Summer Books

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 Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America

by Eric Jay Dolin

Through the prism of the fur trade, this topical approach relates a quite comprehensive history of the North American continent from the first Dutch voyage here in search of furs in 1611 to the signing 300 years later of an international treaty that banned pelagic sealing. In the course of those three centuries, fur was an economic engine and driving force as European nations vied to control New World territory in order to reap its wealth in pelts—first beaver, later bear, otter, deer, ermine, skunk, and buffalo. Author Dolin also deals with some of the derring-do of such iconic characters as the fabled mountain men and the mariners who sailed new routes to find the furs and deliver the goods. (Norton, 464 pages, $29.95)

 

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches,

the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

by S. C. Gwynne

 

Once they acquired their uncanny and unparalleled mastery of the horse, the Comanches of the western plains rose within a century from ragged bands of bullied Paleolithic hunter-gatherers into a massive empire stretching from the Arkansas River in the north to southern Texas. Gwynne, a former executive editor of Texas Monthly, offers surprising insights into this militaristic buffalo culture, to which many whites such as captive Cynthia Parker and her half-white son, the great chief Quanah Parker, remained devoted throughout their lives. Gwynne dispels the myth of the noble savage through contemporary accounts of the staggering Comanche violence that held white settlers’ expansion at bay for more than a century. But the U.S. Cavalry fought with equal cruelty, and the heartbreaking accounts of the humiliating submission and tedium of reservation life remind readers of exactly what was at stake for this doomed people. (Scribner, 384 pages, $27.50)

 

The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898

by Evan Thomas

 

In 1898 future president Theodore Roosevelt, his pal Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, and press baron William Randolph Hearst worked in concert to lead the United States into what our ambassador to Britain called a “splendid little war.” House Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed and Harvard savant William James opposed the imperialist tide, as would Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain, who “accused America of ‘debauching’ her honor.” In time public cheers for blood turned to cries for disengagement. Invading Cuba began as a celebrity event for the likes of John Jacob Astor, artist Frederic Remington, writer Stephen Crane, and Tom Mix (later Hollywood’s first cowboy), but then turned bloody. Roosevelt was slightly wounded in taking San Juan Heights, where he killed a Spaniard and crowed about it. Half the world away, Adm. George Dewey had an easier time destroying Spain’s naval fleet in Manila Bay without losing a man. Then the occupation of the Philippines became a years-long ordeal, with rising casualties, atrocities, and eventual withdrawal. (Little, Brown, 480 pages, $29.99)

 

The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

by Anthony Brandt

 

Brandt tracks ground (and ice and water) that has been tracked before—but rarely with such verve, muscular elegance, and readability. Recalling centuries of attempts to find the fabled passage, he focuses on Sir John Franklin, one of the most famous men in Victorian Britain. He was in turn a military hero close behind Lord Nelson; a colonial governor of Tasmania; husband of the remarkable Lady Jane; and finally an arctic explorer who returned to lead one last expedition to find a short, cold way to the Orient, failed, and got a monument in Westminster Abbey. Punctuated with breathtaking accounts of men in extremis, the book is enriched by rich perspective and a style both nuanced and crystalline. (Knopf, 464 pages, $28.95)

 

Betsy Ross and the Making of America

by Marla R. Miller

 

Like other myths surrounding great men and women, the one about George Washington asking Betsy Ross to sew the first American flag is a canard. This well-documented biography relates that, in the absence of real evidence, such a tale “must be seen through the lens of history that unfolded in the years between the supposed conversation and the recording of that story” by Ross’s aged daughter. Author Miller, an authority in women’s history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, goes on to the more important matters of what is true about Betsy Ross. An upholsterer and, yes, a seamstress who made flags, she plied an important trade, knew important people who admired her, was twice widowed, and thrice married. This is a detailed portrait of an accomplished woman standing out against the panorama of her times. (Henry Holt, 480 pages, $30)

 

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

by Alan Brinkley