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Besieging Petersburg, the gateway to Richmond, Union engineers cunningly blew a huge hole in Lee’s line through which a force of “Negro” troops attacked. But the crater’s size swallowed the men, a mutual massacre ensued, and the black soldiers were not only slaughtered but scapegoated. Slotkin reports the battle in detail and places it within its larger context of the Civil War, slavery, and emancipation. Reviewed in the fall issue.

 

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of  Cornelius Vanderbilt

by T. J. Stiles

(Knopf)

At his death in 1877, railroad titan and shipping “Commodore” Vanderbilt owned one-ninth of all the dollars in circulation—on paper at least. Fittingly, as the richest man of his time, he was the first to understand the power of paper over specie and precious metals as the vital medium of modern business, the realm he virtually commanded as an economic force unto himself.

 

Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism

by Woden Teachout

(Basic Books)

Since Betsy Ross put down her thimble, the American flag has meant different things to multitudes—just as the very concept of patriotism projects a different vision in every beholder’s eye. Teachout reports how the flag has been championed by hosts of opposites: immigrants and immigration opponents, abolitionists and segregationists, hawks and doves of every persuasion—proof positive of the protean nature of liberty and free speech.

 

Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

by Larry Tye

(Random House)

Possibly the greatest pitcher ever, Satchel Paige first made his name in the “Negro” leagues, then belatedly played in the majors after Jackie Robinson broke the color bar. Armed with an unmatched fastball and micron accuracy, he had a mouth to rival Yogi Berra’s and an imagination to match Disney’s—all of which combined to make him a lively legend.

 

A. Lincoln: A Biography

by Ronald C. White Jr.

(Random House)

Welcomed among the flood of new works published during the Great Emancipator’s bicentennial year, this magisterial life was widely regarded as the best biography of Lincoln in over a decade. Further, White’s approach was original: unearthing a wealth of new documents, including Lincoln’s diaries and notes jotted to himself, he traces the course of Lincoln’s intellect and moral compass as the man’s mind grew, changed, and matured.

 

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815

by Gordon S. Wood

(Oxford University Press)