CWG-2010 open — representative of Queen Elizabeth or President Pratibha Patil — the question has come to the fore with shades of the old debate over equations between the colonial master and the colonised resurfacing…. – Times of India (9-28-10)
  • Young people in UK losing faith in retirement, according to Jeremy Black: Jeremy Black, professor of history at the University of Exeter, said younger people who were yet to retire were having to adjust to a dramatic change in fortunes.
    “The relationship between the generations has been transformed. Whereas it used to be the case that up and coming generations tended to be more prosperous then their parents, now we’re going to be in reverse,” he said…. – BBC News (9-7-10)
  • SC mimicking political branches, says Cambridge historian: David J. Garrow, a University of Cambridge historian, said the court had in this way started to mimic the political branches of government.
    “We are getting a composition of the clerk work force that is getting to be like the House of Representatives,” Professor Garrow said. “Each side is putting forward only ideological purists.”… – NYT (9-6-10)


  • Philip D. Zelikow: Germany’s international role is smaller, says reunification expert: Philip D. Zelikow worked on German reunification as a senior National Security Council official under President George H.W. Bush. Together with Condoleezza Rice, he is the author of “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (1995).” Zelikow also served as executive director of the 9/11 Commission and as the top adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is currently the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia…. – Deutsche Welle (9-30-10)
  • A Q&A With Ambassador Michael Oren: What follows are questions for Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren from Coach Kemper and IFE Journalism Interns…. – Huffington Post (9-28-10)
  • Taylor Branch on Jon Stewart’s great risk: Jon Stewart’s announcement last Thursday of his “Rally to Restore Sanity” on Oct. 30 has, not surprisingly, generated significant interest from “Daily Show” fans. (The current number of people signed up on the rally’s Facebook page is 140,000). But it also prompted some confusion, even from longtime fans. What is Stewart trying to achieve? Does this mark a more formal embrace of politics? Will this change the way he’s perceived?… – Salon (9-24-10)
  • Atlantic City: Empire or Fantasyland? An Interview with Bryant Simon: A new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, premiered this weekend. Worlds away from what we see on Jersey Shore, it has reignited interest in New Jersey history and culture. Bryant Simon (author of Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America and Professor of History at Temple University) has been interviewed for the accompanying HBO documentary, and here we ask him some questions about the “dreamlike” place that is AC…. – OUPblog (9-20-10)
  • The Limits of Religious Tolerance: Scott Appleby on PBS – PBS (9-10-10)
  • Richard Evans dishes to the Guardian about Nazi book burnings: Throughout history, says Matt Fishburn, author of Burning Books, a chronicle of the phenomenon through the ages, most official book-burnings have been about “control”, to announce “what a regime stands for”. Like previous such ceremonies, the Nazi burnings (which Fishburn said, on their 75th anniversary in 2008, have since become “a cultural benchmark, a popular analogy and a common insult – to burn a book today is to be a ‘fascist’”) were, essentially, about “announcing what would be acceptable in future; shaping the new public sphere. The burnings were the symbol; the repressive legislation that came in their wake was what really enforced it.”… – Guardian (UK) (9-10-10)
  • How Bob Dylan Changed the ’60s–and Beyond with Sean Wilentz: Nearly half a century after he released his first album, Bob Dylan continues to release new albums (including, last year, a compilation of Christmas songs) and tour the country playing concerts. Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University and “historian-in-residence” at BobDylan.com, traces Dylan’s influence on American culture in his new book, Bob Dylan in America. Here, he discusses how Dylan shaped his generation—and whether there’s a similar artist in today’s music scene…. – The Atlantic (9-9-10)


  • Harvard’s Annette Gordon-Reed recepient of MacArthur grant: …Annette Gordon-Reed, American historian, 51; Cambridge, Mass. Gordon-Reed changed the way scholars study the life of Thomas Jefferson, revealing his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings; she continues her discoveries in colonial interracial relationships…. – Chicago Tribune (9-27-10)
  • Historian David McCullough is Recipient of 2011 John Fitzgerald Kennedy Award in Holyoke: American historian David McCullough has been awarded the 2011 John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Award which is given out annually each March by the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee in western Massachusetts…. – Irish Massachusetts (Blog) (9-23-10)


