Holiday Gift Special

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The political scientist, social observer, and Slate columnist more or less stumbled on the thesis that 1959 marked a huge cusp. It was, after all, the year when the following occurred: On the Road, the pill, the microchip, the first official U.K. publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Herman Kahn’s lectures on thermonuclear war, Castro’s takeover in Cuba. . . . Maybe not everything changed, but Kaplan’s concatenation offers a wonderful array of pivot points.

 

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name

by Toby Lester

(Free Press)

Long before Google and MapQuest, kings and explorers tried to comprehend one of the great mysteries: the shape of the Earth—and how to capture that great three-dimensional conundrum on two-dimensional parchment.

 

An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General

James Wilkinson

by Andro Linklater

(Walker)

A general in Washington’s army before he was 20, James Wilkinson was evidently a man

without loyalty—arguably to America’s benefit when he betrayed his superior, the traitor Benedict Arnold. Later in his duplicitous and far-ranging life, he swore allegiance to the king of Spain. Long neglected by our historians, he now gets his due from this highly respected British scholar. Reviewed in the fall issue.

 

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker

by James McManus

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A professional gambler, McManus offers an interpretive history of America’s “national card game.” The first chapter alone is worth the cover price: an essay on poker and American politics. Nixon financed his political debut with World War II poker winnings; Illinois legislator Obama made his first friends among political adversaries in a weekly game; Khrushchev and Kennedy avoided Armageddon over Cuba because both understood the art of bluffing.

 

A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent

by Robert W. Merry

(Simon & Schuster)

Arguably our most influential one-term president and one of the most commonly ignored, Polk was elected in 1844 and expanded the nation by a third through war and diplomacy. Making good a journalist’s term “Manifest Destiny,” he expanded U.S. territory like no one since Jefferson had bought Louisiana, grabbing the Pacific Northwest from Britain, annexing Texas, and winning the Mexican War to take the Southwest and California.

 

National Geographic Atlas of the Civil War

(National Geographic Society)

No surprise here: a visual treasure trove of contemporaneous maps and new illustrations with densely informative text blocks that combine to provide a comprehensive account of the Civil War from a geographic perspective.

 

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath

by Michael Norman

and Elizabeth M. Norman

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This is a remarkably gripping narrative told with lucidity and feeling, featuring copious research, exacting scholarship, and moving illustrations by Ben Steele, an American GI who survived one of the most heinous atrocities of World War II. Adapted for a feature article in the summer issue.

 

War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America’s First Frontier

by John F. Ross

(Bantam)

Rogers invented special operations warfare during the French and Indian War, later crossed egos with Washington, switched sides, and became the redcoat who hanged Nathan Hale. A complex character—hero, knave, prickly patriot—he gets the complex biography he deserves. The Times noted that the author, a writer of “impressive polymathy” (and this magazine’s executive editor) “expounds just as fluently on geology and the coffeehouses of Samuel Johnson–era London as he does on Rogers’s innovative war-making.” Adapted for a feature article in the summer issue.

 

Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

by Neil Sheehan

(Random House)

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author reveals and honors the forgotten general who championed interballistic missile systems over bombers and thus helped to create a nuclear stalemate between the United States and the USSR. Sheehan, who chronicled the Vietnam debacle in A Bright Shining Lie, now writes a revealing and counterintuitive study of how the Cold War ended without mutual annihilation.

 

No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864

by Richard Slotkin

(Random House)