Upcoming: THE DINOSAUR ARTIST by Paige Williams (Hachette)

WilliamsP-DinosaurArtistUSLike a great many people, I grew up fascinated by dinosaurs. I loved reading about them, and also playing with my set of unpainted, hard-plastic dinosaur toys. (My grandfather collected special coupons from his Weetabix boxes for months before sending off for the set. Probably my happiest childhood memories of him.) There seems to be a bit of a resurgence in dino-interest in publishing — for example, Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was recently released to much fanfare (I’ll be reading it pretty soon). Also, in movies, we have the incredible success of Jurassic World and its sequel, which will no doubt be a blockbuster success as well. This September, Hachette will release Paige Williams’s debut non-fiction book, The Dinosaur Artist. It sounds really interesting:

The first time Eric Prokopi saw T. bataar bones he was impressed. The enormous skull and teeth betrayed the apex predator’s close relation to the storied Tyrannosaurus rex, the most famous animal that ever lived. Prokopi’s obsession with fossils had begun decades earlier, when he was a Florida boy scouring for shark teeth and Ice Age remnants, and it had continued as he built a thriving business hunting, preparing, and selling specimens to avid collectors and private museums around the world. To scientists’ fury and dismay, there was big money to be made in certain corners of the fossil trade. Prokopi didn’t consider himself merely a businessman, though. He also thought of himself as a vital part of paleontology — as one of the lesser-known artistic links in bringing prehistoric creatures back to life — and saw nothing wrong with turning a profit in the process.

Bone hunting was expensive, risky, controversial work, and he increasingly needed bigger “scores.” By the time he acquired a largely complete skeleton of T. bataar and restored it in his workshop, he was highly leveraged and drawing quiet scorn from peers who worried that by bringing such a big, beautiful Mongolian dinosaur to market he would tarnish the entire trade. Presenting the skeleton for sale at a major auction house in New York City, he was relieved to see the bidding start at nearly $1 million — only to fall apart when the president of Mongolia unexpectedly stepped in to question the specimen’s origins and demand its return. An international custody battle ensued, shining new light on the black market for dinosaur fossils, the angst of scientists who fear for their field, and the precarious political tensions in post-Communist Mongolia. The Prokopi case, unprecedented in American jurisprudence, continues to reverberate throughout the intersecting worlds of paleontology, museums, art, and geopolitics.

In this gorgeous nonfiction debut, Williams uncovers an untold story that spans continents, cultures, and millennia as she grapples with the questions of who we are, how we got here, and who, ultimately, owns the past.

The Dinosaur Artist is due to be published in North America and in the UK by Hachette.

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Upcoming: LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAs the author of Team of Rivals and other fantastic history books, Doris Kearns Goodwin needs little introduction. This year, Goodwin’s latest book will be published by Simon & Schuster: Leadership in Turbulent Times. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the book draws from the presidencies of four men she is most familiar with: Abraham Lincoln (Team of Rivals), Theodore Roosevelt (The Bully Pulpit), Franklin D. Roosevelt (No Ordinary Time) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream). Here’s the official synopsis:

In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man?

In Leadership in Turbulent Times, Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Leadership in Turbulent Times is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and Viking in the UK, in September 2018.

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Quick Review: THE LIFE OF ANDREW JACKSON by Robert V. Remini (Harper)

ReminiRV-LifeOfAndrewJacksonUSA very useful, infuriating single-volume biography of the seventh president

Robert V. Remini’s prize-winning, three-volume biography Life of Andrew Jackson won the National Book Award on its completion in 1984 and is recognized as one of the greatest lives of a U.S. President. In this meticulously crafted single-volume abridgment, Remini captures the essence of the life and career of the seventh president of the United States. As president, from 1829-1837, Jackson was a significant force in the nations’s expansion, the growth of presidential power, and the transition from republicanism to democracy.

Jackson is a highly controversial figure who is undergoing historical reconsideration today. He is known as spurring the emergence of the modern American political division of Republican and Democractic parties, for the infamous Indian removal on the Trail of Tears, and for his brave victory against the British as Major General at the Battle of New Orleans.

Never an apologist, Remini portrays Jackson as a foreceful, sometimes tragic, hero — a man whose strength and flaws were larger than life, a president whose conviction provided the nation with one of the most influential, colorful, and controversial administrations in our history.

Robert V. Remini is considered one of the preeminent scholars of Andrew Jackson and his times. His three-volume biography of Jackson won the National Book Award and many think of it as one of the best, substantial biographies of any president. In The Life of Andrew Jackson, he has written a comprehensive, (relatively) briskly paced biography. However, the book suffers from one major flaw that coloured almost everything Remini included within. Continue reading

Upcoming: HEIRS OF THE FOUNDERS by H.W. Brands (Doubleday)

BrandsHW-HeirsToTheFoundersUSIn H.W. Brands‘s latest book, the acclaimed historian turns his attention to the three men whose political careers had lasting impact on the United States after the Founding generation had left the stage: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster. (Sort of — they were all active during some of the founding administrations, but they outlasted them all.) As contemporary politics devolves into horrifying farce, there has rarely been a better time in which to revisit the early years of American politics: messy, contentious, often violent, and yet fascinating. Heirs to the Founders is due to be published by Doubleday in November 2018 (in North America and in the UK). Here’s the official synopsis:

The riveting story of how America’s second generation of political giants — Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun — battled to complete the unfinished work of the Founding Fathers and decide the shape of our democracy.