  • Bryn Mawr College marks 125th year with conference on women’s education in a global context: Despite the progress made during the last century, in most places on Earth men continue to hold an overwhelming advantage. With few exceptions, when it comes to health, education, work, salaries, social status, and political power, women do not even come close to parity. That was just one of the stark facts in play as Bryn Mawr College convened an international conference Thursday – “Heritage and Hope: Women’s Education in a Global Context” – to help mark the 125th anniversary of the famed women’s school…. – Philadelphia Inquirer (9-24-10)
  • BOOK WORLD’S FESTIVAL RECOMMENDATIONS If you are fascinated by the history of race . . .: In “The History of White People,” Nell Irvin Painter (History & Biography at 11:10 a.m.) argues that “race is an idea, not a fact.” From ancient times to present day, she traces how that idea developed. The Greeks and Romans did not differentiate people by skin color, for instance, and as early Irish immigrants to America could attest, one might have white skin and still not qualify as “white.”… – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • National Book Festival author schedule: History & Biography: GORDON S. WOOD A professor of history at Brown University, Gordon S. Wood is the author of several critically acclaimed and widely read histories, including “Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different” and “The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History.” His book in the multi-volume Oxford History of the United States, “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815,” was recently published. 10 a.m., Signing 11 a.m…. – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • BOOK WORLD’S FESTIVAL RECOMMENDATIONS If you are curious about noteworthy Americans . . .: A theme worth exploring at the National Book Festival is American Lives, which will have you gravitating between two pavilions: History & Biography and Contemporary Life. Former First Lady Laura Bush (History & Biography at 10:35 a.m.) returns to the festival she launched in 2001, modeling it on a similar event she started as first lady of Texas in 1995. You can begin your American Lives Day by listening to Mrs. Bush discuss her recently published memoir, “Spoken from the Heart.”… – WaPo, 9-17-10
  • Brown historian speaks before U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Tuesday launched what its leader ambitiously called “the start of a national conversation on formulating a new civil rights agenda for the 21st century,” but without significant input from mainstream civil rights organizations or the panel’s two Democratic members….
    James T. Patterson, a professor of history emeritus at Brown University in Providence, R.I., spoke before the commission about “the hailstorm of criticism” that Daniel Patrick Moynihan experienced when he wrote an internal report for the U.S. Department of Labor in 1965 called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Mr. Moynihan, a Democrat, served as a U.S. senator for New York before he passed away in 2003. His report, which was leaked to the press, said blacks had been mistreated because of racism. It also said that a “pathology” in low-income black families was impeding their economic success. As an example of that pathology, the report said that 25 percent of African-Americans were born out of wedlock at the time. It also characterized “black matriarchy” as a problem…. – Education Week (9-16-10)
  • William R. Polk travels to Afghanistan: In the past few weeks, this same William R. Polk — who has had a long career as professor, author, and foreign-policy advisor* in the intervening 52 years — traveled to Afghanistan to report on prospects there. Last week he sent a summary around privately to associates. With his permission, we are publishing his whole dispatch on our site. You can read it here. It is lengthy and discursive, but as I reached the end of each page I felt a grim compulsion to go on to the next…. – The Atlantic (8-31-10)


  • Thousands of Studs Terkel interviews going online: The Library of Congress will digitize the Studs Terkel Oral History Archive, according to the agreement, while the museum will retain ownership of the roughly 5,500 interviews in the archive and the copyrights to the content. Project officials expect digitizing the collection to take more than two years…. – NYT, 5-13-10
  • Digital Southern Historical Collection: The 41,626 scans reproduce diaries, letters, business records, and photographs that provide a window into the lives of Americans in the South from the 18th through mid-20th centuries.