In the early days of the nineteenth century, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina’s John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery.

Together this second generation of American founders took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency, and tasked themselves with finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Above all, they sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its fudge on where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation; and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery. They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the union as a free state, “the three great men of America” had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But by then they were never further apart.

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Upcoming: THE RISE OF ANDREW JACKSON by David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler (Basic Books)

Heidler-RiseOfAndrewJacksonUSIn October, Basic Books are due to publish the new book by David S. and Jeanne T. HeidlerThe Rise of Andrew Jackson. I have mixed feelings about Andrew Jackson — he was a towering, important figure during one of my favourite periods of American history, whose election helped to fundamentally alter the way presidential elections are conducted.

Generally, though, I have found it to be the case that if you’ve read one book about Jackson, you’ve read them all. Many of his papers were lost in a fire at the Hermitage, and he was by no means as prolific as many of his peers and other presidents. I am not Jackson’s biggest fan. However, the Heidlers’ new book caught my attention because of its focus on the propagandists and journalists who helped Jackson polish his image, to scrub his decidedly unattractive personal history and general manner.

The story of Andrew Jackson’s improbable ascent to the White House, centered on the handlers and propagandists who made it possible

Andrew Jackson was volatile and prone to violence, and well into his forties his sole claim on the public’s affections derived from his victory in a thirty-minute battle at New Orleans in early 1815. Yet those in his immediate circle believed he was a great man who should be president of the United States.

Jackson’s election in 1828 is usually viewed as a result of the expansion of democracy. Historians David and Jeanne Heidler argue that he actually owed his victory to his closest supporters, who wrote hagiographies of him, founded newspapers to savage his enemies, and built a political network that was always on message. In transforming a difficult man into a paragon of republican virtue, the Jacksonites exploded the old order and created a mode of electioneering that has been mimicked ever since.

I’m really looking forward to reading The Rise of Andrew Jackson. The book is published by Basic Books in late October 2018, and will be available in the UK. The Heidlers are also the authors of Henry Clay: The Essential American, among others.

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Upcoming: THESE TRUTHS by Jill Lepore (W.W. Norton)

LeporeJ-TheseTruthsUSHCJill Lepore is one of my favourite historians. Ever since discovering her work in the New Yorker, I have eagerly read anything of hers I could get my hands on (not always easy, when I lived in the UK). The Story of America (Princeton University Press) is one of my favourite non-fiction books, and a must for anyone interested in reading about the evolution of storytelling in, and the story of the United States. Lepore is also the author of the excellent The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Joe Gould’s Teeth and New York Burning (among others).

This year, W. W. Norton is due to publish Lepore’s latest book: a substantial, single-volume history of the United States. Here’s the synopsis for These Truths:

In the most ambitious one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation.

The American experiment rests on three ideas — “these truths,” Jefferson called them — political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. And it rests, too, “on a dedication to inquiry, fearless and unflinching,” writes Jill Lepore in a groundbreaking investigation into the American past that places truth itself at the center of the nation’s history. In riveting prose, These Truthstells the story of America, beginning in 1492, to ask whether the course of events has proven the nation’s founding truths, or belied them. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, sovereignty in a land of conquest, will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, finding meaning in those very contradictions as she weaves American history into a majestic tapestry of faith and hope, of peril and prosperity, of technological progress and moral anguish. A spellbinding chronicle filled with arresting sketches of Americans from John Winthrop and Frederick Douglass to Pauli Murray and Phyllis Schlafly, These Truths offers an authoritative new history of a great, and greatly troubled, nation.

I’m really looking forward to reading this. These Truths is published by W. W. Norton in September 2018 (in North America and the UK).

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Upcoming: CITY OF DEVILS by Paul French (Picador/riverrun)

FrenchP-CityOfDevilsUSI’ve only recently started to read Paul French‘s books. I’ve been aware of his stuff for a long while, but this past Christmas I went on a Penguin China Special reading-binge, which meant I finally read two of French’s titles: Betrayal in ParisThe Badlands and Bloody Saturday — all three of which were excellent.* I promptly bought Midnight in Peking (for myself and family members), and will read it very soon. In the meantime, I thought I’d some information about his next non-fiction book, City of Devils. here’s the synopsis:

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made — and lost.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren — a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

City of Devils is due to be published in July by Picador in North America (Raincoast in Canada), and in June by riverrun in the UK.

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* The Penguin Specials series is fantastic in general: around 100 pages or so, compact and focused non-fiction narratives. I’d highly recommend them. They appear to be focusing on a different theme every year (or so). Last year, for example, they released a handful of Hong Kong Specials, which I’ll be buying and reading very soon.