  • James L. Swanson: Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, (Hardcover), September 28, 2010
  • Timothy Snyder: The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (First Trade Paper Edition), (Paperback), September 28, 2010
  • Ron Chernow: Washington: A Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • George William Van Cleve: A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, (Hardcover), October 1, 2010.
  • John Keegan: The American Civil War: A Military History, (Paperback), October 5, 2010
  • Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life, (Hardcover), October 5, 2010
  • Robert M. Poole: On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Robert Leckie: Challenge for the Pacific: Guadalcanal: The Turning Point of the War, (Paperback), October 26, 2010
  • Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, (Hardcover), November 9, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • Elizabeth White: The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevik Russia: The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1917-39, (Hardcover), November 10, 2010
  • G. J. Barker-Benfield: Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility, (Hardcover), November 15, 2010
  • Edmund Morris: Colonel Roosevelt, (Hardcover), November 23, 2010
  • Michael Goldfarb: Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance, (Paperback), November 23, 2010


  • Medieval history expert and dedicated Irish socialist Alf O’Brien, 72: ALF O’BRIEN, who has died aged 72, was a lecturer in the department of medieval history in University College Cork, a dedicated socialist and a leading authority on the life and times of medieval Ireland…. – Irish Times (9-4-10)
  • Ashton Welch, Gentle ‘Foe of Injustice,’ Dies at 68: Ashton W. Welch, an associate professor of history and longtime director of Creighton University’s black-studies program, died unexpectedly in his sleep on August 14. He was 68; the cause of death was not specified…. – CHE (9-26-10)
  • Richard Rodriguez Remembers Historian Franz Schurmann: Eminent scholar and historian Franz Schurmann, who co-founded Pacific News Service in 1970, passed away on August 20, 2010. Richard Rodriguez, a long-time editor and writer with PNS, remembered him in a powerful eulogy delivered Sept. 19 at UC Berkeley Alumni House…. – New American Media (9-21-10)
  • Robert Hohner, historian of the American South: Robert A. Hohner, a historian of early twentieth-century southern politics, died on August 8, 2010, at his home in London, Ontario. In an educational career interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy, Bob received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Duke University. After teaching briefly at the U.S. Naval Academy, Bob took a position in 1965 at the University of Western Ontario (uwo), where he remained in the Department of History until his retirement in 2001…. – OAH News (9-16-10)
  • Fathi Osman, Scholar of Islam, Dies at 82: Fathi Osman, an influential scholar who articulated a liberal version of Islam and published an authoritative guide to the Koran for non-Arabic readers, died on Sept. 11 at his home in Montrose, Calif. He was 82…. “He had two major projects,” said Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval Jewish and Islamic studies at Hebrew Union College and a senior fellow of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. “The first was to make the case to non-Muslims that Islam is a complex civilization and should not be seen as a flat ‘other.’ The second, directed to Muslims, was to demonstrate through his scholarship that Islam is flexible and can accommodate modernity and still remain authentic to Islamic values and practices.”… NYT (9-19-10)
  • William H. Goetzmann, Pulitzer-Winning Historian, Dies at 80: William H. Goetzmann, who in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book overturned the idea of Western exploration in the 19th century as a series of random thrusts into the hinterland, finding instead that it was a far more systematic effort, died on Tuesday at his home in Austin, Tex. He was 80…. – NYT (9-11-10)
  • Former Canadian national archivist Jean-Pierre Wallot dies at 75: As national archivist during the advent of the Internet age, Jean-Pierre Wallot acted as conservator of Canada’s collective memory — from Karsh’s photographs to La famille Plouffe, a Quebec TV drama in the 1950s. Ottawa Citizen (9-12-10)
  • William H. Goetzmann, 80, Pulitzer Prize winner and UT professor: Historian William H. Goetzmann, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967, and emeritus professor at the University of Texas died on September 7, 2010. His book Exploration and Empire , a study of the 19th century scientific exploration of the American West, won both the Pulitzer and Parkman prizes in history in 1967. His book on the art of the American West, The West of the Imagination co-authored with son William N. Goetzmann was the subject of a PBS television series by the same name in 1985. His most recent work, Beyond the Revolution (2009) traced the development of post-Revolutionary American thought…. – Austin American-Statesman (9-9-10)
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: